She was lovely, with a ready smile. Someone we'd look forward to seeing every evening on the walk with Opie.
Her sparkling white cottage with its wraparound porch was just a few blocks from our home, and Desi and I would often stop to admire it. Every Fourth of July, it was awash in red, white and blue. On St. Patrick's Day, green clover leaves would appear in the windows. And come Christmas time, you couldn't find a porch with more stars and lights and cheer.
For Opie, the lawn was the clincher. It was green and soft and always immaculately mowed, and in winters it dried into a perfect, golden carpet that tickled his belly. He would flop down on it each evening. When Desi or I tried to get him up, he'd turn around and roll in the grass, a huge smile on his face.
"Let him enjoy it," she'd say with an exuberant wave. "I love dogs."
Sometimes she'd take a break from weeding to come talk to us. She shared casual little details of her life: how she had worked at the National Institutes of Health for more than three decades. How the woman across the street had put up a dozen or more bird feeders in her backyard, bringing too many birds into the neighborhood --"they poop all over the place!" How she'd once fallen asleep behind the wheel on a drive back from visiting her daughter in Baltimore and crashed into a tree, lucky to escape with just a few injuries and a warning from a policeman.
When Opie started to slow down himself (he passed away last year), we no longer walked as far as her house anymore. We didn't really think of her until one day, driving that way, we saw the "For Sale" sign outside the cottage.
Soon after there was an announcement of an estate sale, and for the first time we walked into her house, to look at all of the things, little and big, that had made up her life. A rocking chair with a well-worn seat. A 50-piece puzzle, perhaps for a visiting grandchild. A cupboard full of dainty china that someone had already stamped with a "SOLD" sign.
I love estate sales, and I hate them. It's wonderful to find a little treasure for a steal, but I hate that they give you that feeling of intruding on someone's once-cherished things, of trying to make them your own.
We asked the man running the estate sale about her. She had moved into a senior care home, he said, because her children thought she no longer could live alone safely. She was fine.
I was relieved the news wasn't worse, and saddened that I would never see her again. I wished I remembered her name, and I was ashamed I didn't.
I bought two cast iron skillets at that estate sale. The seasoning was worn off in places, as if she hadn't cooked in them for a while. But they were also smooth and black and no doubt well-used at one time, to make meals for the husband who had passed away, for the friends whose visits grew fewer and farther between, and for the children who had moved on.
Now, they are the skillets I go to first in my kitchen, not just because none of my newer skillets come anywhere close to them in beauty and efficiency, but also because each time I hold their weight in my hand, I am reminded of her sweet smile and friendly voice.
She was a bright spot on those evening walks with Opie, and those skillets she left me without ever knowing she did are now a bright spot in my kitchen.
The simplest of recipes are often the most seductive. Take a Farinata, for instance. All it really needs is chickpea flour, a few herbs, some veggies, perhaps, and you have a food you can bake and devour in just a few minutes. Very little work required.
While Farinatas are often called breads or pancakes, they pretty much make a complete meal by themselves. You have all that great protein from the chickpea flour and then you have the veggies. At best, all you need is a salad on the side to add some fresh, green flavor.
You can use all kinds of veggies in your Farinata, but I was inspired by Joe Yonan who made a farinata with butternut squash. This is the perfect fall and winter vegetable, and I had some just waiting to be used up. I tweaked his recipe only slightly: I reduced the oil, and I used sage instead of parsley, because the sage in my yard is still producing delicious silver-gray foliage, and because sage and butternut are magical together.
To make a good Farinata, you need a good cast-iron skillet, and, of course, I used my favorite one. The cast-iron is important because you begin the cooking process on the stove-top and finish it in the oven, and no pan can do that job with as much versatility as a cast-iron one.
So go on, get the oven going and pull out your treasured skillet. Maybe it's the one you got from your grandma, or from your mom, or a friend. Or maybe you just bought it at Walmart, and have seasoned it with love and care all these years. Either way, you're about to taste deliciousness as it should be.
Vegan Butternut Squash Farinata
- 2 ½ cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into a small dice
- 1 ½ cups chickpea or garbanzo bean flour or besan
- 2 cups water at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Salt to taste
- 1 tablespoon chopped sage
- 1 tablespoon chopped thyme
- 1 teaspoon virgin coconut oil
- 2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large shallot, minced
- Place the chickpea flour in a bowl and trickle in half the water, whisking as you go, to make a smooth paste. Then add the remaining water and whisk well. The batter should have the consistency of a thin pancake batter. Word of caution-- don't try and flip this by adding the chickpea flour into the water-- it will take you forever to break up the lumps.
- Add 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, salt to taste, pepper, sage, and thyme into the chickpea batter. Let the batter stand two hours at room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- On the stovetop, in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, heat the remaining olive oil and coconut oil.
- Add the shallots and season with some salt and pepper. When the shallots start to soften, in about two minutes over medium heat, add the butternut squash.
- Cook the butternut squash, stirring frequently, over medium heat until the squash softens and is almost tender, about eight to 10 minutes.
- Make sure the squash and shallots are evenly dispersed in the skillet, then turn off the heat and pour the chickpea batter into the skillet.
- Place the skillet (be sure to use oven mitts) into the oven and bake the Farinata for 30 minutes or until the sides are golden-brown and start to pull away from the skillet.
- Carefully, using oven mitts, remove the skillet from the oven and let it stand 10 minutes.
- Cut into slices, and serve.
Very cool. Moving!
Hi, There is something I don't understand. Do you mix the batter with the squash mixture and put in the oven? Because on the picture the batter seems to form a crust at the bottom of the pie. I am confused.
Time for an idiotic question I'm afraid... Do you think I could freeze this?
Holy guacamole this recipe is the bomb! It was absolutely delicious and my husband and I polished our plates!
Being Italian I really miss frittatas as a vegan, and this recipe feels like the perfect way to fill that hole - can’t wait to try a 1000 variations of this!
Thank you so much for this recipe, it’s pure perfection!
I’ve made this twice and it is an amazing recipe. The first time I rested the batter for the full 2 hours but today I didn’t have the time and it came out just as beautiful.
So happy you made it!
Hey we got a lot in common; I love dogs and cast iron cookware (I even have an excellent cast iron karahi from India) but in your story I most identify with the neighbor who has "too many" bird feeders. The thing about buying used cookware from my POV in terms of being vegan is that it skeeves me out to think of all the meat fish and chicken that got cooked in it. That recipe of yours sounds really good.
Hello Vaishali, what a wonderful heart warming story. This goes to show how you can be part of a community without being related. Thqnk you for the recipe. Will make it this weekend and share it with my kids who love to cook. Can you suggest how to make it without a cast iron.
Looking forwad to more stories and delicious recipes.
Hi Rajee, Use any regular skillet to saute the shallots and butternut squash. Transfer the veggies to an oven-safe pan and then add the chickpea batter and proceed.
Would the farinata be tasty room temp or cold?
I think it would be great at room temp. I am not a fan of cold dishes, but I don't see why it wouldn't appeal to someone who is.
Such a warm story. That skillet must be associated with so many memories.
On a different note- I don't own a cast iron skillet and I am so afraid that it is high maintenance. Do you have any recommendations and tips on how to use it without freaking out?
I agree...such a beautiful story told with such empathy and compassion. Well done, Vaishali! If you wanted to find her, I'm certain you could google past real estate records, get her name and find out where she might be now...oh, how I bet she'd absolutely LOVE a visit from you. Or ask her R..E, agent (that might be an even easier way)... let me know what you find out... wouldn't it be lovely to bring her something made in her skillets?
What a great fall dish. I screwed it up (aka adapted it) all kinds of ways, starting with using a sweet potato instead of a squash, not having any thyme, and using a pie pan instead of a skillet. In spite of it all, it came out very tasty. Thanks for the idea!
Oh, and about 10 minutes before taking it out of the oven, I drizzled some extra olive oil on top, which gave it a nice top crust. Yum.
Nice recipe. Will try for sure.
I don't own a cast iron pan. Any substitutes?
Hi Prema, use a baking dish, like a pie dish or even a square baking pan. For the initial steps, where you cook on the stovetop, use a regular skillet, and transfer the ingredients to the baking dish before you pour in the chickpea batter.
I loved your story & this recipe, unfortunately I am allergic to chickpeas. Can I use another type of flour like oat or coconut in this dish? Many thanks, Laura
Hi Laura, I don't know for a fact, but oat flour might work. If you try, do let me know how it worked out.
Vaishali! What a beautifully written and touching piece..... thanks for sharing your story and your amazing recipes...
Thanks, Margo-- good to see you here. You're the best. 🙂
You tell beautiful stories. Along with the wonderful recipes it is the stories that make your blog beautiful. Please keep writing so that we all can continue to enjoy reading 🙂 Have a wonderful day.
Thanks, dear Vani. You are too kind.
What a beautiful story, Vaishali. When we were looking at homes few years back, the home we loved the most and finally bought was an estate sale. I felt the same way when I entered the first time but then saw the a picture of the previous owner with her grandchild on one of the shelves and the lady looked so happy and content that I instantly felt welcome. I felt a sense of connection as I admired the big and beautiful, well cared for kitchen and a large collection of books, most of which were related to baking. I was not into baking then but I loved cooking and felt that I could keep this home happy, I smiled at her picture and assured her that her kitchen will be in good hands. I found a beautiful antique ceramic plaque with a kitchen prayer tucked on top of the cabinets when I was cleaning after we moved in, I considered it as a blessing from her and proudly display it in my kitchen. I found joy and love for baking in this kitchen and have made cakes I could not even dream of! When my family and friends ask me how I got into baking I tell them this kitchen makes me do it, if I don't bake something for a while I feel my kitchen is missing it. When I bake something new I feel a sense of happiness all around.
Oh, Priti, that is beautiful. I had tears in my eyes. I am sure that the lady, wherever she is, would have been happy to know her house and kitchen passed into such caring hands.
Made this and loved it!! I only used about 1 &1/4 cup of water though, which seemed to produce the correct thin pancake batter thickness. I feel the same way about estate sales - weird and kind of creepy sad but intriguing.
Thanks for another dose of deliciousness and great writing!
Hi Guru Karam, how wonderful that you tried it. Good idea to go slow on the water: different weather can definitely affect how much you need. Thanks for the feedback. 🙂
I like to read your writing, you write well and i believe you were a journalist to support that. good writing make the food looks more palatable. Paramasivam
Thanks for your kind words, Paramasivam. I am happy you enjoyed the post. 🙂
LOVED THIS POST!
Thanks, Kim. 🙂
Lovely story, Vaishali. I have mixed feelings about estate sales too. But isn't it wonderful that your neighbor's cast iron pans continue to be loved and used in your kitchen? My beloved cast iron skillet and griddle are nothing special- purchased from Target, made by Lodge, but they are the only two things that permanently live on the stove.
Thanks, Nupur, and yes, I think that she'd be happy to know someone who cherishes her memory has them. Perhaps your cast iron skillets are an opportunity for you to create a legacy for your daughter? 🙂
What a lovely story, Vaishali! On my husband's drive to work, he passed a home with a gorgeous English garden. I loved to drive over that way to see the riotous explosion of color that I would love to have in a garden of my own. But although I had decided to stop if I ever saw the homeowners outside, I only saw them once, and didn't have time chat that time. One day my husband told me that the house was for sale. I did a bit of detective work online, learning that the female half of the couple had died months before, in her 90s, and her husband had recently died. I was so sorry that I hadn't had the opportunity to stop and tell them how much joy their garden brought to others. The new owners don't seem to have interest in maintaining the garden, unfortunately. I would bet that the nice dog-loving lady whom you met would be delighted to know that you use her skillets and think of her. And you have inspired me to find my grandmother's cast iron skillet (which I never used because I knew how much meat had been cooked in it!), and try the farinata. Thank you, for the recipe and for sharing your memories.
Thanks for sharing your beautiful story, Leslie. Isn't it amazing how people we barely know sometimes create such beautiful memories for us. It's magical, and a reminder never to take anything or anyone for granted.