I won’t have a sordid history with every vegetable the way I do with squash, so most weeks I’ll just jump right in and tell you how I gagged on the cabbage (ugh, cabbage), but squash and I go way back. Not the warm fuzzy way my friends like to go way back with their vegetables (“Mmm, my grandma’s butterbeans are the best!”), more like a cold, prickly, pit-of-my-stomach kind of way. Through no real fault of their own, my parents weren’t the Leave it to Beaver, five-star chefs my friends’ parents all seem to be (sorry, Mom, sorry, Dad). My mom’s mom was a shitty mom and never told my mom she was pretty or taught her how to cook, and my dad, well, he was a dude in the age that dads weren’t supposed to have to cook, but bless him, he did anyway. I know they’ll come down on me like a hammer for this with all sorts of examples of good homecooking I’m conveniently forgetting (holidays don’t count, folks), but for the most part, we ate Hamburger Helper. And Tuna Helper.
Because of this Reagan-era, working mom, add-water-to-a-box diet, it was a big, fat, hairy deal at our house when my mom bought fresh squash, boiled all the nutrition and other good bits right out of it, slathered it in butter and cheese, baked it and called that dinner. Squash, gross. Squash casserole was an infrequent transgression against me, but I hated it every time. Hated. It. My mom was not a shitty mom and she did tell me I was pretty, but she was still a mighty, harrowing force to be reckoned with and a whiny, snotty, vegetable-hating child was no match for her and her squash casserole. We would eat it and we would like it and we would do it happily, she warned every time she made that scary squash.
My dad, on the other hand, was a pretty mellow fellow. He happily went along with our usually egalitarian family dinner dynamics. Whoever “cooked” (or ordered the pizza) didn’t have to do dishes, and whoever cooked or did dishes one night wouldn’t have to do them the next night. We regularly traded and rotated, and no one was ever burdened with too much hardship at the dinner table. He liked it that way: peaceful, calm, ordered.
Then one pretty Southern summer day (read: scorching hot, sweltering, painfully uncomfortable) my sister and I passed the time by being particularly badly behaved, torturing my parents while they ferried us around to sales and discount stores for the loathsome, thankless task of outfitting us for the new school year. After that, most unfortunately, that painfully uncomfortable summer day turned into a hot, miserable, squash casserole summer night, and reasonably, our bad behavior followed us home. While my mom “slaved over a hot stove,” (one of her most favorite and most ironic expressions), my dad, smart as he was level-headed, began to suspect a revolt was brewing at the kitchen table, his peaceful, harmonious kitchen table. Before my mom ever got to her “you’ll eat it and like it” speech, he eyed both of us and in an uncharacteristically stern voice said, “Your mother has worked very hard on this dinner. I don’t want to hear any complaints about it. Not one word. Not one word.”
Really? That’s what he was going with? It was like bait. He was baiting me.
Mom put the plate in front of me and there sat that gooey pile of squashy mess, chock full of onions (aaagggh..ack..gag) and, of course, squash and god knows what else because it’s a casserole and you can’t see what all is in it and so I said….
And my dad said,
“Don’t say it.”
And I said,
“Is this that stuff…?”
And my dad said,
“Don’t say it.”
We stared at each other. And I think he thought it was over. He picked up his fork and went to take a bite of…
BAM! He slammed his fork down and broke his plate. It’s hard to tell that story without putting, really, a LOT of emphasis on the part where HE BROKE A PLATE. But seriously, my dad broke a plate. Over squash casserole. Really, Dad?
So, I thought it was important, in homage to my hardworking mom and my peaceful, mellow dad, to inaugurate this project with my most hated vegetable (other than onions, which aren’t on the list), and I’m going to start it–Day 1, right off the bat–with squash casserole (except without the onions, obviously). Here’s to you, Mom and Dad. I’m going to eat it and like it.