‘Tis the Season

The season has finally changed here, as evidenced by this crazy cold temp we welcomed in the other morning…

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Brrrrr!

The seasonal pattern down here is very different from how it was in SoCal. In California, I’d spend most of the year longing for the sunny, warm weather of spring and summer because summers there are bearable. Fall and winter are bearable too, but beach-going in those off season months means ridiculously cold water, so you just kind of chill on the sand, and it’s usually windy, so not always the most ideal beach conditions. With the beach only about a 10-minute drive away, a dip in spring or summer is easy and comfortable; water temps are much warmer from March through August/September. But overall, the weather is easier to contend with because there’s not much severity (or at least there had not been in the first 20 years of my living there) with regard to heat or cold. Climate change (whether anyone wants to admit it or not) has brought severe heat and dryness to the area, and winters have gotten colder (it even snowed in certain parts of the Inland Valley in December 2014).

This post isn’t about weather patterns or global warming. Sorry if that’s what you came for.

Here in Florida, the opposite is true – I pine after cool weather months as they are a relief from the severe heat and humidity we face from May through September/October. I live much farther away from the beach now, so a dip in the Atlantic requires a day trip. I don’t mind that so much, but it limits us to only going on the weekends. We have plans and the room to add a pool to our backyard, so that will help us cope in the future. For the time being, we celebrate when the leaves change and the air becomes cooler and our AC unit stops kicking on regularly throughout the day.

Combine this change in temps with my current urge to nest, along with some killer specials at Michael’s, and Christmas has exploded early at our house.

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My nutcrackers are back 🙂


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I ALMOST bought a new wreath this year, but I opted to dress up the old one for a fraction of the cost. This wreath originally was all green and silver.

I know, I know…”But Antoinette, you love fall!” Yes, that’s true, but I love Christmas even more. And, Kennedy is just that age where Christmas is becoming that perfect level of magical. She’s old enough to understand what the holiday is about, and young enough to still believe in Santa Claus (a nifty tactic for controlling tantrums and other bad behavior, by the way). She’s old enough to help out with Christmas baking and decorating, and young enough that she isn’t too cool for family traditions. I’ve been waiting for her to reach this point since she was born, so I’m in mother-daughter heaven with her a bit.

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Christmas card teaser! This isn’t what went to print this year, but it is one photo we took. Super easy to do with some holiday props and a selfie stick. 

I’m also in mother-son heaven with a growing bump to show off in fall/winter rather than spring/summer. When I was pregnant before, I thought it’d be better to be pregnant during spring/summer for ease of wardrobe. Perhaps that is true in San Diego where the temps are easier to deal with, but here, the North Central Florida heat killed my spirit and motivation during my first trimester. I wouldn’t wish such a fate on anyone, even those I can’t stand. Nausea + sticky hotness is just a fucking chore, so needless to say, I’ve been LONGING for it to get cooler out here.

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23 Weeks. Fall/Winter bump > Spring/Summer bump.

I’m not nauseous anymore, but I have other things to contend with by way of sciatic nerve pain, low back pain, hip joint pain, and Braxton Hicks contractions (which are more uncomfortable than they are painful). None of them are fun, but I’ll take those over the nausea. My back might hurt, but at least I can eat Chipotle again. 🙂

A growing bump also means a growing baby with bigger kicks and rolls, and though they sometimes send me rushing to the bathroom to pee, or keep me up at night, I’m so enamored with feeling my son’s movements. We’re also in the fun phase of planning for him where we’ll start (I say “we,” but really it’s just Fabian) painting and purchase matching sheets. I got curtains on sale at Kohl’s a few weeks back and plan to have the glider rocking chair reupholstered. Decorating has kind of been my jam lately, so it’ll be fun to create a new space for a baby boy – something I haven’t done before.

The incoming holidays also mean more time that we get to spend with family, something that has always been a priority for me regardless of the time of year. As I’ve grown and changed this year, I’ve found myself clinging tighter to my family as my inner circle, basing more of my activities around my opportunities to involve them. Especially as my parents get older, it’s important to me to keep setting aside the time for them, even through the differences I experience with them (particularly, my dad). We aren’t meant to move through this life alone; my belief in God and Jesus means that they serve as my Creator and Savior, but belief in them doesn’t cancel out the need for companionship and a sense of purpose. My purpose used to be vague to me, and in many ways it is still undefined to me, but through the growth and development of my own family I’ve come to appreciate the place I have in relation to them, and the value they all hold for me. That’s probably one of the things I am most grateful for this holiday season: realizing my importance through my family.

Use Your Whole Pumpkin – Cutting and Cleaning

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Thanks to creative marketing by companies like Starbucks and Yankee Candle, I tend to only crave pumpkin scents and flavors during the latter part of the year as part of my fall tradition. Pumpkins are quite versatile – they create the perfect accessories for décor during October and November, they yield many options as a food item, and if you have a fairy godmother, they can be turned into a stylish ride to a fancy ball.

We brought home three pumpkins from the pumpkin patch a few weeks ago, and I had some fun in the kitchen this past weekend breaking them down for puree, soup, and roasted seeds.

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Cutting and Cleaning a Pumpkin

Okay, I said I had fun in the kitchen, but in actuality, prepping a pumpkin can be a lot of work. Cleaning out stringy pumpkin guts is a ritual all-too familiar to Halloween enthusiasts, and it’s just annoying to do. The texture of the inner pumpkin tends to be slimy and sticky, so be prepared. You’ll want to pull out the seeds by hand and set them aside first. Next, I’ve found using a serrated steak knife to scrape the stringy guts to be effective in the past, but if you have a pumpkin carving kit, the scraper tool works best.

Removing the tough outer layer of skin can be cumbersome, as well as time consuming. I found some tricks for making this task easier at this website. That method calls for microwaving the pumpkin, but you can also bake your pumpkin in the oven to soften the skin. It does take about an hour to do so, though, so it might be best to tackle your skin removal and meal prep on different days should you choose that method.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

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Pumpkin seeds are yet another highlight to repurposing a whole pumpkin, and thankfully, roasting them is not a difficult task as the only real ingredients needed are salt and olive oil.

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Once your seeds are extracted and free of pumpkin flesh, soak them in salt water in a cup or bowl overnight. The amount of water and salt you use will vary depending on the amount of seeds you have. You’ll want enough water to completely submerge all seeds, and you’ll want the water to be salty – this brine mixture helps flavor your seeds for roasting.

2. Drain off the salt water mixture and lay your seeds out to dry. They should be completely dry or close before you lightly dust with oil.

3. Sprinkle a light layer of olive oil onto your seeds. I like to dab my fingers in oil and then coat the seeds by hand. If the seeds are too oily, they won’t roast well. Sprinkle a light layer of salt onto seeds. Optional seasoning: garlic powder.

4. Roast for 15 minutes, or until seeds have browned.

5. Remove from oven and let cool. Seeds can be eaten whole as a snack, as a salad topping, or as a garnish for pumpkin soup!

Spicy Pumpkin Soup

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Pumpkin soup from scratch is one of my favorite things about the fall season. I can’t speak for others, but I take for granted just how versatile and delicious pumpkins are when cut down and used for foods like breads, pies, and soups. I decided to use the pumpkins we got this year for a spicy pumpkin soup. This dish was a hit in my home three years ago when I first made it.

I modified this recipe slightly from the one published at Simply Recipes.

Ingredients

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 medium yellow onions, chopped

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 teaspoons curry powder

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

Pinch ground cayenne pepper (optional)

6 cups of fresh pumpkin puree

5 cups of chicken broth (or vegetable broth for vegetarian option)

2 cups of milk

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup heavy cream

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Humble in appearance, but looks are deceiving. This soup is loaded with lots of hearty flavor!

 

Method

  1. Melt butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add spices and stir for a minute more.
  2. Add pumpkin and 5 cups of chicken broth; blend well. Bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. With the soup on low heat, add brown sugar and mix. Slowly add milk while stirring to incorporate. Add cream. Adjust seasonings to taste. If a little too spicy, add more cream to cool it down. You might want to add a teaspoon of salt.

 

Serve in individual bowls. Use roasted pumpkin seeds as optional garnish.

Pumpkin Puree

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Once your pumpkin is skinned and gutted, you can start cutting it down into smaller pieces to work with.

1. Use a large, sharpened butcher knife, and cut the pumpkin flesh into cubed pieces.

2. Heat a large pot of water. If your puree will be for a savory dish, you can salt the water for taste. I use coarse kosher salt, but plain table salt works fine. Be sure to taste the water as you salt it so that it doesn’t end up too salty.

 

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3. Add the pumpkin cubes to the pot of water and bring to a low simmer. If your water boils, turn off the heat and place a lid on the pot. We want to soften the pumpkin pieces for pureeing in the blender, but we don’t want to boil them to mush.

4. Use a large spoon to stir the pumpkin pieces and test for softness. Once they are soft to the touch with the spoon, drain the water and transfer the pieces to your blender. Save a small amount of this water to add to your blender for the puree if needed.

5. Depending on your blender’s capacity, speed, and blade type, you may or may not need to utilize some of the water from your pot to puree your pumpkin. Whichever method you choose, you’ll want to end up with a puree that is thick and creamy in texture, and can slide off of a spoon. Not too watery, but not too thick.

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I forgot to snap a picture of my puree when it was finished, (#bloggerfail) but it had the same consistency as the pureed carrot pictured.

6. Once you’ve achieved the consistency needed for your puree, you can store it in containers in the refrigerator for immediate use (1-2 days) or freezer for later use. Purees work great for baby food, soups, and smoothies, and I’m a little mad at myself for not setting some aside for a smoothie after I was finished.