Sunday, September 13, 2015

warm butternut squash and cranberry salad

To celebrate my 30th birthday, I hiked a mountain in Colorado.

And I planted some fall vegetables. 

That was a year ago.

We actually only hiked about half-way up the mountain, until our water was running low and we saw enough bear scat to motivate our retreat. 

And the vegetables were just baby seedlings for weeks, peeking out from soil I piled into a raised bed to replace the miserable red clay in the yard.  I had high hopes for the little guys.  The packets of heirloom seeds promised kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, turnips, broccoli, and chioggia beets in 45-90 days.  They grew a bit at first, but our expectations were low for produce.  It was the act of growing that felt important.

I don't have a green thumb.  And we probably won't ever get enough sun while we're tilted away for winter, plus an early frost wiped out the Italian broccoli.  And if I'm realistic, bagged dirt would not be enough to feed them to fruition.  But I learned a lot about gardening and patience.

Really it was the perfect exercise to follow a summer full of promise.  I made efforts to live a healthier lifestyle (sugar is badly addictive), trying new things (acupuncture: kind of cool), visiting new places (Hello Wild West!), avoiding my Facebook feed (so many reasons), and the biggest boldest move for me: I changed jobs. Like one of those pinch-yourself, is-this-really-happening? kind of changes where the stars align and your resume lands on the top of the pile.  My new boss and I agree: it was meant to be.  I left behind marble, mahogany, and male egos for a family-friendly, collaborative environment with yoga classes and M&Ms (so much for the low-sugar diet).  And a shorter commute.  It's a huge step in the right direction to put my money where my mouth is.  In other words, to put my values first.

So it makes sense that this season and this new decade is all about new growth. I can feel the little flower buds on my soul.  To bloom not now, but in spring maybe.  This is going to be good.

Why am I telling you all of this?  Because I first wrote it a year ago.  And it's true: everything has changed.  My 31st birthday just passed a few weeks ago.  The good things have stuck with me or even returned where they were waning.  We are knee-deep in new adventures.  The year was full of excitement and rest and growth.  More on that soon.

In the midst of all the other changes last year, one of my dear friends and I embarked on daily challenges in the fall: healthful changes and exercise in small doses every day.  Plus a recipe for each week.  One week we were inspired  by Deb's sesame turkey meatballs with smashed chick pea salad (from her fabulous cookbook, of which I am so lucky to have a signed copy when she toured and visited NC for a lovely book signing event).

For another week's recipe challenge, I embraced fall weather with a warm butternut squash salad dotted with walnuts and plump dried cranberries.  It's very French bistro actually. You should try it.  I've included the recipe below.

In the meantime, check out some of the snapshots from the mile-high city.  On our trip in between jobs and for my birthday, we enjoyed an historic hotel, hipster tapas restaurants, good beer, and dusty hikes. Well done, Denver. 

Cheers to the fourth decade... a year late, with lots to celebrate.  The recipe for warm butternut squash and cranberry salad follows.

Warm Butternut Squash and Cranberry Salad
Adapted from Ina Garten

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed (or 1 container pre-cubed fresh butternut squash from the produce section at the grocery store)
2 tablespoons olive oil 
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup halved walnuts or walnut pieces, toasted

Toss the cubes of butternut squash in the olive oil and maple syrup.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Spread the cubes over two large, rimmed baking sheets.  Be sure the cubes are not crowded or they will be steamy-mushy instead of roasty-sweet.  

Roast the trays of butternut squash in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the cubes pierce easily with a fork.  Midway through cooking, toss or flip the cubes with a spatula so they don't burn on the bottom.

During the last 7-8 minutes of cooking, toss in the dried cranberries right on top of the butternut squash pieces as they cook.  They will plump up and become soft. 

Allow the roasted squash and cranberries to cool slightly.  Toss together with toasted walnuts. 

At this point, the salad is ready to serve on its own or with a vinaigrette dressing.  I recommend a honey or dijon vinaigrette that's a little sweet, or Ina's amazing version with apple cider.  

This salad is delicious as a side, warm or at room temperature.  For more substantial entree salad, serve it at room temperature over mixed greens with a little feta or goat cheese.


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