Mac & Cheese Wednesday: Butternut Mac & Cheese and Sophie's Squash

Okay, last week, in a fit of writer's block and a crisis of confidence, I appealed to folks on the Silver Shoes & Rabbit Holes Facebook page for ideas. Melissa reminded me that long ago, I mentioned doing a giant macaroni and cheese post. She's right, I did. I made a pinboard, and lord knows I make homemade mac and cheese often enough. However, with so many recipes and frankly, so much cheesiness, the idea of throwing it all into one post seemed daunting.

So this is my idea. Every Wednesday, I plan to post a mac and cheese recipe and a book (or something else) to go with it. 

My first three posts will be easy for me. I have three tried-and-true go-to mac and cheese recipes. I decided to start with this one, even though I seldom make it past February. You see, it uses butternut squash, a staple in our house in the fall, on into the winter. Butternut screams fall comfort food to me, and mixed with pasta and Gruyère, topped with toasted panko crumbs, it's as cozy as a fuzzy blanket and a cup of tea.

I'm so used to making this when the air is crisp and the leaves are changing colors. It's funny to blog about it when the Bradford pear trees are in full bloom outside! But on a chilly, rainy March day, perhaps a decent butternut squash can still be found at the store. Or maybe you can find frozen cubes of it in the freezer section! (Our local Dillon's store stocks ready-cut cubes in the produce section now. Talk about making things easier!)

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese (adapted from a recipe found in Cooking Light magazine)
[Keep in mind: this recipe came from Cooking Light, so the original states "Fat Free" in a lot of places. I seldom follow through with that, to be honest.]


Butternut Squash, 3 cups, cubed (or about one one-pound squash)
1 1/4 cups vegetable broth (the original recipe called for chicken broth, but I'm a vegetarian)
1 1/2 cups milk (the original recipe called for skim, which I seldom have on hand)
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 Tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
5 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese (1 1/4 cups)
4 ounces grated Pecorino romano (1 cup)
1 ounce finely grated Parmigiano-Regiano cheese (1/4 cup) , divided
1 pound uncooked cavatappi pasta
cooking spray
1 teaspoon olive oil or butter
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
a handful of fried sage leaves 

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Combine your squash, broth, milk, and garlic in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium. Simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the squash is soft when pricked with a fork. Ta-da! Remove from heat.

Now for the messy part. Place the hot mixture in a blender, along with the salt, pepper, and Greek yogurt. Remove the center piece in the blender lid to allow steam to escape, but use a clean towel to cover said opening, so the mixture doesn't splatter everywhere. Blend until smooth.

In a big bowl, mix the squash mixture with the Gruyère, pecorino Romano, and 2 Tablespoons Parmigiano-Regiano. Stir until combined, then set aside. 

[Confession: I have been known to use a Kraft Italian shredded cheese mix - you know, the ones in the shaker, found in the cheese section in the grocery store - in place of the two grated cheeses. Mainly because, you gotta have the Gruyère, and Gruyère is so expensive!]

Let's not forget the pasta now! The original recipe calls for cavatappi pasta, and the thick corkscrew shapes are perfect for the sticky butternut and cheese sauce. Once, I couldn't find my cavatappi, and went with shells instead. They were fine, but stick with cavatappi if you can. Cook the pasta according to package directions, omitting the salt. Drain well, then stir it into the butternut and cheese sauce.

Spray a 13' x 9" glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking spray, then dumb your pasta mixture into the dish, spreading it evenly throughout the pan. 

Head back to the stove, and heat your oil or butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the panko crumbs and cook for two minutes. You want the panko to be golden brown. Remove from heat, and add the rest of the Parmigiano-Romano. Stir it well, then sprinkle evenly over the pasta.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until bubbly - beautiful and bubbly. In the meantime, fry some sage leaves!

Okay, the original recipe called for fresh parsley, sprinkled over the pasta before serving. But last fall, I fried sage leaves for a butternut bruschetta recipe, and I don't know that I can ever not pair butternut squash with fried sage leaves ever again! Rinse and dry your fresh sage leaves well. (Use a BIG handful.) Heat some oil in a small skillet over medium-high. Fry your sage leaves 6 to 8 at a time. It only takes a few seconds! Remove with tongs. Drain over paper towels. You can salt them, if you like.

I wanted to partner the mac and cheese with a book, and for the girls and me, there was no question what book to feature with this recipe. I've blogged about Sophie's Squash before, but it is such a beloved book in this house, that it's worth blogging about again!

Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf.
Schwartz and Wade, 2013.

You know you're in for a treat when you see the adorable endpapers, right?

Sophie's parents let her pick out a beautiful squash at the farmers' market. Her parents thought they would eat it, but Sophie had other ideas.

Sophie loved her squash. She cuddled it and played with it and told her secrets. She named the squash Bernice. She would not let her parents cook it.

Sophie took Bernice everywhere: to storytime, back to the farmers' market, to play in the garden. She refused to give Bernice up.

Bernice started to get splotchy and soft. Sophie took her to farmers' market, to ask for advice.

Finally, Sophie planted her friend in the garden. Winter came, and Sophie worried. Her parents bought her a pet fish. Still, she missed Bernice. When spring arrived, Sophie ran to greet the new green sprout in the garden.

At last, two new squash appeared on Bernice's green vines. Once they were large enough, Bonnie and Baxter became Sophie's new friends.

This book reminds me so much of Little Sis when she was small. We own a forever copy now, and we treasure it.

And I'm so excited! A sequel is coming this summer: Sophie's Squash Goes to School!

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Happy International Women's Day!

Happy International Women's Day! Have you seen today's Google doodle? I love it! It also seems like a great opportunity to kick off our annual Women's History Month celebration here on Silver Shoes & Rabbit Holes.

I have some books on deck for the month, but I thought today I'd look back at the women and books from our first three years.

What We Read in 2013

Our very first Women's History Month on the blog looked at the book Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909. We followed that one with books about Harriet Tubman and Juliette Gordon Low. (Hey, we're still selling Girl Scout Cookies!) There were books about architect Julia Morgan and artist George O'Keefe, Josephine Baker and Marian Anderson, and a look at some important women in American history. (I might reexamine that last one this election year!) We finished 2013 with a big, fat hodgepodge of a post, with books about Jane Goodall, Mary Anning, Martha Graham, Audrey Hepburn, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, and Julia Child.

What We Read in 2014

2014 was my most ambitious year on the blog. I managed to put together six Women's History Month posts - a great many books, sometimes grouped together (loosely) by theme. As Little Sis was in the full throes of her Amelia Earhart obsession, we began with "Beyond Amelia: Picture Books About Women in Aviation.Next was a hodgepodge, as we examined books about Fannie Farmer, Effa Manley, Maria Tallchief, and Anne Carroll Moore. The next post proved to be a popular one. "Who Says Women Can't Be..." looked at women who pioneered as firefighters, doctors, soldiers, reporters, astronomers, and explorers. Another hodgepodge followed, as we studied Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Quimby, Frida Kahlo, Wilma Rudolph, and Rachel Carson. Another great post for this election year would be "Women in Washington." We capped off 2014 with a look at Sojourner Truth, Helen Keller, Anne Frank and Ruby Bridges.

What We Read in 2015

Alas, my blogging had slowed considerably by March of last year. I only compiled three posts for 2015. The first looked at some great women in music: Bessie Smith, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Ella Fitzgerald, and once again, Josephine Baker, as illustrated by my new favorite, Christian Robinson. Our second post celebrated artists and writers: Frida Kahlo (again), Gertrude Stein, and Wanda Gág. Last, we checked out books about an early naturalist, a famous nurse, and a Holocaust survivor.

I hope to get our new 2016 WHM posts underway soon. Stay tuned!

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Whatever Happened To My Sister?

Those of you on Facebook are familiar with the "On This Day" feature, right? Yesterday, a post appeared in my feed: "On This Day Five Years Ago." It was a picture of my 5-year-old and 3-year-old daughters. Big Sis had her arm around Little Sis, as both slept in my bed, snuggled together so sweetly. It was such a precious picture.

Five years has passed, and now they are 10 and 8. (Big Sis would add "10 1/2," as yesterday was her half-birthday.) We went to see Disney on Ice yesterday. It was our Christmas gift to my sister and nieces. Big Sis wasn't interested at all, but she looked forward to watching her little cousins, ages 4 and 2, react to the spectacle. Little Sis was far more excited, but tried not to show it too much. I asked the girls what they were going to wear, because I knew the cousins were dressing up. Little Sis dressed in her Olaf t-shirt, a ruffly tutu skirt, and leggings. Big Sis threw on jeans and a nice top. "She never wants to dress fancy anymore," Little Sis lamented.

That's true. My original tutu and fairy wing princess has outgrown all of that. She prefers Parks and Rec to princess shows, and playing guitar to playing dress-up. I hear them bicker over the television and playtime. And it's still early yet. Big Sis has no interest in boys, or even in getting older - she's terrified of middle school and puberty and teenagers - but she's changing, and her sister isn't ready.

Whatever Happened to My Sister? by Simona Ciraolo.
Flying Eye Books, 2015.

The girls read this book together, as you can see in the top photo. They snuggled and told me how sweet it was. Later, I read it. It made me cry.

The narrator is a little sister, perplexed by her changing older sister. Her big sister is suddenly tall, and boring, and has no sense of fashion. "This new sister shows no interest in pretty things."

She decides to ask her sister's friends, "but something wasn't right with them either. And it wasn't just that a lot of them were boys."

She finally sits down to remember how close they were, and begins to cry.

But her big sister finds her, and they "put on some music and we listened to it together."

It's hard watching your babies cease to be babies. I can see how hard it's been for Little Sis lately, too, as Big Sis moves away from make-believe and fairies and toys.

Anyway, this book is positively lovely, and as it's published by Flying Eye Books, it's handsomely bound, as well.

Excuse me... I've got something in my eye...

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