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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Kabocha, Kombucha and the Kobayashi Maru

My sister-in-law gardens...she rents a plot in their local community garden.  I've always admired her dedication to this as I know I am way too much of a lazy a*#, I mean, too efficiently-minded to ever do such a thing--i.e. toss my gardening tools in my car, drive to a community plot and tend my garden there.  But then I have acreage to garden in....she's got a nice yard, but has her beds filled with beautiful perennial flowers.  (Another thing I admire). 

She usually sends me some veggies during the season and sent home a spaghetti squash this year.  I like to reciprocate and this year was able to share a sweet potato from my garden and decided to turn her on to kabocha squash.  I remember thinking how much has changed from who I was before and who I am now, what I knew then vs. what I know now, as I confidently explained to her what variety this squash was and how it is my favorite.  Less than two years ago I had never even had butternut, acorn or any of the more 'traditional' I am touting the wonders of the beautiful, versatile kabocha, and I even know how to spell it!

I get my kabocha during the growing season from a local farmer that I am so grateful for.  I begged him to continue growing them after he did a trial of them two seasons ago and he was true to his word.  He even saves me the 'bad ones', ones with blemishes and generously gives them to me.   

The kabocha (sometimes called Japanese pumpkin) is highly adaptable to a wide range of recipes and can serve as a base in casseroles, soups, etc.  A whole-foods, plant-based diet brings the challenge of coming up with SOMEthing to provide some substance, bulk and creaminess to certain recipes, and squash is perfect.

I usually roast it by cutting in half, scooping out the seeds (which I rinse, remove most of the membrane from and roast separately----yummy snack), and placing face down on a baking sheet.  I will roast several things together, and the squash is tolerant of various oven temps.... I have roasted it at 350 or even 400 - 425.  I keep checking it by inserting a knife to see if tender.  Depending on the size and moisture content of the squash, cooking time can vary from 20-40 mins or so.

Once roasted, let cool slightly and then peel the skin off. (The skin is edible though!  I usually toss in the veggie stock bag.)  The squash is now ready to be used in a soup or casserole or cubed and frozen for later use.  {Note:  This squash is also delicious served simply sliced up alongside some rice and other veggies.}

You can also just peel, de-seed  and cube or slice and cook directly in a casserole or soup, but I like having this frozen and already on hand for when I want to throw something together quickly.

(Nutrient value of kabocha:  high in vitamin C, and Beta Carotene, also source of iron, potassium, folic acid, calcium, other trace nutrients).

Kabocha Squash Soup/Casserole  (inspired by Acorn Squash Soup from Forks Over Knives which is now on sale at Amazon for an incredible $9.  This purchase is a no-brainer...a must have for the vegan kitchen---if something has "Esselstyn" on it, there's going to be a copy of it in my house.  Amen. ---see note below for link to some recipes from this book.*)

1 kabocha squash, peeled, cubed, cooked (roasted or steamed)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloved garlic, minced
1-2 carrots, rough chopped
1-2 sweet potatoes, skin, cubed
additional veggies-suit to taste-I like whatever is threatening to become a Science experiment in the frig, celery, cauli, etc.
3-6 C veggie broth-homemade if possible-more if you like a thinner soup, less if you want to make more of a sauce.
salt/pepp to taste (few flakes of red pepper go well here)

Optional-for casserole:  wild rice/mahogany rice/brown rice blend - cooked
                                    broccoli florets
                                    black beans

Water saute onion and garlic til tender or longer if you want to carmelize for additional sweetness.  Add broth, carrots and sweet potatoes, and any additional veggies, cover and simmer until tender (Note:  if kabocha is not pre-cooked, add it as well, otherwise, add after other veggies are tender).  Puree the soup in blender in batches and return to pot.  Add seasonings and let heat.

Casserole variation:  Add less broth and after pureeing, pour sauce over veggies and rice in casserole dish and bake at 325 until veggies are tender and heated throughout approx. 20 minutes.

Kombucha, what the heck is it?

I found myself asking that the first time I came across this word.....and as I continue to browse the vegan blogosphere, I have run across it from time to time.  In Whole Foods, I had my hand on a bottle of kombucha recently and nearly was brave enough to put it in my cart, when one little word on the bottle stopped me:  fermented.    I thought, ok, mayhaps I should do a weeee bit more research on this seemingly innocuous elixir before I go pouring it into the biological temple.

So research I did.  And what I found was a bit disappointing, I do admit.  Kombucha is a fermented tea.  Now I am a tea lover...serious tea lover, so the prospect of adding another type of tea to my very limited repetoire of beverages was exciting.  The 'cha' part of kombucha means tea, and the kombu (or kambu) part refers to the originator or the one credited with its creation.

The health benefits of kombucha are widely promoted on the world-wide-web-o-sphere, but seem to be predominately anedoctal.  That's ok with me and I was frankly seduced by the idea of brewing my own kombucha at home and researched the process which involves a 'mother' and feeding it sugar and a process of fermentation that really looked like it would be fun. 
But, back in my mind was this nagging question....hey, if it is fermented, does that mean it is alcoholic???
I don't even allow alcohol in my vanilla extract....I do not drink alcohol at's a personal choice and one that serves me well, so I thought, well, better check into it.  Sadly, yes, there is an alcohol content in kombucha, albeit a very small one, estimates average .05 - 1%.  (Some research shows this content to be about what is found in orange juice; other stats show variance by a significant amount).  It's enough to put it on the no-no list for me.  So, kombucha, you will not be one of my winter projects, but if any of you are interested in its health benefits you can read about it here, on one of my favorite blogs:  Bonzai Aphrodite.

Are you a Star Trek fan?  My husband and I are/were.  We both loved William Shatner and all the old campy Star Trek episodes.

Anytime a rerun came on we rushed to pick out who was going to die....a new guy sitting in the front row on the bridge was usually an easy pick. 
Some of our day-to-day banter with each other still reflects our love of Star Trek....sometimes I will say "dammit, Jim.....I'm a horse trainer not a magician" or some such, mimicking Bones in one of his endless tirades to Captain Kirk.  Or we will say "I'm giving her all she's got" if we are doing some tractor work and I've invariably over-loaded something and our tractor is complaining....this reminiscent of Scotty, the long-suffering always pushed-to-the-limit ship's engineer.  (Yeah, we are geeks....).

And then there is the Kobayashi Maru.  Now, if you are indeed a Star Trek fan, you know of what I speak....but if not, the Kobayashi Maru refers to an exercise that Starfleet cadets were put through to test them in the face of a no-win scenario.  Kobayashi Maru is actually the name of a fictionalized star ship that sends out a distress signal and the cadet being tested has to decide, whether to risk the safety of his own crew and ship (from attack by Klingon vessels) and attempt a rescue, or save his own ship and standby helpless as the Kobayashi Maru is destroyed.

I got to thinking about how many times in our lives we are faced with a no-win scenario....if we do option one, we have to deal with bad thing number one, if we do option two, there is bad thing number two.  Usually option two equates with doing nothing, as in the case of the Kobayashi Maru, and like the lyrics from a song by my favorite band, Rush, results in "if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice".  If you opt for nothing, then the ABSENCE of your actions results in negative consequence.

Now, in Hollywood, there is an option three....going OUTSIDE the situation.  In the last Star Trek movie from just two years ago, the details of Kirk's ability to win the unwinable are delineated....i.e.  he cheats.  He reprograms the computer running the simulation so that he CAN win the day, save the ship, get the girl and go on to many years of transporter-beaming and alien peace-keeping.

What about us?  Where is our option 3 in our day-to-day Kobayashi Marus?  Can we 'defeat the system'?  We know cheating the system isn't the answer, but what about this idea of going outside that infernal over-used 'box'?

When life presents us with two (seemingly) equally untenable options, we have to find a parameter against which to decide.  Maybe we pick, 'the greatest good' we figure out which option hurts the fewest people the least amount, or conversely, does the most good for the most.  In the fictional Kobayashi Maru, maybe Kirk could do some quick calculating and realize that destruction of both vessels would be the worst possible outcome....maybe.

But what about those intangibles, like courage, integrity, allegiance.....things that arguably define us more than anything tangible.  These annoying traits will cause us to throw practicality out the proverbial window.

Sometimes, we have to say, ok, how do these choices align with WHO I AM?  So, back to the case of Kirk, it didn't fit his true self to choose a losing route, i.e. failure is not an option sort of thing.   His, I-will-win-regardless moxie fit who he is.

In life, we don't have the luxury of a simulator and often the choice we make is not one that can be undone; there are no do-overs.  We have to choose, or choose not to choose.  In the end, we don't have all the information we truly need to make 'the best' choice...that is, what we really need to know is exactly what will happen when we choose A or B.  Life just doesn't work that way, and I'm sure that is by design.

Our growth depends on these little crossroads we find ourselves on....making the choices, or finding a way outside of the paths in front of us.

We may have a few mini Kobayashi Marus during this holiday season; our food choices can put us in a bit of a lose-lose scenario....some people feel pressured to eat the 'traditional foods' and thereby abandon their plant-based lifestyle, at which point, they may feel they have compromised their health just for the sake of someone else's feelings.

Obviously there is no right or wrong here; we do what aligns best with who we are at any given time, and if we don't, we learn from that, and go on, stronger.

As someone who is on a plant-based diet, I feel like I am outside of the majority 'food box' for sure but with each day that passes, I become more comfortable outside the confines of the 'majority'.  My choices speak to who I am, and I find that the more I stick to them, the more accepting others become.

One thing I know for sure....there's only one person that I am with 24 hours a day, every day.  And I like keeping her feeling good about my choices....she's got a phaser, somewhere.

Wishing you a Klingon-free holiday season, with easy choices to make.

Sue, giving 'er all she's got/phasers on stun, in Ohio

*Julieanna Hever prepares Forks Over Knives meals in this video.

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