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November 20, 2009

Winter Candy Bowls? Try Seasonal Squash Instead. ~ Michelle Pfennighaus

I notice something every winter. People suddenly get the urge to decorate their homes with tiny porcelain bowls filled with colorful, foil-wrapped chocolate. Or gumdrops. Or that terrible iridescent ribbon candy that sticks together.

 Is this some kind of seasonal survival technique? Better keep candy close in case of a snowstorm – we could all starve in here!

 (Of course, this would be a misguided effort. If you are ever starving to death and have to choose between white sugar or nothing, eating nothing will keep you alive longer. Did you know that?)

 But even Mother Nature chooses to provide us with colorful sweets in the winter months. How does she do it? She doesn’t even have a subscription to Martha Stewart Magazine.

Think about it. With bright colors and festive shapes, winter squash are some of the sweetest vegetables nature has to offer. And pumpkin is just the beginning. You will also find varieties like butternut, acorn, delicata, hubbard, kabocha, (japanese winter quash) and spaghetti squash.

 Sugar feels comforting. No doubt. From the first taste of mother’s milk, babies are drawn to sweet tastes. This is a good thing – our cells need glucose to function. So you might enjoy a handful of candy, at least in the short term. But in the long run, refined sugar causes mood swings, weakens your immune system, interferes with the absorption of calcium, and leads to diabetes. Now that’s not very comforting.

 Naturally occurring sweet flavors are the way to go, really. According to Ayurveda, eating seasonally is key to staying in balance. Winter squash is a sweet, comforting, warming food loaded with Vitamin A, Vitamin D, potassium and dietary fiber. This week it was on sale for $1.49/lb at my local store. Enough said.

Not sure how to cook squash? Make sure you have a heavy knife, cutting board, roasting pan and a bit of elbow grease.

 Wash your squash. Such delight in how that rhymes.

1.Chop squash in half, lengthwise. This can be tricky if you can’t muscle the knife all the way through. Start by setting the squash steady on a cutting board surface. You might need to cut off the bottom to be flat. Then, wedge a knife partially into the squash and use a rubber mallet to gently push the knife down. Don’t forget to breathe.

 Oh, who am I kidding? I bang away with a hammer until the darn thing splits open. I promise, the first time might feel odd but soon you’ll get the hang of it.

2. Scoop out the seeds. But don’t throw them away. You can roast them in a pan with a bit of oil and seasoning for a delicious, healthy snack.

3. Time for roasting. Place squash halves in pan, skin side up. Fill pan with 1/4” water and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake at 400F for about 45 minutes, until the skin is soft and easily pierced with a fork. Cooking time will vary with the size of your squash.

!Voila!

 You’re all set. After cooking, squash can be served as is, with some melted butter in the hollow center. You can also slice or pureé for use in different recipes. Don’t be afraid to eat the skin – it is edible and can add texture and color to your dish. (With spaghetti squash, use a fork to pull apart the flesh of the squash into spaghetti strands.)

 Of course you can also buy pumpkin or butternut pureé in a can. Whatever works. Enjoy your sweets!

Michelle Pfennighaus is a certified holistic health counselor and yoga instructor with clients worldwide. She readily admits to being afraid of handstands and is in love with her immersion blender. Visit Michelle’s Website! Or follow her on twitter @MPfennighaus.

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