Butternut squash pasta

Leftovers eaten in the car. It's a glamorous life.
Leftovers eaten in the car. It’s a glamorous life.

The first time I made this pasta was during college. My roommate and I had spent a good half hour trying to use our cheap vegetable peeler and grater to beat the butternut squash into submission. Our other roommate heard the whining and cursing coming from the kitchen and generously offered to help. We left him alone in the kitchen for a few minutes and when we got back, there was butternut squash everywhere. It was on the counters, floor, and even some on the walls. Thankfully, it was also his night to clean the kitchen.

Moral of the story, I do not know of an easy way to peel and grate a butternut squash. Using a good, sharp peeler and grater helps, a lot. I highly recommend a Y shaped peeler. But ideally, get someone else to do it for you – this is an excellent task to pawn off on an unsuspecting friend. It is worth it for this pasta though. It’s creamy, flavorful, and with the exception of the squash, quite easy. I added a generous amount of pepper. And of course, don’t skimp on the cheese. Cheese is key.

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Friday night dinners

The other day, I read this wonderful article on Friday Night Meatballs and instantly fell in love with the concept. In a nutshell, the author has been opening up her home every Friday night and offering a family dinner.

Everyone is welcome – old friends, new friends, work friends, friends passing through town, etc. Guests can bring side dishes but it isn’t necessary. Dietary preferences are accounted for. The only rules are RSVP by Thursday night and they cap the guest list at 10 adults. She writes about how this has simple act has increased her sense of community and enriched all of their lives

In college, food has become far less of a communal activity for me. Of course, I still go out to eat with friends and we have tried to cook together as well, but it isn’t easy. “Entertaining” usually takes the form of a party or occasionally a potluck. I don’t think I’ve ever served dinner for more than a few friends. I love the idea of setting one night a week aside to enjoy good food with people I care about. It’s often hard for me to make time to see all the people I would like to see and I think it’s important to make my relationships more of a priority in my life.

The only question now is what to cook. The author and her husband make meatballs every week and I definitely see the appeal of having a regular dinner menu – as she points out, the cooking process becomes streamlined and you become a master at whatever you are making.

However, meatballs are far from my forte, and I can see myself getting bored with making the same thing every week. Friday Night Pasta seems like a good alternative – it’s cheap and allows me to vary the sauces depending on my mood, the guest list, and what is in season. We could do pasta salad or pesto with summer veggies when it’s warm and baked macaroni and cheese or lasagna as it cools down.

The weekly time commitment and cost are a little scary to me, but I believe this may be one of those things where what you get out is far more than what you put in.

Little changes, big impact

Happy place
Happy place

I’m not a fan of the phrases “detox”, “cleanse”, or “clean eating”.

I find them to be vague, physiologically inaccurate, and usually a front for a weight loss scam. Your body has a natural detoxification system – it’s called your liver. For me, a healthy diet is a balance of foods that are good for your body and others that are good for your soul.

While I don’t like the idea of cleanses or diets, I do believe in reevaluating my behavior and making changes if the way I have been acting isn’t serving me to the fullest extent (a good principle for life beyond food as well).

My diet has varied quite a bit this summer. There were a few weeks of stress-eating large quantities of dark chocolate (oh hey Trader Joes Pound Plus bars) followed by weeks where I honestly didn’t have time to eat anything other than salad.

I’ve been pretty consistently tracking my diet using MyFitnessPal and it’s been interesting to see how the way I’ve felt, both physically and mentally, has changed along with the way I eat.

I’m the first to admit that I can be a creature of habit. For a while, I had gotten into a routine that was really working well for me. Lately, I’ve noticed my good behavior slipping and habits that don’t work as well for me are popping up instead.

My game plan is to try to reincorporate some of the good habits I had picked up earlier this summer to get myself back into a place where I’m feeling my best. I know this next week is going to be an especially rough one and I want to make some changes to make it as easy as possible.

  • Go for a walk in the morning. Moving around in the morning, even if it’s just for 20 minutes, makes me feel like I’ve started my day on the right track.
  • Cut back on the coffee. One of my problems with coffee is that I like to have something sweet along with it. I’ve been spending a lot of time studying in coffee shops lately. Coffee and a pastry has become a regular afternoon habit instead of an occasional treat.
  • Get my sugar from fruit instead of refined sugar. This was one of the changes that had the biggest impact. I noticed that once I got used to having less sugar, refined sugar actually tasted too sweet and I didn’t crave it any more. Now that I’m back to eating more refined sugar, the cravings are back and it makes me feel awful.
  • Keep tracking my food. I really like that it helps hold me accountable.
  • Stock up on healthy snacks. Yogurt and fruit has been a big one this summer.
  • Focus on self care. It may sound silly but when I invest time in myself and my body, it reminds me to appreciate myself and care for myself in other aspects of my life as well. I’ve been using a simple homemade body scrub (used coffee grounds+sugar+canola oil+vanilla extract) in the shower lately and it makes my skin feel incredible. Body lotion before bed is another nice way to take care for myself.
  • Make sleep a priority and take a few minutes to relax before bed. In college, I’ve drastically reduced my recreational reading and I like the idea of taking 10 minutes to read a book for fun before I go to sleep.

Goat yogurt

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It looks so innocent…

It’s extremely rare that I find a food that I actively dislike. I definitely have my preferences but I’m not a picky eater in the least. Tempeh, seaweed, nutritional yeast, bring it on! Lately, I had the (unpleasant) surprise of trying something that I absolutely hated: goat milk yogurt.

The name sounds so innocent. I love goat cheese and I love yogurt, so when I saw goat milk yogurt on sale, I figured I would be all over it.

Yogurt and fresh fruit has been one of my main snacks this summer. I’ve recently fallen in love with the whole milk yogurt from Strauss Creamery. A couple spoonfuls over a chopped up peach and handful of blueberries is the perfect summer snack.

So when it came time to open up my goat milk yogurt, I quickly diced up a couple of plums from the backyard, threw them in a jar with some yogurt, and ran off to class.

No joke, I almost threw up.

It tasted like goat, in the worst way possible. It was funky and musty and reminded me of a barnyard. The texture was oddly fluffy and it was all I could do to quickly swallow it down.

My roommate, who was getting live updates of my yogurt experience via text, tried some later that day and actually liked it. Granted, she used it in a savory manner (with garlic on naan), which we both agreed sounded like a much better idea than with fruit.

Regardless, I’m now stuck with an entire tub of goat milk yogurt that I can’t stand. I don’t know what to do; this doesn’t happen to me! I’ve considered baking with it, but what if it messes up my baked goods? Then I’ll just have wasted more ingredients. Currently, I’m trying to give it away, but no takers so far. Definitely a lesson learned – next time, buy a small container first.

 

Restless

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“I’m restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again.”

–Anaïs Nin

Lately, it feels like I’m about to burst out of my skin. It’s been a rough summer and I have so much pent up stress about school and my future. At the same time, I’m so burned out. I’ll sit in front of my textbook and stare at the pages as the words blur together while simultaneously becoming more and more anxious about how much I have to do.

I want an escape. I feel like I need to move and relax at the same time. It’s an odd mix, and I think I just need to get out. I’m craving an adventure and the quote above keeps playing in my head.

I’m dreaming of Spanish beaches and Colorado mountaintops. I want to see the stars from the desert and taste salt water. I miss the feel of sun on my bare skin and sand beneath my toes and the wonderful way your body aches when you’ve spent the whole day exploring.

I know I need to push through for just a little longer but it’s hard when I’m going this stir crazy. I keep reminding myself that this is temporary, the end is in sight, and this is what I need to do to get where I want to go. I know how lucky I am for all the opportunities I have and I am so incredibly grateful. This is just one of those times when it’s a little harder to stay positive.

The best cooking buddy

IMG_2448My roommate and I threw together a quick batch of pasta salad earlier this week and it ended up working far better than expected. The two of us cook well together – our tastes are similar enough that we often have the same general idea but different enough to keep things exciting. It’s the best kind of partnership. After four years of living together, we also know each other’s likes and dislikes well enough that planning out meals is easy.

I love the rhythm of cooking with someone you know well. There is a sense of trust and ease that forms over countless hours spent in the kitchen together. It’s incredible how much faster, and more fun, even the most complicated recipes become with an extra set of hands, a good playlist, and someone to laugh with.

Speaking of playlists, my roommate sent me this one, which is the soundtrack from a surfing documentary. I’ve been playing it on repeat over the past few days. It’s definitely better music for studying than cooking, which is perfect since studying has been taking up most of my time lately. It’s been a blessing to be able to come home and grab a bowl of pasta salad from the fridge on my busier days.

Mediterranean Pasta and Kale Salad

Too simple to really be a recipe, just cook the pasta and toss everything together. Quantities given are ballparks – tweak to taste. Would be great with garbanzo beans for added protein. My roommate likes to dress the salad right before it is served so she keeps the leftover salad and dressing separate. 

Time: 15 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb whole wheat pasta (we used rotini)
  • 8 small tomatoes, diced
  • 1 bunch kale, torn
  • 3/4 cup kalamata olives, sliced
  • 1 cup feta, crumbled or in small cubes
  • basic vinaigrette, or any other dressing

Big Sur

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One adventure that I did manage to fit in this summer was a quick road trip down to Big Sur with my roommate.

The first day, we drove from Santa Cruz down to Andrew Molera State Park, where we camped for the night. We went back up to Garrapata State Park and explored along the coast the next day.

 

 

The next two nights, we stayed at Plasket Creek Campground. We went to see Sand Dollar Beach, Julia Pfeiffer Beach, Pfeiffer Beach (which is completely different) and just generally bummed around.

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On our way out, we stopped by Big Sur Bakery, which we had read about in multiple reviews and travel guides. It lived up to the reputation – we split a ginger scone and the best almond croissant I’ve ever had.

It was a simple, beautiful trip with my best friend and I’m so glad we made it happen.