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New England Cheddar Pumpkins

In September of 2010, I was facing a crossroads. My worldly possessions were packed in my car ready to move across the country for a man who had decided he was not ready, nor would he ever be as it turns out.

Facing the great unknown of “What now??”, I was inspired to gain skills that would serve me in the sustainable life I wanted to lead following my career in motorsports.

Looking through Mother Earth News, I found that the Titanic Lifeboat Academy offered a three week organic internship at their homestead in beautiful Astoria, Oregon. Within a week, I was heading north from Oakland into a great adventure that continues to have a positive impact on my life.

While there, I learned many life skills, including milking goats, digging a French drain, caring for chickens, and working in the garden. Twenty years had passed since I had spent so much time outside seeing the cycles of life. However the most significant impact of my experience there was discovering the wonderful, grounding, creative and nutritious benefits of cooking. Before this, I was a great preparer of foods but not a cook. I would open bags of frozen food and prepare them either on the stove top or in the microwave and think nothing of it, grateful in my hectic traveling lifestyle that the food tasted good and did not take much time.

Never before had I had the time, bandwidth nor curiosity to spend time gathering food to prepare for a meal to share. Among the abundance of resourceful books onsite, Rodale’s Basic Natural Foods cookbook opened a doorway into understanding how and when to grow, harvest, prepare and store so many staples. Starting with recipes for zucchini boats with the abundance from the garden opened up my continued fascination with making meals.

Cooking is such a creative process; it is alchemy at its best. While cooking, your attention is focused and you are using your body to cut, peel, stir. Even now, over a decade later, that hour after work provides the perfect meditative segue into a rejuvenated life-focused evening. A week into my internship, I started to experiment as only one can in cooking (never try this with baking, it is too precise). Using goat’s milk and a cheddar pumpkin, I would forage in the refrigerator, go rogue creating my own soup adding pepper jelly for flavor and have never looked back.

Another unexpected benefit was rediscovering the innate value of sharing a meal. In a day and age when we all go out to eat, each ordering our own specific desired food, the act of communing and having the same meal to discuss has been lost. There is magic to be made at the table and in the kitchen if you let it. And when your awareness of what goes into food expands, your health will improve beyond those frozen incredibly processed dinners.

Start small, look up recipes, buy Rodale’s Basic Natural Foods, aim for one meal a week and increase it over time. It is time well invested. As fall begins, I look at the fresh cheddar pumpkin on my counter wondering what nutritious delight it will become this weekend.


Michele Henn participated as an intern at the Titanic Lifeboat Academy in the fall of 2010. She currently serves on the Board as President.


Searching a photo of a cheddar pumpkin turned up a like-minded blogger with a recipe for Stuffed Pumpkin!


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