Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pumpkin Carving and Seed Spooktacular

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. When I was a little kid it wasn't so much about the candy as it was about the dressing up and running around in the dark. As I got older, though, the tradition lost much of its luster – not because I was "growing up" or anything so trite and juvenile, but because the trick-or-treating was set earlier and earlier in the day out of community and parental fears.

It got less fun, and as it did Halloween parties and other activities became more fun. Pumpkin Carving has been one of those traditions that has never gotten any less fun. Like cooking, it can be a friendly and intimate social activity.

Pumpkin Carving

Some people just start cutting on a pumpkin freestyle, but I like to give myself an idea of what I'm working with ahead of time. Using a sharpie I drew on what I hoped was a spooky face. Pumpkins are porous so whatever you draw on it ain't coming out if you decide to cut something a little different, but really in the dark nobody can tell.

If you're stumped for ideas or just not artistically minded you can find pumpkin carving templates all over the internet. These are basically stencils and patterns you can use when carving.

After you've planned out your carving g'wan and cut a circle in the top of the pumpkin, around the stem, and scoop out the guts. You can use a spoon if you're squeamish but really just reach your hand on down in there and tear it out by the handful.

Have your lovely assistant pick the seeds out of the pulp while you get on with the scooping and carving. Like I mentioned earlier, carving is an opportunity for a fun social communal activity – the more people you get involved the better, and Lovely Assistants are always appreciated.

While they toil at separating the seeds, you can commence with the actual carving out of the face you'd drawn on earlier. You'll want to carve out the pumpkin's inner flesh with a spoon until the shell is about an inch thick all the way around.

Using a Pumpkin Carving Template

If you're using a template from the internet you'll want to print it out and pin or tape it to the pumpkin's face. If you don't have a nice flat surface to work with you can soak the printout in vegetable oil to make it mold easily to the surface you're working with, or just make minor tears in the paper as required. Once its affixed, you're going to create guidelines in the pumpkin's surface with the pin wherever you think will help you out. The general idea is to remove the paper and then play connect-the-dots with the carving knife.

We have no photos of this because we true artistes would NEVER resort to using a stencil when working in the medium of gourd.

Pumpkin Seeds

When you're done you'll have a lot of leftover material – pumpkin flesh, seeds, and the stringy membrane the seeds are suspended in. You can just toss the membrane, but the seeds and flesh can be eaten. There are a ton of recipes out there for using the flesh – make a pie – but what I like to do with the seeds is roast them, almost as part of the carving process.

While you're carving, your Lovely Assistants can rinse out the pumpkin guts to get any leftover membrane off of the seeds. When they're clean you want to boil them in salt water and let them simmer a good ten minutes to infuse them – 2 cups of water and a half tablespoon of salt to every half-cup of seeds. We ended up with a cup of seeds, so that's 4 cups of water and a tablespoon of salt.

After they've simmered coat a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil and spread the seeds out in a single layer in it. Roast them at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until a nice brown. We added in chunks of pumpkin flesh as well, and they came out very tender and pumpkin-y.

The seeds, once roasted, make a great traditional snack that can be shared and enjoyed as part of the overall process. There are a lot of other uses for your pumpkin's leavings; do you have any to share with us?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I don't know about you, but I love Mexican food. Part of it is the whole spicy-to-the-edge-of-pain thing, but really what I like are solid practical ingredients mixed together in ways that just happen to taste amazing. Burritos are a good example of this.

When you think about it, all a burrito is is a bunch of food wrapped up in a flour casing. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but somehow when you're eating a burrito it becomes much more than that. Something with a deep resonance to the psyche. I think burritos are some sort of universal comfort food. Of all the various forms of fast-food you can get, I feel the least guilty about eating burritos. Even so, homemade they're simply amazing.

Today our burrito is going to contain the following:


We're making our Burritos with guacamole. We grab our avacado and mash it up with a splash of lemon or lime juice for a little zing, and mix in chopped tomato and red onion. We give a few grinds of sea salt into the mix, and while it's optional I really recommend adding some chopped fresh cilantro.


Much of the 'meat' of the burrito is going to be rice, cooked normally and then fluffed with a fork. After it steams for awhile we'll add in some more lime juice and chopped cilantro.


We're going to rinse a can of black beans, and then add chopped mushrooms and Hungarian sweet peppers. After that we mix in some coriander, cumin, a dash of cinnamon, and a dash of cayenne pepper. This bean mixture will be nuked in the microwave before being served.


This time we ended up using a premade salsa, but I've got a good excuse. It was an amazing cherry chestnut salsa from Hillside Orchards. Really. I know, I was like "Cherry salsa, Kat? I dunno..." but she was 100% right on this, and you should definitely give some a taste.

It all turned out really well. We warmed up (almost toasted) the tortillas before serving, added in some Mexican-blend cheese, and voila!

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Community of the Farmers' Market

I've written before about how the farmers' market becomes a community. The foundation of a community is, of course, its people. I return to the market week after week, see the same people, have conversations, make friends. Advice on what to make for dinner, or shared excitement at a personal achievement — these are stories shared and connections made that build this community.

Vera and I have been friends since the early days of the market. She and I have a shared interest in the arts. She always asks after my current projects. She herself is a writer and crafter; in addition to unusual vegetables, she farms, spins, and dyes her own woolen yarn, and knits one-of-a-kind fashions. She has a hand in the creative process from sheep to skirt.

She has been one of my main go-to resources for food and cooking ideas, and has encouraged me to be a little more experimental in my cooking. It's because of her that I first tried cooking with lavender... and then proceeded to spend that entire summer putting lavender in everything. Lavender scones, lavender lemonade, lime-lavender granitas, lavender cinnamon rolls (a failed experiment due to a bad dough recipe), and even honey-lavender ice cream (which was amazing).

I'm still getting the hang of flavoring with herbs, but if I have questions about her lavender, sage, or fennel, I know I'll get good advice from her.

Susie always greets me with a smile and cheerfully offers free samples of every kind. Her company, Phoenix Bean, is responsible for some pretty amazing tofu products. She is also a great resource for recipe ideas, which then allow me to further experiment; I got the idea for the tofu noodle salad from the recipe cards available at her booth, but I've been able to spin endless variations on that basic theme.

Susie maintains this amazing, delicate balance of keeping her busy booth running smoothly, while happily chatting with any customer who will pause a moment to do so. She loves people, and is very welcoming and interested in your stories. In fact, she was so excited to hear about this blog, she gave us that week's tofu for free.

This is Lindsey, who is very chill and laid back, and knows her vegetables like the back of her hand. An off-hand remark about my tomato plants not producing well this year led to an enlightening discussion on how weather affects tomatoes. Which then led to a conversation about summer foods and how we both love Caprese salad, which was why I needed her tomatoes in the first place. She runs Grassroots Farm in Wisconsin.

Really — ask her anything about her vegetables, she knows the answer.

And no discussion of community is complete without Brady. He is, in essence, the social hub of the farmers' market. Did you know about the new vendor selling amazing flavored syrups this year? Brady knows. Need a contact for an interview? Brady can hook you up. Need dinner ideas? Brady can casually come up with flavor combinations that I never would have dreamed of — I think he was the first one to turn me on to chocolate basil ice cream.

Brady's wares are another delicious Food in my Food "cheat." All-natural, locally-sourced baked goods keep me well-fed at breakfast when I've run out of time to bake my own. I look forward to Thursday morning breakfast entirely because I've got some BTrue muffins or coffee cake waiting for me.

Long before Brady was the BTrue Baker, he was my hairdresser, which was how we met. And when I became sick, and no longer had hair to dress, he referred me to Look Good Feel Better, a program he happened to volunteer for. By now we have known each other for so long, through myriad life changes for both of us, that he certainly qualifies as one of my oldest friends.

Small communities are important. Particularly in an urban environment, it's so easy to become so lost in the sheer numbers of people that you become isolated. How many of you know the names of your next-door neighbors? People need connection with other people; it's food for the soul as much as Food in my Food is food for the body... and soul. Communities are where we make them; our friends, the farmers' market, even taking time to remember and indulge in the joys of cooking and eating a meal with someone else. Personal connection is vital to well-being; it's our responsibility to ourselves to seek out and create these communities.

Who are your communities?