Roofs & Squashes

I didn't want to write about COP26 but I did

Dear bread friends,

I hope that you are baking bread or making food that feels satisfying. The world seems so far from wonderful right now, or at least the political and global warming status quo parts of it feel exactly terrifying. Yet wonder surrounds me. Every time I see the sky, I am floored: a stack of white clouds simple as the pages of an unwritten book, or an ominous steel gray pushing rain.

Monday morning, a unique event caught and held my attention. I woke to an odd thunder of activity at the former Armenian church next door. The church hall and sanctuary were turned into apartments over the summer, but the developers had not replaced the rooves. This fall’s rains apparently proved the folly of this plan.

A picture of a gray sky, a strip of sunset, and trees framing the Cohoes Falls on the Mohawk River. I’ve never seen so much water raging over the rocks.

A giant tarp stretched the length of the gutter to catch the old shingles that a crew scraped free. I counted fifteen men on each slope, and they were working fast, moving against the day. Once all remnants of the old roof were gone, the plywood looked like skin, and a few big holes were visible. Men stood by the holes, cutting wood to fit with a circular saw, their feet firm on the angle. Once they had a solid surface, out came the rolls of roofing paper. A couple of guys tacked the stuff down over and over again. Then came the shingles, taken from pink packages that a big telehandler hoisted to the peaks. The crew worked this big and dangerous puzzle with incredible ease, sliding the shingles into overlapping place like they’d done this frequently. Which I’m sure they had.

The work began before the light and continued into the dark. I didn’t take pictures of the workers, who were all Central American. I felt sensitive about exposing any potential immigration vulnerabilities they had or felt. But I’ll never forget how this significant job was tackled as the climate summit began in Glasgow.

For most of my life, America has known that we are endangering the environment. Addressing the corporate behaviors involved, however, has been too big a task, like the roof seemed to the developers over the summer. Somehow, the owners found the money and urgency to replace the roof, once the weather threatened the viability of their investment.

Our tenancy is not guaranteed. Weather extremes, drought and wildfires: these are the rain seeping into the apartments next to my house. But no one is taking responsibility for changing the roof on our lives. The many “owners” of life —mostly companies & countries — don’t see a big enough risk yet to respond.

I’m impatient with the idea that individuals are responsible for altering our fossil fuel-based infrastructure and resource greedy way of life. We can garden, yes, and choose more sustainable ways to eat and travel, but we cannot choose our way out of problems of this size. I’m not saying we are not to blame, but our collective power as people is not large enough. We need leaders in businesses and government to prioritize the stabilization of the climate, and we’ve been needing that for decades. I’m dropping links to readings on the practical side of this below.

As frustrated as I am with consumer-related advice to save the planet, I’m giving you some, which I learned with my pal Ellie. I cook hard to cut winter squash whole, and remove the hard spots where the stem and blossom once were. Grind everything – seeds, skin, pulp – in a heavy-duty blender or food processor. Then you’ll have gallons of squash guts, or whatever your family will name it. This was the root of experiments with sourdough squash breads for a freestyle baking class Ellie and I hosted. If you are interested our approach, you can “buy” the video and class handout by donating $15 to a charity of your choice. Email me that you’ve made a contribution and I will send you the materials.

This week I’ve been turning the squash-squish into treats, because I had the pleasure of a four-year-old guiding me. Laurel wanted to bake a cake, but she agreed to muffins if we topped them with sprinkles. We kind of-sort of followed the Joy of Cooking recipe for pumpkin bread.

Pumpkin Muffin Map
1 1/3 cups pureed squash or pumpkin
1/2 cup oil
2 large eggs
1-2 tablespoons molasses
1/2 cup sugar, white or brown
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1.       Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit, and grease a muffin pan, or line with paper cups. This makes a dozen muffins.
2.       Whisk together flour, soda, salt, cinnamon and allspice.
3.       In a separate, larger bowl, whisk together squash, oil, eggs, molasses and sugar. Add dry ingredients to this mixture, mixing just enough to combine. No, you don’t want dusty pockets, but you also don’t want tough muffins. A gentle, thorough hand is needed.
4.       Bake for 25-30 minutes. Cool a couple of minutes in the pan and then remove.
5.       Frost if you want. Thick butter makes good “frosting.”

A closing thought on squash. I used to think peaches were the prime method for stealing the sun into the winter, but peaches only last with lots of heat, sugar & jars, or freezers & plastic bags. Winter squash & pumpkins can steal the growing season much longer and without so much effort. Many of them sit very patiently in a cool dark place, awaiting our appetites.

Picture of a halved pumpkin and my arm. Cutting into this crazy green pumpkin that grew in our yard, I couldn’t believe how much it looked like the sun.

Take good care of yourselves, Amy

Suggested climate readings:

Alan Guebert Farm and Food File – I subscribe to this column and really love what I read Friday about climate change; that piece will be on the site on Friday, November 12. In the meantime, please take a look at this writing from October. I love how he explains farming in general, and the barriers to change within the American agricultural system.

Paul Lightfoot writes the Negative Foods Newsletter, and I really liked this piece, What is Government’s Role in Reversing Climate Change with the Food System?