I have a lot of strong beliefs about what I put into my body, and food is very important to me. I definitely didn’t grow up this way, and it was only a few years ago that I really, truly started caring about the food that I was eating; where it came from and what was in it. I used to think I was healthy because I ate “diet” food and all things sugar and fat-free. Now that I look back on how I was eating, realize that I was filling my body with all kinds of chemicals that completely set my hormones out of whack. I have a couple of different philosophies of how and what I eat now. I really like how Michael Pollan puts it: “Eat food. Not a lot- mostly plants.” I’m not vegan or even vegetarian, but I do eat a mostly plant-based diet. I eat what makes me feel good- and most of the time that’s whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Sometimes it’s meat, eggs or dairy- but plant-based foods are always the star of each meal. I’ve always been really intrigued by vegan cooking, and often refer to myself as a wannabe vegan. I feel that I get really creative when I cook meals that don’t contain any animal products, and I guess I almost see it as a challenge. Over a year ago, I adopted the “Meatless Monday” tradition in my household. Eating one vegan or vegetarian meal per week is certainly no challenge for me, but for my carnivorous, weight-lifting, mountain-biking husband, it was much more of an issue. He’s always had the idea that a meal was centered around a large portion of meat, and that everything else is secondary. Luckily, he is very open-minded when it comes to food and will happily try anything. I promised him that any time I would cook a vegan dinner, he wouldn’t miss the meat at all. I’ve had some hits and misses over the last year and discovered that my favorite thing to make are vegan burgers. I have made several different varieties containing anything from chickpeas to butternut squash to Freekeh (my new favorite grain). Meals in our house are centered around vegetables. I like our plates to be beautiful and full of color and leave dinner feeling satisfied and energized, rather than stuffed and lethargic. One of my other favorite things to do for “Meatless Monday” is to create a recipe that combines grains and veggies and can be served in a bowl just as easily as it is on a plate. I like when all of the flavors can be combined together and create something new. On Halloween, I decided to make one of my recent favorite Meatless Monday dinners, chard, farro & butternut squash. I had only made this once before and used butternut squash. Since it was Halloween, and I happened to have this Kabocha squash that kind of looked like a pumpkin, I used it instead. Here is the recipe, but I’ve also included some photos and instructions from when I made this meal on Halloween below: Warm farro, chard and butternut salad 1/2 c dry farro 1 3/4 c water ½ T olive oil 1 tsp minced garlic A big bunch of Swiss Chard (chopped) 1 tsp nutmeg 1 small winter squash, roasted 3 large white mushrooms, sliced 1/2 T coconut oil salt + pepper to taste Place water (with a little salt) and farro in a pot, covered, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and allow to cook for about 25 minutes, until all liquid is absorbed. Farro should be slightly tender, but still have a “bite” to it. Meanwhile heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add in garlic and cook for one minute. Add in chard, nutmeg, salt + pepper and stir well. Allow greens to cook down almost all the way and stir in mushrooms, butternut squash and coconut oil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 2 more minutes. Stir in farro and cook for an additional 4 minutes on low heat. ** On this particular night, I used a kabocha squash. I cut the squash in half and scooped out the seeds. I always save squash seeds for roasting- they’re too valuable to throw away! Then, I placed the squash in a pan with a little bit of water. Covering it with foil to bake for about 45 minutes at 375 (until the squash is slightly soft, but still has a little bit of firmness left). Meanwhile, I got to work on the other ingredients: Chickpeas (I very rarely buy canned legumes. I prefer to buy them in bulk and rehydrate them myself. It is much more cost-effective and I get to control the firmness of them.) Beautiful Swiss chard from the Farmers’ market Farro (cook according to directions) and sliced mushrooms. After boiling the chickpeas to the desired firmness, I coated them with a mixture of olive oil, pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves) and sea salt. I spread them out on a baking sheet (along with the squash seeds) and popped them into the oven to bake along with the squash. While everything was baking in the oven, I heated a large skillet with some olive oil and added minced garlic (I would usually use fresh, but I was out). A few minutes later, chard (that I chopped up into large pieces) was added to the pan. When the squash was cooked, I took it out of the oven and cut it into small chunks. As the chard began to wilt, I added the mushrooms, squash and farro into the pan and mixed everything together. I also added some coconut oil, nutmeg, sea salt and pepper and let it cook together for a few minutes. Moments later, dinner was ready! I took the chickpeas and squash seeds out of the oven to taste. The chickpeas were perfect- slightly crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. The squash seeds were not good. I’m not sure if kabocha seeds are not meant to be roasted or if it was just this particular squash, but the consistency was all wrong. I plated everything up and was ready to enjoy my warm Halloween dinner. My advice is to mix the chickpeas in with the chard and squash- the flavors and textures are great together! Have you ever cooked with farro or kabocha squash? Please share your experiences with me. Lauren Martin is a high school photography teacher in Frederick County and also teaches group fitness classes at the Fitness First gym in Frederick (Spinning and soon to be certified to teach BodyPump). A newlywed, Lauren lives with her hubby and two golden retrievers in Frederick... loves hiking, biking, kayaking... anything outdoorsy like that. She describes heself as a "Subaru driving, farmers' market and mountain lovin' refined hippie!" Check out her blog to learn more about her! Lauren was introduced to Great Sage a few years ago by her friends Keith and Sarah Duckworth, who live in Columbia, and eat there all the time. It's generally their meeting place for lunch or dinner.