Marathon season has arrived and training is intense in my backyard. The competitors — squirrels — dash through their workouts. Run. Leap. Skitter. Flatten. Peer. Sprint.
Fueled by carbo hoarding. Competitors snatch nuts from the heights and hustle them here and there. Occasionally they shell, crack and gnaw one; endurance athletes stress the importance of replenishing midstride. Limits bonk.
Squirrels train for the long-distance bravado of the marathon, as well as the stop-and-shoot flexibility of the biathlon. They dart, freeze, then hurl nuts at passers-by. Presumably it hews their furry biceps, sharpens their aim.
The standard marathoner who completes his course is rewarded with a salty blue drink. And, I would hope, a heap of fall bounty, like butternut squash, Brussels sprouts and carrots, caramelized in maple syrup and pelted with pecans. The squirrel athlete is rewarded with an acorn stockpile. Good eating — or good ammo — for winter.
Prep: 15 minutes
Roast: 45 minutes
2 pounds (about 1 large) butternut squash, peeled and cut into ¾-inch cubes
1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved
4 carrots, peeled and cut into ¾-inch thick disks
12 sage leaves, thinly sliced crosswise
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/3 cup toasted pecans
In a large bowl toss together squash, sprouts, carrots, sage, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Spread out vegetables on two rimmed baking sheets. Slide into a 400-degree oven and roast, stirring once or twice, until sprouts are browned and all the vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes.
Pour maple syrup over vegetables; stir. Roast 5 minutes more. Scatter on nuts. Toss. Enjoy.
Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at email@example.com.