Books, news, & views from Karen Traviss

The Holy Grail of Squashes

I want one, and I want it now. But it's okay if you'd rather have a sausage roll.
Today I came to the end of a long, tedious month of medical tests during which almost no stone -- except my brain -- was left un-turned, or at least un-scanned, un-ultrasounded, or un-imaged in some way. I'd have undergone less probing with an alien abduction. Anyway, the final procedure was a gastroscopy, and as that means nil by mouth from midnight the day before, I had only one thought on my mind as I drove off afterwards: food. Food. And maybe a nice cuppa to wash it down.

Conveniently, there's a Waitrose on the way home. And there's always one thing I look for in every supermarket or food store I visit -- kabocha squash, aka Japanese pumpkins. Okay, normal people crave chocolate or chips or whatever, but my great passion these days is kabochas. Now, I like other squashes a lot, but none of them have the power to make me drive miles out of my way to hunt one down like kabochas do. I can't get enough of them. The problem is that they're not easy to find. So grocery shopping has become a quest for the cucurbitaceous grail.

The produce section is the last port of call when exiting this particular branch of Waitrose, and from the deli I can see the top shelves on the far side of the store. Would they have any kabochas today? Oh joy upon joy, there they were on the top shelf, just two specimens, beckoning to me to give them a good home. I made a beeline for the shelf, ready to wrestle rival shoppers to the ground to get them, and I swear I actually cuddled them as I put them in my trolley. It was a real Scrat moment with the wafting strains of Khachaturian's adagio from Spartacus almost audible. Honestly. It was. It made my day.

If you haven't tried kabochas, you're missing a treat. They have an irresistibly dense texture and taste like a cross between chestnuts and sweet potatoes underpinned by a hint of savoury meatiness, with so much beta carotene in them that it takes a good scrubbing to get the stain out of your hands. You can even eat the skins, unlike some of their cousins. If I had a vegetable garden again, I'd turn half my land over to growing them. I love the little buggers.

I suppose if you're going to have a food you can't say no to, it's better to crave squashes (or avocados or mackerel, my other faves) than pies. But despite having a diet of such wholesome purity that it would make Gillian McKeith's food habits look like Waynetta Slob's, it doesn't seem to have made that much positive difference to my health. If you believe all the food-nazi propaganda that's peddled, I should now be bloody well immortal and have the skin of a five-year-old. Okay, I'm in better nick than most people of my age and lifestyle, but I didn't spend the gross national debt of a small country on all those diagnostic procedures for fun: I'm living proof that diet alone isn't the key to all Britain's health problems. Maybe the government should consider that conundrum next time it wants to appoint some pinch-mouthed misery-guts to hector the country about its diet and criminalise fat, sugar, and fizzy drinks.

I happen to choose vegetables, fibrous foods that would challenge even a hunter-gatherer's digestive system, and oily fish. If you prefer Bacardi Breezers, Gregg's pasties, and chicken tikka masala, and if you pay your taxes and accept responsibility for your own actions, then you should be free to eat what you like without the government bringing in legislation to make you eat your greens.