Maple Five-Spice Roasted Butternut Squash

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I am quite adverse to the culture of New Year's resolutions, because they tend to be lofty and idealistic and punitive... and they tend to totally bomb within three weeks of making them.

But I do like to celebrate the new year by reflecting on past year's challenges, accomplishments and happy moments, and by thinking about how I'd like to fill the empty 365-page book ahead of me.

This year has been a really big one for me. Having a baby, it turns out, is kind of a big deal. I consciously try to keep the tot-talk to a minimum around here, because I don't want to take a left turn into mommy blog territory. However, there have been two consequences to this decision:

A) I don't have a lot of meaningful life stuff to blog about, because my life IS 90% baby right now.

B) I haven't actually given myself the time to really turn current life events over in my mind, since THIS space was always my outlet for reflection.

So if I were to have a New Year's resolution, five days late (fitting, as motherhood laughs in the face of my former obsession with punctuality. Meeting a friend for coffee in 5 minutes? Time for peanut to poop out the back of a diaper! Mua ha ha ha ha!) it is to reconnect with myself.

By this, I mean taking the time to once again give thought to and find meaning in the daily rituals as well as keeping one eye on the big picture.

The past 8 months have gone by in a blur of late-night feedings, play dates, baby colds, introducing solids etc., awkwardly figuring things out as I go along with the grace of a moose in a china store.

Just keeping this sweet, fragile (I'm sure they're actually harder to break than it feels like for a first time mom) critter alive felt like the world's hugest task. I enjoyed it, of course, but it was a totally new kind of challenge for me, one that demanded a new kind of bravery and strength and patience. I feel like I've been strapped into a roller coaster since the moment sweet Theo-baby was placed in my arms.

I don't mean that in a negative way.

It's just that I need to unbuckle myself and hop off the ride every now and then in order to take the time to appreciate the beauty in small things.

To take a step back to savour life.

A hearty spoonful of hot, filling homemade soup.

The joy of tickling tiny toes.

The comfort of crisp sheets in a freshly vacuumed bedroom.

Finding stillness and happiness in present moments. And also to allow myself time to process and find meaning in the larger landscape of life, so that it doesn't just whip on by.

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I meant to post this recipe before Christmas, as I thought the maple-spice theme would make an excellent companion to turkey and mashed potatoes. But it didn't happen, and that's okay, because I was busy spending time with my family and friends, and enjoying the moment.

And besides, I have been making this dish on a near-weekly basis since September, so the turkey accompaniment is really nonessential.

Very easy, nothing fancy, you might skim the recipe and pass it by. But somewhere - I suspect near the intersection of butter and maple syrup and tongue-tingling 5-spice powder - magic happens. You will never see orange vegetables disappear so quickly.

I often use delicata squash instead, and it's easier because the skin is so thin and tender you don't need to take it off. But I find it has a higher water content and doesn't caramelize quite as nicely as butternut. Still delicious, though, and the no-peel factor is a major point in its favour!

Chinese 5-spice is an earthy-sweet blend of cinnamon, anise, black pepper, cloves and fennel seeds. If you don't have it, you can substitute a small pinch of the above individual spices you do have and it will still be tasty.

You can also add a sprinkle of cayenne, which plays nicely off the sweetness.

What do you hope to fill the pages of your 2014 book with?

  • Cook Time
  • Prep Time
  • 6Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 3/4 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder (or 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp ground fennel or star anise and a pinch of cloves)
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

  2. Use a vegetable peeler to peel the skin from the squash. Cut it in half lengthwise, then use a spoon to scoop out the guts and seeds. Lay the halves flat-side down on a cutting board and cut in 1/2"-thick pieces. Arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet.

  3. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine butter, maple syrup and 5-spice powder. Microwave for about 30 seconds, or until butter melts. Stir, then brush over squash.

  4. Bake squash for 20-25 minutes, until tender and caramelized, flipping halfway through.