A nostalgic meal...

Tonight's meal recalls my childhood, both early and later.

My paternal grandmother was an amazing woman. I wish I remembered her stories better - she had so many, and I was too young to realize that once she was gone, her stories went with her. I lost her my ninth grade year, but didn't really learn how to grieve for her until a few years ago.

I invariably spent Monday nights with my dad, and, by extension, his parents. Monday was taco night, and I couldn't be happier. My grandmother, Mimi, would let me grate the cheese. To this day, I can't grate cheese without thinking of her. And I love to grate cheese. It's almost cathartic. So that's the first part of the nostalgia - I grated a block of cheese for tonight's meal.

The second part recalls my later childhood - and that's what I chose to make, a squash casserole. My father frequently took me to Famous Amos with his friend Tammy - and I usually got double orders of squash casserole. I have no idea how to make their squash casserole, and this is my second attempt at such a dish, period. Tonight, though, I didn't try to make theirs. I made this recipe my own. Maybe someday I'll figure out how to make that squash casserole. As a vegetarian, there's not much for me to eat at "Flaming Anus" (as my stepdad calls it), so I'll just have to remember it fondly.

I made quite a few changes to this recipe. My squash came from my co-op, Local Fare, and everything else was store-bought. I really like the meals that come completely from my local farms, but alas.

I used:
3 crookneck yellow squash
2 green bell peppers
1 white onion
half a hot green pepper (recipe calls for pickled jalapeno, but I had this leftover, and the boy hates pickled jalapeno)
~1-1/2 cups brown rice, cooked
3 tb wheat flour
1-1/2 cups Almond Breeze almond milk (my favorite of the milk substitutes)
2 heaping cups pepper jack cheese, shredded
4oz Neufchatel cheese
7-Grain Sprouted bread crumbs

Chopping took the longest. I cooked the rice while I chopped the squash, bell peppers, onion, and green pepper. I tossed the veggies in olive oil and roasted at 400°F for about 20 minutes, until just starting to crisp.

When the rice was done, I spread it in a 9x13 baking dish and prepared the cheese sauce. I love making this type of cheese sauce with wheat flour - it adds a tiny bit of sweetness. That sweetness doesn't necessarily translate into the sauce, but I can't resist eating the remains out of the pan! I heated the almond milk and wheat flour over medium until thickened and bubbling. I used my new whisk that I got from Ikea. When I saw it, I knew it would be perfect for rouxs and such - and I was right! I had no chunks of flour, which is such a pain.

After the sauce thickened, I stirred in about 1-1/2 cups of the pepper jack. The sauce is perfect.

I combined the veggies and rice, and then poured the cheese sauce over top, stirring again to combine.

I baked at 325°F for about 10-15 minutes, and then added dollops of the Neufchatel. Now here's where I wish I would have gone with my instincts - I've had recipes call for dollops before, and I am always displeased. The recipes always imply that the dollops will melt down - and they don't. I have to find a solution for this.

I made bread crumbs in my food processor. I HATE processed bread crumbs. They are so much tastier when I chop up bread in my food processor. I spread the breadcrumbs over the Neufchatel dollops, and baked for about 30 more minutes, until bubbling and crisp.

Waiting for the boy so we can eat. The picture makes it look kinda gross, but I'm sure it will be delicious. Not Famous Amos style, but my own. I wish I could share it with my grandmother.

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