It was my friend Johnâ€™s birthday and the plan was that 10 of us would drive to Woodstock and hang out in a house on Friday night, Saturday, have breakfast on Sunday and get back to the city in time for the Oscars. That was the plan.
Jess hired the car. Husband Jon made the play list. I baked the brownies. Kim had the route all worked out. We collected Wendy who brought a sack of herbal popcorn, which tasted almost as suspicious as it sounded, and set off into the traffic.
Now weekends in houses outside Woodstock require preparation. Iâ€™d made the component parts for butternut squash risotto for 10 (Fridayâ€™s dinner), and had trays of roasted squash, and tupperwear boxes of caramelized onions in the trunk ready to go. We had gallons of milk. 60 eggs. Sacks of apples. 4 bags of spinach. And a bottle of agave syrup, which apparently counts as a weekend essential if youâ€™re from Manhattan. The trunk of our car looked like a franchise of Whole Foods. It was going to be great.
The house was outside Woodstock. Quite a long way outside Woodstock, in fact. Up a mountain and down a mountain and over the hills and down a lane by a cemetery. And there was snow. And there was ice. And, hereâ€™s the kicker, the house was up an incredibly steep drive.
Jess, game for anything, attempted to scale it, revving up the Chevvy and hoping for the best, but after 10 feet we slithered back down again wildly out of control, and after the second attempt we begged her to park up and consider a plan B.
â€œHow long is the driveway?â€ we wondered.
I nominated husband Jon to head up on foot and find out.
It was pitch black. The tarmac headed upwards before curving off into the woods. Our cell phones didnâ€™t work. Somewhere in the distance something howled.
â€œIâ€™ll be right back,â€ said Jon.
And that was the last we heard from him.
The other John arrived in an SUV.
He would mount a rescue mission to find the first Jon. But not in the car. Because a lack of snow tires and chains suggested a future wrapped around a tree. He too headed up the dark and icy incline, his useless iPhone the only light.
â€œIâ€™ll come with youâ€ volunteered Jasen.
â€œYouâ€™ll freeze,â€ opinioned Jamie.
â€œIâ€™m wearing a sweater.â€
â€œItâ€™s made of mesh!â€
But Jasen can press half a ton in the gym using his legs, and is made of stern stuff, so he set off ruggedly in the pale blue light of his blackberry.
We waited in the dark.
We ate the brownies.
And then, slipping and sliding all the way, the men returned bearing the sad news that ascent was impossible, and we should head back to the city.
We stopped at Kennedy’s Chicken joint in Nowhere New York, to eat sandwiches and something deep fried with jalapenos in it, and to toast Johnâ€™s birthday in Pepsi, and then we drove back, full of our adventure â€“ city folk, thwarted by our brush with the countryside.
And though we celebrated over the weekend, most notably with chocolate cake and brunch, the butternut squash remained un-eaten. Enough roasted butternut squash to feed ten people. So this has been a week of butternut squash for Jon and I. In pasta, in soup, and lastly, in risotto.
Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Risotto (serves 2)1 cup of arborio rice 3 cups of hot stock (approximately – I usually find it takes more) 1 cup of white wine or Vermouth
1 medium onion Â½ cup of parmesan cheese (grated) Â½ butternut squash 3 tbsp soft goat cheese
2 Â½ tbsp butter 1 tbsp olive oil Salt and pepper
- Peel the squash and cut into a small dice
- Season with salt and pepper, toss with a little oil, then put on a baking tray into an oven heated to about 400 for 20 minutes, until it is roasted on the outside and cooked within (this conveniently coincides with the cooking of the risotto – you can do this in advance, and warm the squash through before stirring into the risotto when needed)
- Dice the onion finely and fry in 1tbsp of olive oil and Â½ tbsp of butter on a low heat until it has softened. Season it with salt and pepper â€“ the salt will make it release water too, so it will be less likely to burn
- Pour / re-hydrate the stock into a pan and keep warm
- Once the onion is cooked, pour in the cup of rice and toss in the oil to coat.
- Add the glass of wine/Vermouth and let bubble for a moment so that the alcohol burns off.
- Add the stock one ladle-ful at a time, stirring constantly. Keep the heat fairly gentle, you want the stock to seep into the rice, rather than boil away into thin air
- Keep stirring, for about 20 minutes. You may not need all the stock, or, conversely, you may need to keep going with water until the rice is cooked â€“ the texture should be fairly liquid â€“ somewhere between a fork and a spoon.
- Add the butternut squash and stir in the parmesan cheese and the butter
- Take off the heat, crumble over the goat cheese, cover and let rest for 2 minutes
- Serve with a grinding of black pepper and more parmesan cheese.