My cat’s name is Little Bet. It’s kind of a strange name and when I share it with people, someone always squints their eyes, ruffles their brow, and tries to repeat it back to me with a hint of a question mark at the end. But you heard me right, her name is Little Bet—or Bet, as we sometimes call her. She was a rescue and she came with that name. We didn’t really understand it, or even like it, in the beginning. But she knew it. And it was the only thing, back then, that let her know that we knew her and that we loved her, right from the beginning. When she was hiding under the bed for days at a time, surfacing only for a small bite of food or to use the ladies’ room, we’d say her name and watch her ears perk up and her eyes dart in our direction. It connected us to her and her to us. Now, when we say it she responds by barreling down the hall toward us, crawling onto our laps, or widening her eyes and cocking her head a little in acknowledgement, as if to say, “that’s me!” I couldn’t imagine her being anything else but a Little Bet. The name was made for her.
Just two years ago, though, I never would have talked about animals like this. Why would anybody want a pet, I thought? You just have to feed them and clean up after them and you don’t get much in return. I didn’t understand the familial bonds that could be made and the companionship that develops. I didn’t really even consider that animals had feelings and individual personalities, that they could truly experience pain, and that they could develop strong relationships. I just thought they were other creatures that we had to coexist with and sometimes, for reasons unknown to me, people chose to do that coexisting in their homes. I know that this makes me sound like a cold and uncompassionate person. I promise you that I wasn’t. I’m not! I just didn’t get animals.
But then, she arrived. This tiny grey and white striped creature with a spotted belly came into my life and my world will never be the same. Those first few nights she cried a lot. And when she slept at our feet or tucked right into my chest being held by me, I felt her yearning to be connected. She was a rescue, after all. Her real mama was no longer there and she needed the nurturing and love that only a mother could give. I remember when she was just getting to know me, and perhaps figuring out that she loved me too, she would reach her front paws up and hold my face… a gesture that to this day makes my heart open up to the world.
Now she tells me through her varied meows (really, they’re different!) when she needs something—food, a clean up of her litter box, to play, or to snuggle in close. I try to listen well and love her unconditionally—like any mom does, I suppose. And in return, she cares for me in ways that I could never have imagined. She knows when I’m sad and I need warmth and comfort. When I’ve had rough day and I need to rest, she’s curled right into me, her head on my heart. We’ve got each other’s backs.
Her presence in my life has been a gift of immeasurable proportions. This little one has unveiled in me a tremendous compassion for animals–one that continues to grow daily. I’ve gone from the person who didn’t understand why anyone would want a pet to the person who carries spiders outside instead of killing them and who regularly contemplates working at an elephant sanctuary. I now truly understand how animals are just like us–capable of deep emotion and connection, both experiencing it and giving it. The warmth, comfort, goodness, and love that I get and give to Bet is good for my soul. It has fed me and healed me in ways that I never knew were possible.
When I was asked to contribute a recipe to the school newsletter, The Vine, I wanted to contribute something that also felt like it was good for the soul. Naturopathic medical students are some of the hardest working people that I know. We are so busy learning to help others feel connected, cared for, and healthy that we don’t always do the best job of caring for ourselves. So I’m sharing this story, in part, to introduce you to Bet. She’s good news. And I hope she brings a little joy to your lives. But I’m also sharing because she reminds me that warmth, comfort, connection, and love can sometimes be found in the places we least expect. We could all use a reminder like that from time to time. So to my fellow CCNM-ers and to anybody else who is reading this, I hope that this dish nourishes you, that it allows you some time to linger in the kitchen, and that it reminds you of the goodness all around.
Roasted Delicata Squash, Greens, & Quinoa with an Orange Chile Vinaigrette
I love this salad because the bulk of it is made up of vegetables and herbs. The quinoa acts as more of an accent along with the feta. If you don’t eat grains, try mixing it with some sautéed “riced” cauliflower or toasted walnut or hazelnut crumbles.
// Ingredients //
1 delicata squash
1 tbsp grape seed oil (coconut oil will work too)
1 tsp ground coriander
Salt and pepper
½ cup uncooked quinoa
6 cups arugula leaves
4-6 large leaves red kale*, cut into thin ribbons – optional but it adds beautiful colour
¼ cup each cilantro and mint leaves, roughly chopped
¼- ½ cup crumbled feta cheese, depending on taste
1 cup water
*Note: If you don’t add the kale, you can add more arugula
½ an orange, juiced (about 1/8 of a cup)
1/8 cup olive oil
¼ tsp apple cider vinegar
1/8 tsp -1/4 tsp chile flakes, more if you like it spicy
¼ tsp salt
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 °.
Cut the squash in half, length-wise. Scoop out the seeds and slice each half into half moons, about ¼ inch thick. Toss in a bowl with the grape seed oil, coriander, and salt and pepper. Line the squash moons up on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and roast for about 20-25 minutes, or until soft and slightly browned.
Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa and put into a pot with 1 cup of water and a pinch of salt. Bring quinoa to a boil, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes with the lid still on. Uncover and fluff gently with a fork. Let cool.
To make the vinaigrette, combine all ingredients and whisk, blend, or shake in a jar until fully incorporated.
At this point you can go about your day and make the dish when you’re ready, or you can finish it now and eat it warm. The squash and quinoa will keep at room temperature for several hours.
With your fingers, gently toss the cooled quinoa with the squash, arugula, kale, & herbs so that it is well distributed. Try to be gentle so as not to bruise the leaves. Then toss the whole mixture with the dressing and feta. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Top with extra feta and herbs, if you have them.