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Happy New Year

Part 4 in a series where Tabitha Blankenbiller writes about and creates a legit literary recipe based on moments of universal agony or joy in a writer’s life. Humble pie, anyone? [Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.]

Cross my heart and hope to basic, I love fall. Fall is when the rot and excess of summer washes away, the ashes scattered in breezes so crisp, they stun a weary warm-worn heart back to life. Most people begin the New Year on January 1st, but my fresh starts tend to cluster around the Autumnal Equinox. Maybe it’s the years of first days of school, or my October birthday, or September wedding anniversary. It’s the season I’ve started new, infinitely better jobs. The time I applied, and was accepted, into grad school. Last year, it was the time that my husband Matt and I were able to move back into our Oregon house after a long and complicated struggle to leave Tucson. Write all the pumpkin spice-hating thinkpieces you see fit. You will never convince me that this isn’t the best time of the year to be alive.

Last weekend, to celebrate this most beloved of seasons, we went to Oktoberfest at Portland’s Oaks Park. I didn’t have time to wrangle up a dirndl in time, but I wore a ginormous fascinator I made a few years back with faux dahlias, a stuffed owl, and a hot-glue gun gone mad.

“You must really love fall,” the woman at Admissions keenly observed.

Five steins, half a bratwurst, and a drunken rollercoaster ride into the night, my friend and I ended up in the Tarot card booth. A young woman shuffling a deck over a requisite purple tablecloth asked if there was anything in particular on my mind.

“I am a writer!” I proclaimed. “Tell me about writer things.”

The first card she flicked in front of me was The Tower card inverted, followed by an inverted Death. It was a carnival tent horror movie cliché, and the woman immediately told me to calm down. “This has nothing to do with physical harm,” she assured me. “This is about the end of something in your life, destruction of what’s holding you back, and a sign to move forward.”

But I was already grinning. And no, it wasn’t just the beer. It was the unequivocal evidence of what I already knew—my book was dead. The one that had been through two agents and ten years, more versions than I can store on this hard drive, the one I didn’t want to look at—let alone write—any longer. After a devastating rejection this summer, I was tentatively putting my energy back into a novel I started on a lark back in February. I was afraid to take it seriously; it was too fun. I was smiling too much when I wrote and reread it. It required my heart and my work, but when I sat down with it, the task felt effortless. This wasn’t painful enough to seem legitimate.

The dead leaves are falling. Spring’s ahead.

Next, an inverted Nine of Cups. “Everything you desire will come true if you stay the course,” she said, although again I already knew.

The next day, as our hangover subsided, we booked a room in Washington State’s Bavarian town of Leavenworth for Oktoberfest 2016. One year from that day we’d be packing into my car to embark on an even bigger celebration of fall.

“A year,” my husband marveled when we received a coveted hotel room’s confirmation number. “You can do a lot in a year, you know.”

I laughed. “Like write a book?”

In that off-handed instant, I knew exactly what we’d be toasting to when the pumpkins spiced in 2016. A completed novel draft ready for next steps. Ready to take off. I divided the number of words I’d need by 365: 180 words a day. A hefty paragraph. A rambunctious email. Something concrete and achievable even on my most tired, inebriated, and otherwise-shitty days. For the first time since this book’s concept occurred to me, its creation felt real.

That night, I devoted less of my time to procrastinating by hiding in the kitchen and more going above and beyond my Oktoberfest novel baseline. Fortunately, it’s the time of year where you’re richly rewarded for keeping your hands off and letting the produce do its own thing. They call it “basic” for a reason.


•2 medium-sized butternut squashes, peeled and cut into chunks
•2 tbsp olive oil
•2 tbsp vegetable oil
•½ tsp cumin
•¼ tsp paprika
•1 dense and tart apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled and cored and chunked
•1 onion, diced
•1 tsp dried sage
•2 ½ cups chicken broth
•2 ½ cups water
•½ cup heavy cream
•Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss the butternut squash cubes in the olive oil, then sprinkle with the cumin, paprika, and salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet lined with tinfoil. Roast for 25-30 minutes, until softened and irresistible to eating straight off the tray. While they’re roasting, go and write your hefty paragraph. NO, do NOT turn on House Hunters! This is prime novel-progress time. But definitely take a few bites of that insanely good roasted butternut squash, because you need to be living your best life. Loudly proclaim your penchant for perfect spice combinations. It’s part of the whole Queen of Fall deal.

Add the vegetable oil to a Dutch oven on medium-high heat. If anyone gives you crap for having two kinds of oil in this recipe, tell them it’s because vegetable oil has a much higher smoke point that won’t break down and destroy your delicate soup when you’re sautéing. Roll your eyes for good measure. Sauté the onion, apple, and sage seasoned with salt and pepper for 4 minutes, until it begins to soften. Dump in the chicken broth, water, and butternut squash, bring to a boil, then drop the heat to low and cover. Let it sit there for however long you need. Want to finish this chapter? Do it. Read a craft book for inspiration? Whatever! The soup is fine. Forget about it.

But when you’re so hungry you lose the story, remove the soup from the heat and stir in the heavy cream. Get out your immersion blender and puree the soup until it’s chunk-free. If you don’t have an immersion blender, log onto Amazon Prime and get one in an hour. The soup will wait. Or, if you don’t want to support the evil corporate overlords that I hypocritically pledge my debit card devotion to, you can puree it in batches via regular blender, too. It just sucks. Serve with croutons and your favorite bread. Inhale. Resume chasing dream.

TABITHA BLANKENBILLER is a Pacific University MFA graduate currently living in Portland, Oregon. Her essays have appeared in a number of journals, including The Rumpus, Barrelhouse, Hobart, Passages North, and Brevity. She also reviews books for Bustle and writes an ongoing series of Food Network fan fiction for The Mondegreen. For more of her work, visit tabithablankenbiller.com, and for a pithy good time, follow her on Twitter at @tabithablanken.

• Authors receive ~80% of your tip, after necessary transaction and administrative fees. Even small change makes a difference. • Recipe adapted from The New Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook by Ellen Brown. • Permalink • Tag: Naked Lunch Menu, Recipes

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