Spaghetti Squash with Roasted Red Pepper and Onions

Spaghetti Squash with Roasted Red Pepper and Onions

Spaghetti Squash with Roasted Red Pepper and Onions: 1 small baked spaghetti squash (roasted on parchment at 400 for 30-40 minutes), 2 red peppers chopped and sautéed with 1/2 onion in a bit of olive oil. Optional: marinara, cheese and herbs.

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The Next Big Thing Blog Hop (aka more about DEAD MEAT)

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Thanks so much to Kristi Belcamino for tagging me in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop! Honestly, I was going to have a food post between my agent post and my next writing post, but things have been a little nuts! That said, I promise a recipe soon for those of you who are here to fill your bellies (If you’re hungry, check out my latest post on Lawrence.com). Until then, I’m going to answer a few writerly questions.

What is the working title of your book?

DEAD MEAT (Check out the awesome necklace above from my friend Joy!)

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I’ve been a newspaper food writer since the dawn of 2008, and have spent a ton of time in professional kitchens. I’d written two mystery novels that had reporters as the main characters (don’t ask about them, they’re safe in a drawer where they can’t hurt anybody) but I’d never had those characters do anything with food at all. In fact, most of the time they weren’t eating because they were too involved in the case to actually mind their hunger pangs. Which is very much at odds with my professional life. A publishing industry friend of mine pointed that out over Twitter and suggested the idea of a “foodie thriller.” We discussed how that’s not really a thing, like say a foodie mystery (DEATH BY CHOCOLATE, etc.). So, I set out to write one.

What genre does your book fall under?

DEAD MEAT turned out to have thriller elements but is probably best described as “foodie crime procedural.” Basically, it’s designed make you equally hungry and sick to your tummy while catching a killer.

What’s your book about?

Here’s my little book jacket summation:

The South Florida culinary scene is about as cutthroat as they come. There, restaurants thrive as easily as they die under the harsh scruntiny of billionaire backers, fickle foodie scenesters and a market as saturated as Mario Batali’s arteries. And though Dective Ellis Cash lives off greaseball takeout and vending machine gourmet, even she has seen enough reality TV to know that chefs have more than just improperly cooked shark fin to keep them awake at night.

Still, it’s a shock when a notable chef’s throat is actually slashed and his body mutilated with his own tools in his own high-end West Palm restaurant. A day later, another rising culinary star is found asphyxiated and oven-charred in his poshly appointed Michelin-rated establishment on Palm Beach’s moneyed Worth Avenue.

When Detective Cash is tapped to head up the homicide task force investigating the murders, she’s also charged with drafting ex-cop-turned-culinary-school-professor Chase Bowman onto her team. The temporary partners hit the ground running, trying to outsmart a killer who seems to not only know his way around the very deadliest in kitchen gadgetry, but also appears to be striking daily and at random.

Navigating a veritable stew of knife-wielding chefs, vindictive food editors, ice cold investors and murder scenes grisly enough to make them never want to eat again, Cash and Bowman race to find the killer before he incinerates the Palm Beach restaurant world from the inside out.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Fun question! I have had several beta readers and critique partners ask me who I’d pick, and they all had really good ideas themselves. I had at least two suggest Jennifer Lawrence to play Cash. Though she’s much too young, her spirit and looks are absolutely perfect.
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As for Bowman, I have him in my brain as a mashup of Tom Hardy, George Clooney and Clive Owen. But if I truly had to go with one of those three, I’d probably pick Tom Hardy because even though he doesn’t really look like Bowman, he just blows me away. (On a side note: Go see WARRIOR right now!!! His performance just breaks my heart.)
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How long did it take you to write the first draft of the book?

This is a trick question for me because I revise a ton as I go. If I hadn’t taken off about four months off for running and job things, DEAD MEAT would’ve been agent-ready in six months.

What else about your book might pique readers’ interests?

If you love TOP CHEF and CHOPPED like I do, you’ll enjoy a glimpse into the culinary world of South Florida. At the same time, I hope it will also appeal to those who love the whacky/bloody antics of South Florida crime series like the DEXTER books and TV show, Tim Dorsey’s books and the catalog of Carl Hiaasen.

Side note: Having lived in Palm Beach County for nearly four years, I can attest that it is no surprise that Florida can inspire some crazypants writing sprinkled heavily w
ith grains of truth.

Thanks so much for reading my version of The Next Big Thing! Please check out the blogs of the following fantastic writers next Wednesday for their Big Things: Mina Vaughn, Rebecca A. Weston and Julie Tollefson.

 

My huge news: I scored a literary agent!

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I can’t believe I get a chance to say this but … I HAVE AN AGENT.

For writing.

As in, I’m one MAJOR step closer to publishing a book AND I have the best possible partner (for me) with whom to do it, Rachel Ekstrom of Irene Goodman Literary.

Rachel is funny, whip-smart and incredibly good at explaining the hyper-crazy world that is publishing. The second I picked up the phone to answer her call, I could just hear in her voice how much she believed in me and my manuscript, DEAD MEAT. (Yes, I’m aware that sounds like a really funny title for a high-raw vegan’s manuscript, but you’ll see why it’s called that in a bit.)

And, amazingly, I got to PICK my agent, which is not nearly as glorious as it sounds.

It was downright horrible, actually, because I love every single one of the four agents who offered representation.

Every single one.

They all believed enough in me and my writing to offer to be with me for a whole career. I mean, I hated telling any of them no because I think they are wonderful and fabulous and that any of them could have (or would have) sold my book to a publishing house. I love you ladies, and if you’re reading this I hope you know that.

That said, there was just something about the rapport I had with Rachel and her infectious enthusiasm that told me in my gut that she was just right for me. And I’m very, very excited to work with her.

Now, the story of how I got my agent? That can basically be told in two equally awesome days: A Thursday and a Monday (yes, a Monday).

But first, I’ll start with a little contest called PitchWars. Put on by Brenda DrakeYA Misfits and a bunch of very talented and awesome people in the publishing business, I learned about PitchWars sometime in November.

The basic premise: 30-some-odd “mentors” in the publishing industry (writers, editors, interns, etc.) were going to be open for applications from non-agented writers who wanted to learn a thing or two and get attention of participating agents. Each writer was allowed to apply to three mentors. Each of the mentors posted what they liked and didn’t like and what category they were looking for (entries were divided into Adult, New Adult, Young Adult and Middle Grade). Each of the mentors could pick ONE writer and two alternates to mentor for the second phase of the contest, which was an agent round, where the writer’s first 250 words were posted along with a short pitch of about 50 words.

There weren’t a ton of “Adult” spots (I think six out of the 37 possible spots), but I thought what the heck, I might as well try. I really didn’t think I’d be chosen. Rather, I thought maybe I’d meet some more members of the online writing community and that would be fabulous enough for me.

I did get to make some great friends … but I also was chosen for a spot. 

I absolutely couldn’t believe it. There were thousands of entries (though there were multiples of everything because you could submit your entry to up to three mentors), but somehow I’d made the cut, getting chosen by the lovely Rebecca A. Weston.

I sent Becca my manuscript in early December, giving her about six weeks to take a look, get me her editorial opinion and for me to make her changes before the PitchWars agent round which was held a Wednesday and a Thursday, January 23rd and 24th.

During this time, I stopped querying, which means I wasn’t actively sending letters and sample pages to agents. I figured, I had plenty of fulls out and then I’m going to be in this contest, I should hold off.

So I did. And I did … until one day I was completely bored at work and decided to start to research agents on my lunch break, figuring that if I didn’t get many requests from agents during PitchWars, that I should already have a list ready and be able to ship my letter and pages out to new agents once the contest had ended.

While I was working on my list, there were three agents who I couldn’t wait to query, so I did, because I just couldn’t hold off. Out of those three, one immediately requested a full, one immediately requested a partial and it was a no for the last.

The next week was the two-day agent round of PitchWars. I was lucky enough to get five requests, including one from Rachel. The very same day — Thursday — even before Rachel had requested a full of my manuscript through the contest, I received an email from the agent who’d requested my full a week before during my random/bored at work querying. She wanted to talk on Monday.

I was thrilled, but tried to couch my enthusiasm a bit because the woman had just had my manuscript a week. I was convinced she probably just wanted to talk about possible revisions, not actually give me an offer. We set up a time and I spent the weekend trying to figure out how I’d answer any questions she had.

Sunday night, I checked my email after the kiddo went to bed and sitting in my inbox was a note from Rachel. She’d only had my manuscript since Thursday night. It turned out she wanted to talk Monday, too. I threw out a time later in the day and emailed her back, not sure if she’d see it before the morning. But she got right back to me and we were on to talk.

Suddenly, I had two agents calling me the same day who had no clue about each other.

This is important to me, at least, because normally if you get a call from one agent, you give all the other agents who have your manuscript a week to get back to you on if they want to “compete” for you. They’re motivated by the fact that someone else likes you and move you up in the to-be-read file because they want to make sure a good one isn’t getting away. Which totally makes sense, right? But here I had two very good agents who loved my manuscript enough to call me up without knowing a thing about if I was getting major interest from anyone else. In a word: SQUUUUUUEEEEEE.

Amazingly, my first Monday call didn’t start with a request for a revision, it started with an offer.

I couldn’t believe it. I was totally flabbergasted and probably didn’t make sense for the rest of the phone call and I still had Rachel to talk to that day.

With shaky fingers, I sent out my “I have an offer” emails to the agents who had either my full or partial — all but to Rachel, whom I figured I could tell myself.

Rachel started her phone call off with an offer, too, and I started shaking again, unable to believe my luck.

Here I had a second agent who’d had my manuscript for very little time and who didn’t know me from Adam and wanted to sign me. She was so enthusiastic about my writing and story that I kind of felt like the phone call couldn’t be real. I mean, how could anyone be so excited about my writing? And someone with so many connections and who knows the mystery market so very well? I mean, WHAT?

I was in such a great mood that once I stopped shaking enough to go out into public, I went shopping and then running. On my little trip to one of my fave Lawrence stores, I bought myself a very fitting clock, I think.

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Tuesday morning, the responses from the other agents began to roll in. Some folks “bowed out,” while others said they’d get back with me. I ended up with two more agent phone calls/offers that week — and probably sounded just as much as a skittish space alien as I did on the phone with Rachel and the very first agent.

Now there were four very talented people in the industry interested in my book? And two of them offered without even knowing about other agent interest? WHAT?

If there really is an alternate universe, I felt like I was in it all week.

It had to be too good to be true.

But it wasn’t. It’s reality. And I have the paperwork from the Irene Goodman Literary Agency to prove it.

So, what happens next? Now DEAD MEAT goes on submission to various publishing houses. And I just keep my fingers crossed and hope it sells so that eventually, maybe 2015 or so, it’s an actual, real book.

Usually in announcement letters like this one, writers post “query stats.” I’ve got mine below, along with some thank-yous, and then I’ve put the only little bit about my manuscript that Rachel saw during PitchWars before asking for the full thing. Yep, what you see below is all she read before plucking me from the ether and devouring my book in a weekend. As you can see, it’s not much, and it’s pretty gross (sorry) … but it’s changed my life.

Query Stats:

Queries: 38

Partials: 7

Fulls: 16

R&Rs (Revise and resubmit): 2

Offers: 4 

Big thank-yous to my critique partners, beta readers and mentor — Kristi, Joy, Julie, Christy, Nicole, Laurie, Coleen, Randy, Sam, Amanda, Sarah, Becca — my friends and family, especially my husband Justin, who spent endless hours entertaining the kiddo so I could write, and to all the agents who considered and offered on my work. I achieved a HUGE life goal last week and I couldn’t have done it without any of you. Thank you!

NAME: Sarah Henning
MENTOR: Rebecca A. Weston
TITLE: DEAD MEAT
GENRE: Foodie Thriller
WORD COUNT: 100,000 

PITCH:

When a sadistic killer begins butchering South Florida’s hottest chefs, Detective Ellis Cash and ex-cop-turned-culinary-school-professor Chase Bowman wade through a veritable stew of knife-wielding chefs, vindictive food editors and ice-cold investors as they race to find the culprit before he incinerates the Palm Beach restaurant world from the inside out.

FIRST 250:

Funny fact: Human flesh sears just as easily as lamb. Crisp skin on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside.

Not that anyone would be eating this bit of flesh any time soon.

It’d been seared, strangled and baked off the bone.

Plus it was mostly raw.

A good portion didn’t make it into the well-salted cast-iron pan on the stovetop for a nice cheek-fat sear or into the oven cavity for a good off-the-bone roast. No, the majority of the meat was rigid, sprawled on the floor in the middle of a kitchen in one of Palm Beach’s hottest eateries, bookended by sky blue garden clogs and a face that was now just another anonymous crust on the bottom of a hard-working oven. 

But the face wasn’t the worst part, believe it or not.

No, the worst was the neck. Maybe twelve hours ago it was a stout eight inches in diameter, bent over a computer screen balancing the books after a successful dinner service. Now, it was at best a constipated hourglass, a muddy hash of vocal chords, windpipe and whatever’s to be found in an Adam’s apple.

I swallowed hard, my arms crossed against the hum coming from the hallway—a payroll’s worth of restaurant workers milling behind yellow crime scene tape, all wanting to know when clean up could begin. Just so they could start a late lunch service a
nd go back to earning tips the size of my car payment.

 

 

A new recipe for a new year (Happy 2013!)

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It’s January 1, 2013. I’m convinced this is the start of a great year. Not that 2012 was horrible or anything. There were plenty of highs in the past year, but I’m hoping to improve upon things that went both right and wrong in the past trip around the sun, because we should always be improving, no?

And for those of you here just for the food, know that the pic you see above — my improvement on good ol’ oatmeal — is at the bottom of this post. You can go there now (I won’t be offended) or you can wade through my brief recollection of 2012 and scan my goals for 2013. It’s up to you.

Yes, all and all 2012 was a fantastic year from me, mainly because my year was pretty much made in the very first month. In January 2012, I accepted a new job in marketing for a non-newspaper. For the first time in my adult life I’d be working outside the news industry, which was both terrifying and exciting.

Terrifying because, well, I’d always wanted to work at a newspaper and that’s what I’d spend my teens and twenties aspiring to. But no one told me that soon after I left college the newspaper industry would start folding on itself and become a shadow of what it was back when I was dreaming of being a part of it. But, after nearly nine years working full-time in the business I’d always wanted to have been a part of and after surviving my fifth rounds of layoffs, I was through. I wanted to make the decision to leave before the decision was made for me. I loved my job (and still miss it) but having a child to raise can make a girl a bit less selfish in her actions and I decided to apply for a job at a firm where my best friend has been since graduating college. She’s literally the only person I know who truly loves her day job and never complains about it and I figured her recommendation was as good as gold.

And it has been. I’m less stressed, more appreciated and, most importantly, completely secure in the fact that my job’s not going anywhere. That, in itself has improvement my quality of life immensely. What’s also great is that I’m able to still freelance, which feeds my writing itch and I’m extremely grateful for being able to do that.

The rest of 2012? It was great, too. The kiddo has grown into quite the little boy, the hubby has been invited to speak at conferences and is being recognized as the total Web badass that he is. I got to do a few really fun ultras (though not as many as last year) and ate some really good food (too little of which ended up on this blog … but I’ll get to that). I also met some writing goals, that I haven’t really discussed in this space. That’s mainly because I really do intend for this to be an eater’s blog, though it’s often veered into running. Thus, I don’t really talk about it, but I do write outside of food and fitness and have, for the past several years, been dabbling in writing mysteries and thrillers. This type of writing I’ve typically kept to myself (even among my friends) because for some reason it’s a tad bit embarrassing to be paid for one kind of writing (news/features) while really enjoying another kind (fiction) and not totally being to the point where I have an agent or a book deal. But there you go.

Okay, now, so The Unprocessed Live’s requisite goals for 2013:

1. Let go of the sweet stuff. If you follow this blog, you know I am loathe to use any sort of refined sweetener. For me, it’s pretty much dates, honey, maple syrup and maybe the odd bit of agave nectar. I don’t use white sugar and I’ve been really good at avoiding white flour in the past year. That said, I’d still like to be better about my sweet tooth. I’m one of those people who has to have something sweet every day and though that usually consists of some sort of maple- or date-based dessert or some good-quality dark chocolate, I feel like I could do better. As in: Not have something sweet every day. Eat more vegetables than fruits in a day (I tend to be waaaaay heavy on the fruit). Not always have to have a sweet component to my salads (I usually end up adding raisins, cranberries or pomegranate seeds to my salads). So, yes, cut down on the natural sugar and keep avoiding the white stuff as well. We’ll see how well I keep up on this. Sweets are my kryptonite.

2. Meal planning. I’ve said it before and I’m saying again: I really need to be better about meal planning. The problem I’ve run into in the past year is that we literally have something every Monday through Thursday night, either as a family or separately. And because I know this (duh), I should be able to plan for it much better than I do. I’m resolving to make a large-batch dinner (or 2) on Sunday night for us to eat for lunches and on our busy Monday nights. Then, I’d like to plan a Tuesday night meal for the hubby to prepare while I’m running that will be enough for us also to eat it Wednesday or Thursday for lunch or dinner on those days. I think just planning these two meals per week will help greatly in keeping our stress down while still getting good food on our table.

3. Don’t give in to the little monster. You’ve seen my kid all over this blog drinking this smoothie or that juice. Truth be told, he has a fabulous diet. He really, really does. But, too often, we give in to letting him eat things we know he likes just so he’ll eat. Usually, that food is good (fruit, peas, beans), but lately he’s been constantly trying to convince us to feed him out of the pantry. He wants crackers, cereal, popcorn. Things that I don’t typically buy, but end up in our house anyway because my husband likes them, and he’s a grown man and I don’t harp on him for how he eats (and he eats most of what I post anyway). This year I resolve to break the kiddo of the pantry cycle, no matter what it’s full of, and get him to stop thinking of that as where to look first for food. Editor’s Note: My hubby would like you to know that he eats really well. And I’d like to point out that I’m not picking on him and that I’m not perfect AT ALL.

4. More writing (both here and elsewhere). I must admit, it took me a little while to get the hang of writing freelance on top of a normal 8 to 5 job. And now that I have it down to a science, I’d not only like to blog more here in my personal space (I always do paid stuff first … hence fewer posts here), I’d also like to seek out other freelance opportunities in addition to the ones I have through my former publication. I know there are opportunities out there, I just haven’t found them. Which is fine. It would just be nice to spread my wings a bit and make new contacts. As I alluded to earlier, I’m also aiming to get a good chunk of free time where I can work on my fiction, because someday I’d like that to be a real job, too:)

5. Keep track of the good things. Over on Facebook a few weeks back, I saw a post that suggested keeping a jar and some stickie notes handy and writing down things daily or weekly (or whenever) that were good over the course of the year. That way, you remember all the good things (large and small) and the date, rather than honing in on the bad things you can’t seem to shake. I think this sounds like a great idea for making a girl feel prosperous in the new year, even if nothing huge happens over the next 365 days.

Okay, and that’s it for my 2013 newbie post: Five goals. I wish I could’ve c
ome up with 13, but, honestly, I feel like it’s a tad bit more efficient (and less overwhelming) to sum everything up into five goals.

Now, without further ado, a great recipe to start the new year: Superfood Oatmeal! This hearty breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) combines grains with antioxidant heavy fruits (not too sweet … remember my first goal) with good fat. It’ll fill you up and get your day off to a good start. Combine it with green juice or a green smoothie for a super-charged meal!

Superfood Oatmeal
1/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup mixed superfruits: goji berries, mulberries, golden berries
1 tablespoon hemp seeds
2 drops (NOT dropperfuls) NuNaturals liquid stevia, regular or orange
Cook oats on the stovetop (or in the microwave, if that’s how you roll) with water. Add in the seeds, berries and stevia and enjoy! Serves 1.

 

Super Recovery Green Juice

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It’s no secret that I run A LOT.

As an ultramarathoner, it’s not just when I’m racing that I run long — I have to train for those long races, too. And after a 20-mile, 25-mile or even 30-mile traning run, my body is totally zapped, no matter how well I ate before and during the run.

Generally, I have a protein shake right after a long run, usually like this one, but sometimes, I need a little something extra after the protein shake and my next full meal, just to keep flooding my body with the right post-run nutrients to fight inflammation and encourage recovery.

That’s where this green juice comes in handy. It’s chock full of vitamins and antioxidents, plus the pineapple and ginger contain powerful anti-inflammatory substances. I added in some liquid coconut kefir probiotic just for some extra oomph, though it’s totally optional.

Super Recover Green Juice

1 head celery

1 head kale

1 head broccoli (with stem)

4 medium carrots, peeled

1 cup chopped pineapple

1 inch ginger root, peeled

Lemon juice (to taste)

Liquid probiotic (1 tablespoon)

Run everything except the lemon juice and probiotic through the ginger. This should make about a quart of juice. Squirt in lemon juice and stir in probiotic. Enjoy!

Way-Too-Easy Unprocessed Chocolate Chip Oat Bars

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Though I absolutely love dessert, I have a few stipulations these days when it comes to what I eat.

First of all, it has to be as unprocessed as possible (duh).

Second, it has to be free of white sugar and as healthy as possible.

And lastly: It must be easy.

And, let me tell you, it doesn’t get any easier than this.

This recipe has five ingredients, uses a single bowl, takes about 90 seconds to make and doesn’t require a single kitchen appliance save for your freezer. (Yes, no mixer, food processor, blender, oven or microwave.)

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you at all why this is fantastic. But what I will tell you is that it gets even better: These taste amazing.

Don’t believe me? Make them. I dare you not to eat a quarter of the dough before they even make it to the freezer. I mean, just look at the chocolatey-nutty-oaty goodness:

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Way-Too-Easy Unprocessed Chocolate Chip Oat Bars

1 cup thick-cut oats

1/2 cup nut butter (peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, sun butter, etc.)

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 to 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life mini-chocolate chips)

Splash vanilla

Mix all ingredients in a bowl, using a wooden spoon or spatula. Next, line a 7×11 glass pan (or whatever pan you have that’s closest in size) with wax paper or parchment. Dump your dough out onto the lined pan.

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Next, take another sheet of wax or parchment paper, layer it on top of the dough and use firm pressure from your hands to flatten it smooth.

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Remove the paper and score the flattened dough into small squares or rectangles. Replace the top layer of paper and stick the whole thing into the freezer for 20 minutes or as long as you can stand it.

Serve them straight from the freezer (they tend to fall apart if left out). Store them in the freezer, too, either in the pan, or in Tupperware between layers of paper. 

Kabocha Squash, Avocado and Hummus Spinach Salad

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I have a new favorite salad. It’s not the prettiest bowl of food in the world, but it will be on my table pretty much through the winter.

Tender baby spinach, sweet-as-pie kabocha squash, dreamy avocado, creamy hummus and a little garlic and balsamic … it’s the perfect combination of sweet and savory. I love to mash everything together even though it turns into a café con leche brown (you’re probably glad I didn’t take a photo of that).

Please don’t judge this book by its cover. Just make it.

Kabocha Squash, Avocado and Hummus Spinach Salad

1/2 cup steamed and cubed kabocha squash (or skinned butternut)

1 cup baby spinach

1/2 avocado, chopped

2-3 tablespoons hummus

1-2 cloves minced garlic

Balsamic vinegar (to taste)

In a bowl, layer squash on top of baby spinach. Add avocado, hummus, garlic and balsamic. Serves 1.

Note: To prepare the kabocha squash, wash the skin well (you leave it on), chop it in half, seed it and then cube it. Steam over boiling water for 15 to 20 minutes or until the squash cubes can easily be cut in half with a wooden spoon. Serve warm or cool as part of the salad.