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The Black Laser

Cookin’ With Lasers – Vegan Stuffed Acorn Squash

A few days ago, I was speaking with a friend of mine about a project we were working on for Moms Against Poverty and we got to chatting. The topic of dinner came up and I told him I made some sausage and pepper roasted acorn squash—a staple dish of mine as the nights get longer. He responded with interest, curiosity, and a smidge of amazement (which is wholly undeserved). It is an incredibly easy, flexible recipe that should really be in anyone’s back pocket.

To dispel the mystery surrounding stuffed acorn squash, and because Bobak doesn’t dig on animal products, here’s a vegan version of my stuffed acorn squash that I have never made. Consider this my gift.

Vegan Stuffed Acorn Squash

Ingredients

  • An acorn squash, you could use another kind of squash too, but make sure it has a decent sized seed cavity. Spaghetti, kabocha, whatever, would be fine too.
  • Some mushrooms
  • A bell pepper, any color is fine
  • A decent sized onion, or two smaller onions
  • A clove or two of garlic, or more garlic if you like garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Tomato paste, or not, your call
  • Other spices you like, just make sure they go together
  • Cooking oil

Equipment needed

  • Sheet pan
  • A pot of some sort, could also be a big skillet
  • Knives?
  • Probably some other stuff I am forgetting

Phase 1 – Squash

Preheat your oven to 425°.

Cut your acorn squash in half. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon. If you run a paring knife around the inside of the seed cavity, they are much easier to scoop out. Or you can just use a spoon, like a savage.

Slice a sliver off the back side of the squash to create a flat spot for it to rest on the sheet pan. It sucks when they roll around and dump the filling out. Cutting the flat spot creates a handy little platform. You’re welcome.

Lightly rub the top, inside, and new flat spot with your cooking oil. Olive oil is fine. Avocado oil is good too. Use whatever you like. You don’t need a ton of oil. Just a thin layer to act as a conductor for the heat in the air of the oven and the exposed squash.

Place the oiled halves on the sheet pan, cavity-up, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Don’t be shy. Consider that you are salting the entire volume of the squash’s flesh. Of course, you can always add more salt later to taste. You’re a big boy (or girl, or otherwise). You can figure it out.

Put the squash into the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the flesh is tender. If you have a small squash, reduce the time to 20 minutes. You’re precooking the squash so that when we fill it later, it requires less time to cook through.

Once time is up, pull the squash from the oven and set aside. Leave the oven on.

Phase 2 – Filling

Dice up your vegetables. Not too small. You don’t want them turning to mush. Or maybe you do. Whatever makes you happy. I prefer to have texture of individual elements.

If you like garlic, mince or grate it. Good job.

Heat a little cooking oil in your pot or skillet. Put your garlic in. Once you can smell the garlic, add in the onion. Cook the onion for a few minutes until it turns lightly translucent. We’re cutting the raw onion edge, not caramelizing.

Add the rest of the vegetables and cook them until they are cooked. Rocket science.

Add a squeeze of tomato paste, salt, pepper, and whatever spices you chose because you are a grown-up and being a grown-up means learning to live with the choices we make.

If you’re feeling a little sassy, you can add a splash of water or vegetable stock, bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat of your stove, and let it reduce. It will help the vegetables’ flavor meld together a bit. It’s not necessary though, and this recipe works better when the filling isn’t super wet. Do what you want.

Phase 3 – Stuffing the squash

Now that your squash is precooked and your filling is ready, put the filling into the squash. A small mound just above the lip of the seed cavity is good. If it is overfilled, you risk spilling and then having the filling burn in the oven. If it’s underfilled, well, then you might as well just eat the fucking squash plain and call it a day.

Don’t worry about using all the filling. If you have extra (and you probably will) save it and eat it with rice or something the next day. It’s good that way.

Pop the filled squash back into the oven for another 30 minutes. Again, less for small squashes.

After the time’s up check the squash. The flesh should be very tender. If so, it’s done. Let it cool because that shit is hot as hell on the inside.

Congratulations! You roasted your very own stuffed acorn squash.


Photo by Kim Daniels on Unsplash

Sarah’s Address to Olive.

Sarah wrote a powerful piece on the loss of Olive and her experience of grieving over on Facebook. In the interest of storing it for posterity, I am reposting it here.

Losing a child feels like the whole entire universe is reduced to a grain of sand.

Empty, yet somehow filled with so much energy all the same. An unpredictable kind of force that will blind you. Grief is a tricky thing— it’s not linear. It sneaks up on you, and it doesn’t care if you have plans. It’s absolutely ruthless and there is no map.

Things still come in threes. As the days and months go by, I find myself sifting through gifts sent in three, gifts sent with love and without the unthinkable notion that we wouldn’t be bringing all three of our baby girls home. I cycle these gifts in and out as the girls continue to outgrow them. I always know when they’re wearing something that has a third, and it’s painful but I also find it comforting. I find myself desperately holding on to these moments— because it’s a reminder of the time before, the time of “is” and not the now of “was” that breaks my heart daily. It’s a reminder of a joyful time when we were just thrilled by our new reality of raising three little girls. And while it’s hard to see the third onesie or the third set of eating utensils, I’m actually more terrified of reaching the day when things start coming in two.

Moments like these have a particular kind of sting. They make me feel farther away from the time that Olive was here, and more thoroughly a part of the now where we exist without her.

I know by now that nothing will actually keep me from Olive, that there is no without, because she’s with me every moment. When I wake up and when I go to sleep, and in every step I take. Even still, I feel like I’m desperately hanging onto right now because I don’t want to keep taking steps that move me forward, creating this inevitable distance from the time that I last held her in my arms. I want that time back, I want to be back there. It was hard, but it was so beautiful.

I still hear the sounds of monitors in the PCICU, in the streams of the shower, the dishwasher, in traffic— everywhere. I often wake up expecting to head to the hospital, just like I did every day for months. I realize that’s not the case, and it just reminds me of how impossibly hopeful I was that things were going to turn out okay. I long for the time when there was still a true flame of hope. But honestly, I can still feel it burning in my heart months later. Even though Olive is gone, it persists. It’s as though that hope hasn’t completely caught up with reality. Hope doesn’t know how things are going to turn out, it exists regardless of outcomes.

I can’t express how badly I wish I could see Olive again, boop her nose, call her muffin. Some days are just more painful than others, but every day I’m considering every moment in terms of what it would be like if Olive came home. What would this whole experience of parenting feel like with Olive here too? Would she need a million hugs like Bea? Or would she be more independent like Penny? She would absolutely be something entirely her own, something 100% Olive. Ask any of the amazing staff at Johns Hopkins, Olive was not to be messed with— she was a sass machine, and she was also the sweetest baby and delicate in so many ways. She was little but not without personality, her impact vast and infinite.

I constantly feel the absence of her, I feel it framing my every experience. I feel it so deeply that sometimes it’s hard to breathe. I miss her. I just really miss her.

There’s a lot of not saying things throughout this process. There is a lot of skirting around the darkness with new acquaintances and coworkers. Almost every day I’m meeting new people at work and answering questions about myself, that’s kind of how it goes in a small town. People are interested in my life, my story. Do you have any children? What are their ages? Inevitably, I find myself answering the question I dread: you had twins?! I hesitate, I hope they can’t sense my hesitation. People are excited to share in the wonder of twins, I get it. It’s something that stirs up joy in just about everyone. But my mind travels to a hard place. I’m still figuring out how to navigate this loss. I tell myself that when it feels right, one day I’ll tell the whole story. Or maybe they’ll find out some other way— they’re actually triplets, not twins.

At their check-up, both nurse and doctor asked if Penny and Bea have any other siblings— we say no, but we think something different. I wonder if they “know” and how it feels for them to ask a loaded question that they are simply trained and required to ask.

It’s been a little over three months since Livvy passed. Last month the girls celebrated their six-month birthday. It’s a complicated celebration, a messy jumble of sincere joy for our two little ding-dongs, combined with feelings of great loss and immense aching for the now that could have been— the now of three and not two.

I’ve been hesitant to speak on or with anyone concerning Olive for the last few months because I’ve been too scared to move forward. I’m still just so scared and so unbelievably sad. But I do believe that the steps present themselves organically.

Just last week a coworker heard about our loss and asked a question that helped me turn that corner. She asked me, “What was her name?”

Olive. Olive, I told her.

It felt so good to speak her name. And I realized that my fear is that people will be too nervous to say her name— when all I want is to hear it. Olive. Never be nervous to ask about Olive, and please continue to say her name.

There’s still so much to uncover and learn in this process. I’m still figuring it out, and I’ll probably always be figuring it out. But I feel ready to start. I feel embraced by the love I have for Olive, her sisters, and her father. My heart got bigger because of Olive. It got stronger too.

The world is better for having had Livvy in it for whatever amount of time. Not enough time, that much is certain. But time feels different to me now. When Olive died time changed completely. The short time that Livvy was on this earth was enough to expand and fill an entire universe ten times over, absolutely crushing the trivial meaning of time. A few months, a few years, or a hundred. The love we have for Olive is infinite. My heart is a lifetime. To the moon and back, Livvy bear.

“We are photons released from a dying star
We are fireflies a child has trapped in a jar
And everything is distant as the stars
I am here and you are where you are”
— Nick Cave

A new tool.

About 13 years ago, I wrote about the purchase of a new camera in a series of posts. That was the last camera I purchased and it has been through hell with me. After untold thousands of photos, a complete replacement of the shutter assembly, dings and scratches, and even more miles, I’ve decided to replace that old 5D Mark 2. She’s been a valuable work horse, but the technology is long in the tooth and I’m feeling a touch impulsive.

I have children now. Taking photos of kids is like taking photos of sports (that line is my dad’s, not mine). The 5D2 is no longer up to the task. Honestly, the 5D2 wasn’t up to the task in 2008. The AF performance is all right for adults who know how to sit still or for landscapes or for tables filled with inanimate objects. The astute reader will recognize that children are none of those things. My kids aren’t even really mobile yet and already trying to get them in focus is a chore. Wiggling newborns are beyond the limits of the 5D2’s antiquated AF system. I got pretty good at the old “focus and recompose”, but it’s not the best method and modern technology has solved the problem.

She also never worked well in low-light. Anything above ISO 1250 and the photos displayed easily discernible noise bands. Some noise is, of course, fine. But horizontal lines of noise through an image are not. Maybe I’m particular, but I don’t like stripes through my photos. So that meant fast lenses and long shutter speeds, both of which come with their own attendant issues. It was a problem I ran into when trying to photograph my little Olive in her hospital room. The natural light was mostly insufficient, the artificial light was hideous, and I couldn’t push the camera past ISO 1250 for fear of ruined images, so I shot wide open and long shutter speeds. But wide open and long shutter speeds means tiny focal ranges and motion blur—there was no IBIS in 2008—which also means bad photos. I missed a lot of photos of Livvy that I shouldn’t have because of technical reasons. That was incredibly frustrating. Beyond frustrating. It was heartbreaking.

Now it is time to retire the 5D2. She will live on in my camera bag as a back-up until I find something better to do with her.

Say hello to my new friend, the Canon R5.

My cell phone, though newer than 2008, still doesn’t take great photos.
So cute.

It should come as a surprise to no one that I went all out. It was a terrifying purchase, but thinking of all the cute baby photos it is going to make helps me feel better about the splurge.

First impressions after having for just a few hours? This thing is slick and surprisingly small compared to the 5D2. It makes sense that it would be smaller since it doesn’t need to make room for all the mechanicals that lived inside the older DSLR, but holding it in my hands I still find its size a little weird. Nice, but weird.

The operation of the thing is amazing. The metric of a good tool for me is that it doesn’t stand in the way of translating thought into action. Let my brain tell you what to do and then do it. Don’t erect a bunch of extra steps for me to climb. The R5 feels like it is going to prove itself to be a good tool. Even the test photos I took around the house to familiarize myself with the camera are beautiful. Not good photos, but technically beautiful.

I’m going to take it out for a walk tomorrow while the babysitter is here and will be back with some sample photos to share.

Olive Shields Dillingham 1/20/2021 – 5/09/2021

My dearest Olive,

I am sorry.

I am sorry you spent your brief life sick and hurting. I am sorry for the tinkering and experimentation and discomfort we put you through. All your mom and I wanted was for you to have a shot at a normal life and we were willing to do whatever we could to give that to you. We would have done even more, everything and anything, if we would have thought the pain you lived in was going to be fruitful. But it wasn’t, and suffering for suffering’s sake is no life.

I am sorry you don’t get to grow up with your sisters and your mom and me. I am sorry you never had a chance to leave Johns Hopkins to be warmed by the sun on your face. I am sorry you never felt the wind or saw the moon. I am sorry you only met your sisters a single time. I am sorry you never met so much of your huge family and that they never got to meet you. I am sorry that your stink-eye is something you only ever shared with your nurses, not your siblings. I am sorry I only got to hear your tiny cry a single time. I am sorry for all the onces and nevers, in all their terrible shapes.

I am sorry you will never get to experience all the joys of life, both regular and exceptional. Eating pomegranates outside during the summer. Listening to a great song that connects with your soul for the first time. A perfect cup of coffee on a cold morning. The pride of knowing you did a job as well as you could. A warm blanket and cool feet as you sleep. Falling in love and fighting to keep that love alive and healthy. A visit with a friend on a lazy Sunday. Christmas morning treats. Silly photoshoots. Blankets. Warm fires. Mountain tops. Birthday dinners. Late night karaoke. Chocolate chip cookies. Making art. Hugs. All the silly little and big important happinesses that we take for granted. I’m sorry I cannot share them with you.

And I am sorry for all the sadness and annoyances you will never endure. Heartbreak and loneliness and embarrassment. Being kept awake at night thinking of some stupid thing you said to someone a decade ago. Seeing an ex on the street and quickly deciding if you are going to be polite or pretend you didn’t see them. Annoying work e-mails. Saying something unintentionally rude and having to own up to it. The shame in knowing you failed at something because you half-assed it. Fights with your sisters and your parents and your friends. The feeling that no one understands you. All the stupid little miseries that make all the silly little happinesses so much sweeter. I am sorry I cannot comfort you through them.

I am so, so sorry that I don’t get to know what kind of woman you would have grown up to be. I would give anything to know you as a child and adolescent through your awkward teenage years and into your formative young adulthood. And then as an adult and potentially as a parent. And if you didn’t want to have kids, that would be ok too. I wanted you to have a life that was your own—Olive’s life—to make decisions on how and where and with whom you live it. Olive’s choices and Olive’s mistakes. Olive’s triumphs. Olive’s failures. The tapestry of a life that should have been uniquely yours.

I am sorry you don’t get to grow into the old lady name we gave you. I am sorry you only ever got to experience the little girl version, even if “Livvy” is an especially cute nickname. It was such a perfect plan: strong old lady names with adorable little girl versions. Your mom and I were willing long lives for all three of you to allow you time to make the most of the names we gave you and to become the perfect, distilled versions of yourselves. I am sorry you will miss that.

I am sorry your sisters will grow up without their middle triplet, the filling in their sibling sandwich. Since we learned that there would be three of you, your mom and I had a thousand ideas about what sort of life you girls would have as a trio. We imagined you all growing and learning together, experiencing life as a unit. What would the dynamic have been like between you all? Was Penny going to be the protector and Beatrice the quiet accomplice to Olive’s adventures? Would you all be friends or not? What secrets would you have shared together? What tales would you have told each other? I am sorry they don’t get to have that and that you don’t get to be a participant in our lives. I am sorry that they will only ever know you from photos and stories. I am glad your sisters are spared from our current sadness, but I am still sorry we couldn’t share you with them.

And please know, my little Tapenade, that we did everything we could for you. We pushed you as hard as our hearts, modern medical science, and the counsel of the medical team in the PCICU at Johns Hopkins would allow. We spent every single moment we had with you in the hospital to advocate for you in the busy times and love you in the down times. We thought long and critically about what the best path was for your care. We subjected you to serious risk with some of the things we allowed, some of the things we pushed for. But all of it was with the hope that something would break through and allow you to get better so you could come home to us. So we could be a complete family. Olive, Penny, Bea, mom, and dad. All your mom and I ever wanted was to have all three of you home, together, and safe.

I hope, my heart, that we made your last few days as lovely as we could. We strove to fill your hospital room with as much color, brightness, and love as possible. We wanted every second of that limited time to be free of hurt. Everyone in the hospital who knew you and loved you came by to say goodbye and make a memory with you. There were photos and hugs. Nurses and doctors cried and shared stories with us. We had three days of photos and decorations. We smelled your little head and kissed your cheeks and played with your funny little poof of hair. We held you as much as we could in those final days to try to make up for all the time you were in the hospital when we couldn’t and all the time after the hospital when we wouldn’t be able to.

And I hope, in the end, as you passed away in our arms, that it was gentle. You were surrounded by people who loved you so much and cared for you so hard. I had my hand on your chest and felt your heart slow and then stop. I watched you take your final breath, and then we knew you were gone. I will never know what it was like for you in that moment, but I hope it was as easy for you as it was terrible for us. I would have traded your pain with you in a heartbeat. I would have given everything of myself for you, if I could have.

My sweet little Livvy Bear, I don’t for a second regret the horrible decision your mom and I made to let you go. Given the same set of circumstances, I would make the same decision again. We chose your comfort over our own. But I am forever, forever sorry that you didn’t get the chance you deserved to live, to thrive, and to be. I love you, Olive, and I am so very sorry.

Love always always,

Dad.

ACT I, Scene I

ACT I

SCENE I. A desert place.

Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches

First Witch

When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Second Witch

When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.

Third Witch

That will be ere the set of sun.

First Witch

Where the place?

Second Witch

Upon the heath.

Third Witch

There to meet with Macbeth.

First Witch

I come, Graymalkin!

Second Witch

Paddock calls.

Third Witch

Anon.

ALL

Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

Exeunt

The Boneman

The Boneman digs through the pile of discarded children’s toys (much different than grown up toys) and discarded computers (the electronics, not the people) and discarded instruments (musical, not surgical). He knows the thing is in here somewhere.

He pulls the necklaces of assorted (possibly human) bones around his neck tight and gives them a sharp look that says “I mean business”.

“What the hell am I looking for? I know you know!” They are often vague, however, hard to understand, circular talkers. Sometimes he wishes he had clearer bones, but they are what he has and would have to do until he could find better replacements.