Chili in a pumpkin

God, what a year. I wish I could share some neat, precisely turned summary of everything that’s happened since I last blogged here in April. My head is a stew pot these days, full to the brim with this and that, and I’ve been trying to simmer it all together into a coherent something for months now.

On a personal scale, things have taken a happy turn towards domesticity. Sam and I got engaged in March and courthouse-married in September. We’re planning a big family-and-friends wedding for next summer (don’t ask how that’s going). We bought a townhouse–I still can’t quite believe we bought a townhouse–and moved in at the beginning of November. And we adopted a cat, who as I type this is draped full-length across my lap, purring his glossy black head off.

Meanwhile, of course, the world around us swerved in a scary direction. Our personal happiness has been complicated by fear, anger, frustration, and sadness. I was mostly holding it together until the night of the US elections, but the result of the presidential race cracked me wide open. I’ve made my political opinions clear on this blog before, and what happened on November 8th was the worst of a worst-case scenario. It also exposed some fraying ends in my mental health that I’d been trying to ignore for a while. Like many people, I suspect, I’ve spent the past month and a half relying on a mix of therapy and home-grown self-care to keep afloat.

As usual for me, the home-grown self-care includes lots of cooking in our new kitchen. The weekend after the election, we invited friends over and fed them lasagna. I’ve been batch cooking and freezing lots of kitchen-sink stuff–soups, stews, and casseroles. And I got fancy one night and baked some chili in a pumpkin, a warming seasonal treat for Sam and me. This isn’t going to resolve the topsy-turviness of the world, but it’s nourishing, absorbing, and even kind of fun–just what I need these days.


Chili in a Pumpkin

You can do this in one large pumpkin, or in several smaller ones. I’d say to plan on about one serving of chili per pound of pumpkin. For example, a 3-lb sugar pumpkin will hold roughly 3 servings of chili.

Make a batch of your favorite chili. While it simmers, preheat the oven to 350º F and position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly greased aluminum foil. You can also use a roasting pan, or any deep-sided baking dish that’s big enough to fit the pumpkin–whatever you use, either lightly grease it or line it with something to avoid sticking.

Prep your pumpkin(s). Use a sharp knife to cut a wide hole around the stem of the pumpkin, as if you were making a jack-o-lantern. Remove the “lid” and scoop out the seeds and stringy insides (save the seeds for roasting!). Season the cleaned cavity of the pumpkin with salt and pepper.

Ladle the chili into the pumpkin, leaving about an inch of space at the top. (The pumpkin will shrink slightly and give off liquid as it bakes.) Place the pumpkin in the baking dish, and brush the outside of the pumpkin all over with a thin layer of vegetable or canola oil.

Bake on the bottom rack for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the pumpkin is tender but still holding its shape. To test for doneness, poke a thin-bladed knife into the top of the pumpkin, near the opening–it should meet little to no resistance going in.

Bring the baking sheet or dish straight to the table. As you serve the chili, scoop out some of the pumpkin flesh along with it. Garnish with your favorite chili toppings–I like diced avocado and thinly sliced scallions, or sometimes just a big handful of grated cheddar cheese.

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