Spaghetti Squash FTW!

I knew spaghetti squash tasted okay. I’d had it before with some turkey meatball marinara–someone else prepared, of course. But I’d never worked up the courage to try it. For some reason, though, I’m now totally into trying new foods. (Because hey–blog fodder!)

I must’ve been fasting (since pregnancy I’ve accumulated about 70 days I need to make up! yikes!) when I was at Safeway and bought several kinds of squash. Why else would I wander through the produce section lovingly handling veggies I’d never cooked before? Anyway, I came home and placed them on the counter (something perfectly acceptable for winter squash) so inspire me one day. It took a week or so, once Thanksgiving had fully wrapped up, and all the leftovers had been consumed, before that inspiration came, but at last it did.

I thought I’d try to make a spaghetti variant, replacing the pasta with squash. I also decided to make tomato sauce from scratch, since I’ve recently realized that canned tomatoes seem to give my hubby heartburn. Unfortunately it’s not the season for tomatoes, but I had some in my fridge anyway since my son and I like to munch on them raw. Can’t beat fresh summer tomatoes from the south, though. The ones up here in Seattle just don’t get as sweet as the North Carolina tomatoes I’m used to. But now that it’s December, who knows where the tomatoes are coming from?

Anyway, I had learned how to make a basic tomato sauce in a MOOC which I would recommend for every parent concerned about feeding their kids. It was on coursera.org, and is called Child Nutrition and Cooking. Self-paced, you can probably enroll any time. It’s really high quality, nicely edited videos (unlike some MOOCs which are just a professor and a webcam), with Khan Academy style blackboards as well as live demonstrations.

The meat I thought I’d go with was chicken breast, so I defrosted it (since I suck at coordinating meals with thawing meat.) Then it was onions, garlic, tomatoes–into the pot with some olive oil. Then some sugar, some salt, and some oregano. (How much? Yeah, I didn’t measure… that might bite me later…) Then I learned how to cut and cook a spaghetti squash. Turns out, I did it in reverse order (cook first, then cut.) For that I can thank YouTube and Dani Spies (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPFErHz6zOM), the same channel where I learned how to cut butternut squash.

So once the chicken had thawed, I popped the squash into the microwave, then grilled the chicken on the stove (just to cook it quickly… there’s nothing great about this way of cooking chicken, so I might replace the chicken with some other meat, but it was fine this time.) Once the squash was done, I cut it, seeded it, then scraped out the flesh and put it in the bottom of a dish, covered it with the chicken, poured over the tomato sauce, and dumped some parmesan cheese on it.

And it worked great. Cooking the squash was almost as easy as cooking pasta, and it had a great flavor. It was satisfying but not heavy–and overall a real win. Except with my toddler, who would only eat the chicken with ketchup.

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A Worthwhile Occupation

It was pretty weird, the first time I selected “Homemaker” as my occupation. I had to come to terms with it. I asked myself, really what am I doing with myself? What do I do everyday? Why am I not working? (So I got a job for a little while… but meh.)

Nowadays, I don’t have that struggle in my mind. Now, I think of myself as doing a number of jobs that I would have to pay other people to do for me. For instance, cleaning, cooking, sewing, caring for my son.

Cleaning, from the little tasks like washing dishes, to bigger things like floors and carpets, is a job that many people actually get paid to do. And maybe one day I’ll be a rich lady who can quit cleaning and just hire a cleaning lady to stop by–or at least someone to help. For now, though, it’s one of my jobs. It’s not all-consuming, nor is it glamorous, but it does need to get done, and I’m the one who does it. Meanwhile, I’m not spending money on hiring someone to clean for me.

Cooking is an even more skilled occupation. If I weren’t cooking food at home for my family to eat (and I’ll admit… sometimes I don’t!) then I would be paying for someone else’s culinary skill. I might be paying for meals from fast food huts as well as fine dining… and all that food prepared by someone else costs more than cooking it at home. In many cases, it’s also not as healthy. So I’m saving money and taking care of my family.

Sewing is one of those odd skills–I tried to learn with my mom, and I should have when I had that chance. Right now, I’m just trying to learn the basics on my own, but now even simple things, like shortening a hem, are in my toolbox. So I don’t need to have pants dragging on the floor, I can fix them myself. I could have always taken them to a tailor, but once again there’s a job I don’t have to pay someone else to do.

But many households have a huge expense with their children–and that’s child care. What portion of a second salary goes solely to pay for day care, for parents of young children? If I were employed, then I would also have to pay someone to take care of my son during the day since I don’t have family nearby to help with that. But this is the most consuming task of my day–and it would be the most expensive to hire out. So again saving money, and also getting to have fun with my kiddo.

Taking care of my home is a responsibility, and even though undertaking it didn’t initially imbue me with pride, it’s nice to reflect on the individual tasks of my job, especially since they do overlap with a variety of professions. Now it’s time to sharpen my skills, I guess, so I’m more of a professional homemaker, than an amateur.

A Halal Meat Home

Even after converting to Islam, I still followed an opinion that largely allowed meat even if it wasn’t dhabihah or halal, which is to say properly slaughtered according to Islam. But my husband insisted on hand-slaughtered halal meat, so after getting married, my home became a halal meat home; we only buy and cook halal meat.

It’s not a huge deal–we buy our meat from a local butcher shop, which does limit selection a little bit. And there are very few prepared meats or frozen meats we can buy. I guess that’s just more encouragement to eat healthier food at home, and avoid processed foods.

If Butterball does indeed sell certified halal turkeys (according to the video), or someone else does, then it means I might get to try making a turkey myself this Thanksgiving. (Is Thanksgiving halal?) Normally I’ve spent the day with my family in North Carolina, but this year I won’t be able to travel home. If I decide to celebrate it here, and invite some friends over, bring on the turkey!

When Recipes Aren’t Enough

My husband has told me many times how much he wants me to ‘get into cooking.’ When I first got married, I could barely cook only a handful of dishes. And most of what I could easily cook already or from a recipe was not healthy–cookies, cakes, etc. I really had very little experience cooking–and it’s taken a long time before I’ve been able to make any real progress toward being a better cook.

I really feel cooking is a responsibility I should be able to cover, most of the time. And especially recently, I’ve wanted to be able to prepare meals at home because they are healthy. And it works well with the recent healthy eating mantra, to “Eat real food,” because if I’m cooking myself I can control the ingredients. Thus I can avoid processed foods, added sugars, artificial ingredients, and even GMOs if I wish.

The challenge is learning how to cook. It seems like it should be simple, because cookbooks are everywhere. Cooking blogs are everywhere. There are blogs devoted to cooking, TV shows–entire channels!–and now even movies (Julie & Julia, anyone?) on the subject. But the abundance of recipes does not make it simple, not for a beginner. I need a bit more help.

For instance, I have wanted to learn how to cook a butternut squash soup. I’ve tried it a few times, different places, and have always enjoyed it. So I look up a recipe, like this fairly simple one, and set about collecting the ingredients. But for even such a simple recipe as this soup, I had two big problems on the ingredients list: (1) cubed butternut squash, and (2) chicken stock.

For the butternut squash, I obviously expected this to be an ingredient–but having never cooked it before myself, I didn’t know anything about it. Specifically, I didn’t know how to pick it, peel it, cut it, or even what to do with the seeds. That’s where Youtube came in very handy. I don’t always like to learn an entire recipe from Youtube, but something when it comes to something specific like how to cut a butternut squash, it’s the perfect solution. And sure enough, I found a short video explaining just that!

The other problematic ingredient was the chicken stock. As a beginner cook, I have never made chicken stock. I still don’t know how to do it. Now, chicken stock is one of those things you can buy already made, as is chicken broth. But since all the food I cook for my family is halal, I wasn’t comfortable buying pre-made chicken stock. So I looked up a few instructional videos and guides, but didn’t feel ready to give it a go yet. I decided to go ahead with the soup by substituting a vegetarian vegetable broth.

Unfortunately, I added a bit too much pepper, which overwhelms the flavor of the squash, but otherwise the dish turned out alright. I’d like to try again with proper chicken stock, once I’m ready to learn that lesson. One thing at a time. But if a recipe alone isn’t enough–a youtube instructional might fill in the gaps.

Any recommendations for youtube channels good for beginner cooks, looking to learn some basic skills? Share in the comments!