Last summer, when I began to make the first vegetable curries of the season, I was right here in our Colorado house up on the mesa. I needed a quick dinner and had a bunch of vegetables lying around the counter–including lots of tomatoes. A pot of rice was put to boil and I threw a bunch of vegetables and a little curry powder into a big skillet. We ate quite happily very soon thereafter.
DISCLAIMER: I’ll freely admit I’m no authenic Indian cook; check out Just a Girl from Mumbai or The Lady 8 Home (two of my Ina Friday friends’ blogs) for authentic recipes. Or, for a general set of instructions, check out this post.
Last week, we moved permanently from Saint Paul back to Colorado into the house we’ve owned there for eight years by now. To say it was or is a wrench is an understatement, because we love Saint Paul and I so loved my choir job at Prospect Park United Methodist in Minneapolis. Finances dictated a change to owning one house only and here we are. I’m still in the midst of figuring it all out and can’t believe what an emotional upheaval it’s been. After all, it’s just a house–right????
|St. Paul backyard
|Gab and Tuck were both puppies in CO
While we are born midwesterners through and through (Dave from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois and me from the south suburbs of Chicago)–and adore the four seasons, as well as the Twin Cities culture, we have always just sunk into the beauty and comfort of our ranch house in Colorado. At night in bed in the middle of a frozen Minnesota winter night, I’d walk through the Colorado house in my mind–poring over each room, looking out each window, nearly crying that no one was there. Come holidays or summers when the choir was off, we’d drive out west with Miss Gab and Tucker, and I often sobbed in relief as I walked into the house. I spent hours on the living room couch, reading and dreaming out over the city of Colorado Springs, which spreads just east of our property. On a clear day, you can see forever. I often watched Dave’s planes take off from the airport which is over 13 miles away. The same distance in the opposite direction brings views of approaching winter storms from the north or, in the case of this last summer, fires from the northeast in Black Forest. Step Inside this House–sung by Lyle Lovett.
And while it appears idyllic (“Oh, Colorado is so beautiful!”), and often is, it can be a harsh environment. Bears, coyotes, bobcats, and the occasional mountain lion make it through our neighborhood. Right now, we have a bear family traveling between our houses, snacking on available garbage, charging people and dogs and simply refusing to hibernate. In other words, sitting outside at night in the summer is best done on the deck with quick access to the house through a strong door! Fires — and recent floods — are often our frightening nearby companions. Sudden winter storms create havoc and, here in the ‘hood, mean walking home up the steep icy hill unless you have a great four-wheel drive vehicle.
|Stollen cooling on the east deck
|bear photo borrowed from a neighbor
|Cooking and baking
at 6,300 feet above sea level can be a consummate challenge. Bread left out ten minutes can be as dry as toast; cookies must be eaten that day or frozen. Many recipes must be adapted, though I’m pretty intuitive about it by now. Thanksgiving dinner WILL be begun really early or you won’t eat until late–as I found out when we first moved here in 1996 and ate at 7 instead of 4. There’s little to be grown in sand or bedrock when it doesn’t rain for 9 months at a time. Cooking local Colorado food means bison, lamb, trout, Rocky Ford cantaloupe and western slope peaches and cherries. Southwest of us are irrigated apple orchards, but it isn’t unusual for them to produce very little any given year. Gardening right on your own patch isn’t so simple with hardly any good dirt and strict watering restrictions. I will say that some micro-climates within the city of Colorado Springs limits have abundant gardens, but they’re the exception. Example: We save every bit of water and reuse it. When I make pasta, the water is cooled and used to water plants. A little leftover water in a water bottle is tipped into the flower pots or herb garden as I walk into the house. We can catch no rain water (if and when it rains) because it’s against the law.
|Dave with grandson, Rhyan. One of the joys of living in Colorado is our son Sean and family are here–living with us temporarily while their house is being renovated.
But it’s all part of the challenge of being a westerner, or a south westerner, I guess–and it’s usually worth it. Million-dollar sunsets over the front range, spectacular sunrises in the high plains, fall drives into the mountains to see the golden, whispering aspens, Rocky Mountain National Park in Denver’s backyard, world-class skiing, Rockies baseball, and the unarguably most beautiful interstate drive in the country (I-70 from Denver – Utah). And if you live here, you embrace it for what it is. (And if you’re like me, you travel to sea-level on a regular basis so you can see green.)
|Sunrise in my backyard
is that I’ve had to regroup my notion of “home.”
I’m no longer sure what it is. Is it where I breathe the easiest? Is it where my heart sings as that city comes into view from 10,000 feet? Is it where I laugh with the most people? Is it where I can earn a living or be in love with a choir? Is it where the best orchestra plays or I can walk across the street to the corner bar? Where I sink into a bed dipped into my own curves? Or is it just where Dave and the dogs are–which can be right in our Subaru Forester? It’s an on-going discussion in my heart and head. I’ll keep you posted.
Right before we left Saint Paul,
our victory garden neighbor, Wendy, gave us another huge zucchini–the very last of the season. In my kitchen was a little leftover butternut squash and the final pick of tomatoes from our Minnesota garden. I made a big skillet of curry that we ate off of for a couple of days; we had to pack and clean, not keep cooking. This particular early-fall prize was so tasty I thought I’d share it with you. It’s nothing too unusual and you can change out the veg to suit yourself or your larder. There’s not much in the vegetable family that can’t be made into a fast curry supper and you can pretend you’re in the Indian restaurant downtown. Here’s how:
butternut squash-zucchini curry with couscous
4 generous servings
- 4 cups–give or take– cooked couscous (I used 1 box Near East couscous with olive oil and garlic)
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Large onion, chopped
- Celery stalk, chopped
- Red bell pepper, chopped
- 2 carrots, scrubbed and thinly sliced (don’t peel)
- 2 cups chopped zucchini
- 1 cup chopped cooked butternut or acorn squash
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons curry powder*
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper or a small pinch of cayenne, optional
- 1/4 cup white wine or vegetable or chicken broth
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 teaspoon grated or finely chopped ginger
- 2 cups chopped cherry or regular tomatoes
- 1/4 cup each chopped fresh basil and fresh parsley
1. Cover couscous to keep warm while you make the curry. Toast almonds in a small, dry pan over low heat for 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Set couscous and almonds aside.
2. Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet or sauté pan and add onions, celery, red bell pepper, carrots, zucchini, and butternut or acorn squash. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, curry powder, and crushed red pepper or cayenne, if using. Let cook ten minutes or until softened, stirring regularly.
3. Stir in wine or broth and let cook down a few minutes, adding more if the vegetables appear dry.
4. Add garlic, ginger, and tomatoes. Cook, stirring, another two minutes or until garlic is fragrant, tomatoes are just softening, and other vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust seasonings.
5. To serve, spoon over or to the side of a cup of couscous for each serving. Top with a few sliced almonds and a sprinkling of the chopped fresh basil and parsley. Serve hot. Cold or hot leftovers will be luscious for lunch. (If you reheat the curry, you’ll need to add a bit more curry powder or seasonings.)
Cook’s Note: For a more authentic Indian curry, you can add a little tomato paste and/or coconut to the vegetables. For a Thai style, add coconut milk and/or lime juice. (Skip my wine!) Everyone makes their curried vegetables a bit differently; my versions come from American trial and error cooking. Do a bit of googling and see what kind of curry you might like best; there are many different kinds.
*Curry Powder comes in many varieties in the United States. I think the most important thing about it is to use fresh curry powder. If it’s sat a while, buy new. Penzey’s Spices sells several sorts of curry powder and I used half Maharajah Curry Powder and half Sweet Curry Powder. You can, of course, make your own curry powder by blending a variety of spices—you can grind them yourself–to suit your taste. Google “Making curry powder” or check out the CHOW recipe.
“The mountains are calling and I must go.” — John Muir
Sing a new song,Alyce