Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Crookneck Pumpkin


You know the first step to ending an addiction is admitting you have a problem. We have NINE pumpkins on the front porch as well.

Weekend Herb Blogging: Heirloom Pumpkins


Pumpkins. Nothing exciting, right? Big, orange, made for carving at Halloween ... comes in a can for pie at Thanksgiving ... hmm. Not really.

Long before pumpkins were porch decor in October, they existed as a long-keeping, very practical source of vegetables during the long, cold winter months. Hence, the name "winter squash." Some varieties can keep for months at room temperature, surely an advantage in the days before refrigeration and megamarts. Pumpkins were then, and should be now, FOOD.

Still, I can't resist multi-tasking some of these heirloom varieties as fall decor as they await their fate at the hands of my chef's knife.

Left to right, above, here's a primer on some of the more unique and edible ones.
  1. Butternuts and sugar pie pumpkins are the most familiar varieties to show up in our kitchens.
  2. Musquee de Provence, a traditional variety from the south of France. The skin is a beautiful, rich brown color when ripe. The flesh is deep orange, thick and very fine flavored. The fruit grow to 20 lbs. each, the pumpkins are very heavy for their dimensions, with thick flesh. Not for carving up on the front porch!
  3. Long Island Cheese, smooth, without the deep ribs, this buff-colored beauty gets its name from its "cheese wheel" shape. Very heavy for its size, thick, sweet flesh is smooth, and great for soups.
  4. Rouge Vif D' Etampes, or "Cinderella" pumpkins are striking with a deep red-orange color. This is a French heirloom variety. The seed variety dates back to the 1880's at least, and was then the most common pumpkin in the Central Market in Paris. The flesh is deep orange, suitable for pies.
  5. Queensland Blue, an Australian variety introduced to the U.S. in the 1930's. Kind of bell-shaped with a unique blue-gray colored skin.
  6. Kabotcha, a Japanese pumpkin variety. Small, with sweet, chestnut flavor to the orange flesh.
  7. Black Kutsu, the most unique of my stockpile this year. The skin is nearly black with deep ribbing and lots of texture. This is a rare Japanese squash. The black skin is said to turn a rich chestnut color while in storage. Golden flesh will taste of hazelnuts, 3-8 lbs.
  8. Sucrine du Berry, looks like a squatty butternut, bell-shaped. Another French variety.
  9. Blue Hubbard seed dates back to at least 1909. The teardrop-shaped fruit can weigh 15-40 lbs. The deep golden flesh is sweet, fine-grained, which makes this one good for baking, pies, and soup. These keep for long periods in storage. The shell is hard, so be careful when trying to cut up.
The first pumpkin to meet up with the oven this year was the Long Island Cheese. This one was small compared to most others of the variety and the 4 lbs. was just right for yielding the five cups of cooked pumpkin for the Pumpkin-White Cheddar Soup below.

Pumpkin-White Cheddar Soup







Weekend Herb Blogging is hosted by Kalyn's Kitchen, this week is the third anniversary! Congrats!

More Pumpkin and Squash Recipes:
Pumpkin, Lentil and Carrot Soup
Coconut Curry Pumpkin Soup
Pumpkin Gnocchi with Walnut Cream Sauce
Roasted Whole Pumpkin with Gruyere
Stuffed Squash with Sausage, Rice and Cranberries

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Recipe Carnival: Halloween Recipe Edition

No secret that I have a slight "pumpkin addiction," so it's fitting that I am hosting a Halloween edition of the Recipe Carnival. This week's featured recipes are all perfect for your Monster Bash, or the little monsters next door. Except maybe the pumpkin latte — kids on sugar AND caffeine would make for a very scary Halloween indeed.

In the interest of transparency, I will confess that the "Treat Bags" I am making for my preschooler's Halloween party contain Goldfish crackers, fruit leather and art supplies. I am a wicked witch! But, parents of sugar-overloaded power rangers and princesses will thank me later as they peel the little ones off the ceilings and tuck them in after the inevitable sugar crash.

Then, I might just have some of the mulled cider below — spiked, for a treat of my own.

Halloween Recipes Just Right for the Season!

More "Treats!"

And Some Culinary "Tricks" for Good Measure

Friday, October 24, 2008

Pumpkins Everywhere, Not a One to Eat?




Trip to the pumpkin patch this past weekend, left me wondering, "How could pumpkin only come from a can?"

I wandered the patch, knowing some of the unique varieties that are edible and darn good, but looking for the others I have not yet tried.

With each new one, such as this 60 pound "Big Max," I asked the farmer, "So, can you eat that?"

He gave me a look like I just asked if I could grill up one of the barn cats or a possum. "Well, you can ... but the pie pumpkins are over there ..."

What's an orange-food-loving girl to do?

To answer lsuliv's question on what you can do with pumpkin flesh, well, a lot. But first, a few notes on where to get that pumpkin flesh besides a can.

Which Pumpkins are Edible?
Forget the can. Most pumpkins are edible, some are just better for eating than others. The typical "jack-o-lantern" or carving pumpkins tend to have little flesh for the size and are very stringy and flavorless. Never try to cook a pumpkin you carved for Halloween.

As I said in a previous post, "How often do you take produce out of your fridge, cut it open, set it on the front porch for a week, share a bite with the neighborhood squirrels, burn a candle in it, then take it in to cook?"

The best pumpkins for eating are the ones that are very heavy for their size. The flesh (not the stringy mass holding the seeds) is thick and tends to be deep orange. These best choices range from the sweet, small "sugar" or "pie" pumpkins to heirloom varieties. My favorites of the several squashes and pumpkins I cooked last year included;
  • Long Island Cheese, a beautiful buff colored variety with dryer flesh and mild flavor.
  • Musquee de Provence, or "Fairy Tale" pumpkins, these have higher water content and the flesh may need to drain in cheese cloth before being used for baking. They are gorgeous, deeply ribbed and range in hue from green to orange.
  • Rouge Vif D' Etampes, or "Cinderella" pumpkins are striking with a deep red-orange color. Like the Fairy Tale, this is a French heirloom variety.
  • Jarrahadale are striking blue-green to slate-gray. The flesh is deep orange and very tasty.
  • Hubbard, these are available as the smaller varieties and giant sized specimens as large as my "Big Max."

And, the "Big Max" (pictured, with the rather unflattering "Sunday" look I am sporting) I have sitting on my front porch (in spite of the farmer's dubious look) is listed as "suitable for pies" in the heirloom seed catalog. It weighs three times what a carving pumpkin does for the same size. If the neighborhood kids try to smash it, well, they are going to get a big surprise trying to pick that one up. Maybe even a hernia.

The story does show just how far we've gotten away from real pumpkin when even the farmer does not know which can be eaten. My favorite pumpkin farmer at my local farmers market was a better source for unique eating varieties. Many, if not all, of the pumpkins in the picture here are edible, even the "Red Warty Thing" in the back row on the right, and the salmon-colored one with the beige "warts" (front row, second from left) is called a Galeux d'Eysines. It's a French heirloom variety that is definitely meant for cooking.

For an idea of some of the variety of pumpkins that you can eat, this online seed catalog has some stunning heirlooms.

Which Part of the Pumpkin is the Part You Eat?
The flesh of the pumpkin is the edible part, not the stringy, pulpy mess that contains the seeds. You can also roast those seeds and eat them, of course, but save a few to plant if you have one of those unique varieties! Scoop out the stringy stuff with the seeds, roast the flesh, or, if you have a VERY good knife, peel and chop the flesh for cooking cubed.

Be warned, I've seen a cheap knife snap trying to cut into these. It takes a solid piece of steel and some arm strength to prep one of these hefty specimens! Be careful.

Cooking instructions for pumpkin puree are here.

Which, finally, brings me to Lsuliv's question.

What do You Do With Pumpkin?
For the Puree:
Soups like Pumpkin, Lentil and Carrot and Coconut Curry Pumpkin Soup
Pumpkin Gnocchi with Walnut Cream Sauce
Plus, pies, bread, cookies, muffins, pancakes, waffles ...

For Cubed Pumpkin:
You can use the drier-fleshed varieties in any recipe that calls for sweet potato or butternut squash. Try pumpkin in place of the Delicata squash in this recipe for Squash with Red Rice, Cranberries and Pecans

Or, You Can Leave It Whole:
Roasted Whole Pumpkin with Gruyere

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Battle of Orange Food Season Three

My child is on to me. And Battle Orange is now a game. I know she likes orange food. She knows she likes orange food. But now she resists just to get a reaction. Because pushing Mommy's buttons is fun. The buttons are hard to push, I am laid back. And the Kiddo likes a challenge.

Too bad I know her weaknesses. Like honey. And fresh herbs. And pasta. And Parmesan.

Honey Sage Sweet Potato Pasta
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Souvenirs


I dread any kind of shopping in a tourist area — other than food shopping. It seems like every time you walk into a “gift” shop, the place is filled with the same cheap crap from China just stamped with the location name where you are. Enough landfill fodder already.

The souvenirs I do like are, oddly, rocks. Or in this case, shells that have been worn by the waves back to flat rocks. Some folks walk the beach in search of that one, huge perfect shell. I used to do that. Now, I see the beauty in the thousands of bits of shells, edges worn smooth by years and tides, on their way back to being just sand.

It fits somehow, these bits of shells worn smoother by time. I see the beauty in them now that I never did before.

The other things I collect are photos and memories. The best of these, for this trip, would be my nightly runs on the beach with the Kiddo. She has this way of running, somewhere between a hop, a skip and a run. In sheer joy, her arms spiral backward in big loops. A friend of ours calls it the “Butterfly.”

I joined my child, just the two of us, on the beach, doing our crazy butterfly run of joy as the sun would begin to set. For those few captured moments, we were set free, only joy and the moment containing us. It’s a memory I will keep for a lifetime. In fact, if that is the last bit that flashes before my eyes in my dying moment, well, that would be just alright.

There are other memories that come to me anytime I am near the ocean. So many from the time when I lived in the islands and worked in marine research. It was an amazing time, absolutely. It was also a time that happened because I was running away, too. There were years of family problems and ugliness, years that culminated in my father’s head injury. Months of life and death daily, four months of coma, a year of rehabilitation, years of recovery and adjustment to permanent changes. A very long and very difficult time.

Part of the reason I left home for the ocean was to heal. To get as far away from that reality as I could. Somehow all the memories, good and bad, as well as my own futile attempt to become a full time environmental journalist got all bundled up and locked away.

I see now that this was wrong. There is a lot of painful stuff back there, and in my pursuit to put it all behind me I forgot that there are a lot of valuable things I could offer my child from that stash. Life lessons, definitely, but she will get many of these on her own even as I try to shield her from it all.

There are lessons in there I need to apply to make me a better parent. Demons be damned, I need the gift of that experience as a guide forward. For the Kiddo's benefit.

And there are also little things. Like “this is a horseshoe crab. It’s not a true crab ...” Or what the creatures are that made each of the shells we collect. What the ocean means to the earth. And why we should all run like butterflies up the beach every single chance we get.

These are my souvenirs. They are bits and fragments worn by time, beautiful in their own way. These are what I have to share.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Travel Photo Friday



Bode Lighthouse, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Photo Friday Event Hosted by Delicious Baby.

A Healthy Intervention: Carrot-Orange Souffle


So, we spent a week at the beach. I'm still trying to figure out how to fall asleep without salty air and the sound of waves coming from the window. There are more pressing items on my mind, though. Like our diet.

Normally, we eat at home and have a whole lot of control over the food in the house. This trip, with all the family, there was candy, cake, cookies, chips — in abundance all week. I spent a lot of time limiting snacks. Yes, you are "not supposed to" do this, but here in reality, if you don't, that's all the kid would eat for a week. Maybe.

I wondered if all the hard work we have done to raise a good eater was lost. Sunday morning, home from the trip, I made my grocery list and my plan. I would simply make every single favorite vegetable and fruit recipe I could, as quick as I could. The first item I cooked was a batch of kale chips. I set that out along with fresh fruit. Then worked on dinner and a variation of our favorite veggie dish that would be hard to resist.

So far, the plan has worked. My child is back to asking for edamame more often than jellybeans. It's nice to see some of the habits are staying healthy even after a week off.

Carrot Orange Souffle
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My Favorite Seafood Dish! Cioppino

I actually DID cook while I was on vacation. We were allowed to take over the beach house kitchen one night in order to prepare some local food — seafood! It's not easy cooking in a poorly stocked kitchen, for 12 people with all different tastes and one shrimp allergy. All-in-all, we managed a fine meal — even using some local produce and nearly six pounds of fresh caught seafood.

I posted the recipe over at Eat Local Challenge in honor of the October Challenge Month, and sticking to at least one local meal (okay a lot of local seafood) for the week.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Worst Flight Ever

I was just going to put this behind me, but Mara asked

After a week of the Kiddo being spoiled by relatives, daily presents, chips, cookies, candy, loads of attention and lack of sleep, we packed up our weary three-year-old and rested selves for a return to reality.

The Kiddo and I said goodbye to the ocean and we all saddled up. My spouse got the short straw, driving two hours in the minivan with his aunt who regaled him on our desperate need for bible study. This unwelcome lecture was most likely triggered by an earlier event the breakfast table — with all the older generation present — when my child decided to pull my tank top down and shove her hand inside, shouting, “I got your nipple!”

Well, at least we know someone is praying for us.

I had an epiphany that morning, on the road. There are moments when it seems like your child is hell-bent on pressing every single button you have in some crazy exploration of human nature. Because Mommy is “safe,” it’s usually Mommy who gets to be the guinea pig for these experiments. The Guinea Pig got grouchy.

Somehow we made it through the first flight. Just as I was wondering how to amuse our wired little button-pusher, she bends over in the middle of the airport and pulls down her pants. “Look, Mommy!”

If I thought this was the “end-all” of our travel adventures, what happened next certainly eclipsed the little Coppertone moon.

We make it onto the final flight home, child miraculously still intact and clothed. We even get front seats by the bulkhead up with the pre-boarders. I was actually hoping to get a seat farther back. One of the pre-boarders was already showing signs of being high-maintenance.

As my spouse put our carry-ons up in the overhead bin, a precariously stowed wheelchair back falls out, pegging that same elderly woman in the head. She begins to scream, “Oh my God! OH MY GOD!” I turn to look, not expecting to see my poor spouse standing there, a victim of circumstance, as a fountain of blood flows from this woman’s head.

I am squeamish. My stomach curls into knots. The woman is covered in blood and angrily calling for my husband’s name to be taken. Paramedics are called. A report is filled out. The chaos ensues as a hundred people are waiting to board. The woman is taken off the plane and put in an ambulance. My husband volunteers to stay behind and accompany the woman since she was traveling alone. She refused the offer.

The crew begins clean up and seat removal. Now, there is so much blood that they will have to remove the entire seat. The pre-board folks are relocated. I cringe as a woman on crutches with an assistance dog hobbles back several rows. Evil stares commence from the mother of the boy in the wheelchair, whose seat back was the instrument of doom. We have pissed off, inconvenienced, and/or caused bodily harm to each and every handicapped individual on the flight. Without any intention at all. Just really bad luck. It’s a nightmare.

It gets worse.

As the seat is torn out to reveal more blood pooled in the framework, the flight is cancelled due to potential harm from “blood-borne pathogens.” We deplane to the stares of a hundred passengers all now calling on cell phones to rearrange transfers and pickups. One poorly stowed item (by the stewardess no less) and hundreds of us are displaced.

A woman stares at me as she talks on her cell phone. “Well, [stare], I really can’t get into the details now, [stare], but I am going to be very late.”

In all the travel I have done in the past and for work (quite a bit) I have never witnessed anything like this. It’s the kind of story that makes you consider being a hermit — for a second.

Just a second later I am remembering the joyous laughter of my child running in and out of the waves and I think, “Well, next year I’ll need to pack another swim suit. And a first aid kit.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

Back from the Beach


Not willingly. More posts to come, just catching up on reality after eight days of no internet. Amazing. Relaxing.

Friday, October 03, 2008

You Have the Power to Stop This Preventable Disease



James Nachtway is an amazing photojournalist. He captures the human condition in a way few photographers ever have. Please sign the petition, do what you can.

Volunteers of America

I got to play hooky from work last week in order to do some community service. Nearly 400 of us painted, planted trees and did landscaping for three local schools. The surrounding neighborhood, as you can imagine, was not the best. The time outdoors gave me a while to look around and think.

Many of the folks in this community are struggling hard to get by, much less deal with repairs or major improvements. These are the people hurt most by food and gas prices. People who work hard, but are still sliding into debt just to survive.

I'm looking ahead to November. I am thinking about these people, about all of us. About hope.

I am also thinking about the power of community. Of what can happen if each of us gives just one day to help others. Of the difference we can make, all of us, together.

I am looking ahead. I am hoping for the best.