The other night I was trying to cook dinner for myself, but I was being one tough customer. I wanted to cook a single-serve dish (preferably no leftovers since I rarely get around to them), that was fresh, healthy, and not the usual spaghetti. Bonus points would be awarded if it was also cheap. I looked through my cabinets and came up with this – a variation on the Four Veggie Pizza that I recently filmed a video of (which can be found in Organic Gardening’s February/March iPad edition). It was quick, maybe 15 minutes, but tasted quite fancy (if I do say so myself).
I never had brussels sprouts growing up, probably because the name alone would have brought a wince to my eye. Not because I had tasted it and disliked it, but because I was brainwashed told as a child by various movies, books, and cartoons that brussels sprouts were gross. For some reason they rank right up there with liver as a food we weren’t supposed to like as kids. This is odd not only because they don’t have a particularly strong flavor to cause such dislike (as opposed to broccoli – yuck!), but also because they’re the perfect size vegetable for kids to pick up and play with. But I digress.
So after success in getting my roommates to try (and enjoy!) vegetables, I was nervous about the main course – spaghetti squash. None of them had ever tried it before, and I had to keep answering their nervous questions about it – yes it’s squash, no it comes out looking like that, kind of like crunchy spaghetti. One roommate even voiced her concern by saying the idea of it reminded her of scraping the gross innards of a pumpkin. I WAS NERVOUS. I had promised these girls a delicious dinner. If they didn’t like it, would they then start to think of me as a pumpkin eating freak? When it was finally cooked (at 375 for about an hour), the lovely squash was ready to be scraped and served.
I made one batch of spaghetti squash with just butter and one with vodka sauce. I usually prefer just butter, because the nutty squash flavor is so good that I hate to cover it up. But the vodka sauce was my way of disguising the squash so that those who wished to could pretend it was regular spaghetti.
My roommates served themselves, and I waited patiently. Small, nervous bites were taken. Then bigger bites. Then Parmesan cheese was called for and spaghetti squash became a new favorite in our house.The questions they asked now were about pricing and calories, about envisioning a future in which they make spaghetti squash for themselves, and not because their granola-eating roommate insists, but because they like it. They really like it!
My roommates and I have a great Monday night tradition of roommate dinners. We try to eat together every Monday night to catch up and spend some time together. This Monday, I decided to make dinner for my roommates, but a big pot of spaghetti or mac and cheese seemed so boring. I also wanted to convince them that the strange vegetables they see me preparing are actually really good and not that funky at all. So I set upon making a try new things dinner. For our appetizer – artichokes.
I, personally, love artichokes. I could eat them day and night. I did not always love artichokes, however. When I was younger I thought they looked terrifying, like some exotic prickly thing that fell from a tree. My family (and several visits to The Cheesecake Factory) cured me of my fear, but I can still understand why an artichoke looks off-putting.
My roommates were, thankfully, up for the challenge (with back-up dinners on stand-by, but still), and gamely listen to my tutorial on eating an artichoke. I gave them baby artichokes, which are more tender and far less intimidating, and a garlic butter sauce for dipping. While I prepared our entree in the kitchen, I heard them try to decipher what was edible, where the meat was on each leaf, and whether their enjoyment was mostly because they were getting to eat straight butter.
In the end, they all enjoyed the artichokes! Even one roommate who was particularly skeptical and had already made a separate dinner tried an artichoke. I don’t know if they’ll start making artichokes for every meal, but I think they all found a new vegetable that they like eating. For the moment, I had happy roommates. But then, I had to serve them an entree comprised entirely of a single vegetable…
My boyfriend came back from his winter vacation with a declaration. He wanted to only eat whole, unprocessed foods (or as whole and unprocessed as we could get by with). Considering that living this way is almost a requirement of my job, I said sure, let’s do it. So we did, only shopping the perimeter of the grocery store (with the exception of whole wheat organic pasta, which had only two ingredients – flour and water…wow, I sound like such a hippie). We left feeling smug and proud of our ultra-healthy cart.
There’s only one problem – I have a small addiction to this thing called spray butter. Everyone hates it, telling me how fake and awful it is. But in my defense, I come from the south, the bastion of butter-drenched foods, and my palate is less sensitive, and I need butter to make things taste good. Because of this, if I were to use real butter I would be incredibly unhealthy. When I make dinner, my roommates have to look away to avoid seeing how much butter I add. I have been likened to Paula Dean. So, in order to retain some modicum of health, I have to use spray butter. Its zero calorie deliciousness makes everything better, except my organic track record.
As hard as we all try, I think there will always be something we can’t give up in order to be perfectly, absolutely organic. I’ve revealed mine. Anyone else want to share?