Butternut Squash Lasagna with Sage and Brown Butter (Noodle-less!)

The hubby and I were lucky enough to have a quiet, low-key, weekend this weekend.  So, I did what I always do when I have time to burn – play in the kitchen!  For the longest time I have been eying Butternut Squash Lasagna recipes, however, after extensive research none really hit the mark for me.  I decided to chart out on my own, and am SO glad that I did!

This delicious lasagna is low-fat and full of flavor!  You won’t notice the noodles are missing – and it’s surprisingly easy to make!  The fontina, mushrooms, and sage combine with the ricotta to make this deliciously savory.  A gentle sweetness from the onion, parsley and squash are the perfect complement, keeping the dish from feeling too heavy.  We loved every single bite – I can’t wait to hear how your family enjoys it!

BNS Lasagna
Butternut Squash with Brown Butter and Sage

1 Butternut Squash, quartered and peeled
2C Ricotta, Fat Free
1.5 C Fontina Cheese, grated
1Egg YolkBNS Ingredients
1/4C Skim Milk
3 Tbs Butter
8 Leaves Fresh Sage
1/8C Fresh Parsley
3 Cloves Garlic
Salt/Pepper to taste
1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flakes (or more, to taste)
1 Lg Onion, quartered and sliced thin
2C Frozen Spinach
1C Mixed Mushrooms

Pre-heat over to 400*.
In sauce pan, melt 2Tbs butter until beginning to bubble.  Add garlic, sage, and parsley until butter begins to brown.  Remove from heat.  Add Ricotta, Fontina, egg yolk, and milk.

In separate BNS Lasagna vegespan, melt 1Tbs butter and red pepper. Cook onion over medium low heat for until soft, then add garlic, mushrooms and spinach, cooking another 3 minutes until cooked through.

Cut squash in half by both length and width.  Using a vegetable peeler, remove skin from entire squash.  With a mandolin or knife, slice squash into 1/8″ pieces.

BNS Lasagna LayersLightly spray lasagna pan with oil, then cover with a layer of Squash.  Top with half of the vegetable mixture, then cover with a layer of squash (this may require a tad bit of creativity, and knack for spacial relations!)  Then, top with half of the ricotta mixture, and again with squash.  Repeat with the other half the veges and cheese.  Top with a final layer of squash.  Sprinkle the top layer of squash with the last half cup of fontina, then top with foil.

Cover a cooking sheet with foil, and place the lasagna pan on the sheet (this will prevent dripping into the base of your oven).  Place in oven and cook approximately 1 hour, or until butternut squash layers are easy to cut through using a butter knife.  In last 20 minutes remove foil to allow cheese to brown.


What are you carrying?

RiverjpgOne of my favorite zen stories goes something like this:

Two monks were journeying together by foot when they found a raging river crossing their path.  At the bank of the river stood a woman, also seeking to cross.  Her eyes were filled with tears, fearful of crossing the river safely.  Without hesitation the elder monk took the young woman into his arms, carrying her gently across the river, and setting her down on the opposite bank.  She thanked him and they parted ways, the monks setting forward in their journey.  There was silence between the monks for miles.  Finally, hours later, the young monk stopped and addressed his companion, “I simply can’t understand – we have taken a vow never to touch a woman, yet you took that woman into your arms, carrying her without the least reservation!”  The elder monk smiled lovingly, saying, “My friend, I left that woman miles back at the bank of the river.  Why are you still carrying her?”

This story had a profound effect on me. I have long found myself carried away in raging currents of thought – analyzing and over thinking all that has past and all that is yet to be.  I became quite adept and scrutinizing every aspect of myself from dress and behavior, to decisions made and those yet to be made.  While gentle analysis certainly has a place in responsible decision making, it remains true that just about anything can be justified or rationalized by the mind.  In our minds we hold an amazing amount of intellectual data and experiential lessons, cross referenced by the morals and ethics of our religion, family, friends, ego, community, and world.  These teachings help us to categorize “right” and “wrong,” however, they also present us with competing judgments; how does one make a decision when their faith, family, and selves have differing opinions of truth?

The elder monk in this story followed his heart, showing compassion to the woman as he aids and supports her across the river.  In being true to himself this monk is able to release the action upon placing her safely on the other bank of the river.  His young companion, however, finds himself caught in the web of judgment and struggle as he seeks to conceptualize the decision of his elder.

In the Yoga Sutras we are taught that while the mind is easily convinced and complex by nature, we, in our hearts, are true and peaceful.  The Sutras teach, “The true you is always the same, but you appear to be distorted or mixed up with the mind.”  In some actions we are able to be the elder, seeking guidance from our inner  selves.  Honoring our true self creates space for us to be at peace with our decisions in the midst of external interests.  Other times we behave like the younger monk, drowning in a current of competing rationalizations.

One of the most valuable lessons that yoga and meditation have taught me is to learn to quiet my mind and find the peace in myself.  To release from the ever present struggle that carries my mind out of the present and into emotion and attachments, anxiety and judgement.

In yoga, students are often asked to “let go of that which no longer serves you.”   So I ask, dear reader:

What are you still carrying?

Finding Balance after a Thanksgiving Binge….

I would love to be able to tell you that I am so extraordinarily grounded and convicted that I am one of those people we only hear about in lore who hold fast and true to their healthy choices over the holiday.  This would simply be a lie – and I would never want to lie to you, dear reader.  So, it is with a full belly and well rested body that I return from my lovely grandparent’s home, admitting to have fallen blissfully off the wagon.

I am not alone in this post-thanksgiving fog, however.  I know many of you out there share my simultaneous joy and pain regarding the holiday weekend, which I do find reassuring.  We are all, after all, imperfect, yes?

Holidays are a remarkable roller coaster for most of us.  They’re emotionally charged – seeing and spending time with family (or not), reminiscing on holidays past (be they good or bad), looking forward to the glorious bounty of deliciousness while being mindful of our health/fitness goals….just to name a few.  Even for those of us finding ourselves emotionally cool as a cranberry sauce during these gatherings often feel sluggish and bloaty after a few meals (or days!) of eating differently then we might at our own dinner tables.

JuicingPictureI, for one, can relate to all of the above.  And so, after a long week of sitting around and eating — and treasuring every delicious moment of it — I return home ready for some re-balancing.

Here are some tips to get back on track, from my post-Thanksgiving to yours:

1)  Get your body moving!  I highly recommend yoga (shocker!).  Yoga will help relieve stiffness and tightness, support digestion, and sooth your busy mind.   After sitting on the couch, at the table, in the car, we all feel heavy and tight.  Even better, try hot yoga.  A.maz.ing.  Reap the benefits of yoga while sweating out toxins.  Not into yoga?  Take a walk with a friend, check out all of the holiday decorations that popped up while everyone was off work last week.  Whatever you do, get moving!  Wash, rinse, and repeat all week for this gal.

2) Make some time for yourself!  Traveling/cooking/being with family can be wonderful, but it can also be stressful.  Take time to meditate, take a warm salt bath, rub your dog’s belly for an hour, order dinner in.  Or…. all of the above (i.e. my Saturday night).  Quiet or solitary activities like these help to reduce stress hormones and re-balance our mental and emotional energy.

3) Drink water.  Lots of it.  (Especially after hot yoga!!)  You’re body is likely to be dehydrated – the average Thanksgiving dinner has upwards of 2,000 milligrams of sodium.  That’s more than your recommended daily allotment!  Hydrating is a quick and easy way to increase energy and reduce that puffy feeling.

4) Consider a cleanse, or purposefully plan the week’s meals.  Even if you didn’t over eat, chances are that you ate differently, and perhaps more unhealthy, than you normally do.  Plan for meals that are clean and healthy – packed with vitamins and antioxidants to help refuel your physical body.  Avoid carbs, red meats, dairy, or other foods that you know to cause you sluggishness or digestive stress – if only for the week!

The hubby and I are doing just that!  We’ll be following a mostly raw diet this week (the exception being some irresistible butternut squash), flushed with fresh and cleansing juices.   An extended (and cold!) trip to the Baltimore Farmers Market made it all possible.  Breakfast and lunch will be primarily juice based, while dinners will be a smorgasbord of veges, nuts, beans, fruits, etc.  Day one has been going exceptionally well – here’s one of the juices we made last night!

Beet Ginger Juice
(Adapted from Eatingwell – Makes approximately 10oz)
1 Orange
1 Carrot
2-3 Beets
1/2 – 1 Bunch Kale
1 Apple
1 Romain Heart
1.5-2″ Fresh Ginger

The Food Stamp Challenge – A Challenge Indeed!

GreenBeanFarmersMarketLet me begin my saying that my husband and myself are certainly not the target participant for this kind of challenge.  Both of us being social workers (a profession well known for being grossly overpaid) we regularly strive for a grocery bill of about $75/week.  This already requires the cutting open of empty toothpaste tubes when our fingers have become too weak from squeezing out that last little bit, and the careful monitoring of each others tissue and paper towel use so as to not become glutinous and end up dusting with toilet paper by Sunday.  This cold war depression era attitude is simply rooted in the tongue lashings we imagine to receive from our future house, babies, and savings account, with every dollar spent.  In reality, our thrift is certainly not all out of necessity, as we are blessed to have what we need rather than wanting for it.  Upon contemplating this challenge, we both agreed that it would be a good reminder of just how appreciative we are for what we have, and give us another way to understand and appreciate the reality of the challenge so many face without their choosing.  And I have to admit, my dear husband and I also thought, “Finally!  A socially and professionally appropriate reason to further crush our non-existent spending habits!”  With that, we set forth.

First, we sat down to create a meal plan.  Already we tend to prepare meals similar in ingredients in order to capitalize on purchases and minimize risk of anything going bad/unused.  This absolutely requires, then, a return trip to the store exactly one week later, as our fridge becomes a barren wasteland, colored only by ketchup, soy sauce, and dressings.  (Authors note:  This is not recommended in the event of a pending zombie apocalypse).  We cut out some of the more indulgent recipe’s that float through our rotation in lieu of recipes with shorter ingredient lists and that packed more for the punch (cost value vs. nutrients).  Thinking we had it made, we went with a coup de grace of breakfast for dinner, thereby substituting another meal with the cheapest protein out there – the mighty egg.

In all honesty, I thought we were prepared.   “I’ll run by the store on Monday, price our list, and give you a call if we are over,” I said matter-of-fact-ly to my husband.  It was an excellent plan.  List in hand & phone set to calculator, I set off.

Walking in, I was immediately overwhelmed.  Green beans were the first on our list – simple enough, right?  Well, there’s fresh for $1.99/lb, frozen $.99/16oz, canned $.49/14.5oz, pre-packaged fresh $2.99/12oz – in fact, there are exactly 54 different ways to buy green beans in my grocery store.  And of course there isn’t a “green bean aisle,” which means multiple trips around the store pricing and debating my green bean purchase – then wash, rinse, and repeat for every other item on my list.  If this wasn’t enough to drive a person to run out of the store screaming, I can’t count the number of times I inadvertently hit “C” on my calculator while tossing an item into the basket, thereby setting be back another 15 minutes re-counting expenses.

An hour and a half later I could be found curled in a tight ball of anxiety, hiding in the bread aisle, crying on the phone to my husband.  Ok, I may be exaggerating.  But, if we hadn’t been on a food stamp budget this week I definitely would have needed a trip to the neighborhood watering hole.

In reflection, it was not only the shopping that was stressful.  Planning meals on a tiny budget was difficult.  Is it possible to cut costs elsewhere to allow for purchase of fresh foods?  Can we justify the $1.49 increase for whole grain bread?  Certainly most organic, natural, or “clean” foods would be out of reach for us – which are most negotiable?  Was peanut butter ($3.49) a better investment than milk ($2.75)?  These decisions took considerable time and delegation.  And heaven forbid we run out of shampoo ($5.99) or detergent ($4.99) that week – we’d need a whole week of breakfast for dinner (secretly sounds awesome – how much for pancakes)?

Most of us are fortunate enough to find grocery shopping stressful because of all those damn people who stop their carts in the middle of the aisle, or the little humans running around screaming for candy (or is that just me?).  In doing this project, we learned to further appreciate the luxury of being able to set our own food budge and the flexibility to absorb unusual costs or purchases that arise along the way.

So, next time you go shopping with a big cart and open wallet, pause for a moment in that stress and feel thankful for your good fortune that today you are able to afford those items in your cart…and that you don’t have to thoroughly investigate 54 types of green beans just to make one casserole.

Learn more about the Food Stamp Challenge Here.

For this moment I plan for peace (Is that counter productive?)


Ok, so now what?  Blogging….

Second to reality TV, blogging seems the thing to do.  Speaking of which, less reality TV would probably do wonders to increase the peace in my life – note to self.

Why blog?  Honestly, it’s not something I ever thought I would be remotely interested in, nor successful at.  I’ll let you be the judge!  I have decided to give it a go anyway.  Like many of you, I have found that my life gets extremely busy and stressful, seemly out of nowhere; and then one day I snap to my senses and stand for a moment bewildered by the question, “where did the time go?!”

I enjoy practicing and teaching yoga.  I meditate.  I love to cook.  I enjoy nature, and being active in it.  Holistic alternatives have changed how I approach so much of my day to day.  Spending time with my family and friends is pure rejuvenation.

Also…. I don’t do any of these things nearly enough (can I get an “amen!” from the peanut gallery?)

I am banking that I am not alone in this, and that my experience is similar to so many of yours.  I’ll share with you my journey, and hope that as I seek inspiration and mindfulness in my life I can also be an inspiration to you on yours!

I am looking forward to sharing with you my discoveries, recipes, activities, and most importantly my moments of peace and mindfulness.  For now, I’ll pat myself on the back for this fairly successful blog entry… not that I know what a successful blog entry should look like.