Chocolate Pie & a Warm Pup – the City Stripes Dog Sweater

In early January, my friend Kelli had a wonderful idea. We decided to chase our winter blues away and celebrate the tiny amount of time I had left before my semester started again by baking chocolate fudge pie.

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This girl right here is just full of good ideas. If it’s any indication of just how good of an idea this was, this is the first real opportunity that I’m having to post about it because of school and work and nonsense, despite the fact that it happened 3 months ago.

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We took the chilly day as an opportunity to learn the finer points of pie crust-making, focusing on proper rolling and fluting technique, which are the fiddliest and best parts, of course.

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Such concentration!

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It was worth it.

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Look at that pie-making pride! Well-deserved, indeed.

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I don’t really have a recipe or anything to share, just wanted to brag a little bit about how freaking delicious that pie was. However, during our pie-making, Kelli and I were bemoaning how cold it was this winter, and we got onto the topic of dog sweaters.

Kelli is the greatest dog lover that I know, and that’s really saying something. She loves all pups, especially her tiny Ellie, and we spent part of the afternoon brainstorming on Ravelry what new sweater I would knit for her in order to keep warm during the rest of the winter.

I have never knit an article of clothing for an animal before, primarily due to two facts. One, I am allergic to dogs and cannot spend much time around them without dissolving into a sneezing, wheezy mess. Two, I own two cats, both of which have a history of handily annihilating any object placed on their person, except for a collar. (And even then, only select collars.)

We settled on Lion Brand’s City Stripes Dog Sweater pattern after falling in love with its stripey, squishy goodness, plus the fact that it has a wide range of sizes and fit modifications built into the pattern.

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I am not normally a huge Lion Brand fan, but Wool-Ease Thick & Quick can be downright delightful when it’s combined with the right pattern.  Kelli told me that she wanted neutrals, blues, and golds, and I think I hit the jackpot.  The colors we went with were Sky Blue (106), Mustard (158), and Barley (124), and when they’re striped up all nice, they remind me of a very fancy private school uniform.

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Wool-Ease is soft and squishy and bouncy, perfect for making those stripes pop. I was quite enamored of the wrong side, as I often am. Knitters know, sometimes the wrong side, the inside, is prettier.

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But the right side, hoo boy, it’s nice, too.

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Plus, Wool-Ease is machine-washable, an essential element when knitting anything that’s going to spend the majority of its worn life just a few inches from the ground.

I pretty much followed the pattern exactly as written for the smallest size (the 18″ chest), due to Ellie being a very tiny pup. I carried all of the colors up the side, which all disappeared conveniently in the seaming.

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The only change that I made was in the binding-off. I used a larger needle just for the bind-off rows on each piece (I’m pretty sure I used a size 17 for this, but, as usual, I neglected to write down this important information). When I bound the stitches with the original size 13 needles, it just seemed like it wasn’t stretchy enough to fit comfortably over the head of a squirming animal. Redoing it with the larger needle size made it nice and stretchy without deforming the overall shape. I decided to try it out on the most unwilling participant I could find, just to be sure.

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Trip tolerated it for a whole 5 seconds before deciding that both it and I needed to be destroyed. I’m pretty sure that that solidified my #1 place on his future hit-list, but he looked so cute I couldn’t resist.

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But how did it go with Ellie?

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Awwwwwww.

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Such a warm and cosy pup.

Now that the weather’s gotten warmer, and it actually feels like spring around here (which feels more like summer to everyone else in the country), I know that Kelli and Ellie don’t need their sweater as much, but I have faith that it’ll last them for a long time to come. As for me, it is very tempting to use the 1/2 skeins I have left of each color to make a kitty sweater, but I think I’ll take the safe option and make a blanket for them to destroy. They’ll love it.

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I met Joy the Baker and gave her an eggroll. True story.

On Tuesday, Joy the Baker had a book-signing here in New Orleans before she started on her book tour for her new offering, Homemade Decadence.

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No one who reads this blog, or reads any food- or baking-oriented blog (or maybe any blog ever) should be surprised to know that I have a fairly serious girl-blog-crush on Joy the Baker. Doesn’t everyone? She makes absolutely beautiful food, blogs about her mistakes, has a feisty orange cat, and rocks cool tattoos and glasses. She might be who I want to be when I grow up (and perhaps who my blog personality thinks that I actually am), even though she is only 1 year older than me. She just recently moved here in January, and I am so glad that she’s here in my hometown to enjoy the food and weirdness along with us, although I am extremely jealous of the amazing morning light she gets in her French Quarter kitchen.

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For her book-signing, I decided to continue my self-imposed tradition of bringing small knitted objects to famous people that I feel have influenced a part of who I am. Perhaps you might remember when I gave David Sedaris an owl? Or attempted to bring Eddie Izzard a squirrel? Well, this time I decided to bring Joy the Baker a present, but it was for her lovely orange cat, Tron-Cat, who makes the occasional appearance on her blog and whom I decided needed a little bit of knitted love.

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Unfortunately, I made this decision on early Tuesday morning, and then had to wait until I was finished with class, and forced myself to rush home as fast as possible to knit an eggroll. That’s right, an eggroll with catnip. The pattern is from the Spring 2003 issue of Knitty, Feline Dim Sum by Julie Falatko, and it is so freaking cute that I can’t stand it.

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I love how that picture of the wonton toy stuffed with catnip looks so illicit up there.

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I had previously used this pattern in 2004 to make some little toys for my brother’s cat, Chunky, and it was only about 5 minutes before she discovered how to bust open the eggroll and regale herself in catnip all over the floor. Slight adjustments had to be made.

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It’s only catnip! I promise!

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In order to keep things super secure in there, I first stitched down the flap as instructed, although I did it extremely crookedly for some reason. Let’s chalk it up to nerdy excitement and being pressed for time.

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Then I tacked down the corners of the top of the flap, just for good measure, running the yarn along the top for a few stitches…

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…then pulling it back down and tying it into a knot…

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…and finally threading the ends through the middle of the stuffing to hide them. I left all of the ends long inside there in order to prevent any accidental, or cat-rage influenced, unravellings.

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Then, it got a label and was photographed. Notice how I suddenly had the presence of mind to let the recipient of one of these gifts know my name and the name of my blog? After the Eddie-Izzard-and-Jeff-the-Squirrel debacle, I’m never not shamelessly self-promoting again. I managed to get everything done in 2 hours and 15 minutes, with just enough time to pick up Dan and head to the bookstore.

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I’m pretty sure that this is the moment when I said, “I have a present that I made for you, but it’s not only for you. It’s for your cat.” Notice the adorable confusion? This was the intended effect.

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She told me that I couldn’t possibly be for real, but she seemed delighted all the same.

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I know that I was.

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She was also super funny and adorable in person, just as I suspected. I managed to keep my fangirl-type tendencies in check as much as possible, and somehow didn’t embarrass myself or trip over my shoes the entire time. A triumph of the human spirit.

And can we talk about this amazing book? It’s got so much fantastic stuff in it (so many ice cream recipes!) that I haven’t even been able to properly absorb it yet. My winter break from school will certainly be filled with delicious things because of this wonderful lady. Joy, thanks so much for being lovely, too. Don’t ever stop making people happy. Good advice for everyone, really.

Complement Anklets – stripes and extra strapazierfähig

I am supposed to be either studying EKG’s in order to quickly identify various types of dysrrhythmias or writing a paper about the safety and transportation concerns in a local neighborhood.

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Instead, I am writing about socks.

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This should come as a shock to no one. Given the chance between taking pictures of and writing about handknit socks or doing pretty much anything else (unless it is take pictures of and write about homemade ice cream), I will choose the socks every time.

To hell with appropriate time management skills. It’s almost the end of summer! (Although you’d never know it from the 90-degree weather today here in New Orleans.) People on the Internet need to know about handknit socks so that they can get ready for fall and the all-important task of parading about the house in their awesome socks, so I am here for them. They might need some super sassy socks to hurry and put on after they do their ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in their bare feet, like I stupidly did. I am here for them, too. Anyone with cold feet, really.

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These were stitched up with Lana Grossa’s Meilenweit Fantasy, a yarn that, according to the label, is both “waschmaschinenfest” and “extra strapazierfähig.”

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Great.

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I think these heels and toes are where that extra strapazierfähig is really going to come in handy. (And yes, I know what it means. Do you?)

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This yarn has been in my stash for such a long time that I’m not even sure what prompted me to buy it. I am not the biggest yarn of the checkerboard stripes in a lot of self-striping yarns, but something about these alternating bands of green, blue, and orange really caught my attention.

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Hence the name: Complement Anklets. Get it? Because blue and orange are complementary colors? And because you’ll get lots of compliments when you’re wearing them?

*Cue rimshot, and following crickets*

Anyone else find punny homonym jokes as funny as I do? No? Okay, moving on. Here’s a picture of some fuzzy cat feet along with mine.

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Bowie really wanted in on the modeling. He’s a natural.

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I used the Yarn Harlot‘s Good, Plain Sock Recipe from Knitting Rules. Again. It is seriously the only plain sock pattern you’ll ever need ever again for your whole life.

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Good, plain sock patterns don’t fight with the stripes. They make the stripes front-and-center. They make everyone realize just how important stripes are to you, as a person. They fit just perfect, every single time, and after you make them enough, you don’t even look down at the pattern anymore. You just know what you need to do next and do it, and if knitting socks completely on the fly doesn’t make you feel like a proper knitting badass, nothing else will.

Boring Can Be Beautiful – Plain Vanilla Taiyo Socks

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When Dan and I visited his family in New Hampshire around Christmastime, we made it a point to visit a wonderful little yarn shop in Littleton called the Yarn Garden where I picked up a skein of Noro Taiyo, not really having any other specific plans except “special socks just for meeeeee,” which is usually the plan every time I touch sock yarn of any kind.

For those of you that do not know the way of Noro yarns, you need to get yourself to an LYS (Local Yarn Shop, for the unfortunate non-knitters. We have a lot of acronyms in the knitter world.) and investigate this wonderful stuff. Noro is a Japanese yarn company, known for wildly inventive and unpredictable colorways, a thick-and-thin-slightly-splitty-and-charmingly-containing-vegetable-matter type of spinning style, unique fiber combinations, and a slightly elevated price tag. Things made with Noro yarns are often the most beautiful handknit objects in the world, and the projects that showcase the various ways that different knitters choose to highlight Noro’s beautiful color changes tend to become personal points of pride.

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Case in point, my Noro Kureyon scarf, hat, and gloves set, affectionately referred to as Phase Shift. I made these six years ago, and they are still my favorite things to wear in wintertime. Putting on your Noro hat and scarf is like sending out a beacon to other knitters because you can be sure that they will recognize Noro’s stripey glory and give you, at the very least, a knowing nod of approval. It’s like that way that people who own Jeeps always honk and wave at each other. Except sometimes we tend to stick a hand out and and grab each other’s handknit scarves and hats and sweaters and flip them inside-out. That’s when you really know you’ve found a kindred knitting spirit.

Back to these socks.

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I hemmed and hawed about what to do with this investment of a yarn for a long while, pouring over my sock books (yes, you have to have more than one), trying to think of what to do that would do justice to this crazy colorway.

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I mean, look at that turquoise! Out of nowhere. So bright against the grayed out teals and blues and buttercream.

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Stitch patterns were considered, swatches were made…even half of a sock in a beautiful Cookie A. pattern was knitted, but things were just not working out. The thick-and-thin nature of the yarn did not play well with fancy stitches, and the abrupt color changes obscured any type of vertical elements. So what to do?

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It became evident fairly quickly that plain and simple would be better, and I pulled out my dog-eared copy of Knitting Rules! by the Yarn Harlot herself, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. Her pattern for A Good, Plain Sock is definitely something that every knitter out there needs to have in their arsenal. I’ve used it many, many times before (my Southwest Anklets and Stripey Anklets, just for reference), and what’s fantastic about the pattern, or recipe, which she calls it, is that it can be custom-tailored to a person’s foot or to an unusual yarn with relative ease.

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As a person with short, wide feet and very high arches, I really appreciate this style of pattern-writing. Once you’ve gotten your numbers down for your particular weirdly-shaped foot, custom making socks that fit perfectly is a simple affair.

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It turns that that super simple and boring 2×2 ribbing and plain stockinette is the best thing to show off all of the weird beauty of this yarn.

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The weird slubs and bits of cotton and silk, the sudden shifts of thick and thin, the random stripe sizes and color changes…the boring suddenly becomes beautiful. And, I’m happy to report, that even though this yarn is only 17% wool, it splices like a champ, which is a must when you’re dealing with self-striping yarns.

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The cats got themselves involved with the photoshoot, as well. It probably didn’t help that Dan was cutting the grass and making all sorts of sounds outside that needed to be investigated.

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And then Trip needed to see if he could walk on top of the mirror, just for fun.

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This cat is a menace. He won’t stop until he makes it to the top of the ceiling fan. And then the roof.

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After the frustration of the pattern deliberations and the mis-start, I am so happy that these came out so lovely. I even have quite a bit of yarn left over, and I’m debating what to do with the leftovers. Perhaps some sort of cowl-type thing? Or something paired with a solid to emphasize all that striping even more?

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I’m afraid that if I go on Ravelry to further investigate what people have done with their Noro sock yarn leftovers, I might walk away from the Internet with several more skeins of it on the way to my house. It’s probably best to wait and enjoy these beauties by themselves for the time being.

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?