Monthly Archives: November 2012

Knits for Nerds

Project materials – who knew Vanna had her own yarn line?

Our local library is a favorite weekly stomping ground of my family. My kids love to go to the children’s area to play with puzzles and games, and to pick out some books and movies. Meanwhile, Mom and Dad flip a coin over who is first to actually supervise this fiasco versus who gets first dibs to browse the rest of the library. My favorite area lately is new arrivals, because it’s a mishmash of all sorts of new books.  This week I came across the book “Knits for Nerds,” by Toni Carr. It features 30 sci-fi, comic book, and fantasy projects. Even though I don’t knit, I thought it’d just be fun to flip through it at home, so I tossed it in our tote bag.

That night I paged through the book and enjoyed looking at all of the pictures of the various sci-fi, comic, and fantasy knitting projects. Then I came across the iconic Doctor Who scarf, and I thought, gee, that can’t be too hard to make, can it? Maybe I should just figure out this knitting thing and this can be my very first project. Then I can always level up to making all sorts of cool stuff for the kids! AND I’m in the midst of getting caught up with the new Doctor Who series (only half way there), so it surely must be fate telling me to get my knit on. Maybe I can unite the two hobbies and do my knitting while actually watching the Doctor Who series at the same time, only that would  probably require some level of actual skill.

Now, I’ve sewed some buttons and patches here and there, but knitting!? I’ve never given it a moment’s thought. Until now. I called my only knitting resource I could think of, my mother-in-law, and picked her brain the best I could while simultaneously watching two screaming kids. According to her, scarves are considered “kids’ stuff” in the world of knitting projects (I don’t think she realizes the length of this particular scarf!), and it uses the garter stitch, which is also said to be easy for beginners. So now my mother-in-law is giddy as a school girl to teach me how to knit, and we are scheduling our knitting time during our time together at Thanksgiving, when conveniently, the whole family will also be around to promptly ridicule me. I can see it now…. “how ’bout an afghan to keep your legs warm,”  and “can I get you some Werther’s Original Hard Candy?”  between choruses of Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. Yeah, wish me luck.

Real Pumpkin Pie

Every few years, I’ll bake a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. It’s not yet a tradition, but it may quickly become one. This year, I had the idea of baking one clearly in my sights, so when I stumbled upon a beautiful display of “baking” pumpkins this past weekend at my local farmer’s market, my interest piqued. Immediately, I imagined how awesome it would be to make my own pie from scratch with fresh pumpkins instead of the canned stuff. Not that I have anything against the canned stuff. I loved my previous pumpkin pies, but I’m sure I’ve never had fresh pumpkin pie from scratch, and I imagine few other people have. As soon as the canned stuff became available in grocery stores, that was probably the beginning of the end for fresh pumpkin pies. Add to that the convenience of premixed pumpkin pie spices, and it makes you wonder what did the old-school fresh pumpkin pies taste like? So, I inquired at the pumpkin stand, and the owner was not only pleasant, but contagiously excited about using fresh pumpkin. It makes sense, since she owns a pumpkin stand.  She made roasting the pumpkins sound as easy as pie (you saw that one coming, right?), which was all that was needed to seal the deal.  Her recommendation was to use a  cheese pumpkin, and of course, I had to ask why it was called that (it’s because it looks like a wheel of cheese, duh).  It’s a bit earlier than Thanksgiving, but waiting longer was not an option for my obsessive self.  Now, please keep in mind that I am using a new recipe, have literally no real baking skills, and have never roasted a pumpkin before, so the odds are favoring disaster. Nevertheless, I must try.

Roasting the Pumpkin

I preheated the oven to 350 degrees, removed the stem by carving it out with a knife (I had tried knocking it off  with a rolling pin but it broke near the base – totally worth the try, though), sliced it horizontally, and placed it on a jelly roll pan to roast 90 minutes. Fortunately, I chose a pan with a lipped edge, because the pumpkin oozed a LOT of water. When we pulled it out of the oven, the outer skin gave under pressure just like it was supposed to, so we knew it was done roasting. We let it sit for approximately one half-hour (feel free to scald your fingertips every few minutes like I did if you are too impatient to wait).  We used an ice cream scoop to remove the pumpkin, which worked out great because we didn’t have to fuss with removing the peel.  Then we blended the fresh pumpkin until it was smooth, strained the excess water, and refrigerated the fresh pumpkin puree overnight so it would be ready to make the actual pie the next day.

Image

On a side note, the pumpkin stand owner assured me that the puree freezes well, so I could have bought and roasted two pumpkins at the same time and froze one batch until Thanksgiving. I probably should have done that – oh well, another lesson learned.

Recipe

I chose a Cooks Illustrated Pumpkin Pie recipe for the filling and opted for a Pillsbury pre-made shell instead of making my own to save time. It was a tough call, because I originally wanted to make the pie entirely from scratch, but my available time for this was minimal and I can always upgrade to a homemade shell next time.

Image

The pie filling was comprised of two cups pumpkin puree and one cup dark brown sugar, as well as the spices (ground cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and salt). I opted to use individual spices, but you can purchase premixed pie spices in one container to make it simple. Really, I don’t think it matters what recipe you use. Several recipes that I found list the fresh or canned pumpkin in equal amounts on the ingredient list, so I would just try your favorite recipe and swap out equal parts canned pumpkin with the fresh stuff.

Results

All in all, this ended up being a great baking project. Working with pumpkins is always fun and puts you into the spirit of the holidays. As a bonus, the whole house smelled great while the pumpkin was roasting, and then again when we baked the pie. My wife and I were very happy with the finished product. My picky kids wouldn’t touch it, and I forgot to get cool whip, so it was a lost cause. The pie was much lighter and fluffier than those made using canned pie recipes, which seem awfully heavy in comparison. The ready-to-go pie shell tasted great which will surely dampen motivation to make my own on future attempts. All things considered, I would declare my fresh pumpkin pie project a success! Sure, roasting, blending, and straining the pumpkin is time consuming compared to the convenience of using canned, so in a pinch, the latter would be a better option. However, if you do have the time, give fresh pumpkin a try. We’re happy converts with a new Thanksgiving family tradition.

Piping Hot Pumpkin Pie

Rant: Fruit Stickers

I always like to keep fresh fruit displayed on the counter. Not only does it promote healthy eating habits, but it looks great, too. As I was passing by our fruit bowl today, I couldn’t resist stopping to peel off all of those unsightly stickers, and while doing this I began to wonder how many other people do the same thing? Some companies label fruit with cute logos or sayings, trying a bit harder to look appealing, but the majority are just downright ugly. Considering the long history of fruit, stickers are a brand new addition. Fruit art, on the other hand, has been around for ages. And with so many masterpieces out there in the world, how often do you see stickers? I never have. It makes me wonder if Van Gogh or Picasso would have taken the time to remove all stickers from their fruit before painting their masterpieces?  Certainly they would have. At this point I’ve probably put entirely too much time into such a small thing as fruit stickers, but it’s a simple, mindless chore that is so easy to do, while at the same time being impossibly satisfying. Now if I only had the motivation to take out my paint set…