Not as it seems: Herbed Spaghetti Squash

Things are not always as they seem. And we’ve all fallen victim to items or people pretending to be something they are not.

When I was in college, my very smart roommate had neglected to fulfill her science requirement. And, suddenly she had just one semester left to do so. As a non-science scholar – she majored in Russian and International Studies or something – finding an easy class was her only goal. She certainly didn’t want to waste any of her brain space on sciency stuff. She just needed to earn the required 3 credits and be done with it.

Geology 101

So, since all of the football players did it…she elected to take ‘Geology’, otherwise known as ‘Rocks for Jocks.’

Taking Geology would not only fulfill her science requirement, but would also ensure that she would be surrounded by the tall, fit and fabulous members of the famed football team – yay. Two birds, one stone – pun intended.

Sure, we teased her about both the participation in ‘Rocks for Jocks’ and the calculated exposure to all of those giant ballers. But, to have the chance at a husky boyfriend and an A in science was all worth the taunting to her. In fact, she considered it a brilliant plan.

As the semester started, her hopes for an easy A and football boyfriend were high. She preened before class – you know, like wearing an oversized oxford, stretch pants and pearls – and even applied a little mood lipstick – the kind that started green and then turned bright red to reflect one’s sexy mood.

From the very beginning of the semester something wasn’t right. Maybe the footballers were just busy with practice or training or something and had to miss class. Or, maybe they had sent all of these seemingly geekier guys in their place. Either way, they weren’t there…This was not turning out as she planned.

Actually, nothing was. Geology was not the easy A she had counted on…why were they studying the tides and phases of the moon, landscapes, terrains. Why was Geology so hard?

The night before the final, she was cramming like she had never crammed before. Going in to the test, she was only toting a B average and couldn’t believe her Easy A was slipping away from her. How did this happen?

The phone rang. I picked it up. It was another friend who was also in her Geology class and cramming for the test…I listened as he asked if our friend was studying …He had some questions or needed some notes.

Then he told me something that confused me. I asked for more information. I asked if he was certain. After a little more clarification, he convinced me (almost) and I told him my roommate would have to call him back.

Still not wholly believing him, I went slowly into the other room.

I approached my roommate who was poring over the pages of her highlighted textbook. Beads of sweat forming on her forehead. Her left hand frantically scratching out snippets to memorize in her notebook.

I gently and quietly asked if I could see her Geology textbook.

Puzzled and a little angry – She looked up from her study bean bag chair.

I insisted and, finally, she handed me the book.

I closed the book and looked at the cover…twice to be sure.

Hmmm. I shook my head.

Geography Textbook NOT Geology

There it was…bold letters and all: Geography. She had been taking Geography all semester. All semester. Ah, that’s why it was super hard, they never talked about rocks AND there weren’t any footballers in the class!

My super smart roommate had fallen victim to the tortures of Geography all the while believing she was studying Geology.

One dish that can fool you into believing you’re eating one thing when you’re eating something entirely different is spaghetti squash; the squash that presents as a pasta.

Herbed Spaghetti Squash (serves 4)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

1. Very carefully hack a small spaghetti squash in two

Butchered Spaghetti Squash

NOTE: I cut the bottom and top off. Evening the bottom allowed for the squash to stand upright. Eliminating the top made the slicing in half more manageable

2. Place cut side down in a baking dish, add about 1/2 an inch of water, cover with aluminum foil and put into the oven

3. Bake for :45 minutes then flip the halves over so they are cut side up. Re-cover with aluminum foil and continue to bake for an additional :15 minutes or until the flesh is very tender

4. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

5. Remove the seeds and then using a fork, gently pull the strands of squash away from the skin

Spaghetti Squash Forked

6. Heat a skillet with 2 tbsp of butter and add:

  • The forked spaghetti squash flesh
  • About 2 – 3 TBSP of Herbs: Chiffonade of Basil, Chiffonade of Sage, Chopped Chives and Chopped Parsley

Herbs: Sage, Basil, Parsley and Chives

Spaghetti Squash Heating Through with Herbs

7. Toss to combine and then transfer to a serving bowl

Herbed Spaghetti Squash

8. Top with sliced cherry tomatoes and grated parmesan cheese. Serve hot.

Herbed Spaghetti Squash Table Ready

These days, my super smart roommate is a bigwig lawyer living in the middle east. I googled her and that’s what it says on some oil company’s website. There she is in her lawyerly pose – The only woman on the company’s board of directors.

But, I’m  a little skeptical. She’s barely lived in the US since earning her law degree. And, did I mention that she speaks Russian? My other college roommates and I are pretty certain that she actually works for the CIA.

Perhaps she is the ultimate charade – fooling us all into believing she’s just a corporate lawyer, when really she’s heading up covert operations in the middle east. After the Geology – Geography incident, we all know anything is possible. And, nothing, not even a bowl of spaghetti is ever truly as it seems.

Sweet Potatoes, A Super SuperFood

Baked Super Sweet Potato Fries (in hand thrown bowl by DG)

I am not normal. And, I think that’s just they way it is. I’ve grown to accept it. I didn’t always like the stuff that everyone liked or want to wear the clothes that everyone wanted to wear – sometimes this was a good thing as no one can produce a photograph of me in bobby socks and MIA flats. I didn’t have a LeSportSac or wear enough makeup or even like the right foods…

I may have been, for example, the only kid who loved liverwurst (did not make me very popular in the fifth grade), Brussels sprouts (granted, I buttered and salted them to death back then) and cottage cheese. And I’ve always felt bad for these hated foods.

In more recent years, however, I have found redemption in the fact that Brussels Sprouts are like totally all the rage. OK, I know it’s still hard to find someone who loves cottage cheese beyond having to eat it for dietary reasons and I highly doubt that I can bring liverwurst into favor – do they even make it anymore? But, one out of three ain’t bad.

So, when I was working on Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago and people totally gasped when I wanted to make sweet potatoes, I was shocked. The first time, I was told that I could make sweet potatoes, but only if I did it ‘southern style’ – with a heap of sugar and melted baby marshmallows on top. The next time, it was only OK to include a sweet potato dish if I promised to make regular mashed potatoes and only if the regular mashed potato bowl was like four times the size of the sweet potato dish. I may have recently been given this as a directive for the upcoming Thanksgiving as well.

I get it. Sweet potatoes are not that easy to love. They’re different, after all.

But it is their difference that makes them so interesting…and, delicious. And, not just for Thanksgiving.

Plus…they’re a superfood! Sweet potatoes are high in fiber, Vitamin A, C and B6. Also they’re high in potassium and manganese. They can, according to Yahoo ‘help stabilize blood sugar…[and] they’re relatively low in calories’. WebMD recommends them and, as if that isn’t good enough…so does Doctor Oz!

So stop with the hate and find a way that works to enjoy this delicious superfood.

One option is:

Sweet Potato Baked Fries with, if you must, a Maple Mayo Dipping Sauce (serves 4)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees

1. Peel 3 large sweet potatoes and then chop into 1/4 inch thick fries

Pretty Peeled Sweet Potato

Raw Sweet Potato in Fry Form

NOTE: getting the sweet potatoes peeled and cut into fry form is the hardest part. And, I’m a little klutzy with a knife. So have a sharp one and be careful.

2. Toss the sweet potato fries with olive oil, Jane’s Krazy Mixed Up Salt or Sea Salt and Pepper. Just enough to coat the fries. You can also add spicy spices here if you want them with a little kick – cayenne, paprika etc.

3. Arrange in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper

Sweet Potato Fries-To-Be Ready for Baking

4. Put into the oven for a total of :20 – :25 mins

BUT: toss the fries about every :05 minutes. This will help even cooking.

Sweet Potato Fries in the Oven

5. Remove from the oven and let cool for :03-:05 mins

   and since you’re not sure you really like sweet potatoes…serve with a Maple-Mayo dipping sauce

Maple Mayo Dipping Sauce

All you need for a Maple Mayo Dipping Sauce

Mix together 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, 1/8 cup of pure maple syrup and 1 1/4 TBSPs of brown sugar. And chill at least :15 mins before serving.

Super Sweet Potato Fries with Sweet Dipping Sauce

Sweet potatoes aren’t just a Superfood, they’re a Super SuperFood. Keep trying them until you find a way to love them. If nothing else, their bright orange color brings newness and energy to your table and can liven up the appearance of any plate.

Plus, they can become a fry – yes, you can actually fry them in hot fatty oil, but try not to negate the super-ness and just bake them – would you?

OK, off my soap box for the underrated and sometimes hated sweet potato. Just eat and enjoy. I mean I’m not asking you to love liverwurst…

The Etiquette of Artichokes

Roasted Artichokes with Lemon Aioli

Unless you were raised by Emily Post, the rules of etiquette seem to have many different executions and applications. Sure, there are obvious things that are considered polite beyond just please and thank you. Like, we say ‘excuse me’ when we burp or sneeze, we hold the door open for the person behind us and when escorting a lady through the 1880s a gentleman walks closest to the street to shield her from the mud spewing off of the clopping hoofs of the horse drawn carriage going by. You know, stuff like that.

Some manners, though, are location specific. In cities like New York, for example, when getting into a taxi the man goes in first and slides over if his date is wearing a skirt. If she’s in pants, all bets are off and it’s a free for all. Revolving doors in New York regardless of size are one at a time. I used to work in Trump Tower which in addition to being a tourist destination has revolving doors. I’m sure there are revolving doors in other parts of the world – I’ve seen them. Still, for whatever reason, the revolving doors proved problematic for domestic and international travelers. So to make it clear for anyone confused by those pesky doors: Here’s the deal, in the US, the revolving doors go counter-clockwise. The gentleman enters the revolving doors first and then continues to push the doors around until his date is through so that she never has to place a hand on it. I wonder if in Australia the doors go the other way. Regardless, you’d be surprised at how many tourists get stuck in there…

So I got to thinking about the etiquette of vegetable consumption. And, this certainly varies by age and location. At our kitchen table growing up, for example, it was common practice for the kids to try to blow bubbles with our mashed potatoes. And, to make a competition out of it we blew those potato bubbles with a lot of ‘look at this!’ ‘mine is best!’ and so on being shout-muffled through the bubbled mash. At my mother’s table growing up, she and my uncle would fight about who had the prettiest parsley (yes, the ever-popular prettiest parsley competition) – holding a sprig up proudly and shouting ‘First Most Beautiful Tree in the World!’ We’ll cover why my brothers and I are so competitive at a later date.

Bubble blowing and leafy garnish competitions are obvious examples of what might not be considered particularly polite for adults. But, there are examples that are in more of a gray area. I remember reading somewhere that eating green beans with your hands at the table was OK. But are there rules that govern this practice? Like does it only apply to delicate french beans being consumed by French people? Would beans eaten by Americans wearing berets and speaking in French accents count? Or, did I mis-remember this exception to not eating with your hands all together?

Then, there’s asparagus. Again, if it’s OK to eat green beans by hand, does the same hold true for the similarly shaped asparagus. More importantly, if you’re not in the privacy of your own home and know that asparagus gives you stinky tinky, is it really OK to eat it? And if so, then if other bodily functions are followed by ‘excuse me’ should you excuse yourself after a bout of stinky tinky in someone’s guest restroom? I wonder a lot about this one.

But, one of the greatest etiquette conundrums is presented by the artichoke. When perfectly steamed the base of the leaves provide a sumptuous meat that can be dipped in butter or hollandaise and devoured. But getting to the meat is where I run into trouble. I mean you have to use your hands to pry each little leaf from the stem. But is it really OK to scrape the meat off of the leaves with your teeth while making a scraping, slurping sound? It’s really the only way to get to the deliciousness…but, I’m just not sure what Emily Post would have to say about it.

So, when I decided to make artichokes recently, I wanted to avoid this dilemma entirely.

Roasted Baby Artichokes with a Lemon Aioli (side dish or hors d’oeuvre)

NOTE: This takes a little time…Because it’s done in steps

1. Buy 12 Baby Artichokes! Baby artichokes are more delicate but have no hairy ickiness in the middle to remove. Plus unlike their larger siblings, you can eat the entire leaves of the inner part…

Beautiful Baby Artichoke

2. Prepare the Artichokes and bring a pot of water to a boil

  • Prepare a bowl of water with ice cubes and the juice of one entire lemon
  • One artichoke at a time cut the bottom stem entirely off
  • Remove all of the tough outer leaves and every layer of leaves afterwards that holds any purple color at all. Better to err on too many here than too few as the outer leaves have a somewhat inedible toughness.
  • Cut the artichoke heart in half lengthwise. If it’s still bigger than bite size, cut it in half lengthwise again
  • Immediately put the cut heart into the lemon ice water inside down – this will prevent them from browning
  • Repeat with remaining baby artichokes

Baby Artichokes chillin’ in ice water

3. Strain the artichokes from the ice bath and immediately and very gently place in the boiling water. Blanch for 3 minutes

4. Remove the blanched artichokes and put into a bowl. Cover and put into the refrigerator to cool…..If you don’t have a ton of time, you can also put them in the freezer for :15 mins but NO LONGER

5. When the babies are chilled: Pre heat the oven to 425 degrees

6. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and place the artichokes on it. Drizzle 1-2 tbsp of Olive Oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss with your hands to make sure each one is coated

7. Put into the oven for a total of 15 minutes. BUT at the halfway mark, flip the artichokes hearts over

Roasting baby artichokes

Roasting Baby Artichokes

8. Remove from the oven and place on a serving tray with toothpicks or small forks and the lemon aioli…

Beautifully Roasted Baby Artichokes

Lemon Aioli

Lemon Aioli mise en place

Simply whisk together

  • 1 cup of mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp lemon thyme leaves
  • 1 garlic clove minced or pressed
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • salt and pepper to taste

You know, when it comes to etiquette the only universal directive might be: Have an awareness of others. If you think someone might have heard you burp, they probably did. And, really what’s the harm in saying ‘excuse me’?

When you’re really not sure, ask yourself if there’s another way or err on the side of etiquette. Don’t use the revolving door, just slide across the taxi seat, or, in this case, don’t boil your artichokes, roast them instead.