Monday, October 19, 2009

An Ode to the Island of Rhode

In second grade, I attended Kolmar Grade School in Midlothian, Illinois and I had Miss Cuculich. She was a first year teacher, meaning that at the time that I had her, she was most likely younger than I am now. Wow. That's weird to think about. Miss Cuculich taught me a lot of things, as any good second grade teacher would.

There are a handful of memories I remember about second grade. I remember hatching chicks in an incubator in our classroom. I remember playing tag at recess. I remember having a whole month of theme days and I remember my mom helping out in the classroom. And I remember memorizing the states and capitals.

Skip five years down the road and you'll find me in a new town, state, and school. I was a seventh grader at in Lodi, Wisconsin. I remember a lot more about seventh grade than second grade. [ a lot of which I wish I could forget. urg. middleschool!] But one thing I definetetly recal is the moment I realized what Miss Cuculich wanted for us in second grade. She wanted greatness.

During a daily trivia question, my teacher asked, "How many states names begin with a vowel?" I got to work. Reciting states names in my head and counting on my fingers. When I took time to look around the room and see that EVERY HAND WAS UP but mine, I felt a bit silly. Was this some sort of joke? Was this the kind of question everyone in the country just knew the answer to? Did my parents transfer me to some sort of genuis geography-loving school? Was I ever going to live up? how many states DID start with a vowel?

No. No. No. and, well, No.
Oh, and 12.

Later on in the year, I overheard two classmates talking. Kid A was sharing stories about a family vacation out west. His friend asked if they had spend any time in Arkansas. My ears perked up.

ARKANSAS? Out West? WAIT. A. MINUTE. Arkansas even started with a vowel, which was apparently some sort of Middle School special interest here in Lodi, and apparently this boy had lost his mind.

Two days later sense was made, as one of the popular girls admitted she had never left the great state of Wisconsin. The lunch table broke out in 13 mini conversations of how many different states/countries we've all visited, trying to one up one another in "culture experience", as if we had taken off on these trips to our own accord and not in correlation with what our parents chose to do over our summer vacations.

That's when I heard it; over a dozen friends sing a song I had never yet encountered, as they kept track of family trips on their fingers. "Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California….." JUMP BACK. Where did this come from?

I was counting my own state to state experiences on my own hands, but not in alphabetical order. The fact that I had never been west of Minnesota didn't stop me from starting in the northwest corner of the map moving down the pacific coast in my mind, "Washington, Oregon, California… all the way through the Rockies, southern, midwestern, south Atlantic, and northeastern states, being careful not to forget Alaska and Hawaii.

Right then and there I realized a few things; a) I needed to head westward. b) I was thankful to have more states under my belt than a handful of girls [oh how scary it was to be on the bottom of the list for ANYTHING in Middle School!] c) Miss Cuculich wanted greatness for us.

Coming to this realization, Then Heather Said, "Thank you, Miss Cuculich." [who I am quite certain is now Mrs. Something or Another.]

Last night, I found myself thanking Mrs. Something or Another again as I was studying squash. Yes, squash. You see, I seem to be quite obsessed with fitting winter squashes into my weekly menu plans the last few weeks. (you may remember my making butternut squash fries and roasted mashed goodness last week.)

Whether you can name the states in alphabetic order, by region, or not at all, perhaps you remember a tiny little state, Rhode Island. A co-founder of Rhode Island, small and mighty, is a guy named Roger Williams. In 1643 he also published a work, A Key Into the Language of America in which he documented the English word "squash" coming from the Narragansett word "askutasquash" meaning "a green thing eaten raw."

I should note at this time I am very happy I am not eatting squash raw. It does not sound appealing in the least. And although, of course, now my curiosity keeps trying to tell me that perhaps I should just give it a try in order to honor the etmology and all, my logic is speaking otherwise. No raw squash.

Instead of raw squash, last night, I decided to be go out on a limb and try something new. I got adventurous in the kitchen.
I've been craving some comfort food lately, and when it comes to comfort, Mac'n'Cheese is where it's at. But I wanted to jazz it up with something festive- and what better than "a green thing eatten raw." Or rather, a pretty, orange squash I planned to cook.

And here's what I came up with:

An Ode to the Island of Rhode:
Sneak in the Squash Mac N Cheese Bake of Wonders
[notes and nutrition info to follow]

1 lb Butternut Squash, peeled & cut into chunks (about half-inch to 1 inches pieces)
1 cup vegetable stock
2 cups vanilla soy milk
cinnamon, cayenne, salt & black pepper
1 lb of macaroni ( I used whole wheat)
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
3/4 cup ricotta (I used low-fat)
1/4 cup plus 3 TBL Parmesan Cheese
3 TBL breadcrumbs
1 tsp olive oil
cooking spray

Preheat Oven to 375

In a medium saucepan, heat squash cubes, milk and stock. Bring to a Boil, and reduce head to simmer.

As this is boiling, cook macaroni according to package directions. I like to cook my pasta a bit al dente, as it will be baked in the oven as well.

When squash is tender, remove from heat and mash squash. I don't have a potato masher, so I was doing some crafty work with a fork and large serving spoon.

Season with Cinnamon, Cayenne, Salt & Pepper. I added about 1/4 tsp of each, except for the salt- which was about 1/2 tsp. If you are a spice lover, go a bit crazy on the cayenne. I dare you.

When pasta is done cooking, transfer it to a large bowl. Stir in squash mixture as well as cheddar, ricotta, and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.

Spray your baking dish; I used a 9x13 pyrex dish. Transfer macaroni/squash/cheesy goodness to dish.

In a mug/bowl/cup, mix remaining 3 TBL parmesan, breadcrumbs and olive oil. Sprinkle mixture over dish of goodness.

Cover with foil & bake for 25 minutes.
Remove Foil and Bake for 45 minutes. Top of bake should appear brown and and crispy :)

*This did take a little bit of time: about 15-20 minutes of prep and an 70 minutes of baking. But it would be PERFECT for a vegetarian meal for a small group, a side dish for large group, or something to cook up for a potluck. I got 12 goodsized servings out of it - which is great for sharing, but A LOT for a single girl. I may try and half the recipe if I ever want to make this for just me.

A Few Nutrition Facts - For 12 Servings
Each Serving:
Calories - 165
Fat - 6.6 g
Carbs - 18.7 g
Dietary Fiber - 2.3 g
Sugars - 1.8 g
Protein - 8.8 g

Do you remember learning the states in grade school? Was it alphabetic, by region, by "coolness"? Can you list all 50 states today? [There is a Friend's episode where Ross has problems with it- do you?]


  1. Matt and I play the state capital game all the time and we're both horrible (okay he's better than I am!). It's hilarious.

    I never learned the states, but I learned the capitals in 8th grade, then forgot them (obviously). Whoops.

    I'm pretty sure I could name every state now, but I'd have to do it by region - like you. Alphabetical would never happen!

  2. This is AWESOME! I actually already have some butternut squash cooked and frozen by my father-in-law (bless is heart) I could easily make this! Time to add some items to the grocery list. And I know exactly where Lodi is!

  3. Joey- "Say Hello to the new champ of Chandler's dumb states' game."

    Chandler- "How many states do you have?"

    Joey- "Fifty-six."

    GOSH I love that show, thank you for introducing me to the whole gang!!

    And if you think about it, if you kept Rhode Island as Island of Rhode, it could be the 13th vowel state. :)

  4. I loved this post. It had me laughing several times. Now that I have my own place, I've been cooking up a storm lately. I'll have to try this Sneak in the Squash Mac 'n Cheese Bake of Wonders.

    And I learned my states via the alphabetical song (in choir, of all things) in the fourth grade. Capitol cities came later, in 6th grade, when we learned all the continents and their countries and everything. (That was a stressful time, though we were all able to giggle about the country in Africa named Djibouti.)

  5. Of course I know all of the states. Periodically I quiz myself, just in case. I usually go alphabetically, but I only know up to the Ms definitely; so after my atempts at alphabetically I move to regionally.


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