Friday, October 01, 2004

Last kiss of the flower goddess

It is properly fall now, cool enough to turn the oven on and enjoy not just the smells but the warmth emanating from it as well. Now the weekly home baked loaves of bread, which are enough a regular part of our cuisine to warrant summertime baking, will be joined by roasts, casseroles, oven-braises, dishes that take a long, slow approach to reach intense flavors.

Last night I made chicken enchiladas — a family favorite, with a sauce made from pureed roasted tomatoes from the garden. With the kids running underfoot as I assembled them, my usual rational approach to cooking (cut everything up, then turn the heat on and start cooking) went out the window. I had warmed corn tortillas anxiously awaiting filling before I had cut up the roasted poblano chilis, so they ended up being chopped one by one as I assembled the enchiladas. As it turns out, one of the chilis was much hotter than the others, and instead of being distributed evenly throughout the adult enchiladas, the heat was concentrated in just one or two of them. By luck of the draw, H, whose tolerance for spiciness is much lower than mine, and tries to avoid it while I seek it out, got the spicy enchiladas. A shame to see those beautiful dark-green, home-roasted poblanos, full of fire, discarded on the side due to a simple twist of fate.

In the spring we started pumpkin plants indoors, part of our ambitious gardening plans for the year. They were the fastest and best of the plants we started inside, we were worried that pumpkin plants would take over our lawn and that, come fall, we would have so many pumpkins that the neighborhood kids would regularly harvest them for vandalous purposes. But of the ten or twelve plants we transplanted outside after Memorial Day, most of them died, mysteriously, within a week or two, no doubt victim of some insect or small hoodlands creature, like the skunk who lives behind our neighbor's shed and probably dug up all our pea plants. A few plants survived, but over the summer most of them dropped off until we now have only one, a poor little bedraggled plant creeping cautiously across the lawn. Something, perhaps the same thing that took out its siblings, is chopping off its flowers as it puts them up. It is clear that this plant, our last hope for pumpkins, will never actually produce one.

But yesterday, in the middle of the afternoon, I noticed a new, full blossom, unmolested by the plant's tormenters. Seizing the opportunity to harvest at least one small fruit from all of our pumpkin-related labors (squash blossoms are edible), I plucked it. As an appetizer before our baked enchiladas, harbinger of fall, I made Sopa Xochitl, a simple, brothy soup with squash blossoms, named for the Aztec goddess of flowers.

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