Homemade pumpkin pie — from a real pumpkin

My boyfriend is big on culinary adventures. When other people go to make a pumpkin pie, they might do something like — oh, I don’t know — buy canned pumpkin. It’s quick, easy and ready to go. It’s convenient. And portable.

But Spencer enjoys a challenge. When we went to pick pumpkins to carve for Halloween, an annual tradition, he asked the woman at the farmer’s stand which gourd would be best for pie making. She recommended a sugar pumpkin — smaller and more flavorful than the bigger jack-o-lantern varieties — and off we went.

After hanging out at a fall festival last weekend, we decided to give the pie making a go. I was skeptical, to be honest; how were we going to take a big, fleshy and seed-filled orange thing and turn it into a pie? But in the end, it really wasn’t too tough. Especially when we found plenty of tutorials online.

So here’s how to make your own pumpkin puree for pie-making — or other recipes. If I’m being perfectly honest (and don’t punch me), I didn’t taste a huge difference between fresh pumpkin and its canned counterpart. If you’re short on time or just don’t want to be bothered, the traditional from-a-can method works just fine. But if you’re ready for something different or want to use up the pesky half-carved toothy gourds you have lingering around? This might be a good way to waste not, want not.



Two cups of the pumpkin puree we made amounted to about one 15 oz. can of pumpkin, which most pie recipes call for. And with about a million pumpkin pie recipes floating around the ether, how can you settle on one? We chose a recipe that worked based on the ingredients we had on hand, which happened to be this one. It was sweet without being cloying, and stood up very well!

Though nothing stands up to the pumpkin lovers in my house. It was gone in a day.

Happy Halloween, everyone!


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Cool and creamy pumpkin pie mousse

While searching for healthy twists on traditional holiday recipes, I knew right away I couldn’t leave out my most favorite of all autumn items: pumpkin! (Were you really expecting me to say anything else?) I’m doing a magazine spread of healthier alternatives to the dishes that make this season great, and it’s not like I could print and promote a recipe I hadn’t tried myself. Am I right?

I said, am I right?

Yes. Of course. So I whipped up this pumpkin pie mousse, adapted from a recipe found online. I actually lost track of where I originally found this one, but it’s pretty similar to this version. The biggest change from traditional pumpkin pie is that we’re not using a real pie crust, and there’s no additional sugar. Plus, we’re using all fat-free or low-fat ingredients.

And do you think the pumpkin pie fanatics around my house missed those calories? Absolutely not. This light, fluffy and decidedly pumpkin-y concoction tasted delicious, and the added crunch from the crushed graham crackers kept it from feeling too much like dipping into simple pie batter. It’s cool, refreshing — and simple. Very, very simple.

So when you’re eager to try out a pumpkin dish this fall but aren’t ready to commit to a full-blown pie, keep this one stashed in your repertoire. This pumpkin nut wouldn’t steer you wrong.


Pumpkin pie mousse

Ingredients:
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup skim milk
1 (1 ounce) package instant sugar-free vanilla pudding mix
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 (8 ounce) container fat-free frozen whipped topping, thawed
1/2 cup crushed graham crackers
Cinnamon, to taste

Directions:
In a medium bowl, mix together the milk, pumpkin and instant pudding mix. Stir in the pumpkin pie spice, and fold in half of the thawed whipped topping. Pour into an 8-inch pie plate and spread remaining whipped topping over top. Sprinkle with crushed graham crackers and lightly dust with cinnamon. Chill for one hour, or until set. Serve in individual cups for an added touch.


Thanksgiving weekend wrap-up

Although it’s still hard for me to process, Thanksgiving has come and gone — but it was great! As always, my family outdid themselves. I always wish I could have a fraction of that delicious food for later in the week, but somehow the magic isn’t quite the same after the holiday! We did have plenty of leftover potatoes, ham and turkey, though. And pumpkin pie, of course. My sister brought home an entire dessert from her boyfriend’s great family! In fact, that reminds me . . . I think there may be some left . . .

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Black Friday turned out to be pretty low-key at the store — I got in, cleaned up a bunch of stuff and headed on home.The bookstore wasn’t very busy at all, quite a contrast to years past. I know all retailers are afraid of what this holiday season will (or won’t) bring, and from what I could tell the shopping situation is pretty bleak. It didn’t feel like a major shopping day at all. Bad for the store, but good for me — I didn’t have to deal with many irritable customers. I did have a minor incident in the Kids department, but nothing to rank in my Top 10 Worst Customer stories!

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Birthdays, anniversaries — all in a weekend’s work

Whew! I’m coming off a food and sugar high of fabulous eating and family time this weekend. Yesterday was my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary and we celebrated with a wonderful dinner, a fantastic cake (made by my grandmother herself — and with her original cake topper!) and tons of presents.

Everything went incredibly well! As always, I loaded up on tons of desserts. Here’s a sample of what we bit into last night:

As always, it seems too pretty to eat! But we did, of course.
After taking tons of photos.

My grandparents (right) on their wedding day -- Oct. 25, 1958

My grandparents (right) on their wedding day -- Oct. 25, 1958

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Desserts are the way to say goodbye

In fitting office fashion, we bid farewell to our dear friend Leslie by throwing a big party — with tons of food. And not just any food, either — desserts! Lots and lots of . . . desserts. We wanted to do something different for this extravaganza, which was just fine with me. I can only make my pot luck staple pasta salad so many times before people just want to punch me.

Classic favorites were banana pudding, several types of (delicious) pumpkin pie and Pauline’s ice cream cake (which was gone in about five minutes).

What remained of the ice cream cake

What remained of the ice cream cake

My brownies didn't exactly come out alive, either!

After all the food was eaten, the cards were signed and the presents were given, the only thing left to do was say goodbye. Leslie was my editor and partner-in-crime for more than a year; she trained me well, worked with me on tons of new projects — and taught me everything I know about special sections. I’ve taken over her post and I hope I make her proud! We’ll miss her greatly around the office — me, especially. But she’s moving on to a new, fulfilling position and I’m thrilled for her.

It’s hard watching people go, though. When you work with someone eight hours a day, five days a week for months or years, their absence is sometimes shocking. I’m sure it won’t really hit me until Monday that I’m on my own.

But in farewell, I say to you, Leslie . . .

Pumpkin Pie Blizzard? Are they trying to kill me?

So I know I’m always harping about delicious pumpkin-flavored foods, but that’s just because they’re so insatiably delicious I can hardly catch my breath around them! Palmer and I were out running errands last night and, as a special treat, he suggested we run over to Dairy Queen for some little snacky treat. Sure, innocent enough. He wasn’t really too hungry and I wasn’t either, but when has that ever stopped me from getting dessert?!

Honestly, I wasn’t planning on getting anything. I’m going to be taking a break from my busy retail job in the near future — so I will be spending more and more time at my desk at my day job (I got a promotion, though — yay!) and less time walking around and on my feet, getting what little exercise I can. This roughly translates to “I really, really should be better watching what I eat.”

But HOLY GOD — what do we have here?!

A Pumpkin Pie Blizzard?! Are they trying to kill me? If you think I got a bit overly excited about the Pumpkin Spice Latte, you should have seen me standing there palpitating with my poor boyfriend on my arm. I literally couldn’t order it fast enough. I was stringing word after word after word together with hardly any of them making sense. The agony — but the ecstasy! Who knew they even had such a thing.