Monday, November 28, 2011

Loving the humble pumpkin

On television the other day I saw an advertisement for a show in which people throw pumpkins. Aack! Throw them and not eat them? Watch that beautiful flesh splatter across the ground instead of cooking with it? Oh my, all that Vitamin A going to waste.

I used our final fresh pumpkin of the season for Thanksgiving. I had heard someone on a more food-friendly television network talk about cooking Thanksgiving stuffing in a pumpkin so I decided to try it. It worked beautifully.

I don’t have a favorite stuffing recipe (it’s never been my most-beloved Thanksgiving dish) so I copied one out of a magazine and went to work. My pumpkin was a medium size that could easily sit on a dinner plate for serving. I cut off the “cap” and set it aside then proceeded to remove the stringy insides and the seeds. When it was clean, I filled it with stuffing. I still had stuffing left so I put it into a bowl to use later in the weekend.

With the oven set at 450 degrees for roasting, I put the pumpkin on a cookie sheet then placed it in the oven with the cap on. In 30 minutes, I checked it. The pumpkin was yet soft enough and the scent wasn’t strong enough for it to be done. I also took the opportunity to spoon out three tablespoons of turkey drippings to pour on the stuffing. Next, I returned the pumpkin to the oven, sans top, to cook for another 15 minutes.

That’s when it looked and smelled done. It turned out to be a picturesque addition to the Thanksgiving table. Plus, everyone liked the stuffing! This was so much fun that I might learn to love stuffing so I can roast a filled pumpkin more than once a year.

Next: stay tuned for what to do with that leftover stuffing and pumpkin.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Re-Purpose your leftovers

Even though I found another handful of ripe raspberries today, it’s really pumpkin season. Last week I made one of my favorite pumpkin recipes—a cream cheese, pumpkin dip—to take to a party. The recipe makes far more dip that anyone would need for party of 50 or fewer people, but I forgot that when I put it together. So I came home with plenty left to snack on.

Leftovers often inspire creativity in our house and that was certainly the case with the pumpkin dip. It started out as a sweet dip for celery and carrots, although it’s also quite good as a fruit dip. The party-goers liked it.

Next it became an “icing” for shortbread. That provided a nice afternoon snack until the shortbread was gone.

I followed that with ginger crackers topped with pumpkin dip and fresh raspberries. That was an interesting combination, although I wouldn’t give it a 10.

Finally the dip became a “dressing” for a mint, fruit salad. I did add a little bit of yogurt to cut the sweetness and extend the “dressing” to make a larger salad. It was a hit—there wasn’t a bit of fruit salad or dip left after that final re-invention.

Don’t let leftovers bring you down with repetition. Plenty of folks these days are re-purposing clothing; now you can also re-purpose your leftovers.

Tonight another round of pumpkin begins with Liberian Pumpkin. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Scavenging during orange season

Every time I go into the garden these days I feel like a scavenger. I’m pushing aside the fallen leaves and parting the still-growing weeds to find the faithful growers who remain. I’ve gathered Swiss chard, kale, radishes and today, one green pepper and a handful of raspberries. They each seem precious in these waning days of the growing season. I still have turnips and beets to harvest when they’re a little bigger.

It’s especially nice to find these gems since so much of the other fresh produce we have right now is orange. When I told Jim the other day that it’s “orange season,” he asked if that was an official designation. It’s just my term for these days when we have freshly harvested pumpkins, carrots, butternut squash and sweet potatoes. What fun vegetables to cook with! Yet the winter squashes are often a mystery to folks, so here’s an easy recipe for the novice to try. You’ll feel like you’re eating candy when you taste it.

Baked Winter Squash

3 cups of cubed winter squash (Cushaw or butternut squash are good)
2 TBSP butter cut into 8 or so pieces
1/8 – 1/4 cup brown sugar
2TBSP maple syrup

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place squash in small casserole dish that has a lid. Add other ingredients and mix together. Put on top and bake 30 minutes. Stir. Bake another 20 - 30 minutes until you can easily pierce the squash with a fork. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Prepare for springtime now

Earlier this year when it came time for me to use the tomato cages and stakes in the garden, I had to unravel a mess. The stakes and their remaining strings were so tangled in a pile on the floor of the carport that I had to use the scissors to free some of them. The tomato cages weren’t quite so bad but they still weren’t neatly stored. So this year as I’ve begun to pull up the stakes and cages, I’ve been creating a more organized plan for storage.

Friends who know I’ve been freelancing as a writer and editor from a home office for 20 years might be shocked to learn that my gardening tools aren’t well organized. They see me as a disciplined, organized person. I strive to store things logically so I know where everything is. Sometimes, however, I get quite lazy. When in a hurry, I throw tools and pots into piles, behind closed doors and into boxes that I can deal with later.

I don’t want to do that this year with my garden.

For the past two weekends, I’ve been cleaning out and reorganizing the gardening items I store as well as putting the garden to bed for the season. I now have neatly bundled stakes and bamboo trellis pieces. I went through the small, plastic pots and discarded those that were cracked, unusable. I then stacked them neatly in the trays I’ve saved from my greenhouse trips. They provide a wonderful space for putting the pots when I’ve filled them with new soil and seeds. I want them easily accessible when that longing to feel the dirt returns.

I also used the boxes of flattened cardboard I carried home from a neighboring store as a cover on two of my garden spaces. I want to get more cardboard and continue with the process of topping it with manure and straw in preparation for experimenting next spring with some “no till” sections of garden. The idea is that it will all decompose before spring and I’ll be able to dig a hole for plants rather than disturbing all of the soil beneath.

The greenhouse is also full again. I’m experimenting with growing tomatoes inside and I have six plants that I potted at three different times so they’re all at a different stage of the growing process. Last week I harvested the first red tomato from the largest plant. Parsley and basil are also growing inside; I look forward to seeing how long they’ll survive.

The garden is slowly going to bed and the carport storage space looks good right now. Of course, my husband does home repair and renovation work and sometimes stores things in there, also. I’ll have to keep my eye out for the first hint of clutter, which I know will come again. But at least I can be assured that my gardening tools are neatly waiting for another year’s use.