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If there’s a more Fall-spirited, festive, happy-making dish around, please fill me in.

Let’s talk about ingredients first, starting with this squash. (I know, I know, three straight weeks of squash…next week will be squash-free, promise).

The name “Carnival” really sums it up. This squash makes me want to throw on a party hat and blow on a plastic kazoo. Am I the only one?

Carnival squash is a heritage breed and can usually be found at your local farmer’s market. If you’re really lucky, lighting strikes, and you’re there on the right day, you can find them at Whole Foods. Especially around Thanksgiving when Whole Foods erupts into a massive delivery channel of straight-from-the-farm produce, from Winter greens to Winter squash, Garnet Yams, and everything in between.

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The Carnival squash’s skin ranges from dark green to vivid orange, and the flesh is sweet and a little spicy. I’ve got to be careful about using the word “flesh” since my kids erroneously presumed that I was feeding them humans when we did our mystery food challenge last week. I assume that you won’t make the same mistake. We don’t eat humans in our house, and neither should you.

If you’ve been reading my posts, you’ll know that I have a habit of prepping ingredients right after I get home from the store. Prepped ingredients are far easier to incorporate into quick-fix meals, so I usually slice and roast squash with nothing but olive oil, salt and pepper, and then figure out how to use it at a later time.

Likewise with homemade stock. Whenever I’m at the store, I pick up a few extra pieces of bony/collagen-filled meat, which I make into stock that can either be refrigerated for a few days, or frozen. If you’ve ever wondered who that person is buying up those packages of chicken backs, lamb necks, or chunky pork bones – that would be me. They’re cheap, and the bones give your stock incredible body.

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 acorn_squash_FeedMeDearly

A couple of things went wrong with this experiment. Clearly I haven’t learned my lesson about trying new foods when the kids are cranky and hungry. A worse mistake was to serve the squash alongside their favorite chicken dish. But then we started talking about “flesh”…human flesh (?)…and the jig was up. Better luck next time…

ME: Who knows what this is?

LAUREN: Squash.

ME: Yeah, it’s squash. What kind?

LAUREN: I don’t know what kind but… is it yellow?

ME: No it’s not Yellow Squash.

EMMA: GREEN SQUASH!

ME: No, it’s got a name… It’s got a special name like the fruit of a tree you know. What do Oak trees drop in our backyard at the lake?

ALL: (silence)

ME: What do the bears eat?

SAM: Acorns?

ME: Yep! This is Acorn Squash.

SAM: EWW. It’s made with acorns!

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delicata_squash_thanksgiving_side_dish_csa_ingredients_final_landscape_FeedMeDearly

If I’m famous for anything in the kitchen, it’s my track record for that most heroic of tasks: Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a beast, but someone’s gotta do it. Best assign it to the person who once claimed ownership of a pre-Pinterest era Thanksgiving binder that housed every T-day recipe from Gourmet to Saveur, classified, naturally, in order of appearance, from cocktails to desserts.

That person would be me.

Last year I cooked two dinners – Canadian Thanksgiving in October, and American Thanksgiving in November. Twice I wrote out long lists ingredients to source; twice I stood on my feet for two days solid, peeling, mashing, squeezing, rubbing, brining and basting until I gave myself a simultaneous episode of tennis elbow and carpal tunnel. Twice I had that foreboding sense that I might not make it to the finish line. Twice I managed to pull it off, poured myself an immense glass of red, and melted, silently, into my leather-backed chair between cheerful dining companions.

This year, we travel. It’s the least we can do – to share our part of the responsibility of getting one’s family, preferably intact, to a home that’s not our own. To brave the two busiest travel days of the year, crossing fingers for no delays, no lost baggage, and most important – no issues with the in-flight wine supply.

But that’s how it goes. You can’t always be the ones to stay at home. To sit back and put your feet up on the sofa, enveloped in the comfort of candlelight and your Frank Sinatra Pandora station, while others brave trains, planes and automobiles to land in this exact place.

But a travel year doesn’t mean that you have to put your excitement about Thanksgiving dishes on hold. There should be a law – let’s call it Jessica’s Law because nobody will pronounce my last name correctly, which could be summarized by the following equation:

TH Factor = (TMT-DTD)/3.14TMT2

In layman’s terms, your TH factor (that’s your Thanksgiving Hunger factor) = (Thanksgiving Miles Traveled – Days until Thanksgiving Dinner), divided by (Pie x Thanksgiving Miles Traveled) squared.

It just made sense to have pie in the equation – make it pecan, pumpkin, it doesn’t really matter.

The gist is that the closer you get to Thanksgiving, and the farther you have to travel, the hungrier you are for these kinds of foods at home.

Lately, my TH Factor has been stratospheric. And it doesn’t help that I’ve found a favorite new squash.

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OK, maybe I haven’t found a favorite new squash. Everyone, their brothers, their uncles, and their kids’ elementary school teachers have discovered it this year. That would be delicata. Do you hear the angels sing when I mention the name?

Not only does the name “delicata” conjure loveliness on its own, but it also follows up its name with a silky, almost custard-like texture that will have you questioning whether you’re eating dinner or dessert. And I’m saving the best part for last….you don’t have to peel the skin.

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pattypan_FeedMeDearly

There were lots of colorful descriptions (thankfully PG) of pattypan squash this week. There was some debate, some tasting, and for the first time in weeks….a hit, a hit everyone! We’ve got ourselves a winner. Despite not enjoying zucchini and yellow squash (except in noodle form), pattypan was a success. Which goes to show that with kids, introducing a vegetable with a funny shape and an even funnier name is half the battle. I don’t often include the audio but when it’s a good discussion, I can’t help but share it, so be sure to click the audio link below if you want to hear the conversation live.

SAM: What’s that?

ME: What do you think it is?

LAUREN: I know what it is. I think it’s a tomato.

ME: Do you guys all want to hold it?

EMMA: I wanna hold it!

ME: OK, don’t fight over it. Lauren’s first. Lauren?

EMMA: [crying]

ME: She’s going to pass it to you next.

ME: What is it?

SAM: No, I’m next!

LAUREN: Smells like some green.

ME: Smells like a green?

LAUREN: Yeah.

ME: OK. Who’s holding it next?

SAM: ME ME ME!

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