>Happy… Harvest?

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So when I was a kid, we didn’t celebrate Halloween. On October 31st, we celebrated Harvest.
Not “the harvest”, a day of thanks for the bounty from the fields, but rather just Harvest. The not-scary Halloween alternative. We would dress up in not-scary-or-evil costumes* and go to the Harvest Fest! at a local church. This involved safe, well-lit activities such as face-painting, games, and lots of candy. Sometimes we even went trick-or-treating, to celebrate Harvest. In my adolescence I went through a fairy phase, being a different type of fairy every year. My favorite was the autumn fairy, with wings made from autumnal leaves. I was Queen Esther one year. This would have been a very good costume to wear to Harvest, as it was not-scary-or-evil and also referenced the Bible. Double bonus points! We did not go to Harvest that year, though, as our Harvest was spent at my aunt and uncle’s house, east of the Cascades, where we trick-or-treated, made caramel apples, and suffered through the nastiness of candy wax lips.
 
Whatever you may or may not be celebrating today, may your day be as wonderful as those lips.

*Sadly for anatomy students, skeletons were generally deemed to fall in the scary-and/or-evil category, which struck me recently as funny, because skeletons are INSIDE ALL OF US.

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>Pumpkin Time!

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What I made yesterday: applesauce!
After I finish writing this, I’m going to pick up some glittery silver pipe cleaners for my costume. And I may make this candy corn fudge, if time allows. When the elementary school up the street let out today, all the kids went haphazardly parading by in their adorable costumes. Life is good today.
Here are two pumpkiny recipes I’ve made this week. Except for the honey, these are vegan. Either one would be good with the addition of pumpkin seeds as well.
Happy Halloween!

Pumpkin Molasses Granola 
The key to good granola, in my opinion, requires two things: a long cooking time to make the oats nice and toasty, and big chunks. Even if you aren’t a “big chunks” person, please try the long cooking time. You just may find that anemic, undercooked granola is a thing of your past. Hooray!
1/3 c oil
1/6 c honey
1/6 c molasses
1/2 c pumpkin puree
4 c oats
1/2 c slivered almonds
1/2 c chopped pecans
1/2 c wheat germ
1/4 t each: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and cardamom

Preheat the oven to 300˚. Grease a large jelly roll pan, or line it with parchment paper.
Measure oil into a medium bowl. In the same 1/3 c measuring cup, fill it halfway with the honey, then top it off with the molasses. (The oil left in the cup allows the viscous ingredients to slide right out.) Whisk in the pumpkin until smooth
In a separate bowl mix together the dry ingredients. Pour the oil mixture over and stir to combine well. (Clean hands are the perfect mixing tools for this.) Spread evenly on the prepared sheet, and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. If you like big chunks of granola, use a spatula to carefully turn it over. If you like “crumblier” granola, stir it up well with a spatula. Return it to the oven and bake for 15 more minutes. 
Let it cool completely. If desired, stir in the dried cranberries. Put in an airtight container. Makes about 6 cups. 

Pumpkin Pasta Salad
If Waldo had spatula, it would totally be this one.
1 lb penne or ziti pasta
salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c prepared salsa
2/3 c pumpkin puree
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 t cumin
1/2 t black pepper
1/4 c olive oil
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1/2 c halved and thinly sliced carrots
Bring a large pot of water, with the garlic and a generous portion of salt added, to a boil. (It should taste as salty as sea water.) 
While the water is heating, combine all the other ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. 
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions until cooked but still slightly firm. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta and add it to the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Taste and add more salt, pepper, vinegar, or whatever else, as needed. 
To make this a little more rich, you could let it cool slightly and then add some salty  crumbled cheese like Cotija, or some shaved Parmesan. You could also take this in a sweet-salty direction by added some raisins. 
Makes a big bowlful. Serve warm, cold, or at room temperature. Keeps well in the fridge. Great for potlucks.

>Weekend Eats

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 This weekend I was DETERMINED to make Smitten Kitchen’s mushroom lasagna. I’d even bought the pound-and-half of mushrooms and they were in my fridge, probably creating more mushrooms. Can mushrooms do that? 
Two things that made me think of:
     1. Benoit Mandelbrot has died. He is responsible for, of course, the Mandelbrot set, and for fractals. Fractals are incredible, and the videos in that link will give you a nice mind-break. Also, there’s this fractal-broccoli that I never buy when I see it. What’s wrong with me? Mathematical gorgeousness + cruciferous vegetables = I should be all over that.
     2. The little girl I babysit thinks mushrooms are icky, so when we find some in her yard she stomps on them. One day she was really going to town on all the offending fungi (band name!) with a stick. I looked over and noticed a greenish-yellow dust floating up from her target. I told her to stop (just in case she inhaled the spores of whatever-the-crap-that was) but wasn’t too concerned. Upon hearing this anecdote, my mother told us about a time in her youth at Girl Scout camp, when some others scouts had eaten some mushrooms and become so ill they had to be taken to the hospital. This sounds awful when I write it out, but it struck me as really funny too. This is probably related to all the other “at Girl Scout camp” stories my mom has. Like losing a chicken underground.

 So, I made the lasagna, with a few minor changes. When I was assembling, I alternated the direction of the noodles for each layer, and it seemed to help it hold together quite well. I used 2% milk instead of whole. I didn’t use the extra butter to brown the mushrooms, just oil. I threw some spinach leaves in with the mushrooms. And I cut this into 12 lovely pieces and froze most of them for future lunches. 
This is a very calm and mild lasagna. The most forward flavor, besides the mushrooms, is the garlic. When I make this again, which I will, I will add some rosemary to the mushrooms while they soften, and perhaps layer in some fresh basil leaves. I think a tiny basil leaf baked on the top of each portion would pretty this up, too.
You may be wondering about the lead photo. That, my friend, is a picture of Mint Chip Mini Cookie-Cakes. With sprinkles. Oh yes. This is a cookie dough that bakes up quite soft, so I put balls of the dough into mini-cupcake papers for a nice cookie bite that’s almost like a brownie. The mint chips (Guittard brand) were on sale recently, and who can resist chocolate chips on sale? People stronger than I, that’s who. If you’re not a mint fan, you could certainly substitute some other sort of chip (peanut butter, butterscotch, vanilla, or regular chocolate chip).

Mint Chip Chocolate Cookie-Cakes
1 c. butter, room temp
1 c. brown sugar
2 lg. eggs, room temp (stick them in a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes)
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
12 oz. mint chips, divided in half

Cream together the butter and brown sugar until fluffy, about 6 minutes, scraping the bowl and beater once or twice throughout. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the cocoa powder.

In a seperate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add 1/4 c. at a time to the butter mixture, scraping the bowl and beater as needed, until smooth. Add half of the mint chips and turn the mixer up to high. This will not only mix in the chips, but chop them up a little, too, so the mint flavor is streaked throughout the dough. (Alternatively, you can roughly chop up half the chips ahead of time, then just mix them in all together.) Turn the mixer back down to low and stir in the rest of the chips.

Cover the dough and chill it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 days.

Heat the oven to 350˚. Scoop out balls of dough and use two spoons or your clean hands to roll them into approximately 1 1/2″ balls. Put the mini-cupcake papers in the mini-cupcake tins, and put a dough ball in each papers. (You could also just bake the cookies on a cookie sheet. Grease it first, and reduce cooking time to about 12 minutes.)

Bake for 15 minutes. If you want to put sprinkles on, shake them on about halfway through baking.

Put on a rack to cool. Makes about 32.

>Curried Fall-dorf Salad

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Okay, maybe the name needs work. 
Waldorf Salad is apples, celery, onions, and walnuts with a mayo or yogurt dressing. It comes together quickly and can be adapted to your pleasure. (Say that last part in a sultry voice, will ya? Thanks.) 
 1 apple, diced (go for something tart, like Granny Smith)
1/2 plum, diced
1/8 red onion, minced (about 1/8 c)
3/4 c chopped romaine lettuce
1/4 c pecans, toasted and chopped
4 T mayo or plain yogurt
dash curry powder
Mix all together. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. If you like a little extra acid, squeeze some lemon over. If you have time, let the salad sit for a while, if not to marry the flavors, at least to let them speed-date. 
When you’re making a nice little salad like this for yourself, the size that you cut the food into is up to you — just think about how you like things to feel in your mouth — really big chunks or smaller pieces that glom together and give you all the flavors in each bite? Then wield your knife accordingly.
Since this is an autumnal salad, here are some photos from my fall.
Painted pumpkin, from my work.
 Artificially-lit natural items are so cool.
I know it’s late, but Happy Fall! And (also late) Happy Thanksgiving to the Canadians!

>Transitions

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Right now in Seattle it’s been glorious. The sun has been present most of the last few days, the clouds are puffy and reveal a bright blue behind them, and the temperatures have nearly reached the seventies. The trees are putting on crimson robes and the night air has a bite to it. This time of year, the (hopefully) long and lazy to grey days, pulls me in two food directions. In one direction is the overflowing cornucopia of harvest, the sweet fruits and vegetables that hardly need cooking or adornment. In the other direction is the food of Carbohydrates and Fats. I think my inner European awakens, notices the slight chill, and demands to put on a “winter layer”. 
In order to appease this craving, today I made up a cookie recipe I’ve dubbed Scandinavian Shortbread. Shortbread is a cookie made with the typical sugar, butter, and flour, but without any leaveners like baking soda or powder and typically also without egg. Shortbread at it’s best is crunchy at the edges, tender in the middle, and slightly crumbly throughout. This shortbread has flavors of anise, cardamom, and honey. There’s also a nice grain flavor from the whole wheat and rye flours.

Scandinavian Shortbread


1/3 c sugar
2 T honey
2/3 c unsalted butter, softened
1/2 t anise seeds
1/3 t ground cardamom
1 c all purpose flour
1/3 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 c rye flour
1/2 t salt
Preheat the oven to 350˚. In a bowl, cream together the sugar, honey, and butter until fluffy and smooth, about five minutes with an electric mixer, scraping the bowl every few minutes. Beat in the spices, about 1 minutes. Add the flours gradually and mix the dough until smooth and uniform, a minute or two more.
Using a cookie scoop or two spoons, scoop 1″ diameter balls onto a parchment-lined or greased cookie sheet. Use a fork to make cross-hatch marks on each ball, pressing down slightly as you do so. Bake for 12-14 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through, until golden brown. Let cool on the sheet.
Makes about 24. Keep in a sealed container up to two weeks.



Accompaniment: Eat these with a jar of lingonberry jam in an IKEA parking lot, or with a cup of chamomile tea in the evening.