Saturday, October 20, 2012

Something About Pumpkins

What is it about Pumpkins?
Is it because it's SEASONAL that we like them so much?  At our house, we are into them. I love to look at them,  decorate with them, carve them, bake with them, cook with them, even drink them!

And pumpkin stuff only comes once a's an Autumn tradition!

I think we connect pumpkins with the turning of colorful leaves, the cooling weather, pulling out sweaters, and anticipating the holidays.  

kind of fuzzy photo of the cool pumpkin branches
at Trader Joes
The other day, I walked into Trader Joe's and saw these Mini Pumpkin Branches.  How terrific are they?! I wish I had an event to justify purchasing them for an arrangement!  They are real (though they look almost fictional).  In addition to these beauties,  there was a food rack with all manner of pumpkin items including: pumpkin butter, pumpkin spice bread mix, pumpkin spiced tea, and even pumpkin spice granola.

The farmer's market is brimming with pumpkins, gourds, squashes and mums...of all shapes and sizes.

And then, there are Pumpkin Spice Lattes.  I imagine they top the list of Pumpkin Favorites for most people.

On September 4th, Starbucks sent out the word (via signs, tweets, etc.) that Pumpkin Spice Lattes were back.  I think for some people, this announcement meant that the season of autumn officially began.  People flooded the stores evidently, because the news reported last month that the onslaught of customers caused a shortage of Pumpkin Spice Syrup at many Starbucks stores. Customers were despairing!

The Jam's Pumpkin Pie Latte

My friend Melissa sent an Instagram of the Pumpkin Pie Latte that she had at the Jam (a local coffee/tea shop near Belmont) a couple of weeks ago and I couldn't get it out of my mind.   I made my way there a few days later and the sign on the counter said, "Pumpkin Pie Lattes are back: Made with Real Pumpkin...Epic".  I have to agree.  Theirs are EPIC.

Last fall, my friend, Sharon, made  pumpkin syrup for some home-made lattes at a gathering and it was delicious! I was inspired to try to make some myself, so I started digging around on Pinterest to find a recipe for homemade Pumpkin Coffee Syrup. I found a lovely one on Annie's Eats (always a lovely BLOG to peruse).  I made a batch, tried it out, approved it, and then filled a glass bottle with it to give as  an October birthday gift.

I made a latte for Asher, at his passionate request, who loves a coffee drink whenever he's "allowed".  He gave it a thumbs up.  (Of course he loved the whip and extra pumpkin pie spice sprinkled on top!)

borrowed from Annie’s Eats

1½ cups water

1½ cups sugar

4 cinnamon sticks

1 tsp. ground nutmeg

½ tsp. ground ginger

½ tsp. ground cloves

3 tbsp. pumpkin puree

Combine the water and sugar in a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved.  Toss in the cinnamon sticks and whisk in the remaining spices and the pumpkin puree.  Continue to cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, without letting the mixture come to a boil.  Remove from the heat and allow it to cool for 10-15 minutes. (Annie says to strain syrup through fine mesh, but I didn’t have to do so). Pour in your container of choice.  Store in the refrigerator.
To make a pumpkin spice latte: combine 2 ounces of hot coffee or 1 shot of hot espresso (about 1-1½ ounces) with 5-6 ounces of steamed low-fat milk.  Stir in 1½-2 tablespoons of the pumpkin spice syrup.  Taste and adjust amounts accordingly.  Top as desired with freshly whipped cream, ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice. (You can even drizzle with caramel sauce)!

(If you need a jar and you live in Nashville, my husband would love for you to have one of our jars.  I have a thing about keeping jars for repurposing, and the space under the kitchen sink is teeming with them!)


O hushed October morning mild, 
thy leaves have ripened to the fall; 
Tomorrow’s wind, 
if it be wild, 
Should waste them all. 
The crows above the forest call; 
tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild, 
begin the hours of this day slow, 
make the day seem to us less brief...
 - Robert Frost

(thanks to Margaret for this beautiful excerpt 
that you shared this week via your blog... I just had to pass it along)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chimichurri – I Could Almost Drink It!

Have you experienced Chimichurri? It's an Argentinian Sauce, similar to Pesto, but made with a Parsley base.  If you haven't, you must! It was love at first taste for me.  A couple of years ago we went to Eastland Cafe for dinner with friends. In our life, this is considered special-occasion, high-style dining – since eating out in our world usually does not include table cloths, servers, and low lighting.

(I wrote here about the dilemma I face when upscale dining, regarding the salad and main dish courses.)

I struggle with the fact that meat is typically not my favorite part of the meal, and yet it is seen as the main attraction on most menus.  Everything else is simply building up to this apex.  I had difficulty ordering at Eastland Cafe because of this very dilemma.  So, I opted instead to order a salad and some sides.  I felt good about the decision.  I had fried green tomatoes, a beet-topped green salad, a sweet potato dish and something else that escapes me now.  It was all very tasty.  However, I have to report that the highlight of the meal, for me, was the fresh, warm bread and bowl of chimichurri for dipping that was brought at the beginning of our meal.  Oh my....a party for the taste buds! It was so good, I almost drank it.  This began my love (and pursuit) of chimichurri.

I talked to my creative, culinarily friend Rich about it (who happens to be an amazingly creative photographer as well), because I figured he might have a recipe for it.  This summer, he made it happen.  And it was everything I dreamed it to be! He served it poured over grilled flank steak and it was a hit. We all, including the kids, went crazy (Asher went a little crazier than the other kids, but they all loved it). We served it with roasted vegetables, braised purple cabbage and crusty bread.  During the meal we felt compelled to pour the chimichurri over the veggies and dip our bread into it.

We made it the other night and I was able to take a few photos to share with you.  We had a few tablespoons of the chimichurri left.  I saved it.  (If you know me you are not surprised by this). We had some left over pasta noodles in the fridge, so the next day I tossed them together and Shazam! a tasty lunch.  It's delicious on any meat, fish or vegetables.

borrowed from Simply Recipes

1 cup firmly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, trimmed of thick stems
3-4 garlic cloves
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves (can substitute 2 tsp. dried oregano)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp. coarse salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

Finely chop the parsley, fresh oregano, and garlic (or process in a food processor several pulses). Place in a small bowl.

Stir the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes in a measuring cup.  Adjust seasoning to taste. Pour oil mixture over parsley mixture and stir until well combined.

Serve immediately or refrigerate.  If chilled, return to room temperature before serving.  Can keep for a day or two.

Flank Steak

Flank Steak
Salt and Pepper
Lemon juice
Worcestershire Sauce

Pat meat dry. Sprinkle generously with coarse salt and fresh ground pepper (on both sides).  Dash  Worcestershire Sauce and the juice of a lemon over it (on both sides).
Cook on heated grill over high heat to sear it.  Do not overcook it. 
Rich says the rarer the better.

Chimichurri is so simple.  It takes only a few minutes to make and yet it can transform a meal.

Which, by the way, simple, delicious recipes like this create somewhat of a problem in my life.  Being the tightwad that I am, and loving really tasty food it is hard for me to justify paying $25 for dinner, when it can be made simply at home for a fraction of the cost! And you get to have leftovers! (Not to mention you can do this while wearing your sweat pants).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

In Memory of My Beloved 3rd Grade Teacher

This week I got the news that my beloved 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Stookbury, died after a valiant fight with cancer.  It saddens my soul that this bright shining light in the world has passed on.  I know her family and close friends must be aching with loss.  I heard that her last months were painful and debilitating.  And in light of this fact, I am glad that she no longer has to suffer.  I'm so thankful that I got to be one of her many, many students in her years as an educator.

I have been thinking about her all day.  I have only fond memories of her.
She was SUNSHINE at Sequoyah Elementary School.  She was an ANCHOR in my childhood.
Mrs. Katherine Stooksbury
Now that I am a mom and have had children this age, I feel even more indebted to Mrs. Stooksbury.  What a significant influence teachers are in the lives of children!!