I’ve made this recipe half a dozen times since we’ve been home. Which is a lot considering we’ve only been around these parts for a little less than two weeks. It feels good to be back – strange, but good to be settling into our loft and simplifying our space (i.e. unpacking hella boxes and getting rid of a bunch of unnecessary shit we’ve accumulated over the years). But I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss the heaviness of my pack or the way I slept like a baby after a long day of wearing it from our apartment to the train station and from the next station to our new apartment. I miss the adventure showers and the way I used to strategically plan how I was going to wash my body without turning the bathroom floor into the apartment equivalent of Lake Superior. Mostly, I miss getting completely lost and turned around during my morning runs. I’d leave to explore a new city without my mobile device or the address to our apartment because I find it thrilling to be lost in a place and not know how to get back. I was forced to use my instincts. To follow my gut. Sometimes that meant a quick 40 minute run and other times it meant I spent two hours running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Those were my favorite runs. They were equal parts exhilarating and terrifying; they made me feel alive.
But I’ll tell you one thing I don’t miss: My body being in limbo for four straight months. Everything from my scalp down through my bowels and into my toes is over the moon to be back. Traveling does some seriously strange shit to your body, you guys. And although I’m still getting used to the slow rhythm around these parts, I am truly happy to be home; to be in familiar territory and to be engaged to my favorite human and to be sleeping (finally!) in The Most Comfortable Bed in the World.
So this recipe. I’m fond of it for many reasons, but the two most important being that a) it’s wildly delicious and b) it first was prepared for us by one of Thom’s close friends who knew of his existence well before I did. They met when he was semi-fresh out of the Army (dude’s an Iraq vet) (but you’d never know it if you met him) and filled with angst and rage and heavily involved in anti-war protests, activism, and all of that other stuff he did to distract his mind from thinking about the complete and utter horror he witnessed during his time overseas. I long to know this Thom; the one who spent a lot of time collecting and sorting through his thoughts in that park where he asked me to be his wife.
Her name’s Ivona – Thom’s friend – and she has two tiny children named Boris and Nadia, who turned out to be two of the most charming and hilarious kids we’ve ever known. Most of the hilarity stemmed from the fact that they didn’t speak a lick of English and we couldn’t understand a single thing they were shouting at us in Czech, but somehow we understood each other. Somehow our bodies filled in where our voices couldn’t, and everything just sort of worked out. So there we were, sitting in the kitchen while Boris and Nadia were running about, creating calamity so loud we were practically yelling at one another, and out of nowhere Ivona carries a pumpkin out of her pantry and my first thought was What the fuck is she going to do with that? Next thing I know she’s taking a knife to that baby – and cutting up some tofu and onion and garlic, on the side – and then she went and threw everything into a baking dish that was comparable in size to the upper half of my body. She added some spices and a bottle of dark mystery sauce, and what came out of the oven an hour later was one of the most satisfying and delicious vegetable based meals I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. We sat around the table, filing our bellies with plate after plate of pumpkin-tofu goodness, while we talked about their former lives as activists and future travel plans and if Thom and I were ever going to make little Boris and Nadias of our own.
Truth is, at that particular moment I hadn’t given it much thought. For a long time I was vehemently opposed to having children for reasons I don’t think are suitable to share on the internet (yeah, I like to keep some things private around here) – I’ve just never really felt like motherhood was my jam. And then after lunch we ran some errands with Ivona and her tiny people, and Thom scooped Boris up off the ground and placed him on his shoulders. Boris wasn’t having it; he was straight up terrified. Rightly so because Thom is 6’3″ and I’d be scared as shit, too. But Ivona assured Bori he would be ok and moments later, Thom took off down the sidewalk – running and hopping and skipping and jumping. And that was the moment. The moment my uterus swelled nine sizes and my ovary (do not mistake the singularity for a typo, my left side is empty) (TMI TUESDAY) started aching and I thought, One day I will be the mother of his children. One day I will make tall, skinny, big headed babies with this man.
And to be honest, I think that’s the real reason this recipe has been on such heavy rotation, lately. Because happy memories resurface each time my hands are holding a knife that’s slicing through a pumpkin and dicing up tofu and bringing everything together in our dutch oven that’s substantially smaller than Ivona’s. I am reminded of that moment when it hit me like a ton of feathers and I realized that maybe motherhood will suit me, after all.
Somewhere, my dad is reading this and celebrating Tom Cruise Couch Scene-style, cheering at the very thought that, one day (in the distant future, pa), we’re gonna make an Opa out of him.
Notes: I know frozen vegetables aren’t nearly as good as fresh, but the moisture from the frozen kale is imperative in this recipe. If you want to use fresh kale, steam it until the leaves are soft. If you’d rather use spinach, knock yourself out. Most worcestershire sauces aren’t vegan so make sure you check the labels (Annie’s is vegan and it’s the one I use). Feel free to add any herbs or spices you desire, but one of the things I love about this recipe is it’s simplicity. So, since Thanksgiving is right around the corner I figured a dish like this might be much appreciated. Also, the ripeness of your pumpkin will determine baking time; the fresher the pumpkin, the less time it’ll have to cook. After 45 minutes, cook in 10 minute increments then check for doneness.
BAKED PUMPKIN AND TOFU WITH KALE
1 block extra firm tofu
1/2 cup worcestershire sauce, divided
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 small sugar pumpkin
3 tbsp olive oil
3 cups frozen chopped kale
1 small yellow onion, diced
1/2 tsp fine sea salt, plus more
Lightly oil a large baking dish, such as a cast iron dutch oven or a soufflé dish. Drain water from the tofu and rinse. Wrap in paper towel and press to remove a bit of the excess water. Cut into small 1/2 cubes and put in a bowl. Top with 1/4 cup worcestershire sauce, garlic, turmeric, and cinnamon; mix to combine then let marinate in fridge for 30 minutes. Using a sharp knife, cut the pumpkin in half and scrape out the seeds (save for later) (roasting, holllaaaa). Cut pumpkin in 1/2-1″ slices and then into small chunks. Put in prepared baking dish. Toss pumpkin with the remaining 1/4 cup worcestershire sauce, oil, kale, onion, and sea salt. Remove tofu from fridge and toss with pumpkin mixture – make sure you scrape out as much of the marinade as you can. Cover pan with lid or tin foil and bake at 375˚F until pumpkin is soft, about 45 minutes (could be up to an hour if your pumpkin is dry). Can be served with your favorite grain or enjoyed as is. Salt to your desire. Refrigerate in an air tight container for up to two days.
Yield: 4-6 servings