Creamy Koginut Squash + Sage Pasta

When choosing new seed varieties late last winter for the  upcoming growing season, I somehow convinced William I needed another type of winter squash to grow. He hates winter squash. But somehow, I won him over and then our late season garden became a sea of squash. I chose the Robin’s Koginut variety from Row7 Seeds. It’s a variety that has gotten a lot of press in the last few years, for chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill, who also wrote one of my favorite books, helped develop the variety in partnership with his local farmers and seed breeders. The result is a combination of a butternut and a kabocha squash variety, and I quite like it. But I also like nearly all winter squash.

Relatedly, over the course of the last few days, I’ve been taking a cooking class on using cooking techniques from Ayurveda. This means an emphasis on getting all six flavors in every dish, balancing the meal so that no flavor stands out over the rest, and that the end result is balancing to the body. One of the other tenets of Ayurveda is eating seasonally, i.e. what is in season, where you live.

One of the other person’s in the class asked about fruit, since I have virtually all types of fruit available to me where I live, she said. Our instructor reminded her that what’s at the store does not always represent what’s in season locally, as most well-stocked groceries carry fruit and other produce from all across the globe at all times. Unless a banana grows outside your door right now, it’s probably not in your best health interest to eat a banana, our instructor said, and advised the person to visit her farmers market instead.

I agree with my instructor wholeheartedly on a personal level. As many of you long-time readers know, I’m a big advocate of eating locally in season, getting to know your local farmers, supporting your community and economy, voting with your fork for sustainability and climate resilience, and of course, because what’s in season is often better for our health.

But for anyone that works with me with nutrition, I take a much more individualized approach. Not all of us come ready and able to make dietary changes that are so vastly different than what we’re currently doing. Not all of us live in a bounty of locally available all the time. Some of us need gentle guidance without judgement to get started where we are.

I have a book on healing with whole foods on my shelf that is nearly falling apart. When I first began really getting into holistic/integrative health, I read it from front to back, a little at a time, night after night. The pages are textbook size and there are nearly 800 of them. When I got done, I started reading again. Over years, yes years, I very slowly incorporated practices encouraged in the book. I tried meditation. I incorporated chlorella and spirulina (years before these would become more mainstream). I learned about types of oils and when and how to use different sweeteners. I learned about the effect of different foods on the body. It was an incredibly slow process and along the way, I slowly shed the way of eating that leaned heavier on the cheese, yogurt, ice cream, baked goods, convenience fast-food, and then all the “skinny” diet crap products, and more into trying new and then seasonal foods. Part of what really pushed me further was the second of three health crises, but I eventually figured out a way of eating that is intuitive and right for me. In the process it also helped heal the first, second, and third health crisis, the last of which I now believe to be both a reaction to a multi-year stint in a moldy apartment and emotionally related, leftover from the first.

This is all to say, for personal sustainability-sake, I don’t believe everyone needs to completely ditch their mainstream big-box grocery immediately and only shop at the farmers market from here on out. Or never again eat a banana. But I do think it can be life changing if you research a couple ways to seek local food where you live, and try a couple new in-season foods to start

If you come across the Koginut Squash, I encourage you to try it. Or if not, seek out a Butternut or Kabocha Squash instead. For learning about local farms and markets near you, try “Local Food Near Me” as a google search, or check out Local Farm Markets as a start. Or if you’re ready or in need of some extra food and nutrition guidance, please reach out to me for more personalized support.

Creamy Koginut Squash + Sage Pasta, serves about 4
1 medium koginut (or butternut) squash
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup water or vegetable broth (low/no sodium)
¼ cup nutritional yeast
1 Tbs. raw apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. dried sage leaves, plus a few more to serve
salt and pepper to taste
12 oz. gluten-free pasta, preferably a bean/legume based pasta unless you’ll be adding chickpeas or other beans
3-4 medium handfuls dark leafy greens such as spinach or kale, optional

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper.
  • Halve the squash and take out the seeds. Then put the two halves, cut side down on a baking pan, along with a couple splashes of water. Cook for 40-45 minutes until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and let it cool slightly.
  • While the squash is cooking, heat a large pan over medium heat. Add the oil and the onions. Cook until soft, about 7-10 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  • In an upright blender, combine the squash, onions, and garlic, water or broth, nutritional yeast, vinegar, sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Blend on high speed until the ingredients become silky smooth. Transfer to a saucepan and keep warm over low heat until ready to use.
  • Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box. Drain it, and then combine it with the sauce. If you’d like some extra greens, tossing in a couple handfuls of spinach or another soft leafy green (such as kale or swiss chard), is ideal at this time.
  • After you’ve dished up each serving, sprinkle with a couple pinches of minced sage over the top.

the simplest sourdough flatbread, and what probiotics and gut microbes have to do with it

“Why are you people always switching out sour cream for yogurt in all your recipes?”
This was the question I was asked a few weeks ago while teaching a (virtual) cooking store tour. The question had me pausing because it was so good and to be honest, I’m surprised no one has ever asked me before. I paused also because it’s been so many years since I’ve actually eaten sour cream – and years too since my yogurt-in-every-meal days.

So why do nutritionists and health-minded persons tend to switch out sour cream and add yogurt at every opportunity? Without jumping too deep into the science at first glance, I think we can look towards long histories of fermented foods in virtually all traditional ways of eating around the world. Our ancestors were fermenting foods in all sorts of ways for better health and as a way of food preservation. Yogurt products—whether they are dairy-based or non-dairy—all have the same culture of bacteria added, and as most of us have learned from countless yogurt advertisements, it’s good for gut health. Plain old sour cream, and other creamy dairy foods, can’t generally say the same.


Fiber Nourishes Your Gut – Prebiotics

What we’ve learned in the science and nutrition community over the last couple decades is that what we eat affects our gut bacteria. Our digestive system is home to trillions of beneficial bacteria, called the gut microbiota or microbiome. These bacteria live in an (ideally) symbiotic relationship with us. In the case of beneficial bacteria, they feed on the undigested part of the food, (fiber), that is passing through the large intestine by fermenting it into short chain fatty acids such as N-Butyrate. That’s a good thing.

When we eat fibrous plant-foods, we are essentially feeding many species of beneficial bacteria from the fiber that we ourselves cannot digest. And when we don’t eat the foods that beneficial bacteria need, we lose harmony and balance between beneficial and disruptive bacteria, and dysbiosis occurs. Often with all sorts of negative symptoms that we experience. This beneficial fiber-rich food is what we’ll often call ‘pre-biotics.’


A healthy gut microbiome can protect us against disease-causing bacteria because the good bacteria competes for space in the intestines, blocking the bad guys from establishing a strong community. Beneficial bacteria can also help us absorb otherwise non-absorbable nutrients like certain antioxidant polyphenols, produce some micronutrients like vitamin K, and provide needed fuel for the cells in the colon. Production of short chain fatty acids by bacteria in the intestine also plays an important role in the maintenance of the intestinal barrier. Butyrate, the short chain fatty acid I mentioned above, has been shown to be protective against colon cancer.

Whereas we don’t want an overgrown of bacteria in the small intestine, having ample beneficial bacteria in the colon is a hallmark for optimal health. Low beneficial bacteria can impact your protective mucus lining in the intestinal tract, which supports up to 70% of our immunity. The commonly used phrase “leaky gut” comes in here when the interplay between a low fiber diet, low beneficial bacteria count, and difficult to digest macromolecules poke holes in the cheesecloth-like fragility of the intestinal lining and then opens the way for the immune system to do its job –in overdrive – resulting in sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies to many foods. 


Fermented Foods and Probiotics

On the flip side of the prebiotic/fiber-rich food equation is a term we’ve all heard. Probiotics. That stuff that makes yogurt and other fermented and/or bacteria-containing foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, raw vinegar, raw honey, and (traditional) sourdough bread health-promoting. Probiotic-rich foods essentially mean we’re eating the beneficial bacteria rather than feeding the good bacteria we already have.

When to Supplement

Probiotic supplements, especially in high doses, are often extremely helpful for individuals with an autoimmune flare, food or environmental allergies, metabolic concerns, hormone imbalance, skin health, cognitive and/or mental health, long-term and/or frequent antibiotic use, and of course, any sort of symptom that’s related to negative digestion—which tends to be a precursor to many of the other health challenges. When we’re using probiotics that occur naturally in fermented foods, we’re trying to maintain the balance of beneficial bacteria in our system (not just our gut either, our skin and many other areas of the body also have a microbiome). But when we’ve been in a pattern of long-term distress, we often need a little help from more bacteria than we can ingest through food. So a supplement might be necessary—ideally one of a reputable brand and with strains and quantities of bacteria that are scientifically founded for the symptoms or imbalance.



Going back to that question I received about sour cream and yogurt. I don’t tend to push a lot of yogurt as a preferred probiotic food source. Many individuals don’t tolerate dairy at all and the dairy industry is sadly pretty corporate and non-supportive of small producers these days. If you tolerate dairy products, and can source from a small dairy producing yogurt from grass-fed cows, then yes, it can be healthful. And while non-dairy yogurts contain some bacteria cultures, they often don’t provide much else in the way of protein or micronutrients. Flavored varieties of all types of yogurt are problematic due to all the other added ingredients, such as fillers, gums, sweeteners, and preservatives. Instead, I definitely encourage choosing a range of all the bacteria-containing foods.

One of my favorites is whole-grain sourdough. If you need a home project this fall and winter, starting your own sourdough mother (and naming it), will be immensely rewarding. My sourdough mother’s name is Esmerelda. Even if you’re not a baker. The flatbread below has become one of my five-minute favorites as a bready lunch side when I’m short on pre-made options, and with just the mother, you never actually have to launch off into sourdough baking (but I certainly recommend it if you’re ready for a next step).

Enjoy!

Dysbiosis in the gut microbiome is one of the five primary categories of digestive imbalances I look for when working with individuals clinically. Often when we’re experiencing chronic GI distress, there will be imbalances in several categories, and we begin working on the areas that appear most pertinent. I previously shared about the nervous system’s role, and the immune system leading to inflammation and food reactions, a tip to support impaired digestion and absorption in part four, and I’ll explain remaining topics of digestive imbalance in future articles.

And If you’re tired of dealing with your wonky GI and would like to get back to feeling and training well, I invite you to reach out to me for more personalized support.

Simple Sourdough Flatbread, makes 1
This is the absolutely simplest flatbread made from the sourdough mother. It’s rich and delicious, tastes bready and substantial, and can be flavored in many ways beyond the simple (plain) way I’ve made it. For a few more ideas, see this video which was the original that clued me into this delicious bread idea. For a larger amount, just use more starter. If you do not have a sourdough starter, I made mine from Baking Magique’s instructions. Instead of a mix of buckwheat and brown rice flour, my starter is 100 percent buckwheat. It keeps feeding Esmerelda super simple that way.

70 grams / ~1/2 cup sourdough starter
a little oil for your pan

  • Heat a medium to large skillet over medium-high heat. Add a little oil of choice, such as olive or coconut oil.
  • Pour your measured sourdough starter directly onto the pan and with a rubber spatula, gently spread it out so it’s smooth. Cook for about 3-4 minutes; then flip and cook 3-4 minutes more. You might need to turn your pan down a little, as this bread is slightly thick and you want to make sure you cook it all the way through.
  • Remove from pan, and add to your meal. I often eat it as a side like naan, but sometimes use it as a base for random other toppings that I have on hand for a quick lunch.

Better than the Bakery GF/DF Blackberry Muffins

During my senior year of high school, my agricultural science class focused on business and economics principles, and in one unit on our future in the workforce, I did some business planning on starting a cake bakery. I don’t know if we were focusing on entrepreneurship specifically, or if I’ve always had a streak of planning to run my own business, but to my way of thinking, I was owning, managing, baking, selling, etc. The whole dang thing. Never mind that I was in agricultural class, not growing or milling wheat or other grains, or just using an example from the then business I had at the time of raising and selling club lambs. Nope. Instead I did an abrupt turn and planned for baking artistic cakes in my future.

To this day, I often joke that if the pay were better and other things didn’t work out, I’d be baking and handing over the goods to other happy people instead. Oh and starting a porridge and brunch restaurant. Which is where my love for baking muffins comes in. If you go ahead and browse the recipe section, you’ll see I’ve published more than a handful of muffin recipes over the years. Along with cake, muffins are one of my favorite baked foods to experiment with.

When it’s up to me, I often tend to go for the heavily spiced, oat-rich, morning glory-type muffins that are stuffed with ingredients like raisins, shredded zucchini or carrots, mashed pumpkin, or other fruit. But not everyone favors that kind of porridge reincarnation. William, for instance, is a plain vanilla cake / vanilla frosting person, and likewise prefers simple berry muffins without the frills and extra ingredients. Since he’s been stopping by a local bakery before work many mornings for exactly that type of muffin, we settled on me making him some that are a little more wholesome and he can grab and take instead.

That’s where these come in. These are blackberry muffins made from milling oats, buckwheat, and almonds in my spice / coffee grinder. But they can easily become blueberry or raspberry-flavored instead, and if you have more of the flours than I do, start with oat, buckwheat, and almond flours for one less step. Either way, they’re an early morning treat that stands up to the bakery muffins with more whole foods, and especially whole-grains and reduced sugar. A big win and less of the side effects of refined sugars and flours, etc.

Blackberry Muffins, makes 6

65 grams / ¾ cup gf-certified oatmeal
65 grams / a little less than 1/2 cup raw buckwheat groats
60 grams / ½ cup raw almonds
8 grams / 1 Tbs. arrowroot flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. sea salt
70 grams / 6 Tbs. organic cane sugar
25 grams / 2 Tbs. coconut oil
1 large egg or a vegan alternative (1 Tbs. ground flax mixed with 3 Tbs. water)
½ tsp. grated lemon zest, optional
1 tsp. lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
170 grams / ¾ cup plain non-dairy yogurt (unsweetened coconut yogurt is best)
150 grams / 1 cup fresh or frozen blackberries

  1. Begin by weighing or measuring out the oats, buckwheat and almonds, and then finely grind them to a flour mixture in a spice / coffee grinder. Alternatively, if you already have light buckwheat flour, oat flour and almond meal, you can skip this step.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and prepare a muffin pan by adding the paper liners, or lightly wipe the insides with oil and dust with flour. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the flours, baking powder and soda, and salt. Then set it aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix the coconut oil and sugar with a spoon until light and fluffy. Then beat in the egg, lemon zest and juice, and vanilla.
  5. Add in about 1/3 of the flour mixture to the sugar and oil and stir. Then add in ¼ cup of yogurt. Stir in another third of flour and another ¼ cup of yogurt, and then add the rest of the flour and the final ¼ cup of yogurt. The batter should be slightly fluffy. Don’t overmix.
  6. Gently stir in the blackberries, and then evenly divide the batter into the six muffins cups.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool them slightly in the pan, before tipping out and eating