Saturday, December 4, 2010

Getting Hired: Pumpkin Bars

My husband's always been a big fan of "The Bar" desserts.  For those of you who don't know what these are... think "sweet casserole."  I always figured this had something to do with the fact that my husband grew up in a household that was pretty entrenched in the church.  Monthly potluck dinners, weekly youth group, a father who served (and still serves) as an Elder, a mother who is the choir director...

And when churches interview for choir directors, it usually goes something like this:

"Nice to have you here!  Now we have a few questions for you." 

"You have a degree in music, I see.  And how are you at running the nursery?  We gear ours towards birth through 3rd grade."

"Ah!  Classically trained!  Great!  We'll need you to run our Contemporary Service.  But make sure it's low key enough to not make our older crowd mad, but loud and raucous enough to pull in the young people.  You can do that, right?  Do you know how to play the drums?"

"And before we go... how are you at the dessert bars?  We try to have a potluck once a month and some of our older folks are starting to put cat food in theirs (...can't stop thinking about Christmas Vacation!!!)."

Dessert bars happen to be my mother-in-laws speciality.  She's been their choir director now, for about 30 years.

So tell me I'm wrong.

Here's the Pumpkin Bar.  Maybe your calling is be a choir director.  You'll have a headstart on the other fools who only know how to bake cupcakes.

What you'll need:

1 Cup flour
1/2 Cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 Cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 Cup butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350*.  Combine all these ingredients and mix until it crumbles.  Press on the bottom of ungreased 13x9 inch pan. Bake for 15 minutes.

3/4 Cup white sugar
2 1/4 Cup pumpkin puree
1 Can evaporated milk
2 Eggs
2 1/4 Teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

Combine all these ingredients and beat on medium for about a minute or two. It will be very soupy.  That's okay. Pour over crust.  Bake for 30 minutes.  And then combine the two ingredients below.

1 Cup pecans, chopped
1/4 Cup brown sugar, packed

Sprinkle the pecan topping over the pumpkin filling and bake for another 30-40 minutes.  Like most recipes, if you use canned puree, you probably won't have to bake it as long... so keep an eye on it and take it out when you can slip a knife in it, and it comes out clean.  Cool completely in the pan.  And this is what you'll get...

Good enough to get you hired!  I promise!

Eat My Words: Pumpkin Toaster Strudels

Disclaimer: Our computer died on Thanksgiving night.  That's why I'm so late in updating.  I was grieving.

So, I had to go and make a snide little joke about getting an unfortunate headcold, before my big day of walking.

And guess who got herself a headcold?

I sneezed so many times, I started to loose bladder control.  Only other women will know what I'm talking about here.

Then today, I coughed so hard, I'm pretty sure I cracked a rib.  No joke.  I can't bend over, lay down, or sit in a chair.  I've gotten very comfortable standing, while I eat dinner. I'm still a little uncomfortable doing other things while standing. But I won't go there.

Anyway, all that's to say... I did not do the 5k.  (Hangs head in shame.)  I know.  I felt horribly... while I stayed warmly tucked into my sweatpants, my family braved the 14* morning to exercise.

Here's my husband, parents, and Aunt...

Apparently, something on my Aunt's hiney was very interesting.


While Brett and my Dad were off trying to keep up with my Aunt and my Mom... I made Pumpkin Toaster Strudels.  Oh.  My.  Yummy.

What you'll need, to feel the desire to lick your fingers, like so (hey, he earned it!):


Pumpkin Butter (find the recipe here)
Puff Pastry
Powered Sugar
Half and Half

Thaw your frozen pastry for about 40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375*.  Cut into 4x10 strips.  Ladle approximately two tablespoons of Pumpkin Butter onto one half of the strip, and fold the dough over on  itself.  Crimp the edges really good with a crimper or a fork.  Bake for 35 minutes or until beautifully gold and flaky.  

While their baking, take about 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and a tablespoon or two of half and half (any milk or even water, will do just as well) and mix to make a runny, glaze-ish, type icing.  When the pastries come out of the oven, plate them up and drizzle the icing on top.

Still can't believe I wasn't able to walk the 5k (you'll notice I've dropped ALL launguage that involves running, jogging, or otherwise exerting massive amounts of energy). 

Maybe next year. Yeah.  Next year. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!!

















Blessings to you, this Thanksgiving Day.

I am immensely thankful for...

...my husband, parents, and family, who make me whole. And make me laugh.  Who taught me to see humour in the world, but also taught me to question and change the world.
...friends who don't give up on you, power through reading your blog (!), and will tell you when you've got something in your teeth.
...the daily use of the word, "enough."
...that others thought it worthwhile, to teach me how to read and write and balance my checkbook. 
...the limited readership of this blog, which ensures that my high school English teacher doesn't happen upon the last sentence (or any post, for that matter) and admonish me for using "and" one hundred times.
...the fact that I have such abundance in my life, that I can afford to "play" with food.
...for clean water, a heated home, and clothes on my back.
...for people who would care, if suddenly, I was without any of those three things.
...for my dogs and my bunny, who bring joy beyond words.
...for unmeasurable grace and a God who loves us fully and wholly.

Blessings to you all, on this day of Thanksgiving.  May you know hope, laughter, and full bellies (but know when you're done)!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Allergy Free: Pumpkin Pie

My Sister-in-Law and my baby Nephew have allergies.  Between them, they are allergic to milk, butter, cheese, chocolate, soy, canola oil, wheat, baby kittens, and rainbows.  (Okay, not really the last one... but maybe, the second to last one.)

Several weeks ago, my Brother-in-Law texted me, asking for a dairy-free, soy-free pumpkin pie for his lady (my Sister-in-Law) and his boy (my dear sweet Nephew).  This is what I found at  http://www.onefrugalfoodie.com/ and tweeked; it's also nut-free and gluten-free. 

What you'll need:
1/2 Cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 Cup sugar
1 Teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon ginger
1/4 Teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon allspice
1/8 Teaspoon salt
2 Eggs
2 1/2 Cups pumpkin puree
1 1/2 Teaspoon vanilla
1 Cup coconut milk (don't use low fat)

Preheat your oven to 425ºF.

Combine the sugars, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg or allspice, cloves and salt in a small bowl. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Beat in the sugars, pumpkin, and vanilla until smooth. Fold in the coconut milk.

Pour the filling into the unbaked pie crust (or see below) and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350ºF and continue to bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean. It may be a bit wobbly still, but it will firm-up as it cools.

Allow the pie to cool on a wire rack for 2 hours (Be patient! This is important). Serve or refrigerate until ready to serve.














A vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free crust that I came across in the "comments" section of the same website, and decided to use, is as follows:

2 Cups rolled oats
1/4 Cup agave sweetener
1/4 Cup vegetable oil (but coconut oil would work well here too)
1 Teaspoon cinnamon

Throw the oats in to the food processor and process them for the length of time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday."  Mix everything together and prebake the crust at 350 for 10 minutes, before you fill it with the pumpkin pie… and it turns out... but just barely.  It looks and tastes, a little bit like a flattened, soggy bowl of oatmeal.

I am thankful that I do not not have these type of restrictive allergies... though if you've ever met my Sister-in-Law, you'd know that she's the cutest, prettiest little thing you ever saw, with a radiant smile and delightful laugh... which I can only assume, has something to do with the fact that she is not tempted daily, by Satan.  And by Satan, I mean Block Cheese. 


















This pie (at least the pumpkin part) is good.  Really good!  And if you're allergic to to the smell of newborn babies (bleah) and butterfly kisses... this might just work for you!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

In Training: Nutmeg Pumpkin Cookies

Somehow, I committed myself to a 5k on Thanksgiving morning.  And agreed to be the team leader.  And turned a nice little three person walk... with my Aunt, my Mother, and myself... into a family affair, involving husbands, Fathers, distant cousins, the local deli manager, and a Catholic priest.  I've begged my Pulmonologist to walk with me... "it's for the kids," I told her.... but I'm pretty sure she sees right through me, and must know that I fear for my well-being.  Seriously fear.

It sounded like a GREAT idea... in early September.  When it was warm outside and I couldn't help but think... "oh dude!  I've got like, two months to train."  Which is a funny sentence in and of itself.  Saying dude.  And "train" as it pertains to exercise.

Then early October hit... and I'm thinking... "dadgum.  I really should get to the gym sometime."  And I casually email my cohorts to let them know about an old war injury that's flaring up... so chances are good, I'm gonna need to jog, rather than run, this 5k.  (As if I do 5k's every weekend... and this one, is juuuust slipping away from me.)

Then early November rolls around... and I'm thinking... "dadgum.  I really should get to the gym sometime."  Yet I managed to convince myself that if I "work out everyday, from here on out... everything'll be fiiiiiine."  I mentioned in a carefully worded email, that walking briskly might be more up my alley, but that I'm holding out hope.  And sent the carefully worded email to seven people, who then forward it to seven people, who then forward it to seven people... and before I knew it, I was getting letters of encouragement from folks in Haiti and President Obama paused for a moment in the middle of his meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister, just to say good luck.  It was touching.

And so today, November 21st, after I've worked out a total of two times, I've decided drop the charade and begin a prayer campaign called Operation Coldnflurry.  And take pictures (as proof) on my phone, of an ice pack propped on my knee, sending it on to the familial participants, with a sheepish note that says something to the effect, "Cn't wlk. No 5k 4 T." (Because apparently vowels are too hard to type.)

The ice pack may or may not, have been a ruse.

So to kill the time that I'm NOT using to train for my first 5k... I made Pumpkin Nutmeg White Chocolate Chip Cookies.

What you'll need:
1 Cup butter, softened
1 Cup packed brown sugar
1 Teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 Teaspoon baking soda
1 Cup pumpkin puree
1 Egg
2 Teaspoons vanilla
2 Cups all-purpose flour
2 Cups white chocolate chips
1 Cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat your butter until it's nice and fluffy.  Add brown sugar, nutmeg, and baking soda. Beat until combined, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in pumpkin, egg, and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour. Chances are good, that if you're using the homemade puree, you will not need to stop and fold in the remaining flour as the water content of the homemade puree is a bit higher.) Stir in white chocolate and pecan pieces.

Place about two inches apart on baking sheet and bake between 10-13 minutes, or until the edges turn golden and the middles no longer look gooey.  Cool them on the baking sheet for about 2 minutes, before having them cool completely on a plate or rack.















Don't be fooled by the fact that these are from Better Homes and Gardens (which in general, is a little on the bland, overly sweet, "every-child's food" end of things).  These are great! Each one, is like eating a slice of cake!  Delightful... not to mention, helpful, when you're trying to "train."

Now, I'd better go lick some elementary school drinking fountains.  See if I can't catch a very unfortunate cold by Thursday.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Caved: Pumpkin Latte

So I finally did it. 

I turned on the heat.

I wasn't ready.  But when my husband crawled out of bed on Sunday morning, his teeth were chattering... I'm a light sleeper, and it wakes me up. And makes me cranky.

Not to mention that when he went to hop in the shower, the steam was so miraculous that I could draw little steam hearts on my pillow.  And write P+B 4EVR.

But the kicker was the holy livin' fit my husband threw, when he exited the shower to find that the towels were still in the dryer from the night before, and he was forced to dry off with a washcloth.  Not pretty folks.

So, yesterday morning... as the thermostat reminded me that it was 50* in the house... I cranked that sucker up to 62* and lived the good life.

Coupled with a Spiced Pumpkin Latte (that tastes exactly like the overpriced monstrosities at Starbucks)...  I might never have to get out of my pajamas again.

What you'll need (as listed and adapted from thekitchn.com)

1 1/2 Cups skim milk
1/2 Cup half and half (it's just the way I do things in my world)
2 Tablespoons pumpkin puree
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
1/2 Teaspoon cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg (make this however your tastes prescribe, just add up to 1/2 Teaspoon)
1-2 shots espresso would be ideal, but because we live like our ancestors did... and don't have an espresso maker... I used about 1/2 Cup very strong coffee.  If your coffee maker has a 1-4 cup setting, make sure you use it, and add two heaping scoops of grinds to one cup of water.

In a saucepan combine milk, pumpkin and sugar and cook on medium heat, stirring, until steaming. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and spice, and whisk the mixture until it starts to get foamy.  I use a cute little battery operated milk foamier, which I found at IKEA for about $2.  It works wonders.  Proof that I must continue my fervent prayers for having an IKEA built in the metro.

Pour into mugs. Add the espresso or the coffee on top.  Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, or cinnamon.  I used nutmeg.  Always use nutmeg.















And your cold, cold heart, will again... know warmth and gladness.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Back To Simplicity: Pumpkin Pie

I live about two hours from my parents.

Two hours is far enough that we both have our own space. But thankfully close enough that we see each other on a fairly regular basis. And can babysit the dogs, when one or the other, leaves town.

Recently, I headed down there with the dogs in tow.

I'm flyin' along in my gas-guzzling SUV (Please, judge me. I do. Everyday.), cruise control set at 73 mph, radio blaring, cell-phone propped up for easy access, mentally ticking through my "to do" list that loomed frighteningly in front of me before we could leave for vacation... when I passed a horse drawn carriage, being guided by two Mennonite men.

Both men where wearing the traditional "plain" clothing; black hat, black pants, non-descript shirt and shoes. Their horses plodded along at an easy pace and I instinctively slowed my own vehicle in response to the apparent ease and pace of life, that was present around me. I was struck by my own need for noise and speed and doing. And I was a little envious.

As I continued to slow my speeding car, I clicked off the radio, put my silly phone away, and took a breath... a deep, slowing breath. And I gave God thanks, for little reminders that pass through our world... reminders of what simplicity and connection and "living out ones faith" might really mean.

As I passed these men, something caught my eye. 

Two distinctive, white cords dangling from either side of the brim of his black hat. And his friend? All be darn, if he didn't have a cell phone up to his ear. A CELLPHONE! And EARBUDS!

So forget it. I apparently can't rely on anyone anymore.

Justin Timberlake can bring sexy back all he wants... I'M BRINGING SIMPLICITY BACK.

Here's what you'll need, for a simple Pumpkin Pie.














(Yeah.  I can't lie.  This picture is really about showing you my favorite Thanksgiving plates.)

3/4 Cup light brown sugar
1/8 Teaspoon salt
1 Teaspoon cinnamon
1 Teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon ground ginger (scant)
2 Eggs
2 1/4 Cups pumpkin puree
1 (12-ounce) Can evaporated milk

In small bowl, combine sugar, salt and spices. Beat eggs in a large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and evaporated milk. Pour into pie shell. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 and bake for 45 minutes or until firm.

This recipe is a little bit Libby's, a little bit Food Network, and a little bit Yum. 

And Simple.  So.  Take that, Mennonites.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ear Full Of Pumpkin: A Puree Recap Rap

Here's a recap rap
For the fans with orange tans
In the south burbs of Kans-

Aaaaaa-city
Where the dogs are pretty
And the boys are fine
Where pumpkins are sorted
On a table, in a line














I've got my ice cream scoop
Come on, join the the loop
Cause it's time to gather
Around the oven l[a]ver

Set that sucker to three hundred fifty
Take off the stems, cause yeah, yo nifty
Cut 'em in half and scoop out the middle
The way it feels'll make you giggle















Be real, be hip
Find a sheet with a lip
And grab a cup or two of water

Say bye to your daughter
Give your partner a holler
Cause by the time you're done
This won't be fun,
I can guarantee ya

In the pan you will put
About a cup per cubic foot
Line the pumpkins up
Face down.  (pause) Yup.

Throw them in the oven
Get yourself some lovin'
Call your cousin
Eat a cookie,
How about a half a dozen

Check on the pumpkins half way through
You've got problems, if they're blue
They oughta be deep orange in hue
And when they are, that's your cue












This process seems long
But it beats singing a song
Or even writing this rap
As a matter of fact

After 45 minutes to an hour
Muster within, your girly power
Pull the pan out with both hands
Wonder again, how you feel about Iran's

1930's name change from Persia,
Did it lack courage-ya?
Anyway, I digress
Let's get back to this pumpkin game of chess.

Using your will and a set of tongs
Flip each pumpkin over where it belongs
They'll be steamy and dreamy
and look just right,
But I assure you, they're so hot that they bite.













Let them sit on the counter to cool
while you start the next batch, like a big ol' fool.
The clock will keep ticking
But you did the picking

So with a smile and a knife
Remember fondly, your old life
And get back to work
As your husband smirks

When your pumpkins have cooled just a bit
Take each one and give it a lift
Squeeze out the goodness into a bowl
Yeah, that's right!  Now you're on a roll!














Compost, recycle and throw away
Cause now it's time to play
Using a hand beater and a little fear
Beat that pumpkin, 'TILL IT'S IN YO EAR!














Now, if this rap is making you queasy
Just click here.
There.  That was easy.

I apologize for this mess
But with a title like that
Hi.  You had to have guessed.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

All I Wanted: Pumpkin Enchiladas

All I've wanted for the past three-ish months, was a family portrait with the two dogs, the bunny, Brett... and because I have to... me.  You know the kind.  Where everyone's wearing the same shirt and trendy jeans, and looks like they leapt out of a JCrew catalog? 

That's all I wanted.  I should have known, that when I use the words trendy and JCrew in the same sentence... things wouldn't go as planned.

I cut and tweezed and combed and primped... and when I got through with Brett, I threw on a little mascara and straightened my hair, and figured it was good enough.  We grabbed a blanket, the camera, tripod, and our dignity, and headed outside.

This is what I got:
Easy distraction.  And no Abby in sight.














Photographic evidence of Wyatt's desire to eat Shuffles.  And no Abby in sight.














As well as inappropriate play times.  And inappropriate licking.  And inappropriate... how should I say this... exposure.  And a hundred other photos of Brett calling after Abby, and me, barely making it into the photo, and Wyatt, licking himself... and licking Brett... and then licking the bunny...

We finally gave up. Actually, I gave up. After the 92nd time of trying to run, kneel down, look fabulous, and take a decent picture as the ten second timer mocked me... I was done.















So we did the whole, "arms-length, high-school cheerleader" photo. 

Not quite JCrew.  But then, neither are we.

Here's what you'll need for Spicy Pumpkin Enchiladas (from Martha Stewart, who is very JCrew, but adapted enough, to make it more me). 

2-3 Cups shredded chicken
1/2 Cup chopped white onion
2 Cups pumpkin puree or 1 can pumpkin puree
4 Cloves garlic, minced
1/4 Teaspoon salt
1/4 Teaspoon black pepper
1 or 2 Jalapeno peppers, quartered
1 Teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 Cups water
8-10 Corn tortillas (6-inch)
Vegetable oil
1-2 Cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a blender, puree pumpkin, garlic, jalapeno, chili powder, and water. Pour 1 cup of sauce in the bottom of a baking dish.

Heat a bit of oil and warm the tortillas (one at a time) on a griddle or pan, lightly coating each tortilla with oil.  This will keep the tortilla pliable when you roll it.  Mound chicken and onions on warmed tortilla, and roll; place, seam side down, in baking dish.

Sprinkle a little cheese on top, then pour remaining sauce over the whole thing; top generously with cheese (and this is why, we will never look like we leapt out of a JCrew catalog). Bake until cheese is golden and sauce is bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.













They're not pretty, they're not fancy, and they're not trendy.  But they're good and warm and filling.  And that's really all you need.  And all I want.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Well, It's Official...

I have finally turned into an 80 year old woman. 



















I just made two bird feeders out of rotting pie pumpkins.

Next thing you know, I'll be crocheting koozies for your toilet paper and making lampshades out of egg cartons.

I need a job.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Telling It Like It Is: Pumpkin Butter

I got back from retreat at our denominations Regional Camp and Conference Center a few days ago. Just me and the woods. And the 50 or so 3rd Graders from a nearby Montessori school that got to spend a long weekend away from home. In a cabin.  Right next to mine.

One morning, as I sat outside enjoying my coffee, thankful for munchkin's eating breakfast, literally watching a family of deer leap through the forest... I heard a rustle. I'm excited. Could it be the groundhog that I ate dinner with, returning to greet me? A squirrel? A turtle? A band of woodland fairies?

Nope.  Just a 3rd Grade boy, running as fast as he could, holding his crotch with both hands and yelling as loudly as his little underdeveloped voice would let him: "A SPIDER BIT MY PENIS!!"

I know I heard it. The folks in the neighboring town heard it. A friend of mine from Indianapolis called and asked me how the boy with the spider was doing. And in Boston, there was a 20-something woman, shuffling to her front door to grab the morning paper, who heard it. Sure it was muffled by then... and it came out sounding like "Fire and light in Venus." But still, the young woman nodded, and after the night she'd had, mumbled, "Tell me about it."

But I digress.

As quickly as the 3rd Grade boy emerged from the forest, he was gone. Hightailing it to his cabin to inspect the damage.  I said a quick prayer for the unsuspecting male teacher, whose break, was about to be cut short.

Then gave the boy props for telling it like it is.

I guess if you're gonna say something, you might as well say exactly what you mean. Right?

In the midst of all the political volleying that is going on out there... the churches that keep functioning but are afraid to say anything... the visionaries that talk to empty rooms because they don't believe in themselves enough to invite others... the everyday people that say "I'm fine," when they really mean, "I'm tired" or "I'm sad" or "I hurt"...

I guess in the midst of all that, a little boy running through the forest holding his crotch and yelling about a spider that bit his penis... well, I guess it's almost refreshing.  There's no second guessing.  No critique.  Or mulling.  And my Mother The Biology Teacher, would be proud that the little guy called it by it's anatomically correct name.

So here's Pumpkin Butter. It doesn't try to be anything other than, what it is. Pumpkin.

What you'll need:

2 Cups pumpkin puree or one can (disappointed look)
3/4 Cup apple juice (but if you use the canned stuff, you might need to add a bit more)
1/2 Teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 Cups white sugar
2 Teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 Teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine pumpkin, apple juice, spices, and sugar in a large saucepan; stir well and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until thickened. Stir frequently.

You might be able to can and store this butter... but given the low acidity of pumpkin, I'd be afraid to do so. Someone with canning prowess might be more inclined to give it a try, and if you do, and you don't spend a night or two in the hospital from food poisoning, let me know.



















Enjoy it for what it is, and nothing more. Just sweet pumpkin and a few spices, in a jar. And may you find the courage to speak today... speak when it matters and say what you mean. Someone might only hear "A fighter's flying to Paris." But at least you'll know you tried.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

There's One In Every Crowd














For everyone's sake, I apologize for the 1980's leggings.

White after Labor Day, and all.

And my oral hygiene is lacking something.

But otherwise, isn't Brett's hiney cute?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

One Alarm Pumpkin Soup

Last night, at 2:30 in the morning, the smoke detector in our bedroom decided that it wanted us to know, that it's battery was dying.

Do they have to be so loud? Geeze.

I mumbled something along the lines of "What is that?" to Brett... knowing full well what it was and how to make it stop, but hoping that my feigned incoherency might propel him out of bed, and into the cold house in search of a ladder, while I stayed safely tucked under the blanket and comforter.

But partnership is a pain, 'cause then I felt obligated to at least get out of bed and stand around with my hand on my hip, like I was totally invested in the beeping box of madness.

Of course the step ladder that we keep upstairs wasn't tall enough. And the dining room chair downstairs was just tall enough that Brett felt obligated to make it work, but not quite tall enough to be safe.

After a good... I don't know... five, ten, thirty minutes of Chinese acrobatic moves, Brett was able to dislodge the battery... only to feel compelled to stand on the chair, in his sleepy stupor, investigating the battery, as if it might be able to tell him something about how Christine O'Donnell got into politics.

So, in my sleep deprived state, I give you One Alarm Pumpkin Soup. The jalapenos give you a nice little kick out of bed, but the cheese and pumpkin welcome you back, like a down comforter at 2:30 in the morning.














What you'll need:

A pumpkin about the size of your head (I used one that was a bit bigger and it took a lot to fill it. That could totally be turned into a really bad joke.) cut open like jack-o-lantern and scraped to remove the seeds and gunk
2 Cups cooked white or brown rice
1-2 Cups cubed cheese (I used about a cup of extra sharp cheddar, and a cup of gouda and smoked provolone combined)
2-3 Jalapenos, chopped
2-3 Cloves of minced garlic
1/4 Cup chopped chives
8-10 Sliced of bacon, cooked and chopped
1 Teaspoon minced thyme
Black pepper to taste
A hearty pinch of nutmeg
1 Cup heavy cream

Preheat your oven to 350*. Line a super sturdy baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Cut and gut your pumpkin.

In a bowl, combine the warm cooked rice, cheese, jalapenos, garlic, chives, cooked bacon, and spices. Stir to combine and stuff the pumpkin with the cheesy goodness. You'll wanna fill the pumpkin to the top, so you might find that you need to make one more cup of cooked rice. Top with the heavy cream. As you can see, this is not an exact science. So pour a little more cream on there, if it suits your fancy. Put the "handle" back on your pumpkin.

Place the filled pumpkin on the baking sheet and put it in the oven; let it cook for at least two hours. You want that pumpkin to almost turn a carmel color.

When it's done, let it sit for about 10 minutes, then transfer it to a fancy dish (or in my case, a cheep plate you've had since seminary). As you serve it, make sure your spoon scrapes a good portion of the tender, yummy pumpkin... and enjoy.













This is comfort food at its finest. Cheesy, carbohydrate laden goodness. A hearty "A+" from both of us!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

No Spring Chickens

Okay. I'm not gonna beat around the proverbial bush.

The folks at the church where my husband serves... well, they're not exactly spring chickens. In fact, I'd say the median age is probably somewhere around 75 years old. And yeah... I know...

You're only as old as you think you are...

Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional...

There's a twinkle, in your wrinkle...

I get it.















But when a semi-truck pulls in to the church parking lot, heaving with the weight of over one thousand pumpkins that need to be unloaded, one at a time... old is just old. The body wears out, the muscles aren't as strong as they once were, and the bones crack and pop like the Chicago Symphony's percussion section.

It's okay. It's not a judgement. It's just reality.















This is Ralph. He had his 84th Birthday a few months ago. Today in church, I asked him how he was feeling after unloading approximately 10,000 pounds of pumpkins, and he gave me a two-thumbs-up and a little nod-n-smile, as he audaciously said, "I feel great!"

Jerk.

I, on the other hand, spent a few hours serving as the official photographer, trying not to draw attention to myself, for fear that I might be recruited for the assembly line...



















And making it a point instead, to draw attention to the slackers. I mean, come on. One tiny pumpkin at a time? Way to be aggressive.

But it wasn't long, before my stalling tricks were noticed, and I was urged to help carry a few of the larger pumpkins...



















And then spent most of last night and part of this morning, realizing for the first time in my life, that there are several muscles in my back, that have never been used.

T.S. Elliot once said that, "the years between fifty and seventy are the hardest. You are always being asked to do more, and you are not yet decrepit enough to turn them down." I believe T.S. Elliot may have been wrong. 'Cause 30 something, is turning out to be a pain. In every sense of the word.

Friday, October 8, 2010

It's Almost Time...

pumpkins Pictures, Images and Photos

It's almost time...

...for October evenings spent de-stemming, chopping, baking, gutting, and pureeing pumpkins. Not one, not two... but multiple trash bags, filled to their breaking point... with tiny, perfect, pie pumpkins.
...for freezers that overflow with hope. And time spent cleaning up the containers that explode. And the magic act that is involved when you cram 30 cans worth of puree into an already full freezer.
...for chilly evenings made warm with the smells of nutmeg and ginger and cinnamon. And for eating my share of the pumpkin harvest.
...for buying pants that are a few sizes bigger than normal. And shirts.
...and for finding pumpkin puree under my cabinets and in my coffee maker and on top of my dogs head. And of course, in my ear.

Yep. It's almost time...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Summer Memory, Or Lack Thereof

I went to Target today to find a pair of sunglasses. They're cheep, and I'm not careful.

A side story: Many moons ago, I owned the most expensive pair of sunglasses ever. These suckers cost more than any article of clothing, piece of jewelry, or pair of shoes in my closet. Foolishly, I wore them. To the St. Louis Zoo (a delightful, free zoo... if anyone has a need for last minute vacation ideas). Taking in the sites and enjoying my day, I casually leaned over the railing to look at the water feature many, many feet below. And proceeded to watch helplessly, as my sunglasses became part of the exhibit.

Anyway...

Picking out a pair of sunglasses is no easy task. There's much to consider: size, fit, weight, and bling. Not one to stray far from the blacks and browns, I gathered six pairs that struck my fancy, and started the posing and eliminating.

First pair: crooked.
Second pair: too bling-y.
Third pair: oh, I really like you!
Fourth pair: a definite contender.
Fifth pair: too big.
Sixth pair: too tight.

Back on with the Third pair: Yeah, no question... I really like you.
Forth pair: You're good, but I think I have to hand the win, to pair number three.

One by one, the eliminated sunglasses were placed back into their faux-nose sales racks, and in my hand, I had the pair that made me the most happy, that framed my face perfectly, and put a little spring in my step, which hadn't been before. The most perfect pair of sunglasses in the whoooole world.

So, of course it's tag was missing. This is Murphy's Law of shopping.

Several minutes and some pretty frantic spinning of the faux-nose displays... I came up empty handed. It would seem, that today was not the day, for me to purchase my sunglasses. Sadly, I placed the perfect pair of sunglasses back into its faux-nose sales rack and walked away. (Stopping only briefly, to grab a Snickers bar.)

A few minutes later, back in my car, the sun is shining brightly. I'm squinty and for one moment, I lament my lost purchase. Rummaging around in my cavernous bag/suitcase/purse, my hand comes up empty in its search for an alternate pair of sunglasses.

And then it hits me.

The perfect pair of sunglasses... pair number three... without the tag... that sadly, I had to leave behind...

Yep. Those were the sunglasses I walked in with.

Let's just say, I'm glad summer's over. And all reminders of the day I lost my mind, will be safely tucked in a drawer, until next Spring.

So, with the last of the summer harvest coming out of the garden, I give you my final jelly recipe.

Jalapeno Jelly

(Technically, jelly doesn't have bits/chunks... and this has bits. But I've never heard anyone call it Jalapeno Jam... so.)

What you'll need:
12 Jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped in the food processor
1 and 1/2 Cups cranberry juice (full on juice... no diet cranberry or juice mix)
1 Cup white vinegar
5 Cups sugar
1 Package of Ball pectin (I'm being a little specific here... because over the course of the summer, I've found that Certo pectin has not produced the kinds of results that I've wanted. No doubt, this is "chef-error" and for as many Ball devotes that there are out there, I'm sure there are just as many Certo lovers. But for this recipe, I'd suggest using Ball.)

Bring the jalapenos, cranberry juice, and vinegar to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let it cook, covered, for about 10 minutes. Set aside two cups of the jalapeno/cranberry liquid/bits and pitch the rest. Return the two cups of liquid/bits to the pot and add all five cups of sugar. Stirring constantly, bring to a rolling boil. (You know the kind where you can't "stir it away.") Quickly add your pectin and bring the mess back up to a rolling boil. Boil for one minute.

Ladle into prepared jars and return filled jars to the canner. Boil jars for 10 minutes (starting your timer, once the water is back up to a full boil).














It's no Snickers bar... but VERY yummy! An easy A-/B+. Sweet, with just a hint of hot. Unforgettable! Or so I say...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Muffin Tops

I've been going to the gym. For six weeks.

Real, bonafide, there's-an-hour-of-my-life-I'm-never-gettin-back, oh-good-now-I-can-eat-a-Snickers-bar, kind of exercise.

I've walked and jogged and lifted and rowed and squatted and sweated for SIX WHOLE WEEKS.

And I gained three pounds. GAINED.

My husband, on the other hand, looked at the treadmill the other day, and lost eight pounds.

Tell me... where's the justice, people?

So, I give up. Here's to Pear Butter Muffins. And muffin tops. Spilling out over the tops of my jeans. (Big ol' sigh.)

What you'll need:
1 3/4 cups ap flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup pear butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Cup buttermilk
Raw sugar, to sprinkle

Preheat your oven to 325*. Combine your flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together and set aside. In your mixer (or a large bowl) beat the butter and sugar together until it turns white. Add one egg and incorporate fully. Throw in the pear butter and vanilla and stir until combined. Take a big whiff. Images of being snowed in, and aw-shucks, not being able to make it to the gym, will dance joyously in your head.

Alternate adding flour and buttermilk until just combined. Put a hefty spoonful (3/4 full) of batter into lined muffin pans, sprinkle with raw sugar, and bake for about 20 minutes.




Mmmmmmmmmm.... really, really good. Sooooo much better, than walking on a treadmill. Trust me.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

One Of Those Moments

Do you ever have one of those moments -- as you stand in the kitchen on a Saturday morning, peeling, chopping, stirring, cursing, covering, pureeing, and rue-ing the day the pear was made -- when you wonder why you decided make pear butter?

Do you ever have one of those moments -- as your husband sits outside on a beautiful day, writing his sermon, sipping his coffee, drinking in the delightful morning that God hath made -- when you wonder how he got so darn lucky, to marry a girl like you?

Do you ever have one of those moments -- when you've already spent half your morning on a recipe -- and you realize you're missing one of the ingredients and suddenly, find yourself regretting the bad names you were calling your husband? Names like Pear Man and Cinnamon Boy and... Nut-meg (Oooooh, harsh).

I am having one of those moments, while making Carmeled Pear Butter.

What you'll need:

1/4 Cup apple juice
6 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
7 Pounds ripe pears
3 Cups (packed) golden brown sugar
1 Teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 Teaspoon salt

Combine apple juice and 4 tablespoons lemon juice deep pot. Peel, core, and cut pears, 1 at a time, into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces; mix pears into juice mixture in pot as soon as pears are cut, to prevent browning. Cook over medium heat until pears release enough juice for mixture to boil, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until pears are very tender, stirring every 3 minutes or so, for about 20 minutes (mixture will splatter). Remove pot from heat. Press pear mixture through fine plate of food mill into large bowl (which I did, but regret... next time I will use my blender). Return pear puree to pot. Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice, brown sugar, nutmeg, and 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered until pear butter thickens and is reduced to 8 cups, stirring every 3 minutes to prevent scorching, for about 1 hour (yeah... I know... it's sort of insane).

Ladle pear butter into 8 hot clean 1/2-pint glass canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch space at top of jars. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar threads and rims with clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids; apply screw bands. Process jars in pot of boiling water 10 minutes.












Ever wonder why those jars of fruit butter -- in that speciality shop, where everything is overpriced, but you must walk out with something because the whole darn store is so inspiring -- are outrageously expensive? I'll tell you why. Labor.

Whew-wee. This process took, from start to finish, almost four hours. And made our house smell like Fall.

It has a great flavor (though I don't really "get" the hints of carmel) but is a little runnier than I would have liked. My husband gives the Pear Butter a B+ and I'd probably give it a B-, if for no other reason than the consistency.

So, do you ever have one of those moments -- as the end of summer draws near, and you've done your part to can and store the harvest -- when you start to run out of room in your cupboard, and wish ol' Nut-meg would build you a pantry?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Expiration Dates Are Suggestions. Right?

What has inspired me to make a cheesecake today... I'll never know.

My tummy's still a bit rocky from last night's dinner, as I spent a pretty good portion of the evening, "taking some alone time with my book," if you know what I mean.

Apparently, stuffed sole fillets that have been in the freezer for 8 months don't translate well, to the plate. So I boldly ignored the italicized wording on the side of the package that stated, "if frozen, consume within three months of purchase date." I figured that's a "guesstimate." But as it turns out... I figured wrong.
So a little soothing cheesecake couldn't hurt, right?!

Wrong.

Here's what you'll need:

To make the crust
1 Cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 Cup sugar
1 Tablespoon butter, melted

And for the filling
2 eggs
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup peach jam, plus 1 cup

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium size bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs with the sugar and butter. Mix well and place in the bottom and sides of your lined cupcake pan. Make sure to press down with the back of a spoon or juice glass. Set crust aside.

Prepare the filling by beating the eggs and cream cheese together. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue beating until well blended. Add 1/4 cup peach jam and mix until incorporated. Pour mixture into prepared crust and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

Remove cake from oven and top with remaining 1 cup peach jam. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight. Or until you can't stand it anymore.




















These were mediocre, at best. C+ sort of average. Too sweet, too soft, and too gookey. Paula Deen sort of let me down. But at least they hadn't expired, and neither of us are worse off for having eaten them.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Eating Our Way Through the Iowa State Fair

A few weekends back, the hubs and I drove up to the fine state of Iowa. Throughout our eight years of marriage, I have heard how great the Iowa State Fair is...

...how it's better than any other fair in the good ol' USA...
...how no fair can compare...
...how much bigger, prettier, and tastier the corn, the cows, the chickens, and the pigs are at the Iowa state fair...
...and how the only time my husband attended "the best fair in the whole world," he spent the majority of the 103* day, with his 11 year old head hung over a public toilet, praying that the "best toilet in the world" would suck him away and end his misery.

So when I mentioned to Brett that a little day trip across the border might be in order, I was excited to see how things would turn out!!!

To up the ante, we decided to eat our way through the Iowa State Fair... one deep fried treat at a time.

First things first... you can't go to a fair without gnawing on a footlong. Drenched in mustard. There is NO other way to eat a corndog, by the way... all the ketchup eaters out there, are just plain nuts.




















Of course, we needed a side dish, right? So there you go: deepfried mac and cheese. Ohhhhh pitter patter. Be still my heart. Seriously. Be still. This deep fried goodness was a heart attack, in a little paper cup.




















Midway through the day, we decided to offset the coronary disease we'd eaten for lunch, and try something healthy. We opted for the Applizza, drenched in caramel. The whole "apple a day" thing, is surely applicable here.














A boiled egg on a stick. Salmonella scare aside, it was tasty, free, and a very "Iowa" thing to do.



















And... the deep fried Snickers.




















Need I say more? I mean seriously. They took a Snickers bar, dipped that sucker in corndog batter, and DEEP FRIED IT!!!! Sigh.

Not pictured here, is the GInormous ice cream cone we shared, the multiple Domino's samples, jam samples, jerky samples, honey samples, beef samples, cracker sampl........

Oh yeah, and we saw the in-laws and a cousin too...















So, how did the fair, fare? Well... I suppose the "best little fair in the world" was all right! The cows did seem to stand a little taller and the sheep, "maaaah" a little louder. And goodness knows, the food was fried a little longer! But at the end of the day, I was just glad that Brett didn't take me down memory lane, to visit the "best little toilet in the world!" Some things, are left to the imagination.