Monday, January 17, 2011

The City of Illusions: Southwestern Stuffed Acorn Squash

This weekend we went to a birthday party for one of I.'s friends.  They'd hired a magician to entertain the kids, and honestly, even the adults were impressed: he wore short sleeves, so one couldn't say he was pulling things out of his sleeves, and there was little distraction and hand-waving to make the illusions obvious. Even as an adult, I confess that magic is still fun to watch.  How does he do that, you wonder?

As a child, one of my favorite books was The Phantom Tollbooth.  One of the chapters in the book finds the hero, Milo, in a forest where he comes upon the twin cities of Illusions and Reality.  Illusions, from far away, is the "loveliest city" Milo has ever seen, but, he learns, no one can really live there.  The real city in the forest is Reality, right in front of him: a seemingly invisible place where people walk quickly with their heads down, looking at their feet.  He's told that Reality was once as beautiful as Illusions, but people in Reality decided that things would be much more efficient if they went everywhere as fast as possible and didn't bother to stop and look at and appreciate things along the way. As a result, the city withered away.

I was reading this book to I. recently, a chapter at a time, and the mini-story about the two cities really made an impression ... perhaps because I. still looks around him much more than he looks at his feet.  We went for a walk today and at least ten times, he made me stop, and listen to the chimes, or look at a particular piece of ice, or notice something I've never seen before.  We picked icicles off of trees and brought them back for his snow fort; we looked at the colors of the snow. 

How many times have you walked down the street and thought, How long has that been there? You realize, or someone will tell you, that it's always been there ... or at least for the last twenty or thirty years.  You anesthetize yourself to a place with over-familiarity. And that's the battle in life, to keep yourself fresh to those things so that you're always aware.  Sometimes that means changing the norm so that you are faced with an unexpected taste, or sight, or experience.  Sometimes it means noticing how you always do things, so that you can think about why you do them that way (my husband, for example, makes a conscious effort every once in a while to brush his teeth in a different sequence than he always does).

I'm not sure what stuffed squash has to do with illusions or reality, but one of the reasons I like trying new recipes is because it keeps the dinner table fresh, especially when it's hard to see other things (like work, for example) differently.

Southwestern Stuffed Acorn Squash

3 acorn squash (3/4-1 pound each)
5 oz. bulk turkey sausage*
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper,chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. chili powder
1 t. ground cumin
2 cups chopped cherry tomatoes
1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed
1/2 t. salt
Several dashes hot red pepper sauce, to taste
1 c. shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.

Cut squash in half horizontally. Scoop out and discard seeds. Place the squash cut-side down on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, lightly coat a large skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium heat. Add sausage and cook, stirring and breaking up with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add onion and bell pepper; cook, stirring often, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, chili powder and cumin; cook for 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, beans, salt and hot sauce, scraping up any browned bits. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until the tomatoes are broken down, 10 to 12 minutes.

When the squash are tender, reduce oven temperature to 325°. Fill the squash halves with the turkey mixture. Top with cheese. Place on the baking sheet and bake until the filling is heated through and the cheese is melted, 8 to 10 minutes.

* You could make this vegetarian pretty easily by using twice the amount of black beans, or black beans and kidney beans, or black beans and pinto beans ... or even bulghur.  You get the idea.
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  1. Oh oh oh! I've made this! (not on my fertility blog, on my food blog: I made it with vegetarian "Gimme Lean" sausage and it was quite delicious.

  2. Thinking of you all the time now as I know you are getting SOOOO close to your due date!!! You sound so calm... I'm impressed. GOOD LUCK!

  3. I love how you tie your posts to the recipes. It's always so creative.

    I am definitely guilty of being in my own world and not at all observant of what's going on around me. I need to be better about that for sure.


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