During my lunch break this week I finished watching the fifth season of Parenthood on my phone. I am one of those lucky people that is doomed to never upgrade on Verizon because I refuse to give up my unlimited data plan. It’s UNLIMITED for heaven’s sake. Which means that I get to indulge in Netflix binge-watching to my heart’s content and not think twice about it. It may be completely frivolous, but it makes me happy.
Don’t get me wrong, I tear through books constantly: the good old-fashioned kind, e-books, and especially audiobooks. (All three links are what I’m currently reading right now.) As a kid, I’d get in trouble for staying up too late with a flashlight under the covers, reading way past my bedtime. (I know, such a rule breaker….) It’s been my escape for as long as I can remember. I read when I have down time at work, I read with my kids, I read on my own before bed, and I listen to “my stories” any time in between. With a long commute every day, I have plenty of time to become absorbed in other people’s lives, real or fiction, and keep it playing while cooking, doing the dishes and even grocery shopping. I can’t imagine my life without books, or the library for that matter.
But I don’t want you to get the impression that my love of reading makes me one of those people that thinks she’s too good for television. Because, oh…. I love TV. I do. I mean I really love it. I can happily sit for hours on the couch, staring like a zombie at the screen, and I don’t even pretend to multi-task while doing it. Again: escape.
But since having kids my TV habits have changed. I used to walk into my apartment and turn on The Food Network or HGTV or the news and just have it play in the background. It kept me company, and I would often forget it was even on. But when we had our first son, we decided that television would be intentional, and that it would be limited. We were those crazy parents that didn’t let our kid have screen time until he was almost four, except for selected concert videos and short little clips of Stomp or animation like Shaun the Sheep. (Oh, to be first time parents… our second sure has seen a whole lot of The Muppets and The Cosby Show, and he’s just 3 1/2.) Because of these choices, my own chance of watching anything is relegated to after the kids are asleep, or when I’m by myself. And at 8:30pm, there’s a good chance that I am either exhausted and about to crash, have an endless list of things to do for our family, or down in the basement working on this blog.
Which leaves me with my lunch break. First of all, how great is it to have a lunch hour?!? It’s the luxury that comes with working outside of the home, and I’m eternally grateful for it. As an interpreter, my schedule varies, but I often have a day with a solid 60 minutes of free time built in. Nobody needs anything from me, and I can use it as I wish. (It’s amazing.) And because my work day can be intense, I like to zone out and recharge before resuming the afternoon.
Breaking Bad? Watched the entire series during lunch. Orange is the New Black? Lunch. Call the Midwives? You got it: lunch. And Parenthood? Tears were pretty much shed at some point in every episode…during lunch.
But once in a while I have to be responsible and do errands during lunch because there’s just no other way. A trip to the bank, the post office, and a run to a local farm stand are better off crammed into the middle of the day than in the witching hour of daycare pick-up. And the last stop on that list is definitely my favorite errand to run.
Right now the local farm is overflowing with squash of all varieties, shapes and sizes. Acorn and butternut are always my “go-to” squash, but last week the farmer introduced me to the ones you see here: these adorable little honeynuts. She described them as miniature butternuts with a sweeter, more concentrated flavor, and that is a perfect explanation. Slightly darker in color, when roasted they caramelize and taste like candy. My family devoured the first batch I made (which I roasted and then mashed,) so I had to return a few days later for more.
Roasted in the oven with some olive oil, salt, black pepper and cayenne, these would be delicious on their own. But adding a touch of pomegranate molasses and za’atar takes this honeynut squash to a whole other level of flavor. Za’atar is a traditional Israeli spice blend, and while not the easiest thing to find locally, you can order it online or make your own version. (I stocked up this summer while wandering through the open air market in Jerusalem, and am sad that my supply is coming to its end!) Pomegranate molasses is somewhat easier to get your hands on, and this fruity thick syrup makes a great addition to sauces and even salad dressings, so it’s worth tracking down. (Mine is from Whole Foods.) But if you don’t have either, don’t stress! Replace the za’atar with dried thyme and the pomegranate molasses with maple syrup if you like, and you’ll still be thrilled with the results. And of course, butternut squash is the perfect substitution for the honeynut.
And if the idea of peeling and cubing honeynut or butternut squash stresses you out, I’ve got a simple trick for you. Use a sharp knife to poke a few holes in the squash and put it in the microwave for 3 minutes. It just barely softens up, but it’s enough to make cutting into this very tough thing a tad easier. (Because even with newly sharpened knives, I still find myself freaking out when I get the knife halfway through the squash and it basically gets stuck and I think that I am going to have to fight the knife and possibly end up in the emergency room. But maybe that’s just me.)
Once your squash is roasted, there’s an endless list of possibilities for how to use it. Top a pizza with red onions, squash and goat cheese, or toss it with arugula, dried cranberries and walnuts for a perfect fall salad. For an easy side dish make a quick grain salad with pre-cooked lentils, farro, and some fresh herbs, throw in the squash, top it with pomegranate seeds, and toss it with your favorite vinaigrette. It’s one of those meals that’s better the longer it sits, so it’s ideal for leftover packed lunches.
And since we’re recovering from all the Halloween candy nonsense at my house, it doesn’t hurt to have something healthy and delicious to balance it all out. Because a girl can’t live on tootsie rolls alone, even if there are times when I may want to. (Don’t judge. I know they’re fake and don’t even count as real chocolate, but I love them. Almost as much as I love my lunch hour television. But not as much as I love my children. Because that would be crazy.)
Roasted Honeynut Squash (which you can easily swap for butternut) with Za'atar and Pomegranate Molasses is a sweet and spicy side dish that's perfect for the fall. You can enjoy it on it's own, or use it to top pizzas, tossed in pasta or a grain salad, or spread on crunchy bread as an easy appetizer at your next party.
- 6 cups honeynut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into cubes (from 3 squash, 880 grams)
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons za'atar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt,
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, ground red pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
*If you can't find honeynut squash, simply replace it with an equal amount of butternut squash.
**If a little spice isn't your thing, just leave out the cayenne, or reduce the amount to a pinch.