I love meat. Juicy, rare, marbled steak is a favorite of mine. Roast chicken, with the skin on, is another. But when I hit my 40’s, a variety of disconcerting changes occurred. 15 pounds creeped on. (The Perimenopausal 15?) When I ate steak, my stomach complained, gurgling for hours and keeping me up at night. Speaking of sleep, I couldn’t sleep any more. Every night around 2 am, I woke up to go to the bathroom (beyond tedious) and then was UP for hours. One (of many) tactics I employed to lose weight was to eat less meat. While everyone else was having 3-4 meatballs with their spaghetti, I cut back to 1 meatball with my whole wheat spaghetti. When going out, I split a steak entrée with my daughter. Now I forego the steak entrée altogether, opting for fish or a vegetarian option. My stomach stopped gurgling, I slept better, and the 15 pounds (and more) crept off.
Also around this time, I dove deeper into yoga and yoga philosophy. I studied the Yama’s and the Niyama’s, yoga’s ethical guidelines, the most famous of which is Ahimsa or non-harming. This “Do/Don’t” is an overarching belief that one should live with love and compassion for all beings and not behave in any way that harms another being. It is generally cited as the reason for yoga practitioners to adopt a vegetarian diet.
As this virtuous circle expanded: I ate less meat, I did more yoga, I felt better and slept better, I loved more and stressed less, I ate less meat and did more yoga. I became a big fan of Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman. Both write with great conviction and adopt a pragmatic approach to eating less meat. Pollan’s simple advice is to “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” Bittman’s approach to eat vegan during the day and loosen the rules at dinner works for me, allowing for more flexibility with my family and our dinners together.
Because, you see, my family does not share my intense über desire to eat healthily and to eat as a responsible world citizen. It becomes very challenging to eat nurturing meals together when family members have different ideas about what they want to put into their bodies. We tend to compromise which works fairly well, but it does mean a lot of double cooking and other juggling and shopping for me, the one who is more determined to not just eat something because it’s easy or tastes good. (My husband, the weekend Italian chef, cooks food that tastes very good.)
Eating less meat makes me feel better. The health benefits are compelling. The environmental benefits are compelling. I made this soup/stew over the holiday break and the whole family enjoyed it (well, not my picky son). It just got better and thicker as each day passed, a delicious virtuous circle. Turn it into more of a meal by serving over barley, brown rice, or quinoi.
Butternut Squash Soup/Stew
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cups of butternut squash, cut into even-sized ¾” cubes
- 1 large baking potato, cut into even-sized ¾” cubes
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped fine
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
- 3 cups vegetable stock
- 2 15 oz cans cannellini beans
- 1 14 ½ oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
- 1 Tablespoon of fresh thyme or fresh sage
- 1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice (or more, to taste) – adds brightness
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place squash and potato on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, and roast in oven for about 35 minutes.
Saute onion and garlic in ¼ cup of olive oil until golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Add stock and bring to a gentle boil. Add squash, potatoes, beans, tomatoes. Simmer until squash and potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes. Puree half the soup in a food processor until consistency as at desired thickness. Add thyme or sage. Stir in lemon juice.
Serves 6, gets thicker and tastier with time