Lacto-Fermented Pickled Beets

This is my favorite way to eat and preserve beets. I eat these almost daily. I’ll sprinkle a few over a salad, or just eat a small bowl. I also like to put them out as part of a tapas spread. I grew up eating the sweet and sour (think sugar and vinegar) pickled beets, but ever since I started making these, I can’t go back to the old version.

Pickled Beets – Delicious and Gorgeous!

I’m down to a quart of pickled beets, so this morning I dug up the remaining summer beets from the garden. These are so simple to make, and even die-hard beet-haters come around with this recipe. Plus, unlike the “canned” vinegar pickled beets, these are good for you. No added sugar and fermented vegetables benefit the digestive system. Enjoy!

Lacto-Fermented Pickled Beets

Fresh beets
Sea salt or pickling salt (no iodized salt)
Water

1. Make a brine of 1 tablespoon salt dissolved in 1 cup water.

2. Scrub beets and remove root ends and tops. You don’t want any sand in those pickles!

3. Chop beets into 1/2 inch dice and add to a quart-sized mason jar, leaving an inch of head space. Fill with the brine to cover the beets. Cover with a lid, but do not tighten the lid all the way down (leave some “give” for any fermenting gases to escape) or affix a paper towel with a rubber band to keep dust and fruit flies out.

4. Let sit on the counter for 3 days. Move to the refrigerator and let sit for at least another week or two. I find that they get better with age, and I prefer them after a few months of aging. Enjoy!

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Watermelon Granita

We had the most stunning success growing watermelons this year. I grew my old standby, Moon and Stars, and a newer big momma type, Congo. Congo only grew one melon per vine, but it was a big momma, easily the size of 4 moon and stars combined, and, oh momma, was it sweet.

Moon and Stars Watermelon

The irony of growing watermelons in a 4-season climate like New Mexico is that by the time they ripen, the weather is starting to turn cool again, and I start thinking more of apples than watermelon, but thankfully (?) it was such a blasted hot, rainless summer that when I cracked open the first congo, it was just what the meteorologist ordered.

After Tree and I ate our fill of the fruit, I realized I had an enormous amount of cut watermelon left and no room in the tiny fridge. So I decided to make some watermelon granita. This recipe is from Epicurious. And, let me tell you, it’s a keeper.

Eat me!

It’s not even much of a recipe, just blend up the watermelon a with a little sugar and lime juice. Watermelon is so cooling. It’s the perfect dessert for a warm late summer evening. Even though it’s getting late in the season (and some of you may have had your first frost), if you still have melons in the garden, try this. You won’t be sorry! I also made pickled watermelon rind for the first time, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I’ll share the recipe in another post.

Watermelon Granita

This recipe makes 4-6 servings, depending on serving size. You can make this ahead of time for a dinner party. I’ve managed to keep it as long as a week in the freezer (before I ate it all!).

Generous quart of seeded watermelon, cut into chunks, I used probably 6 cups
1/2 cup sugar (or less, if your watermelon is as sweet as mine was)
1 tablespoon lime juice (I used a little more because I love lime juice.

1. Whir everything up in a blender or food processor. Taste and adjust for seasoning (sugar, lime).

2. Pour into a square pan. Find room in the freezer (this is the hard part of the recipe).

3. Let the granita freeze for an hour. Stir. Freeze until firm and then scrape the granita into flakes with a fork. I frequently let the granita freeze solid without stirring. This makes it labor-intensive to scrape into flakes. When this happens, I tend to just chunk it, and eat it in chunks. Or you could do a quick blend to mush it up without melting it. Garnish with mint leaves. So delicious! Enjoy!

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Kitchen Sink Ratatouille

Summer is winding down, but my zucchini and tomato harvest seems to be winding up. And thanks to a generous neighbor, I have plenty of eggplant which means it’s time for one of my favorite summer meals, ratatouille. If you think you don’t like ratatouille, try this before you turn your back on this summer staple.

Got veggies? Use ’em up in this delicious ratatouille!

If you’ve been reading my posts, you know that I’m not one to follow recipes. So while eggplant and summer squash are traditional, use whatever vegetables you have on hand. I first tasted and fell in love with ratatouille in San Francisco thanks to a college roommate that took me out of my baked potato dinner doldrums oh so many years ago. Thanks, Christie!

RATATOUILLE

This recipe tastes much better the next day and makes enough for a generous dinner for two plus four quarts of ratatouille to put in the freezer.

1-2 large onions, cut into chunks
generous pour of olive oil (I mean generous!)
6-8 chard stalks, optional
1 tablespoon of whole sea salt (or 1 teaspoon finely ground salt)
several pinches dried thyme, garbled, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon or so dried oregano, garbled, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (only if you like a bit of a kick)
1-2 bell peppers, chopped, optional
1 large zucchini (great use for that baseball bat zuke, minus the seeds)
1 large eggplant, chopped into 1-inch cubes
4-8 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can whole or crushed tomatoes or 1 quart fresh tomatoes, chopped
1-quart water
very large handful fresh basil, chopped
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 bunch greens, any kind, chopped, optional

1. Heat a 1-gallon pot. Add olive and heat. Add onion and chard stalks, if using. Add salt, oregano, and thyme. Saute and keep adding vegetables as you chop them, adding the garlic last.

2. Add the tomatoes and water and simmer for approximately 30 minutes or until the vegetables are completely cooked. Adjust seasoning. Serve over Cappellini or linguini with extra fresh basil and freshly grated parmesan on top. Enjoy!

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Apricot Jam Tart

A friend of mine makes the best fruit tarts for dessert. Her specialty is Linzer Torte. When she described how simple they are to make, I had to try it for myself.

I had a jar of apricot jam in the pantry that was getting lonely, so I did a quick search for tart crust recipes and found David Leibowitz’ Jam Tart recipe. I made it with a few alterations, but loved his addition of cornmeal to the crust. This tart was perfect on its own and even better with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

JAM TART

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup of sugar
1 large egg
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal/polenta or corn flour (if you don’t let the dough rest for the cornmeal to absorb enough moisture to soften, then use corn flour, otherwise, you’ll be picking cornmeal out of your teeth).
1 jar jam (Bonne Maman is the right size jar. use more or less to your taste. I used the whole jar).

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg, extract, salt and baking soda. Combine well. Add cornmeal, then flour. Combine thoroughly, then form into two logs, put in a Ziploc or wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour. If you like more bottom crust than top, then make one log bigger than the other.

When the cornmeal is soft, take out of the fridge and pat into the pan (Or roll out. I’m a big on patting doughs into pans -saves time.). Spoon jam over the crust. Flatten chunks of the dough and lay over the jam for a crust. Alternately, you can roll out and do a formal lattice. Bake at 350 until the crust is lightly browned, anywhere from 20-40 minutes. Enjoy!

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Herbalism 101 this weekend

There are just a few spaces left for the Herbalism 101 workshop series starting on Sunday, May 22, 10am-12: 30 pm.

If you are interested in learning more about keeping you and your family healthy, naturally, using plants you can harvest from your garden, join us on the farm, once a month for six months for a series of fun workshops.

Each class we take an herb walk around the gardens, harvest something & prepare different herbal medicines, sample different herbal teas. I share favorite formulas and herbs for common ailments (allergies, colds/flus, etc.). Each class we focus on one particular type of herbal medicine (tinctures or salves, etc.) and one or two body systems (e.g. digestive, skin, nervous system, etc.).

Poppies! California Poppies!

You’ll also learn how to recognize quality herbs, how to harvest, dry and store herbs, and how much you need to take for various ailments.

The classes are $35 each or $180 for all 6 classes if you pay in full by the first class. You can get complete registration details on our website. We also have a work exchange position open if you have a love of digging Bermuda grass & weeding!

Hope to see you on the farm!

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Catching a Swarm for a Top Bar Hive

Catching a swarm of bees is one of the most exciting things I’ve done. Not that it takes daring or any dramatic feat (no climbing trees or scaling rooftops for me). It’s just exciting. In the way seeing one of my goats give birth is exciting except with the bees I have a more active role.

As many of you know, I’m a new beekeeper. I recently caught my second swarm of bees from the (almost) same location as the first. My friend Aaron who, coincidentally, built my top bar hives, called about a swarm in front of his brother’s house in Albuquerque. Thankfully, I was able to drop everything I was doing and head out with my gear.

When bees swarm, they are full of honey and are looking for a new home so they tend to be more docile than an established hive. I haven’t gotten stung collecting a swarm, but you can get stung, so care should always be taken.

Aaron helps to catch the swarm of bees. You can see the swarm in the rose bush just above the pruners. I held the branch while Aaron snipped, then I lifted it into a large cardboard box.

To harvest the swarm, I brought a large cardboard box, tape, a bee veil and hat (I had an extra hat plus a mosquito net for Aaron to wear), pruners or loppers and gloves. I don’t have a protective suit, I just wear jeans and a long-sleeved oxford style shirt with my bee veil.

To remove the swarm, I cut off the branch (with permission) and laid it in the box. I waited about a half hour for the bees to “settle” and then taped up the box leaving a small opening for the bees to enter. I made sure that the queen was in the box. If she is, the bees will start fanning towards the box (you will know this when you see it). I left the box until dusk so that all the scout bees could make it back into the box. When I went back at dusk, I simply taped up the box, put it in my car and took it home to install in the hive.

Since it was cold and windy that night, I simply placed the stick with the cluster of bees in the hive. In the morning I opened up the top bars and thunked the stick against the hive to dislodge the bees then I replaced the top bars.

You can see the young swarm drawing fresh comb through the observation window in my top bar hive.

By the next day, the bees were already building comb across the bars. This is a smaller swarm than the last one, so I may give them a bar of capped brood from my more vigorous hive once they’ve built up their numbers enough to handle caring for the brood.

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School Garden Rummage Sale

Come out to Jerry’s Market on Saturday, April 30, for a rummage sale to support the new school garden at Polk Middle School. The students are starting with a large dirt lot and can use all the help they can get!

We’re starting from scratch at the new Polk Middle School Garden!

The sale will take place from 7am-2pm at Jerry’s Market, 7339 Isleta Blvd. just north of the Isleta exit on I-25.  For more information and if you can’t attend but wish to donate items for the rummage sale (or to donate your time or cash), please contact Daniel Trujillo, special education teacher at Polk.

Our current wish list is for hoses, nozzles, wheelbarrows, straw bales, hay bales (in good shape or spoiled, for mulch), manure, compost, and wood chips. We greatly appreciate anything you can donate!

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Building an Earthen (Cob) Oven

As resident bread baker, I’ve wanted to build a cob oven for years. I finally got started in early 2010. Then I got a bad concussion that injured my neck, and I had to put the project on hold for a year. Now, at last, I’m back to playing in the mud. It is so much fun. If I could make a living playing in mud, I would switch careers in a flash.

Cob Oven

This is the oven with the final insulating coat. All the oven needs is the final plaster and cob around the door.

What I love about cob/earthen ovens (also called hornos here in the southwest) is that you can (sort of) make them from whatever soil you have available, or scavenge materials to make an almost free oven. The ovens are energy efficient (where wood is available) and can provide a cooking source if the power goes out. Plus you get that delicious brick-oven baked flavor!

GETTING STARTED
1. Start with Kiko Denzer’s Building an Earthen Oven. I read this for years, dreaming about my own oven, before I actually got started. Really. Buy the latest edition. If you’re in Albuquerque, you can get the older edition from the library.

2. Site your oven and gather materials. Kiko’s book goes into detail here, but some pointers: have the oven near your kitchen for convenience, door of oven should be facing away from prevailing winds (here that’s largely west and south), have a water source nearby in the unlikely event of fire.

MATERIALS
CLAY: Our soil is very sandy, so I bought clay from New Mexico Clay on Girard. I tried scavenging clay from the river and friends’ yards, but simply buying 25# of clay was easier and less expensive (considering all the gasoline I was using driving to spots to look for clay). Your soil may have enough clay in it already. Our soil is like beach sand.

SAND: You also need sand. For us, no problem. Your soil may also have plenty of sand. If you have to buy it, you probably don’t need much, just go to one of the big suppliers on Coors or Broadway. A more expensive option is to buy it at a Big Box Hardware store, but that works too.

Soil Test

Use the jar test to easily see how much sand vs. silt vs. clay you have in your soil.

To test your soil, fill a mason jar halfway with soil (save your precious topsoil for the garden!). Fill with water. Shake, shake, shake. The sand will filter out first, then silt, then clay. It takes what seems like forever for clay to completely filter out of the water, but you get the picture fairly quickly. More details are found in Kiko’s book (Do I keep saying that? It’s for a reason. Get the book!).

FIREBRICKS: I called everywhere looking for local firebricks. This is the one item I wanted to buy instead of using old bricks. You can use old bricks, but they may not hold up to the intense firing of these ovens. NM Clay had them for 6 or 7 dollars each, but lucky for us we have a brick manufacturer here in Albuquerque on South Broadway, Kinney Brick. The firebricks were just over a dollar apiece. Nice! When I have time, I’ll rummage in my notes to figure exactly what these are called -they have different kinds of firebricks. Folks at Kinney are helpful and friendly.

INSULATING, FOUNDATION & FILL MATERIALS: I used glass bottles, dryer lint, and cob for insulation; for the foundation, I used “urbanite” or broken pieces of concrete edging we had here on our property (we have more than we’ll be breaking up eventually in case anyone wants it). Concrete is very heavy, but it’s not hard to find rubble that people just throw out. Put out the word with friends. You can also buy a brick or concrete block. See Kiko’s book for other ideas. For the fill, I used broken up pieces of concrete waste from demo project here, plus a ton of ugly white landscaping rock.

STRAW: You will need straw for your cob (you could also use dried grasses, but straw is easiest). We always have straw bales lying around from various projects, and had some from insulating our goat hutches from the below zero wind chills we had this winter. The goats and chickens had torn up the straw bales and chopped them into pieces for us. Perfect! Plus the straw was mixed with goat manure -even better (see Kiko’s book or any other book that talks cob for the benefits of adding horse, cow or goat manure to your mix). You’ll probably need a bale of straw. I don’t know how much we’ve used, because we simply scoop it from the goat pen.

TOOLS: 5-gallon buckets (get them free from deli/bakery departments), wheelbarrow, tarp. The basic garden tools most people have on hand are all you need.

AMOUNTS/RATIOS: Kiko’s book goes into detail about how many buckets of this or that you will need. Buy the book or get it from your library. It’s well worth the $10 or $20. No, I’m not getting a commission!

Step 3. Dig your foundation, test your soil. Since our soil is very sandy, I didn’t dig down to the frost line. I  just dug maybe 4 inches to create a rubble trench foundation to secure the urbanite. It’s the clay in soil that causes so much expansion and contraction with water (never rains here) and freezing. If you have a lot of clay and want your oven to more permanent than temporary, then do a rubble trench to the frost line (18″ here in ABQ with climate change?)

Cob Oven Foundation

I dry stacked the urbanite (concrete curbing) and filled with rubble.

4. Create your foundation. Use any materials for this. You can build your oven much closer to the ground than I did, but as a farmer, my back is tired enough as it is to have to bend over. If it was on the ground, I would be worried about the dogs getting into the oven. Build your foundation “one over two” like you’re laying bricks. I dry stacked the urbanite, but you could also use some sort of mortar, whether commercial or earthen. Use your imagination. Fill the center with rubble. This is where being a hoarder comes in handy. I had been saving rubble from various projects since we moved to our new place, much to the concern of my partner (are you ever going to use that?). You don’t want to fill the center with earth or cob because you want a break between the oven and soil, so moisture doesn’t seep up and wick away heat when you’re firing your oven.

Cob Oven Bottle Insulation

Set your bottles in cob, fairly close together to create an insulating layer.

5. Add insulating layer. I use bottles set in cob. Put a thin layer of cob/mud mix over the fill, just to make it level, then set empty bottles as closely together as possible. I also used dryer lint and animal hair in the mud. Don’t have any bottles? Come down to my neighborhood, you can collect them from the sides of the road. Or ask your friends to save them for you. Or go to a bar and ask for empties. You don’t need many. Cob over the bottles, so that the bottles are just barely showing. I actually ended up cobbing over this insulating layer and creating a second layer because I wanted my oven opening to be at a more comfortable height.

bottle fill cob closeup

Here is a closeup of the bottles being set into cob. You can see the straw strands in the mud.

6. Creating your Cob/Mud Mix. Look at Kiko’s book or any other cob book for details on making cob (Ianto Evan’s Cob Building Book, Earth Bag Building, Building Green. All of these books are available from our library. My ratio is sort of 1 bucket soil (I ended finding an area of fill dirt that had a higher clay content than our native soil), 1 quart powdered clay, 4 huge handfuls of chopped straw/manure.

How to make cob: put the soil in a wheelbarrow or bucket or on a tarp or (use your imagination). Add water to make a slurry (clay slip). Think cake or thin pancake batter. Add clay. Moisten and adjust water as necessary. Add straw and work in till you have a much drier mixture. Think dry cookie batter. (Can you tell I’m a baker?) Again, check out a book on cob for more details. There isn’t one way to do this. You will figure out the right ratio for your soil as you go. Really. You will.

cob oven tree mixing mud

The work goes so much faster when you have someone to help. Here Tree is mixing up the clay slip for the insulating layer.

Testing the mixture for moisture/clay content. Make a cob ball (softball sized). If water is oozing out between your fingers you have too much water. Add clay or soil or straw. Once you have a well-formed cob ball, drop it from shoulder height. If it breaks apart, it’s too dry. If it oozes all over the place, it’s too wet. If it holds its shape and just slightly flattens, then it’s about right.

7. Building the base for your hearth. So now that you’ve cobbed over your bottles, create a ring around the edge of the foundation (use cob or bricks or whatever). I used cob. Into this ring you will pour sand or more cob to set in the firebricks. In the 3rd edition of Kiko’s book, he indicated that he was starting to use cob instead of sand to set the firebricks. I used sand, because, well, we have so much of it!

cob oven hearth base

I made a ring of cob “bricks” to hold in the sand base for the foundation. Note the concrete rubble I laid around the base of the foundation to hold the cob plaster. Also note that I started cobbing in the gaps in the foundation. Dont do this, just cob it in as you go.

8. The next step would be to set your firebricks, but instead, I have been working on applying a rough coat of cob/plaster to the foundation so that it looks more pleasing to my eye. I set pieces of concrete rubble at the base to serve as a foundation for the cob (so the cob wasn’t just sitting on dirt/gravel. I don’t know that this was necessary, but I felt like a capillary break between soil and cob was a good idea. I will mortar river rocks to the base using an earthen mortar to hide the concrete pieces sticking out. It took me about 3 hours to plaster the base with Tree mixing all the cob for me.

cob oven base firebricks

Notice the cob “ring” to hold in the sand base for the firebricks. Also note the slightly darker ring of cob in the center of the base. That particular batch of cob was wetter than I liked, but I didnt correct it. It “splooged” slightly and took longer to dry but worked out fine in the end.

My next step was to build a sand mound on the firebrick using damp sand. This went fairly quickly, but took much more sand than I would have thought. I used over 5 buckets.

cob oven sand mound

I ended up adding more sand to make the mound more round.

Immediately after creating the moist sand mound (this was like building sand castles at the beach!), wrap the mound in wet newspaper. In our climate, the paper dries almost immediately. I kept spraying it with water to stay moist while you put the “oven mix”/cob over the mound.

sand mound newspaper

The paper was tricky to apply in our windy weather. I soaked the paper in a bucket of water before applying.

The oven mix doesn’t have straw. It’s just a mix of clay and soil.  After you apply all the oven mud, you can wait and let it dry or go ahead and apply the insulating mix over the oven mud (the insulating mix is more of a straw-rich cob). I let the oven mix dry for a few days (I was also tired and needed a rest!). My next step was to carve out the door, and scoop out the sand. The door is not finished. I may make it just a little wider, but it was very neat to scoop all the sand out and have the oven retain its shape.

cob oven opening sand

Next step after scooping out the sand is applying the insulating cob mix.

Today, I applied the insulating mix, so the oven is almost done! I just have to make the door (really this should be done at an earlier stage), and then I will do a final plaster.

I will continue to update this post, adding photos, as I make progress on the oven and test it out. I had planned to do a workshop around building this oven, but since I’m learning my way through it, and I have only small windows of time to work on the oven, I decided to not have a workshop and simply share through the blog. Next oven, I’ll offer a workshop. Promise!

Happy cobbing!

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Backyard Chickens & FREE Herb Workshop this Weekend

Saturday I’m teaching Kitchen Farmacy, a FREE workshop on medicinal uses of culinary herbs, at the Celebrate Seeds NM event being held in Old Town Albuquerque. 10:30 AM. See the Gardeners Guild website for more information.

Sunday, I’m holding our first workshop of the season here at Sunstone. Our annual Backyard Chickens workshop starts at 10 am. Call or email if you’d like to register or see our workshops page for more details. PLEASE remember to leave your dogs at home!$15. 2814 Long LN SW, 87105.

Also on Saturday, I’ll be talking up the farming life on Carol Boss’ wonderful radio show Revolutionary Soup. 12 pm. KUNM Public Radio. I’ll add the link to listen online when I have it.

This year’s workshops are now online, and there are still more to be added! I hope to see you at the farm or at one of the Open Space Backyard Farming workshops at the Gutierrez-Hubbell House.

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Sweet Dumpling Squash Soup

Usually butternut squash is my go to winter squash for soups. It’s so easy to peel, reliable in the garden, long storing and tasty. But we had a bumper crop of sweet dumpling squash this year. These little “personal” sized squash are equally delicious, but they don’t store quite as long as butternut. I had about a dozen sweet dumplings in a basket on the counter that looked like they should have been used up by new year’s. So off to the soup pot they went (by way of the oven).

Sweet Dumpling Squash

Lucky me. These squash are ready for the soup pot. Another few weeks and they’ll be mush.

I normally don’t roast squash for soup since I’m usually making meals at the last minute, and that is an extra step, but I had roasted all the sweet dumplings so that I would have abundant squash on hand, roasted, for eating and using in cooking. Plus, squash with ridges are a pain to peel, so roasting is a great first step to be able to easily scoop out the creamy flesh sans peel (though you can eat the peel on this squash -it’s very thin).

To roast sweet dumplings or other squash, cut the squash in two around the “waist.” If handling knives and squash is not one of your skills, here is a tip to keep from chopping your fingers off. Use a large chef’s knife and gently stick the tip into the “waist.” Then lever the knife around the waistline letting the knife serve as a wedge to pop the squash open. Don’t try to saw or hack it open. Scary!

To roast squash: heat your oven to 400. Rub a baking sheet with olive oil. Put the squash face down. I don’t bother to scoop out the seeds. It’s easier when they’ve roasted anyway. Roast 20 minutes or so until a fork pierces the outside of the squash easily. Remove from heat and scoop out the seeds, then scoop out the flesh into a measuring glass.

Sweet Dumpling Squash Soup

The drizzle of cream in this soup makes it look tie-dyed. Delicious, but tie-dyed.

Sweet Dumpling Squash Soup
Serves 4

1 large butternut squash or 10 sweet dumpling squash, roasted or peeled (about 4 cups roasted/mashed)
butter and olive oil (about a tablespoon minimum each)
1 large onion, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
thyme, dried or fresh, to taste (I add about 1/2t dried)
sage, dried for fresh, to taste (I added about teaspoon dried)
1 quart stock (I use a homemade unsalted rooster stock. If using store bought stock, take care with how much salt you add).
fresh cream, optional
maple syrup, optional

  1. Heat butter and olive oil in a pot. Add chopped onions and salt and saute until tender. Add garlic, thyme, sage. Saute for another few minutes, adding vermouth, wine, cider, stock, water or other liquid if the pan gets dry.
  2. Add squash and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer till flavors are melded (or the squash is soft if you’re using raw squash). Puree. Reheat and adjust seasoning. Drizzle with cream and maple syrup. I usually don’t add syrup since I find squash is sweet already, but if your squash is not very flavorful, then the syrup can be a nice addition.
  3. Enjoy!
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