Stuffed Acorn Squash

Fall weather always reminds me that I want to find hearty, comforting fare that meets healthy and whole food guidelines. I collect recipes constantly, but I’ve not done a great job of trying them out. However, I am recommitting to better eating habits, and one of my first forays into trying a new recipe is this amazing and delicious squash recipe.

The original recipe was created by Guy Fieri and published in Clean Eating Magazine. I made lots of changes and took some shortcuts. However, the full original recipe is located here. The changes I made included:

1. I bought turkey Italian sausages at my local grocery store, squeezed the meat out of the casings and used that, rather than making the sausage from scratch. I will definitely try it with the homemade sausage another time, but didn’t have the ability to wait for flavors to marry in the sausage this time.

2. I don’t like the toasted squash seeds, so I didn’t use any. I don’t think the recipe suffered. To dress it up, I might use some shelled and roasted pepitas another time.

3. I used the ricotta, however, I might forego the cheese another time. I didn’t think it added substantially to what was already a very flavorful dish.

4. I did my best to adjust the recipe to make only 2 servings. I think it turned out well, though I’m not that great at reducing small amounts mathematically – I eyeballed a lot of it. When in doubt, I used somewhat less of each ingredient in order to stay close on the nutritional end of things. I also did not use any salt in the cooking of the dish – basically because I forgot to! As it turned out, I used a small amount on the plate, but felt the ingredients were satisfying without using the additional 1/2 tsp.

As I am typing this, the second serving is re-heating in my oven. A perfect lunch on a gray and raining Saturday in October. Yum!

Flashback Friday: Fall at Miniwanca

One of my favorite fall excursions took place in the late 1980s (88, 89 or even 1990) when my friend, Sue and I drove from Iowa to Michigan. There we met Chris (our friend from grad school) and Shawn (their friend from summers working at camp) at the American Youth Foundation’s Camp Miniwanca in Michigan. The camp, situated on sand dunes right on Lake Michigan, was breathtaking in its fall colors.

We spent the days sightseeing and tooling around the area in Shawn’s red jeep. It was perfect sweatshirt weather.

We spent the night on the beach – literally. Blankets, not sleeping bags, directly on the sand. It would be safe to say that not a lot of actual sleep happened. But there was just no way we could bring ourselves to leave the camp fire and the moon, lighting a path across the lake, to head indoors to spend the night on musty camp cots. Needless to say, the morning was a little rough.

The weekend was one of those moments in life that stands out as unlike anything else you’ve done. This particular group of four people was only ever together that one time. We were only ever at a deserted summer camp in fall that one time. As a trip, it wasn’t meaningful or important in the way some events are – your first trip overseas, or a family reunion to celebrate a 50th anniversary, for example. It was an idea that we all acted upon, unlike so many impulses in life. The times when you think, “Wouldn’t it be fun to…” then you just stay home. For whatever reason, this time we didn’t just stay home. And that decision to act rather than not act, was completely rewarded.

Preparing for Winter

In the epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, which begins with Game of Thrones, the northern Stark clan has a saying: winter is coming. In the series, summers can be short or decades-long. But the Starks know that winter will surely follow, no matter the duration of milder weather. Their mantra, “Winter is coming”, serves as a sobering reminder to be prepared.

Here in the midwest, a rash of perfect weather has brought the happy realization that fall is almost upon us. Deep blue skies, fresh apples, pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks…early autumn is celebrated for many reasons. But this year, and not only because I have just started reading the George R.R. Martin series, I can’t help but say softly to myself, “Winter is coming.”  And I am feeling ambivalent about it.

Last Thanksgiving, I spent the long weekend in Minneapolis with my friend Mike. An ice storm was coming, so I left earlier than anticipated and arrived in the city only 30 minutes before the storm. Mike’s studio apartment, in an old home in a neighborhood that has seen better days, was without heat. We kept warm wearing layers and blankets, leaving the gas oven lit with the door open. And I cooked, the first night making a pot of chicken noodle soup.

On Friday, Mike worked. I prepared dinner in the crockpot, then I wrapped myself up in a soft, knit infinity scarf (a beautiful shade of teal). I put on my new winter activity boots, and hiked a couple of blocks to the nearest coffeeshop. It was packed with Somali men, and I only stood out a little as I sat in the back reading a book of essays about winter. The cold, the snow, the steamy coffeeshop resounding with animated discussions in a language I didn’t speak- these all converged into a sensory experience I can’t describe. That moment, though, planted a romantic’s view of winter in my psyche which held on for most of the season. I couldn’t get enough of ice crystals and deep cold and shoveling.

That was then. This is now. Perhaps my current ambivalence about winter comes from having just had the second almost-perfect summer of my adult life. I used to think that summer in Iowa was the best recruitment tool other states could use to lure people away from here. Now, I’ve discovered that weighing less and doing more actually counteracts the effects of corn-sweat-induced humidity. Summer in Iowa isn’t so bad.

Maybe I am on the fence about winter because I can’t even remember what I own in the line of closed-toe shoes. Or is it that secretly, I am afraid I’ve lost that romanticism that carried me through last winter? The sense that each day contained an incipience, that things were on the cusp of happening. That the cold and hard wind were scouring away extraneous stuff in order to give me a clear path to the life and person I was becoming. I liked feeling that way.

But years and moods pass. If I am unable to recreate the epic fantasy tale in my head and heart that carried me through last winter, how will I keep moving forward? By preparing. I need to use this time to winterize myself – not just my car and my house. Get back into the routine of morning workouts now, before it is so cold I give in to that as an excuse not to leave my bed. Stock up on reading material full of interesting ideas to engage myself on cold, dark December nights. Plan and execute the annual clearing of my craft room, so I can access the materials to create. Reacquaint myself with the many delicious, hearty soup recipes I’ve collected over the years. And remind myself of this simple truth: a life fully lived requires more than hunkering down in a warm corner and hoping the season passes over. It requires choosing to act, to laugh, to love and to seize the moment we’re given – rather than pine for the one we’re not.

Recently, I have learned to love summer. All my life, I’ve eagerly awaited fall. I have (and I will) enjoy them as fully as possible each year. But winter is coming, and I plan to be ready for it.