Waste not, want not. Few would argue with the wisdom of such a principle, but even fewer fully understand the extent to which it can be carried out in household, much less kitchen management. The idea of low to no household commodities waste is sometimes dismissed as a quaint, antiquated holdover from grandparents and great-grandparents who survived the economic depression that hit the US between World Wars. To many, it has been rebranded. Gramma’s frugality now bears the shiny new title, “sustainable living.”
Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not. In fact, to cadge a phrase from Martha Stewart, it is a very good thing.
Like organic food production, upcycling/recycling/using every bit of everything from snout to tail is a shiny new concept surrounding older ways that have been kept alive by choice and circumstance. Those who live in less developed parts of the United States, citizens of aboriginal North American reservations, urban dwellers who understand the need for commodities to be used up of because of the lack of space and resources for disposal, and yes, many college students.
Think you’re already using everything in every way possible? Here’s a quick way to tell if that is the case: What does your curb look like on the days the garbage truck rolls through? If you’re doing everything you should be doing, your average household waste for that week should fit into one, maybe two t-shirt bags.
No? Are you still screaming (on the inside, where it counts) “Hefty! Hefty! Hefty!” as you trudge to the sidewalk? It’s okay. We all do it sometimes. If you’re doing it every week, you need to know that it is possible to wean your wastebaskets and trash cans from a steady diet of stuff that could be recycled into rugs, clothing, planters and even fashionable vegan shoes. Keep in mind this kind of change does not have to be a zero sum proposition. You can start small. Just start!
Let me help you out with this. Do you eat Annie’s Mac ‘n Cheese? The next time you’re in the mood for comfort food and you tear open a package, ad you’re waiting for the water to boil, take a look at the box. Yes, the bunny is cute and the bumper sticker offer that has been open since I was an undergraduate is still on the side. What you’ll also find are tips on how to reuse that box before it finally ends up in your recycling bin.
Low to no waste isn’t limited to paper and plastic. Take a look at that pretty yellow oval in your CSA box. For those of you who have never tried spaghetti squash, you’re missing out. It has the texture and taste of a good veggie pasta prepared al dente the way the school cafeteria ladies never intended. Don’t let this tasty, healthy treat go to waste.
I consulted with my friends and fellow veggie fans, Sylvia and Bill Red Eagle, on the best ways to use every bit of a spaghetti squash. Starting from the inside out:
Seeds: The tangle of seeds and mushy, fibrous stuff needs to be removed before the rest of it can be cooked. Once you’ve scooped it out, begin to knead it and you’ll find the seeds will start to fall out. Rinse them off, buff them barely dry with a clean dishtowel and then spread them out on a cookie sheet.
They’re great plain or you can season them with any of the following: cayenne, chili powder, garlic salt, grated parm or asiago, or cinnamon and a little sugar or (a tiny, tiny amount of) stevia if prefer a sweet snack. Once you’ve seasoned them or not, pop the tray in an oven set at 275 degrees for five to ten minutes or until the seeds are dry, crisp, and slide around.
This recipe works with any squash or pumpkin seed and those seeds, called pepitas by my father’s people (who also refer to corn as maiz, go figure…) are a great source of protein and fiber. One cautionary note: they are very rich in Omega-6, which do weird things to Omega-3s, which you and I and everyone we know needs. So, as Cookie Monster might say, they’re probably best eaten as a sometimes snack when you happen to be cooking a winter squash.
Flesh: Some people boil it, some steam it, the Red Eagles like to cut it in half and bake it flesh side down until the fibers pull away into “noodles”. They like it as a side with butter, salt and a little sauteed garlic or garlic scapes when they’re in season or as a “chili mac” when the weather in Ft. Worth gets a little colder. I like it topped with a good “tom ‘n three plus” marinara ( tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers plus herbs and wine).
The Skin, Stem and Seed Muck: All of it composts beautifully. If you have established a place for birds and other neighbor critters to visit and grab a bite, you’ll find that they see the seed muck is like, the best snack ever to squirrels, titmice and black capped chickadees.
So, let’s review. You started with this ornery hard thing that you wondered if you could use as part of a centerpiece or a decoration for the guest book table at church and now you have a tasty snack, a great meal that is light on the carbs, and some good karma from feeding your fellow earthlings. Best of all, none of that ended up in the trash.
Hungry for more? Talk to your local farmer about their favorite ways to use winter squash. You might want to check out these recipes by two of my favorite chefs/foodways preservation advocates:
Emeril Lagasse’s herbed spaghetti squash is an easy dish after a rushed day.
Rick Bayless’ “Worlds Greatest Chili” includes winter squash as part of his refit of a home kitchen classic.
Bon appetit and keep green!