Black Rice with Butternut Squash, Kale & Bacon

I need to learn to let go.

Sunday afternoons can be a bit of drain around here.  I’m usually anxious about a busy week ahead at school and all the grading and planning I’ve procrastinated on all weekend.   Of course there’s also the piles of clothes that need to be washed/dried/folded/ironed, a sink full of dishes that need to be washed, a dishwasher full of clean dishes that need to be unloaded, and any other assortment of personal items (bills, emails, doctor’s appointments, etc) that need to be attended to.

I normally alternate between two courses of action here:

1.)  Go into super-productive mode and work through everything on my list.
2.)  Go into paralyzed mode and sit stressing over everything I have to do.

Today I did neither.  I was on the verge of #2 when Adam asked me if I wanted to go for a drive.  I said yes.

Thinking that we would never get out of the car, I wore my red Toms with a big hole in the toe, black stretchy pants, an old fleece that doesn’t zip up, and zero make-up.

We drove to the airport overlook and watched planes take off and land. Well, Adam did. I watched the 85-year old man in the pick up truck who listened to his CV radio while looking through his binoculars at each plane.  And the 8 year-old boy who put his arm around his 2 year-old sister. And the balding 40-year old man who took photos of each plane while sitting on a bench next to his wife.  

No agendas, no plan, just plane watching and people watching.

Then we drove to a big park neither of us had ever been to before.  We walked through some trees and around a lake and over a bridge. I tried to take a picture of Adam by the lake under the big bright sun, but he was squinting. And frowning. And instead of stressing about all the things to do today and tomorrow and next week, and the uncertainty that is ahead, I just let go.  I said a prayer of thanks for this beautiful life I have been given and the person I get to spend it with.

This was just a moment of course.  We disagreed about whether to keep walking or go back.  On the drive home he was stressed about the thought of moving, and I had a headache from looking at my phone in the car.  Life is not perfect.  That laundry will not get done in time for tomorrow, and the dishes will sit there another day or two, but I don’t care.   It was the best afternoon I’ve had in a long time.

Now I have to tell you about this rice, because it is amazing.  It’s choc full of nutrients from the kale and butternut squash, as well as the black rice, which is rich in antioxidants.  The inspiration for the butternut squash/kale/bacon/Gruyere combination came from a pasta recipe on the wonderful Eats Well With Others blog.  I have since found proof that others are convinced of the power duo between this sweet winter squash and hearty dark green, with recipes such as butternut squash and kale quesadillasbutternut squash and kale quinoa, or even simple butternut squash and kale salad.

Anyway, I loved the original recipe when I made it, but I was curious about what the other possibilities with the power duo might be. Joanne, who is a healthy vegetarian, made her sauce with greek yogurt and vegetable broth and used tempeh bacon.  I used real bacon and doubled the amount in the original recipe because, well, if Adam had one refrain in his experience with eating my meals it would be, "More bacon!"

In place of her sauce, I made I made a Gruyere béchamel sauce. If you have never made béchamel sauce, you are missing out.   It’s a creamy sauce without cream.  The essential proportion is 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon flour, and 1 cup liquid. (I use broth or milk, depending on the recipe)  You melt the butter and then add the flour, stirring until a yellow bubbling paste forms. Then, stirring constantly, you add the milk in small batches.  Then you add the cheese and things get really serious.

My last change was to use black rice instead of pasta.  This was my first time eating black rice, and I was delightfully surprised with the results. It’s a little softer and chewier than regular brown rice, almost more like a risotto in texture. The extra nutrients are an added bonus. Oh, and it turns purple when it cooks. How many purple foods have you eaten recently?

The final result is one of my favorite dishes to date.  The rice is rich and creamy, punctuated by sweet bites of butternut squash, savory bacon, and, just to make things interesting, the crinkled texture of the kale.

It’s filling and comforting and definitely still good for you. My best friend Steph was here to visit this weekend, and she ate some as a snack yesterday afternoon and then again this morning for breakfast. I can’t stop eating it, as evidenced by the fact that I keep snagging spoonfuls from the fridge when Adam’s not looking.

My lackluster photography skills and the un-photogenic nature of this dish do not a great combination make, but I PROMISE you will not regret making this recipe.

Black Rice With Butternut Squash, Kale & Bacon

1 cup black rice
2 cups chicken broth
1 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tbs olive oil
salt & pepper
2 tbs butter
2 tbs flour
1 ¾ cup skim milk
1 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
4 pieces cooked, crumbled bacon

Preheat oven to 425.

 Bring 2 cups chicken broth and black rice to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer for 35 minutes.

 Toss butternut squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and use a spatula to toss pieces over. Roast for an additional 10 minutes.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large saucepan on medium high heat. Add onion and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently until onion is golden.

Add 2 tablespoons flour and stir until yellow bubbling paste forms.

6Add about a fourth of the milk, stirring continually until the sauce thickens.  Continue adding small amounts of milk and stirring until you have a creamy sauce. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Add cheese, stirring until melted, then add kale and cook for 2 minutes until kale has slightly reduced in size. 

Add crumbled bacon, rice, and squash. Stir until all ingredients are heated through.

      Although I am in love with this dish, I will admit it is pretty time consuming, mostly because of all the prep work for the vegetables. To make this an easy week night dinner, roast the squash and chop the onion and kale the day before.

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