Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

Illustration: Tram Nguyen

Illustration: Tram Nguyen

 

One thing that happens when a person works from home is that “getting dressed” becomes a highly relative term. For instance, right now I consider myself dressed because I am wearing sporty leggings and a tank top, so if there was a fire I would be able to leave the house fairly quickly (once I put on shoes). But as “looks” go, it falls somewhere along the cat mom/occasional jogger spectrum, and it is not an aberration.

This is not exactly what I had imagined for myself as a kid. My 10-year-old self assumed that by 31 I’d have long since figured out how to make my hair look consistently presentable, that I’d dress in a uniform of glamorous, well-tailored Good Wife-esque suits, and also that I’d have won an Olympic gold medal in women’s figure skating. (I imagined I’d have moved on to politics not long after my gold medal performance, naturally, hence the suits.) These days I feel basically resigned to the reality of my hair, and while I will never forgive my parents for not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to harvest my mediocre figure skating abilities, I feel generally happy to have landed on a profession in which wearing a suit is literally never a requirement.

But sometimes I do feel conflicted about leading a life that’s so deeply…unprofessional. As I lay in bed, frantically trolling the internet for inspiration (ignoring the full notebook of ideas I actually have because I’m not sure they’re 1000% infallible), I conjure up visions of office life: A-line skirts, ruffled blouses, meetings in conference rooms and, above all, a sense of daily purpose—the confidence that I will not waste a day entirely in my own head. I’ll open my closet, a graveyard of business casual from past jobs, and gaze longingly at the (fairly hideous) clothing that once upon a time helped me convince myself that I was a “professional journalist.” Dressing for success feels crucial in those moments. If you’re sitting at home in your gym clothes, unkempt hair stuffed in a bun, makeup bag hidden somewhere in the depths of your bathroom cupboard, how can you begin to pretend you’re leading a productive life?

This is why I love doing freelance office gigs, such as I did a few weeks ago, at a fancy company with a high-stakes dress code. Every morning I’d put on my Office Costume—boxy blazers, knee-length dresses, high heels—and head out the door with real ambition. (Think Melanie Griffith in Working Girl.) I interacted with a lot of very talented and friendly people, and for several consecutive days my hair looked great. The sense of purpose I got from having a consistent, productive routine bled into my home life, and upon returning home from the office I’d cook up elaborate dinners, experimental, long-simmering dishes that would take hours and keep me up past midnight.

Of course, I soon became exhausted with this regimen, and by the end of the gig I felt overwhelmed by how much of my freelancing work I had neglected. (It turns out my responsibilities in that area, though they can sometimes feel ambiguous, are actually about as time-consuming as having a Real Job.) At the end of the day, I’d collapse in bed with a to-do list the length of my arm. The fancy dinners ended.

Before I reached that point, however, I did come up with a very good recipe for butternut squash and apple soup. It’s seasonal and quite simple, and it tastes delicious, which means it’s a great payoff if you’ve just finished up a long day at the office and have managed, miraculously, to scrounge up enough energy to make a nice dinner. Business casual attire is recommended but not required in the preparation of this dish.

 

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

Yield: 4+ servings

1 2.5-lb butternut squash, peeled*, seeds removed, and cut into two-inch cubes
1 honeycrisp apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 whole, unpeeled garlic cloves
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
5 cups water
3 bouillon cubes
5 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt, divided, plus more to taste
1 tsp. ground pepper, divided, plus more to taste

*I wish I could tell you about some great way to peel a butternut squash that is quick and painless, and that does not require you to labor in the kitchen for hours alternating a paring knife and a big-old chef’s knife as you hack away at this thick-ass gourd. Sadly I cannot. (Can you? Please share in the comments.) I can however offer a few recommendations in re: how to ease this thankless task: Pour yourself a big glass of pinot noir, cut up a few pieces of cheese to nibble on, and then turn on Serial, the very amazing new podcast that I’m sure you’ve already heard all about. This should distract you somewhat.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss the butternut squash in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 tsp. salt and pepper, until nicely coated. Spread the squash on a cookie sheet and add the full, unpeeled garlic cloves. Bake for 50 minutes, or until the squash is soft. Remove from heat and discard the garlic cloves.

Sauté the chopped apple in 1 Tbsp. olive oil on medium-low, until soft and golden, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat. In a big pot, with the remaining olive oil, sauté the onions and minced garlic on medium until soft and the onions are transparent, about 4 minutes. Stir in the squash, the remaining salt and pepper, and cinnamon. Add the water, bouillon cubes, and apple. Simmer on medium-low uncovered for about 40 minutes, until both the apple and the squash are very soft and the ingredients are well incorporated. Use an immersion blender or a food processor to purée the soup (I, for one, am a huge fan of the immersion blender). If the soup is too thick, you can add water until you reach the desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.

 

 

14 Comments Write a comment

  1. Haha! My current life sentiments exactly. There’s got to be a fine line of balance out there between autonomous, work-from-home freedom and professional, put-some-decent-clothes-on-and-get-out-of-the-house work. Let me know if you find it :)

  2. I have perhaps failed you as a mom by not cluing you in to the containers of peeled, cut-up butternut squash available in the prepared-food sections of….everywhere?

  3. mother, I think we can all agree that your biggest failure, parent-wise, was refusing to stage manage me all the way to the Olympics. That and teaching me to be too cheap to buy pre-peeled squash.

  4. This recipe sounds delicious. I think I might try and substitute delicata squash for the butternut because you don’t have to peel it. Funny, I also have broken Olympic figure skating dreams. They hang alongside my broken ABT principle dancer dreams.

  5. Lucy, thanks for this. I also struggle with the work from home wardrobe issues. It gets a little easier when you add daycare drop off, I always try to look one step up from the most bedraggled parent- most days I fail at this and someone is probably using me as lowest common denominator the the outfit department. I love serial too- drop a line if you have any crazy theories to share I have tons.

  6. Loved reading this, Lucy! Very fun to reflect on the idea of dressing for success when you work from home. This made me giggle!

  7. Hiya!
    First, your blog is great – I came across it through Saveur, and I am so glad I did. Your writing is delightful and hilarious.
    Next, skinning a butternut squash is actually super easy – grab a vegetable peeler, approach your squash lengthwise, and go to town, a la peeling a carrot. It is quick, and only marginally more taxing than the aforementioned carrot.
    Good luck!
    Kai

  8. thanks guys! Kia, I feel like maybe I have too wimpy a vegetable peeler? Mine barely makes a dent in a butternut squash. BUT this sounds amazing, so I am going to go find a heavy-duty one. Thank you!

  9. Ah, butternut and spice – is there anything better? I just picked up a nice Belgian style golden ale that would be perfect for this! We’ll be trying this recipe and we’ll likely be cooking it in our casual best. Rest assured … sporty leggings and tank tops (or sweats and tee shirts, in my case) are the uniforms of true artist’s!

  10. Sounds delicious! Any idea on on calorie count? Hubby recently diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes so now we are counting calories, carbs, and sugar! Plus I am trolling recipes and actually cooking! But work full time so definitely appreciating the make ahead and freeze ideas too:) Thank you!

  11. Just discovered this blog. Love it! As a veteran of 31 years in an office, I’m very envious of the work-at-home lifestyle, but yes, some days (fewer and fewer these days) it IS nice to get dressed for the office and feel like a million bucks of professionalism. Anyway, back the squash, I get my veggies at the local farmer’s market, and in the fall, butternut squash soup is a regular dish at our house. But why is everyone peeling it? I have always cut it in half, de-seeded, turned each half skin side up a baking pan, added a bit of water, baked for an hour or so, and then scraped the squash out of the shell, all soft and steamy, and into the soup pot to mix with other ingredients. If, as in this recipe, you want to bake with the garlic, you could just bake each half, skin side down, with the garlic in the cavity of the squash. We regularly do this with garlic and spaghetti squash. No peeling! Cripes, I don’t have time for that! I have to get to the office! :-)

  12. @Julie, I’ve never tried this tactic, but it sounds promising. I’ll give it a try!

    @Erica, unfortunately I haven’t worked out the calorie count for this recipe. I’ll let you know when we get that sophisticated :)

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