Tag Archives: cooking

Making Pie From Pumpkin Guts

I made my first homemade pumpkin pie today. It seemed like the most effcient way to put away Halloween decorations, since I didn’t feel like climbing the ladder into the attic. I took a couple of the small pumpkins off the front steps and roasted them.

Scooping out the seeds and stringy guts of the pumpkins reminded me of a story my friend Edna told 20 years ago. The first time she decided to make a pumpkin pie from scratch, she cut open the pumpkin and all she found inside was that stringy mess…so she picked all the seeds out and used that stuff my kids call the “pumpkin guts” to make her pie. I wish y’all could hear Edna tell this story in her Glenville, Georgia accent. She said, “Welllll, I just kept adding more seasoning and blending it and blending it. It turned out OK, I guess, not too bad.” I think it was one of her sisters who explained to her how you have to cook the pumpkin to get to the part that actually makes the pie. She was trying to make pie out of the part you’re supposed to throw away.

Edna’s story made me smile today, but it also taught me a little lesson. Sometimes we get in a rut and just assume that life is supposed to be THIS hard. That we’re supposed to be making the most out of the stringy guts. That this really is as good as it gets. At the beginning of this year, when I was having so much trouble getting Carlos into an after school program, it turned out that the root of the problem was one person had said one thing to me that was incorrect. When I asked the nice lady behind the desk if after school could make accommodations for my son’s IEP (special ed plan), she said, “Oh, we don’t take kids with special needs. We just don’t have the staff.” Instead of saying, “That can’t be right,” and taking things up a level to her manager, I just assumed that life is supposed to be this difficult when it comes to my boy. And that’s wrong-headed. That’s trying to make pie out of pumpkin guts.

We put so much effort into turning that piddly stuff into a sweet and savory dessert, when the real stuff is so close, right there waiting to be used. Then a friend comes along and says, “Oh, honey! Let me show you a trick.” And you finally learn how pumpkin pie out of pumpkin instead of pumpkin guts. In my case, that whole problem got sorted out because I happened to bump into the principal at the school where Carlos was supposed to be and when she asked me in passing, “How are you today?” I told her the truth–not too good and a little pissed off. She stopped in her tracks and asked if there was any way she could help. I explained that one of her employees had told me that the after school program didn’t take kids with IEPs. She immediately apologized and figured out the employee’s mistake–that student worker had misunderstood. The after school program can’t make accommodations for kids with IEPs, like no student aides or special equipment, but they certainly TAKE kids with IEPs. We got it sorted out in a few minutes and Carlos loves his after school time.

I learned how to make pumpkin pie with PUMPKIN instead of pumpkin guts. I needed a little help with figuring it out, just like Edna. And just like Edna, I was doing my best to make something out of the stringy parts, something that looked like my goal.

Anywho. Vivi decided we should make pumpkin tarts instead of one big pie. I told her to put pecans on top of a few of them. She made faces. I hooted when we pulled them from the oven because they really look like how I feel sometimes:


The Moosewood Cookbook: How I Broke My Oven and Learned to Cook Again

Remember a while back when I tried to write a cookbook review and ended up breaking the oven? (and coining the new cuss word FOCACCIT!)  Well, I’m proud to report that just 6 months and $1200 later, we have a new oven! And I STILL haven’t made that focaccia.  But I am ready to write a review of the The Moosewood Cookbook: 40th Anniversary Edition.

Short Review: Buy yourself one today! Or get one for the mama in your life for Mothers Day! If you use that Amazon link, it will be here in time for Sunday. Probably. Wedding gift, graduation gift, Treat Yoself gift…this book belongs in every kitchen.

Being without an oven meant I had to do some re-engineering in the kitchen. Loooots of Crock Pot cooking. Also more salads and stir frys. I feel like this beautiful book helped me fall back in love with the basics of cooking–the sensual, spiritual creation of concoctions that nourish us.

(Does that sound sufficiently Hippie enough for ya? Good, let’s continue.)

I was unfamiliar with the story of the Moosewood Cookbook. It’s one of the best-selling cookbooks of all time, a classic of vegetarian cooking. Mollie Katzen, one of the founders of the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York, compiled and illustrated this collection of recipes 40 years ago. The cookbook started as a binder of recipes used by the cooks at Moosewood–none of them professional chefs. The collection includes recipes from grandmothers, restaurant diners, international adventures. A little of this, a little of that.

Yes, it’s packed with exotic flavors from around the world, but what I loved most about this book was that it helped me get back to the basics. Over the past couple of years, I’ve fallen into the trap of the working mother–convenience foods and a boring routine of proven, easy recipes. Seriously, we are one taco salad from oblivion up in here.

When I prepared the Moosewood recipe for French Onion Soup, I remembered the simple pleasure of caramelizing onions on a Sunday afternoon (and G even ate it too!). Just below the recipe for onion soup are instructions for making croutons. I didn’t need a recipe for croutons–I just needed a reminder that I COULD make my own croutons. And I did.

This book reminded me that I can make my own vinaigrette instead of relying on Paul Newman’s. As I mixed the ingredients, I remembered how my sister taught me to smash the salt and garlic together with a fork to release the flavors. I shook my dressing in a cruet that reminded me of Big Gay and the homemade salad dressing she keeps on hand. I got back in touch with the act of cooking.

Instead of cracking a bottle of LaChoy, I cracked open the Moosewood Cookbook and taught myself how to make stir-fry sauces from scratch. Again–not complicated things to do, but a return to the basic joy of making foods with my whole brain instead of a jar.

moosewoodIt’s not only an interesting and varied cookbook–it’s beautiful and playful. Katzen hand-lettered and illustrated each page. It’s a completely different feeling from the Pinteresty, food stylist, soft focus filter world of today. The simplicity of the pages reminds me of the Flint River Favorites cookbook that my school put together in the 1970s (except there are a lot fewer recipes that call for cream of mushroom soup). I remember my mother helping to collect and type all those recipes. The cookbook fell open to the page with the brownie recipe, which was smearing and smudged with so many drips that it smelled like brownies.

I’m looking forward to working my way around to the jicama salads and spanakopita and Ukranian poppy seed cake, but for right now, I’m so glad I have this rich book to explore, one taste at a time.

It’s a marvel!




I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Check out Blogging for Books if you’d like to know more about the program!

Crying Over Onions

Don’t judge me for this story but I HAVE HAD IT.

Why was I standing barefoot in the 24 degree garage this evening, digging through the recycling bin in a desperate bid to locate an empty can of white clam sauce?

Because I had had it.

ONIONS 15I found the can. I read the ingredients list, there in the weak light of the garage. And then I hollered back into the house, “THERE’S NO ONION! NO ONION IN IT!”

Like I mentioned, I had HAD IT.

Let me back up. Tonight was noodle night at our house and I decided–since the kids won’t eat sauce anymore on their pasta–I might as well revive an old favorite easy meal from my past. One I hadn’t cooked in 10 years and I really missed it.

While the linguine boiled (and I tried to convince myself that Carlos wouldn’t throw a fit because it wasn’t spaghetti), I sauteed some fresh garlic and minced celery in olive oil. Cooked it nice and soft. Back in the day, I would have included an onion in there, but G doesn’t eat onions. Wait, he’ll eat French onion soup and Funyuns, and he buys onion powder for seasoning meat, but he won’t eat onion onions. They’re too oniony.

00182So…garlic, celery, olive oil. Then stir in a can of Progresso white clam sauce to save a few steps. Easy peasy. Serve over linguine with some fresh squeezed lemon juice and shaved Parmesan. Yummmmmmm.

Vivi scooped up her noodles…plain. Carlos added “shaky cheese” (that Parmesan in the green can) to his. G scooped up a plateful of linguine then skeeted about two tablespoons of the clam sauce on it. I fixed my plate and dreamed about the cold bottle of Soave I would have served with this and the crusty baguette…back in the day.

Not today.

Vivi started eating her noodles by shoving in an entire forkful, then tearing the hangy downy parts with her hands. No. Carlos took one bite then went on walkabout through the living room and den. Nope. I kept on enjoying my dinner.

I looked over and G is picking at his plate. Oh hell nope. I give him a look and he says, “Are there onions in this?”

“I didn’t put any in there. But maybe there was some in the canned sauce.”

Next time I looked over, he had made a little clam pile on the edge of his plate.

THAT’S what drove me to be digging around in the trash after dinner. ONION DRAMA. There’s not a damn bit of onion in there.

I don’t know about you, but I am sick of catering to everyone else’s culinary choices. I haven’t sauteed an onion in EIGHT YEARS and sauteeing an onion was Step One of every recipe my mama and daddy taught me.

Vivi will eat an entire clamshell of grape tomatoes but won’t eat tomato sauce. No pizza or spaghetti bolognese. Carlos likes carrots if they’re raw but screams if he sees them in beef stew. Vivi will eat apples but not apple sauce. Carlos won’t eat chicken nuggets, for godsake! The girls will eat mac and cheese but the boy won’t. And don’t even think about making the version of mac and cheese I used to make with the Gruyere sauce and the butternut squash. Nope. Blue box. Shredded cheese is fine but string cheese is the devil’s own. One only eats toast with butter and the other won’t touch it if butter has been near. And by “butter,” I mean “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” because they like that better than real butter.

Victoria used to be a picky eater and had FINALLY broadened her palate…just in time to get braces. No sharp things, sticky things or stuck things.

I am so sick of the seven recipes I make over and over and over because there’s something in them that everyone will eat. Chili, taco salad, stir fry something, noodles, chicken broccoli casserole, cabbage soup. Yes, these weirdos tear up some cabbage soup like it’s birthday cake.

But DAMN, I miss real cooking. I used to make my own vinaigrette with freshly crushed garlic and grapeseed oil. The secret is to muddle sea salt with the garlic to really pull out the flavor. I had truffle oil and I used it to “finish” things. I roasted corn, baked bread, paired wines. I shaved my own damn Parmesan. The door of the fridge was filled with cornichons, pomegranate syrup, ground mustard, Irish butter, fig preserves.

The garlic press, the cruet, the wine decanter–all are gathering dust in the pantry.

I’ve been spending all this time in the kitchen keeping everyone happy. Except myself.

A Chain of Causation

I haven’t written in over a week, but it’s really not my fault. I’ve been trying. I even stuck my head in the oven but to no avail.

There’s a legal concept called “chain of causation” by which a person who appears to be at fault can prove that a chain of events lined up to create the situation…thus removing the fault from the individual.

Here’s what happened this weekend when I tried to write a post.

Last month, I got a copy of 40th anniversary update of “The Moosewood Cookbook” from a publisher in exchange for an honest review. And you can’t review a cookbook without trying some of the recipes, right? So I found the recipe with the fewest ingredients, one that barely took up half a page. French Onion Soup. YUM.

I bought the onions…last month.

Then life happened.

A lot.

So by the time I got around to trying the recipe, the onions had started to pursue their dream of starting a family, sprouting green shoots that were heading for the sunny window. OK.

So I picked a different recipe…something bakish because I actually had yeast. Again, I checked for a recipe that had fewest ingredients, short instructions, no trips to Williams-Sonoma for special equipment. Focaccia! YUM.

But baking….problematic. Lately, anytime I try to get the oven over 300 degrees, the smoke alarm goes off (thanks to some apple pies, pizzas, and malaise).

I can’t have the smoke alarm going off because my baby hates loud, sudden noises.

By this point, how can I write a blog post without putting my son’s emotional stability at risk? Time to clean my oven.

Historically, I only clean the oven when I’m moving and the security deposit depends on a shiny oven. I’ve lived here since 2003. You do the math.

Soooooo…instead of using the self-cleaning function, I got myself some Easy-Off to really tackle the grime.

I tackled the hell out of that grime. Housewife Scrubbing Oven Clean

Spent so long cleaning the oven that I ran out of time to let the dough rise…so no focaccia. (Am I even spelling that right?)

BUT!  Progress. Clean oven, week ahead of me…surely I can knock out some focaccia.

Turn the oven on Monday and it makes a strange beeping noise and flashes F4 on the panel.

After a little Googling of “Kenmore oven F4 error message,” I discover that I’ve got a broken temperature sensor.

Ohhhh…that’s what that long spiky thing was that I was wiggling around while cleaning the grime. Ah.

See how long this chain is and we ain’t nary closer to focaccia or a blog post?

This is why nothing ever seems to get DONE around here. Set off in one direction with a plan and pfffffffffft. I trip all over the great Chain of Causation.

P.S. – While I was cleaning the oven, someone clogged up a toilet and that cost us another $403. I would drown my feelings in carbs, but…FOCCACHIT.


Sunday Sweetness–Baby Cakes

“Baby Cakes”–that’s what my nephew used to call cupcakes.  If you’d like to add a touch of sweetness to your Sunday, click this little cupcake to read my story, “Cupcake Moms.”  Enjoy!


Cookin’ Fancy at KMart

yorkshire puddingThe other night, G needed my help to remember the word “ramekin” and it reminded me of this story of what can happen when you try to get all fancy at the KMart in Griffin, Georgia.  For you culinary Philistines out there, ramekins are those little casserole dishes that you use to make creme brulee, pots de cremes, or souffles.   Or if you’re like me, you use them to serve mustard, ketchup or chopped onions at your fancier wienie roasts.  

My dad is quite a good cook and he really pulls out the stops for Christmas Eve dinner.  He traditionally grills a beef tenderloin as long as his arm.  My sisters fight over the bloody part in the middle that’s still mooing quietly.  My brother-in-law and I claim the end pieces and our dignity.  We stuff our selves in a jolly style and toast our blessings.  

One year, Daddy decided to make individual Yorkshire puddings to accompany the tenderloin.  Now, making that many tiny Yorkshire puddings requires quite a few ramekins.  So one afternoon, Daddy headed over to the closest thing Griffin has to a Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table….KMart.  

He had been wandering around the housewares section when he was approached by a friendly KMart employee.  As he described her, “She had her hair piled high up her head, her glasses on a little gold chain around her neck, and an imperious shelf of bosom.”  She asked if she could help him find something and he replied, “Yes!  I’m looking for some ramekins, and I need a bunch of them.” He held up his thumb and index finger in to a helpful circle to indicate their small size and general shape.  

At which point, the heretofore helpful KMart lady drew herself up in an indignant rage and snipped, “I believe you will find those in the PHARMACY!” before turning on her sensible heel and stomping off.    

Because apparently, she confused those little souffle dishes with these:  


We just had one big Yorkshire Pudding that year and sliced it up.  

Shut Yer Pie Hole, Scale…

pie-chart-20090811-123901If my talking bathroom scale talked to me like a sassy girlfriend…

Dang, Girl!  Are you holding the baby?


Are you HAVING a baby?

I ate a lot of salt.

You ate a lot of something.

Salt makes me retain water.

It sure does.  But what makes you retain CAKE?

Cake, I guess.  Cake makes me retain cake.  

Want to hear the formula I use to calculate your weight?  I take the square root of your previous weight and multiply by PIE.