I’m the kind of guy who finds something that works and sticks with it. My go-to down-home food is chicken fried steak. My go-to cocktail at a nicer bar is a Manhattan. If I get a coffee, it’s the same 20-ounce Americano wherever I go.
I have reasons for all these things. CFS is a dish that says a lot about a restaurant and how exactly they prepare their ingredients. You know if they use poor cuts or freeze the meat or don’t have a good breading.
A Manhattan is a drink without extra crap. You can taste the alcohol you order and often pay too much for.
And the Americano—just a few shots of espresso in hot water—doesn’t get bitter if it gets cold, something that I appreciate as I sit my coffee down often and only remember to drink it a few hours later.
I’m a man of routines, in most cases. Routines remove indecisiveness and save me time.
So, with that lengthy defense and explanation, I will say that my life of routine choices differs greatly from the habits of my girlfriend.
Sam is the kind of person who always wants to try new and different things all the time. Despite my grumbling, I usually appreciate that, as she drags me into new experiences and wonderful adventures.
That being said, none such wonderful adventures have ever involved spaghetti squash.
I’m on my annual kick where I lose 15 pounds so I can enjoy myself gaining it back in six months. This time I’ve got a partner. So, for the sake of healthy cooking, my old delicious recipes are sitting on the shelf.
Because of this kick, we’ve begun to use hard winter squashes. Naturally, I’m skeptical, as we never cooked them growing up. Farmers coming from the fields weren’t exactly concerned about calorie counts, so the large pumpkin rejects never made it into my family’s recipe books.
Yet I’ve learned to live with the vegetable that does a mildly acceptable job as being a stand in for grain and pasta fillers.
The recipe I like to use is simple: throw a spaghetti squash in the microwave for like 15 minutes. Brown some ground turkey. Add mushrooms onions or what have into tomato sauce, and when your squash is done, cut the softened vegetable, remove the seeds, scrape out the insides into the pan and eat.
I still think the veggie is more trouble than it’s worth, but I can deal.
But this Sunday, we had to try a new recipe to use a spaghetti squash despite having all the ingredients for my regular dish.
The recipe said to fit a pound each of carrots, peas, broccoli, ground turkey, a jar of sauce and a whole squash in a crockpot. I knew this wasn’t going to work. But my girlfriend likes to follow recipes and not play it by ear as I do. Knowing the guidance of some carb-starved health nut and crazy person who runs a food blog far exceeded my own, we followed the recipe.
I filled up the crock pot, while she tried to cut the rock solid vegetable in half.
I asked her if it should be cooked first. But, nope, that’s not what the recipe said.
I took a turn and tried hacking into the squash. I tried cutting into the squash. I forced my knife into it, pouring my dislike of the vegetable into the action. But after seasoning the vegetable with my sweat and my swears, I had made little progress on the gourd of steel.
I let my girlfriend take another stab at it. I got out of the kitchen, not wanting to end up with a knife wound from either an errant cutting motion or as recompense for my all around poor attitude surrounding the squash.
After she worked at it a bit, I took over again. Between the two of us, with 10 minutes of work, we claimed victory over veggie. It was cut in half, and I pulled the seeds out.
She then promptly tried to fit the whole thing into the crockpot, covering the squash in tomato sauce before realizing that the pieces wouldn’t fit, despite what our vaunted recipe said.
Now it was up to me to cut the half into smaller slices to jam in the crockpot. If you’ve ever tried to use a knife while trying to hold a slippery, sauce-covered squash, you know it’s a tricky task.
Enraged, I got out a meat cleaver and went brute force on them. It was a Pyrrhic victory, with the squash broken and defeated at my hands but at the cost of a kitchen splattered in the remnants of the battle. I jammed the smaller pieces of my defeated foe into the pot, forced down the lid and got to cleaning.
My girlfriend set a timer and informed me it would be done in only three hours. The recipe said so.
I ate a snack to sate my appetite, because I knew that there was no way I’d be eating anything for at least five hours.
To shorten the story, I ended up having to nuke the squash, which just disintegrated it as I put it back in with the rest of the stuff.
So, for all that work, we were left about four hours later with a crockpot full of reddish orange glop that looked like what they serve in a post-apocalyptic movie. The glorp isn’t so bad. I’ve eaten three meals of it so far, and it’s decent enough that you can add ketchup to it and tell yourself you enjoy it. It’s not good enough to make you look forward to eating, which I guess is the point of the getting healthy thing.
And perhaps the one point of the story is that I could have made a far better and easier meal in the skillet in way less time.
But, as my girlfriend regularly reads these columns, the point I’m going to make is that, being a man of well-reasoned habits, I recognize the parts of my life that work really well and like to stick with them—even if they do force me to eat spaghetti squash.
Adam Strunk is the managing editor at Newton Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 316-281-7899.