41. A seemingly inconsequential birthday, no? With zero expectation (or desire) for the grandeur of a 40th fete, and feeling 50 to be lightyears away, I wasn’t looking forward to it, nor was I dreading it as I had 40. Well, that’s not entirely true. Celebrating 41 was of little importance, but I was looking forward to letting go of my 40th year. In the weeks preceding my birthday, I’d begun compiling two lists in my mind: one with the parts of my life in need of acceptance (e.g. that I finally need reading glasses, that I frequently choose Chet Baker over Maroon 5 on Pandora and always Castle over Breaking Bad on tv, and that aging will happen regardless so gracefully is the only option) and the other of places where I really need to let go (those I’m keeping close to the vest). But this loose, impromptu life assessment became a little daunting, so I put pen to paper for clarity’s sake.
As the lists grew and their contents moved from light to serious, I realized the significance of the pages in front of me. I was mentally weighing anchor. Readying my mind and soul for the second half of life’s journey and pulling anchor from the murky floor of my first. This realization was scary because I feared the emptiness, but as I thought it through and saw what it truly was – a resolution to clear out physical belongings and heavy mental clutter – I felt lighter, not emptier. My intention is to carry with me only what will shape this second leg into one of wisdom, acceptance, gratitude and love.
When I unwrapped the birthday gift from my family I could not believe the coincidence of what laid inside: a delicate gold anchor necklace, making my 41st the most meaningful and significant yet.
Delicata is sweet with an edible skin just like acorn squash, but the texture is much smoother and creamier. I love this dish as a vegetarian main course served with mixed greens or as a side dish to accompany pork tenderloin. Filled with the flavors of fall, this is comfort food at its healthiest.
Delicata Squash with Apple Pecan Quinoa Stuffing
serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a side dish
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
- 1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 2 delicata squash
- 1 cup quinoa, uncooked
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 1 large Granny Smith apple, cut into 1/2 in dice
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3/4 cup pecans
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 2 teaspoons fresh sage, finely chopped
- 4 slices provolone cheese, each cut in half
- In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons olive oil, maple syrup, cider vinegar and dijon mustard. Set aside.
- Cut both squash in half lengthwise and use a spoon to remove all seeds and pulp. Place two of the four halves flesh side down in an 8×8-in microwave safe dish. Fill pan with 1/2 inch of water and microwave until squash is tender all the way through, 8-10 minutes. Repeat with second squash. Place all four squash halves in a rectangular baking dish flesh side up, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Mash lightly with a fork, leaving skin and a 1/2 inch rim of squash completely intact.
- While squash is cooking, rinse quinoa well in a fine sieve. Place rinsed quinoa, salt , and 1 and 3/4 cups of water in a pan with a tight fitting lid. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer and cover, cooking for 12-15 minutes or until all water has evaporated. Remove from heat and let sit for a few minutes. Fluff with fork.
- Toast pecans in a large saute pan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes or until nuts are warm and fragrant. Set aside.
- Wipe saute pan clean with a paper towel, removing all nut skins and pieces. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, apples, and garlic to pan and saute until onions are translucent and apples have softened, about five minutes.
- Reduce heat to medium-low. Add cooked quinoa, pecans, cranberries, sage, and the maple/cider vinegar/dijon mixture to pan, season with salt and pepper, and stir until ingredients are thoroughly combined and warmed through.
- Stuff each squash half with 1/4 of the mixture and cover with 2 provolone halves.
- Turn oven to broil. Place squash pan under broiler for one to two minutes or until cheese is brown and bubbly.