Despite this miserable cold, which seems to have gotten the best of me these days, I am oh so giddy and excited for the holidays this year (which I might add, are quickly approaching at a rate I can not handle). For the past few years, I have flown home a few weeks early to spend the holidays with my family, so I've never really considered putting up a tree. This year, I'll be around until Dec 21, and I find myself feeling extra festive. I have already prepared for my first real Christmas tree, and have picked out the ornaments and tree skirt. I've cleared out a space, and I know the exact tree lot I'll be visiting. There wont be any sleigh rides or hot apple cider, but all proceeds will be going to a good cause, and that is important to me. I embarrassedly admit that there have already been a couple of occasions, which have mostly consisted of me in my house wearing PJ's and my slippers, where I've put on some Christmas carols. This extreme festive state that I am in is quite possibly due to my new-found love of knitting and the over-the-top Christmas decorations in the craft store where I purchased most of my yarn. When I was young my grandma would knit all of the grandchildren these ridiculous looking slippers every year. They were striped, with a pom pom on each toe. She always chose the most uncoordinated color combinations. We loved her to pieces, too much to say anything, so each year would put on our biggest smiles in appreciation of those silly little slippers.
Another reason I'm getting so excited for the holidays is the change in weather. It has finally dropped, and the air smells like fresh snow, which is odd because it usually doesn't snow in Seattle. Yesterday I bundled up in my warmest winter gear and took a stroll through the park with my dog. I don't think it was really that cold, based on the fact that people were wearing light sweaters, but I was feeling sick, and my layering was not related to actual temperature, but rather an attempt to recreate the same warmth I felt in my bed. Honestly, I was surprised that I mustered up the strength to leave the house. I am glad I did, because there was the faintest scent of burning wood from a nearby fireplace. I heard children's laughter, and saw tiny heads with bright red noses poking out of the windows. It reminded me of the days when I was young, when I didn't have a care in the world. As soon as the air became crisp and the snow started to fall, I began counting down the days in anticipation of that special night that Santa arrives. Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. All of the delicious baked goods, candy, and treats, and time spent eating them with family and friends. Christmas hasn't quite been the same since my grandmothers passing a few years ago. That special touch, the warmth that she shared. I think we are all still adjusting. Trying to find our own groove.
Before I get too excited for Christmas, I mustn't forget that Thanksgiving is right around the corner. I still haven't quite adjusted to the whole American Thanksgiving being so close to Christmas. I keep reminding myself that it is only less than 2 weeks away. I'm not sure what my plans are this year. Maybe I'll have a few friends over and prepare some good food. Brussels sprouts with butter, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato, rolls, and a Tofurkey to boot. I've been trying to experiment with some new vegetarian options. I saw of few examples online of squash stuffed with various fixings. A couple of days ago, I went to the store and purchased all of my favorite Thanksgiving flavors: thyme, sage, cranberry, and apple. I combined them all into a delicious stuffing recipe and then created a little Thanksgiving dinner boat. I added some wild rice, which is otherwise known as Canadian rice, bread, and veggie sausage, with butter, thyme, and sage. I filled the squash boats, overflowing with stuffing, and then baked in the oven for 45 minutes. Later, drizzled with gravy, these single-serving Thanksgiving boats are perfect if you're craving Thanksgiving dinner just a few weeks early. And if you have a vegetarian guest attending this year, they will be truly thankful for the hearty and satisfying veggie option you've prepared.
ACORN SQUASH BOATS FILLED WITH WILD RICE AND STUFFING RECIPE
makes 4 acorn squash halves
notes: If you have a favorite stuffing recipe, feel free to use that instead, and then follow these directions for baking the squash. This recipe can be prepared easily on Thanksgiving day by adding stuffing and a few other favorite items to the squash boats and then baking.
1 cup wild rice, dry
2 cups bread, cubed
2 acorn squash, seeds removed and halved
2 tbsp butter + 3 for frying
4 tsp brown sugar
1/2 cup cranberries, soaked in hot water
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, chopped
1/4 sweet onion, diced
6 sage leaves, chopped
5 - 7 sprigs thyme
1/2 - 1 cup veggie broth
1 apple, peeled and diced
salt and pepper to taste
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups veggies broth
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
In a rice cooker or stovetop, cook the rice as per directions on package. Should take anywhere from 30 - 40 minutes. Once cooked, drain and set to the side.
Tear the bread with your hands into 1 inch cubes, enough to fill 2 cups. Scatter the bread onto a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set to the side to cool.
Turn the oven up to 425ºF.
Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds and guts. Place 1/2 tbsp of butter and 1 tsp of brown sugar in each squash well. Wrap the squash in tin foil and place in the oven, cut side facing up. Bake for 30 minutes.
While the squash is baking, boil some water in the kettle. Place the dried cranberries in a boil and cover with boiling water. Let sit for 10 minutes, then drain and set to the side.
In a large frying pan, fry the chopped mushrooms on low heat. Do not add any oil, water, or butter. Fry them dry, to release the intensely wonderful flavors. Once they are lightly browned, remove them and set to the side.
Fry the veggie sausage, chopped onions, sage, and thyme with 3 tbsp butter, until the onions are light brown in color. Add the cubed bread and continue to fry until the bread starts to turn golden. Add the cranberries and chopped apples, and mushrooms. Slowly add the veggie stock starting with 1/4 cup at a time until the bread absorbs the liquid. Once the stuffing is moist, it is done. Season with salt and pepper.
After the squash has been cooking for 30 minutes, remove from the oven and unwrap from the tinfoil. Fill each squash half with a generous amount of the filling. Place the squash uncovered onto a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until the squash is soft and the filling has turned golden on top. Remove from the oven and let cool.
While the squash is cooling, using the same frying pan. Place 4 tbsp butter and 4 tbsp all purpose flour into the frying pan, and fry until the butter starts to foam. Add the 2 cups of veggie stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 - 15 minutes until thick.
Drizzle the gravy on top of the squash and serve.