My elementary school was one block from my childhood home, an easy walk down the street and up a gravel path that faded at the border of the playground. Most days, I walked that route only twice, to and from school, staying through lunch. Lunch was most often a wholesome meal that had been packed just for me. Very occasionally, I got to purchase a school lunch, parceled out into the geometric compartments of a styrofoam lunch tray.
Every week or so, though, I walked the short way back home for lunch with my mom. This was perhaps even less cool than my lunchbox and the plastic bags I brought home to wash and reuse, and sometimes I worried what it did to my reputation. But the feeling fled when I reached the front door. The table was always set, and a delicious meal was waiting. The treat I remember best is my mom’s homemade mac and cheese, warm and filling, hot off the stoveop. Some days, we’d have “lunchtime with the oldies,” listening to the radio or my parents’ old records while we sat across the table from one another. I remember how happy my mom seemed to see me, and how simple and good life was when the two of us sat together on the tall chairs at our kitchen island. It was respite. It was glorious.
There’s something special about lunchtime. Breakfast is for gearing up and starting the day—or, when it’s the weekend, for lounging around in one’s cozy pants. Dinner is the reward after a long, tiring day. Lunch, though, is the pause in the middle of everything. It’s easy to skip it, to work straight through in an effort to keep up momentum or get as much as possible accomplished. But when taken, it’s a reminder that we’re worth that bit of rest and nourishment.
Yet it’s a luxury to even see it that way.
Along with a long list of other bloggers, I’m donating today’s post to The Giving Table‘s campaign to raise money for The Lunchbox Fund, a nonprofit that provides lunch to at-risk school children in South Africa. A shocking 65 percent of South African children live in poverty. Nearly 20 percent are orphans, in large part due to HIV/AIDS. A proper lunch nourishes children’s bodies and minds, helping them focus in school and receive an education that will benefit them for years to come. That’s what I received throughout my childhood, thinking nothing of it. But in impoverished countries like South Africa, many children’s loved ones are simply unable to provide that. This is where The Lunchbox Fund steps in. They partner with schools, NGOs and community organizations to help feed school children—which means that communities benefit as well.
This campaign is timely for me because my sister and brother-in-law are moving to Uganda next weekend. They lived there from 2009-2010 and have been back in the states since, dreaming of and preparing for their return. Their year in Uganda happens to be the same year Ben lived and taught in Nigeria, though he was just an acquaintance of mine at the time. Suffice it to say, though I personally have not visited, the continent of Africa has a solid grip on a corner of my heart.
In this campaign, our goal is to raise $5,000 for The Lunchbox Fund—enough to provide lunch to 100 South African children for an entire year. I have more than enough to eat and plenty to share, and I imagine many of you do as well. Will you join me in giving to The Lunchbox Fund? Even the smallest gift will help bring more children to the table and, in turn, one more step toward a bright future.
Roasted Kabocha Squash Salad
Makes 2 generous portions
These days, this is the sort of thing I like to eat when I’m home for lunch. It’s hearty and healthful and delicious. Whoever convinced us that salads are boring? Quite the opposite! When I made this salad over the weekend, Ben and I polished it off, one big bowl each, but if you’d like to serve it as a side instead, it could easily feed four.
1 small gray kabocha squash, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional
1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
Freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
2 small shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar, plus additional
3 ounces goat cheese
4 heaped cups baby arugula
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Cut the squash in half. Remove and discard the seeds and strings, and slice the squash into 3/4-inch wide crescent moons. Toss with the olive oil, Aleppo pepper, a generous pinch of salt and freshly cracked pepper. Spread the slices in an even layer on a baking sheet. Roast until cooked through and golden brown, about 35 to 40 minutes, flipping once or twice.
While the squash is roasting, toast the sunflower seeds in a dry pan over medium-low heat. Stir often, toasting until the seeds are light brown, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and set aside to cool.
Put the sliced shallot in a small bowl with the vinegar and a pinch of salt. Allow to rest to soften the bite of the raw shallot.
When the squash is ready, let it cool for several minutes. Then, place in a large bowl. Crumble the goat cheese over top and toss gently. Add the shallots and vinegar, arugula and sunflower seeds, reserving some seeds for decorating the top of the salad, and toss again. Finish with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and, if desired, a splash of vinegar and/or a drizzle of olive oil. Serve warm or at room temperature.