Why didn’t anybody tell me pumpkin seeds were so good?

If you read that title in your best Mel-Brooks-in-Spaceballs-voice in your head, we should be friends.

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I have only ever carved a pumpkin once before in my life. And I have only ever attempted to roast pumpkin seeds once before in my life. These were two separate occasions, however. The pumpkin carving occurred during high school, where I chose a very tall and slender pumpkin during a pumpkin patch trip, and I carved a cartoon bunny face into it. Looking back, this choice does not make much sense. Roasting pumpkin seeds was similarly nonsensical. I attempted to make pumpkin pie from scratch (instead of from my beloved can of Libby’s), and I ended up with strangely stringy pumpkin pie and a kitchen that smelled like burning because just throwing pumpkin seeds in the oven until I thought they might be “done” was apparently not the greatest idea.

I might not be so great at Halloween, you guys.

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When Dan brought home two huge pumpkins after work one day, I was determined to up my Halloween cred and give both a second try. I went and bought a cheapy pumpkin carving kit, got a suitably spooky idea in my head, and we got to work.

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Someone thinks that he is my muse.

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The first hole! Is it lame to say that I was intimidated? Or just my use of the word lame?

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The first cuts weren’t so bad, plus they lead the way to the glorious bounty inside.

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Ew. I don’t know if I’ve explained this before on the blog, but I have a real problem with my hands being dirty for an extended length of time. Especially sticky-type dirty. Which you’d think would not be an issue for someone who bakes all the time and regularly sticks her hands into glue and paint and various craft supplies. There’s a big difference, let me tell you.

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Crafting and baking usually involve a very limited amount of wet hands time, and if your hands need to be dirtied while painting and drawing, chances are it’s dry stuff and smudges. No big deal. Plus, my mom got me some fun cinnamon-scented scrubby handwash for the kitchen that takes butter off your hands like it’s going out of style, and that makes baking messes infinitely more tolerable. Pumpkin carving is a whole different ball game. Cutting into that pumpkin ensures you at least 45 minutes to an hour of sticky scraping and grabbing slippery pumpkin seeds and guts, and frankly, typing about it now is still giving me the heebie-jeebies.

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Let’s just say that I am proud of myself. And that I made a big awesome sticky mess, and I was totally okay with it.

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Now with the carving. I followed all the directions as well as I could (and are we really that surprised?). I taped on my drawing.

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I pounced.

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This was so much harder than I thought it would be. I felt like I was going to break that tiny plastic wheel with the fierceness of my determination. I can’t imagine what this is like with a design with lots of tiny curved lines. Do those talented people just freehand it onto the pumpkin instead? Inquiring minds need to know.

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I carved extremely slowly with a very tiny delicate saw.

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I watched the pumpkin bucket fill up with alarming amounts of seeds and guts and realized that I should have kept the seeds separate.

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I watched Dan, with his typical ease, freehand and attack his pumpkin with gusto while I flitted around trying to make things “correctly.” He definitely had the right idea.

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I was rewarded! Look at that little cat!

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Spooky cat. Our crazy tiny cat, Trip, has been immortalized. Sort of.

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Dan’s scary pumpkin face. The man definitely has me beat, Halloween-wise.

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We kept them lit on the kitchen table and enjoyed them while the cats inspected them and decided that they smelled funny and were scary. Here comes the slightly sad part. During the weekend that we displayed these on our porch, our slightly cool weather heated up again. Now I know from experience that carved pumpkins are not meant to survive in 80 degree weather. They melted themselves into a weird orange pile of goo within 4 days. Sadness all around.

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At least we got good pictures.

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But we’re not done yet! I had another Halloween hurdle to clear, and this one was much more successful. I spent an agonizingly long amount of time getting all of the pumpkin gunk off of those precious seeds and got to work.

The perfect pumpkin seeds recipe from Oh She Glows came in handy in showing this wayward pumpkin seed roaster the way. First things first, I refrigerated the pumpkin seeds for a day, mostly because I had no time to bake that particular night, but also because it helped those last little bits of pumpkin goop to fall away as I was getting prepared.

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The seeds were boiled up in some salty water, to increase potential crispiness.

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Then they got mixed up in some olive oil, sea salt, and paprika.

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And now, since nothing really ever works properly around here, was where the trouble came. For some reason, my pumpkin seeds took forever attain their perfect roasted crunchiness. In the original recipe, things seem to take only about 20 minutes, but mine took maybe twice as long, even though I followed all of the other instructions to the letter. Perhaps my oven’s temperature is not terribly accurate. Perhaps the moon was full. Perhaps my seeds were not dry enough. Who knows?

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What I do know is that we ate them up so quickly is that there was no time to get a suitable picture. I brought them to school and work, and the friends who sampled them gave them rave reviews. I had never eaten a proper roasted pumpkin seed before, but now I might be hooked. They tasted like something between popcorn and the really delicious brown chewy bits of a fried egg. They were delicious, and now they are gone.

And now I need to somehow get some more without having to scrape out another pumpkin.

Is my Halloween reputation redeemed?

Shelter in Place – Chocolate Pumpkin Swirl Pie

About a week ago, people were telling us that we were about to get hit by a tropical storm.

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Her name was Karen, she was headed right for us…and she was no big deal.

This is nothing new. If you’re from New Orleans, as I am, you learn that you don’t even start thinking about hurricane plans until you get up to a Category 2. Tropical storms don’t faze us one bit. Chances are the fall weekend will be even more beautiful than you could have even imagined if the Weather Channel is freaking out and telling you to buy a bunch of bottled water, batteries, and candles in preparation for the tropical storm ahead. This case was no exception.

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We did our duty and filled up the gas tanks and bought some bottled water and made sure that the flashlights were ready to go, and then we went about our business as usual. I had children’s faces to paint during Star Wars Day at work, dammit. Karen wasn’t going to bring us down.

The very idea of staying home during a potential hurricane situation (even one that turns out to be a whole bunch of nothing) makes a lot of people shake their heads in disbelief, I’m sure, but we have a lovely term for it that makes it seem both homey and logical (two of my favorite things)…Shelter in Place.

What sheltering in place means to me is that you have to have board games and playing cards ready. You need candles and books and ridiculously large bags of gummy candy to share with your potential shelter-mates. You need to move your mattresses downstairs and have a slumber party amidst the couches. You need to call all your friends and family and make sure they’re either safe or right in front of you. You need to pet the cats more because they can always tell that something’s up.

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And perhaps more than anything else, you need to have some pie on-hand.

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Since a large amount of hurricane season takes place in what the rest of the country experiences as fall, variations on pumpkin pie are always welcome and encouraged. This time around, I went with a little experiment in chocolate and pumpkin swirled together to keep us satisfied in the case of potential storms. Luckily, none of that happened, so we just stuffed our faces with chocolate and pumpkin and made plans for what pie to make next time.

Shelter in Place Pie
Chocolate Pumpkin Swirl – with assistance from Libby’s

Ingredients:
Chocolate & Graham Cinnamon Crust:
1 1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate and regular graham crackers (I used 12 chocolate crackers and 6 regular graham crackers to get a nice mix here)
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Chocolate Pumpkin Swirl Filling:
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree (goddammit, I love me some Libby’s, but if you want to go for the real thing, go right ahead)
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk
2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa

Directions:
Crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir all crust ingredients together in a medium bowl until well-incorporated.

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Press mixture firmly against the bottom and sides of a 9″ deep-dish pie pan.

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Bake for 15 minutes. Allow to cool completely before filling.

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Hell yeah, crust. Check that action out.

Filling:
Now, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves in a small bowl.

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Beat eggs in a separate large bowl. Stir in the pumpkin, and then the sugar and spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.

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I like to really get in there with a whisk to make sure all the lumps are out and that filling is as velvety as possible.

Divide the pumpkin batter roughly in half between the two bowls. Mix the unsweetened cocoa into one of the bowls, and really get your wrist into this because that cocoa will be resistant. Make it bend to your will.

Take your cooled graham cracker crust and get it placed before you with your two different batters. Now take a scoop or ladle of some kind that holds about 1/4-1/3 cup of batter and scoop up some plain pumpkin batter and pour that into that crust. Scoop up some chocolate batter and layer it on top. Repeat until it’s all gone.

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Pumpkin pie batter is super fluid and runny, so don’t get upset if it doesn’t layer and swirl as beautifully as you want it to. Just pour gently and give it some time, and everything will be beautiful.

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Kind of. Trust me, it looks better after it’s baked.

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See?

Bake in 425 degree oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake for approximately 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean.

Now, here’s the real hard part that Dan and I can never manage to do. Allow the pie to cool fully before cutting it up and shoving it in your mouth. Don’t get me wrong, this pie was insanely delicious while still carrying a tinge of warmth from the oven, but the flavors had truly melded into something amazing the next day after everything was allowed to rest and come together. It’s even still pretty awesome chilled.

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The whole thing tastes like dark chocolate Oreos and sweet spicy pumpkin at the same time. Cinnamon and ginger and cloves warm your nose while chocolate melts on your tongue. If Halloween Oreos actually had pumpkin-flavored filling instead of just orange food coloring, you’d start to get the idea.

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It’s even irresistible to tiny cats! So whether there’s a big storm coming or not, take this some time weekend to mix up some chocolate and pumpkin and your loved ones and shelter in place. You don’t need a better excuse.