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Novice cook's side dish would have made a better centerpiece

I prefer to think of myself as an inexperienced cook, rather than a bad one. It feels more hopeful.

For the past few years, I have been endeavoring to become more competent in the kitchen, to make dishes beyond pasta with jarred sauce or grilled cheese sandwiches.

I decided to be my own teacher, to try and to fail, and to call my mom a lot. It's been going well. I've been on a steady learning curve, cooking my own sauces from scratch and making use of fresh herbs. I haven't created any memorable disasters.

Then last week, I tried to roast decorative gourds.

And eat them.

This was deliberate. I wasn't out of vegetables. My cupboard wasn't bare. I researched recipes. Mindful of some chicken sausage I had in the freezer, I even made the mental computation and decided they would be good together.

The assorted bag I had purchased — in the PRODUCE SECTION, I feel compelled to point out — had about a dozen gourds in it. Green and yellow and orange, round and oval, smooth and bumpy.

And, yes, quite shiny. Shellacked, our president might say.

But dinner was decided: roasted squash and sausage. How seasonal.

If it's a smooth skinned squash like butternut, you can peel off the skin with a vegetable peeler. For rough skinned squash or squash with ridges, cut into slices about 2 inches wide, then use a sharp knife to cut the skin away from each slice.

Here in the recipe is where I should have realized I was attempting to eat something that's not edible.

My kitchen implements did not want to pierce the skin of these cute little gourds. My boyfriend, John, kept calling from the other room to check on me as he heard my grunts. My vegetable peeler made not a mark. My knives — I think I tried two or three — cut through only with the greatest of force. I ended up with just a few chunks of squash meat and had to chop up an onion to round out the recipe.

I tossed it all in olive oil, fresh thyme and a little coarse salt. (Does my use of those ingredients make me sound less ditzy?) And into the oven it went, at 400 degrees.

There was no aroma of roasting glue wafting through the house, but that's what came to mind at first bite. Only then did I wonder whether these particular gourds were for only an aesthetic feast.

"Something doesn't taste right," John said.

"Don't eat the squash," I said.

John is an easy customer. He bravely continued to eat the onions and sausage.

Neither of us got technically "poisoned," but I did wake up later that night with stomach pain. John was fine. Lesson learned, I guess.

I have been in kitchen overdrive ever since. Banana bread last weekend. A fantastic chickpea, sausage and kale soup on Monday. Sweet potatoes baked with apples and Gorgonzola cheese for today's family potluck.

But there are reminders of my gourd debacle all around. I put the experience on Facebook, basically soliciting laughs at my own expense.

One friend just gave me a copy of How To Boil Water, fully aware that it's both an ironic and needed gift.

And a day or so ago, John picked up one of the unused gourds and noticed some knife marks on it.

Is this one you couldn't cut through at all? he asked.

Yup.

I guess I'll keep it for humility's sake. Why not — it's going to last for years.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Novice cook's side dish would have made a better centerpiece 11/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 6:33pm]

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