Creamy Squash Pasta Bake

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This homey casserole is perfect for chilly autumn nights! This time of year, consider using 1 and 1/2 cups pureed fresh butternut squash, but the canned version will do in a pinch.


  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 4 tablespoons Earth Balance butter
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 and 1/2 cups unsweetened non-dairy milk
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups shredded Daiya cheddar
  • 1 (15-ounce) can butternut squash
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions; drain and return to the pan.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 30 seconds.
  3. Whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking frequently.
  4. Once at a boil, remove from heat and stir in the mustard, salt, black pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cheese, stirring until melty. Stir in the squash.
  5. Toss together the squash mixture and cooked pasta, then transfer to a 13×9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the panko.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes, until bubbly.

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Early Explorers Toys & Games

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This month’s offering from Travis’s Early Explorers subscription was literally a¬†package devoted to fun – toys and games that is! One look and we knew we were sure to have a good time with this one. We received all the recurring elements, such as an activity booklet, flash cards, postcard, and stickers for Travis’s wall map and suitcase.

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Even adults can learn a lot from this one – I sure had never heard of games like turumpo, galimoto, and daruma otoshi from around the world. Then it was time to get busy with the booklet’s additional suggestions.

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Toys Craft:

We loved the craft for a homemade marble maze. To construct it, you only need a shoe-box lid and straws. Travis marked a circle in one edge for Start, and a “smiley face” in red at the bottom for Finish. I do love his slightly-glowering smiley faces these days!

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Next we cut straws to various lengths, and he helped me decide where each should go. I glued them down and we let it set overnight.

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In the morning, it was time to test our toy! Travis loved tilting and learning how to maneuver a marble among the straws.

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We had fun with suggestions in the booklet such as: timing ourselves; going backwards from Finish to Start; and testing out ways we could make the maze even harder. When the opening between two straws was narrow, this was the biggest challenge.

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You can also try making multiple mazes, or roll something through it other than a marble!

Toys Science:

The booklet challenged us to make a new toy – a STEM endeavor if ever I’ve seen one! I pulled out our craft bin and a few other odds and ends from around the house, and encouraged Travis to come up with anything he wanted.

First up was this toy wheelbarrow – a matter of attaching an empty ribbon spool between two dowels.

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Next he wanted to build with craft sticks, much as you would with building blocks. Lots of tape helped make a sturdy frame.

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The construction soon turned into a game with a goal post that we could shoot wooden craft beads through for points.

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I loved watching his creativity through this whole process, involving at various points: black dot stickers; floral wire; Velcro stickers; and more. Some “toys” worked and some didn’t, but he had a blast and it filled a morning. I’d love to hear what your child makes in the comments! What will you name your new game?

Toys Keepsake:

Travis loved the keepsake in this package, a felt tic-tac-toe pouch with x’s and o’s that handily store inside the pouch when not in use. He needed a few games right away.

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Toys Field Trip:

If you’re lucky enough to live near a toy factory of some sort – the Crayola Experience in Easton, PA perhaps, or the Vermont Teddy Bear¬†factory in Shelburne, VT – then there’s your ideal field trip to accompany this theme! Failing that, seek out local exhibits that feature a specific toy. We were lucky enough to find two such exhibits near us.

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First up, a Lego building competition at a local cultural center, where we got to see fantastic creations, vote on our favorite, and try our hand at building our own.

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Then, our local children’s museum hosted a Tinkertoy exposition, which was a fun chance to check out this classic.

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While we were there, we got to see other traditional toys too, like this decorated doll house.

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What do you find in your area?

Toys Further Activities:

We used the booklet as a jumping off point for further, well, games! I have a set of tangrams (from Melissa and Doug) so it was fun to try and recreate the patterns in the booklet (although our shapes differed from the classic Chinese version).

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But Travis loved the activity so much he spent a whole evening busy at work!

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Then we headed outside to play the French version of hopscotch, called escaragot (snail), in which the board is curved, not the traditional American line.

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We had fun experimenting with other animal forms, including a turtle and a crab!

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Then we had a tabletop board game “tournament.” Pull out all your board or card games, and make it family game night!

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The extent to which this is actually a “tournament” may depend on your kids’ ages. For Travis, we’re still just getting used to learning rules and turn-taking, but he had fun with Guess Who? Go Fish, Charades, Yeti in my Spaghetti, and more.

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Bigger kids or larger families can actually keep a scoresheet and turn it into a true tournament.

Then of course there’s good old block building. Make it special by trying to recreate buildings you’ve visited, or famous landmarks.

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Since we’d had a recent trip into the city, we tried to build skyscrapers. Keva blocks are great for this purpose, but any wooden block set (or plastic) would also work well.

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Finally, we chose to purchase the kit’s optional add-on this month, which was a Superhero game – not just dressing up like one, but training to be one. Needless to say, Travis was in heaven.

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Soon we were jumping hard enough to shake the Earth, flying around the room, leaping over targets, and more.

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