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As we come to the end of this Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to share a new favorite: pumpkin pie. Not so new to most but, honestly, I’ve never liked pumpkin pie. There is something about the texture and, quite frankly, the taste, that I have never cared for. I do love pumpkin bread and pumpkin cookies, though. This year we received a sugar pumpkin in our CSA share and I had plans to make my favorite pumpkin bread recipe. My oldest saw it and declared a need for pumpkin pie, something I haven’t baked or eaten in nearly ten years.

I’ve been up a lot at night lately. Not really by choice but it is what it is right now. So, I find myself looking up recipes and knitting and sewing patterns … the things I don’t have time to mindlessly look through during the day. I looked up how to bake a sugar pumpkin and then set my sights on finding a vegan pumpkin pie recipe. We used this one. It requires no sugar other than maple syrup, it has few ingredients, and it is well spiced.

I still had one hurdle left and that was actually cutting the pumpkin in half to bake it. Have you ever started cutting a pumpkin or other large squash, sunk your knife in deep, only to have it become stuck? You stand frozen at the counter wondering how many stitches it will take to fix the horrific wound that is about to occur as you extract the knife from said squash. You ponder tossing the squash and the knife only to pretend later that you have no idea what happened to the knife … perhaps you’ll pretend it got left at the last potluck or your neighbor borrowed it and then moved.

This year, though, I had a late night (or early morning) epiphany that was nothing short of a Thanksgiving miracle, or perhaps it was the Great Pumpkin answering my wish. Do you have one of those 50-cent, red-handled pumpkin carvers that looks like it won’t last for more than one Halloween but somehow hangs on year after year … half saw, half knife is how my oldest describes it. Yeah, that thing that kicks around your kitchen drawer for 364 days of the year with seemingly no purpose. It sawed that pumpkin in half in under a minute, faster than an infomercial knife through a soda can.

The de-seeded pumpkin halves baked, covered in foil, for 1.5 hours at 375. You know it is done when it is quite soft, then let it cool and scoop out the insides and discard the shell (skin? peel?). I used my food processor to smooth out the pumpkin only because it was sitting on my counter, but I’m sure a potato masher or ricer would also work. It was not very watery at this point so I was able to just use it in the recipe, substituting 1 ¾ cups of fresh pumpkin for one can of pumpkin. I made a simple Spelt crust printed on the Bob’s Red Mill bag of Spelt flour (my go-to crust recipe as it requires no butter or rolling). I topped it with my easy maple coconut frosting (which is texturally very similar to whipped cream).

We had the leftover pie for breakfast the next morning, which should be an indication of its tastiness.

I hope you all had just the Thanksgiving you were looking for, be it with family or friends or solo!

This week I learned a big lesson: avoid food poisoning at all costs!! Below are a few tips from the Mayo Clinic on how to avoid food poisoning when cooking at home. What they don’t mention is the paranoia that sets in post-food poisoning as you try to figure out what the offending item was.

Here are steps you can take to prevent food poisoning at home:

  • Wash your hands, utensils and food surfaces often. Wash your hands well with warm, soapy water before and after handling or preparing food. Use hot, soapy water to wash the utensils, cutting board and other surfaces you use.
  • Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods. When shopping, preparing food or storing food, keep raw meat, poultry, fish and shellfish away from other foods. This prevents cross-contamination.
  • Cook foods to a safe temperature. The best way to tell if foods are cooked to a safe temperature is to use a food thermometer. You can kill harmful organisms in most foods by cooking them to the right temperature. Ground beef should be cooked to 160 F (71.1 C), while steaks and roasts should be cooked to at least 145 F (62.8 C). Pork needs to be cooked to at least 160 F (71.1C), and chicken and turkey need to be cooked to 165 F (73.9 C). Fish is generally well-cooked at 145 F (62.8 C).
  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods promptly. Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods within two hours of purchasing or preparing them. If the room temperature is above 90 F (32.2 C), refrigerate perishable foods within one hour.
  • Defrost food safely. Do not thaw foods at room temperature. The safest way to thaw foods is to defrost foods in the refrigerator or to microwave the food using the “defrost” or “50 percent power” setting. Running cold water over the food also safely thaws the food.
  • Throw it out when in doubt. If you aren’t sure if a food has been prepared, served or stored safely, discard it. Food left at room temperature too long may contain bacteria or toxins that can’t be destroyed by cooking. Don’t taste food that you’re unsure about — just throw it out. Even if it looks and smells fine, it may not be safe to eat.

What important life lessons did you learn?

This week I have been working on what I am finding to be a necessary skill: knitting in the dark (aka knitting while not looking at my hands … though I have found myself actually knitting in the dark this week). My grandma and mom taught me to knit when I was young but I didn’t really start knitting in earnest until a decade or so ago. One of the things I remember about my grandma was her ability to hold a conversation and knit a baby hat while only occasionally looking down at her hands. My knitting at the time was sloppy and uneven and my stitches were always so tight on the needle that they never slid with ease, rather they grew more and more welded to the needle with each row until finally it became an effort to even get the knitting off the needles to rip it out.

I have since become much more fluid in my knitting, and I have enjoyed  knitting everything from a parrot to Christmas stockings to baby hats, of course. This week I made a concerted effort to knit by feel and it is incredibly fun to do. Sure, I occasionally knit into the wrong part of the stitch, split the yarn, or some other correctable mistake, but it is amazing how knitting by feel allows me to focus on aspects of knitting I never have before. It reminds me of a rowing drill we used to do; rowing with our eyes closed. All eight rowers rowing with eyes closed has the potential to do great things for the togetherness of the boat (or occasionally someone gets an oar handle in the back) because you are no longer focusing with just your eyes but you are forced to use all other senses to stay together.

I have been working on some simple kid-sized (they weren’t supposed to be kid sized but even when you knit a gauge swatch sometimes patterns are just like that) fingerless mittens in a bulky weight yarn with large needles. Next, maybe a hat knit in the round with worsted.

What skill have you worked on this week?

Not so many years ago, I sold my car and used the money to buy a sewing machine. It is a fairly simple machine that I thought I would use to make pillows, curtains, and other things for the house (or apartment, at the time), along with some clothing for me. And I have used it for quite a few projects. I have made pillows, all of our curtains, I made all of our crib sheets, a skirt, some pants for a little one, bags to organize toys, and more; it is actually a longer list than I realize when I write it all down. The problem is that when I sit down to the machine, fabric in hand, needle threaded, foot on the pedal, checking to make sure I am sitting square to the machine, I feel tense. My shoulders tighten up, my blood pressure rises a hair, and I turn into the student driver of sewing. I cautiously start each project, occasionally swerve off onto areas of the fabric I shouldn’t, and, if my sewing machine had a speedometer, I would rarely make it over 25. So, I usually save my major sewing projects for when my mom visits. When my mom visits, she always asks if there is anything I would like help with and I usually drag out a sewing project because my mom is as comfortable behind the sewing machine as I am tense. She knows how to fix mistakes, she knows shortcuts, and she understand fabric. With my mom here, I know if I get stuck, make a mistake, or just get frustrated, she will help me out (or even finish up the last bit of a Halloween costume while I get dinner!).

Inexplicably, I continue to buy fabric, look at patterns, and plan sewing projects. My latest project was pajamas for one of my little ones. I had my instructions, we picked out the fabric, and then it sat there. We were in the middle of a backyard project and getting out the sewing machine kept getting put on the back burner. I thought I would get to it in the evenings but never did. So one day I decided to iron the fabric, just to have everything ready to go. After I ironed, it occurred to me that maybe I could hand sew one of the larger, straight seams … just to get the project started. I looked up “how to hand sew clothing” just to be sure I knew what I was doing, and I started working on the one seam.

After completing the one seam, I knew I was hooked. I could work on my sewing whenever I had a spare minute. I used safety pins for pinning instead of straight pins so I didn’t have to worry if one of my little ones decided to check out the sewing project. I also have always worried about losing straight pins in the rug (despite never having lost a straight pin, I always worry I will lose one and later find it stuck in a foot … perhaps a lingering fear from the time I took off my shoe to find a Fred Flintstone pin imbedded in my heel). It took me about a week to finish the pajamas without using the sewing machine and I enjoyed every minute of it. I even learned to hand stitch a hem here. Next up in the sewing queue is Halloween costumes.

What have you learned this week?

The past few weeks I have found myself down the rabbit hole of genealogy. And, oh, the learning I have done! It is amazing what information is out there with just a few clicks of the keyboard, a phone call, or a written letter (yes, snail mail!).

I have done some research before in this area and it has always been fascinating, but this time … this time I am in it deep.

My binder is full of newspaper clippings, census information, yearbook pictures … the list goes on. But what amazes me most, and what I have really learned while doing this, is that people are so willing to help and to share what information they have acquired. Genealogy is not about collecting information in a vacuum but about the sharing of information; it is about making connections, both past and present.

One interesting bit of information that I learned just yesterday … funeral homes also typically ran the ambulance service. These days I think that would be considered a conflict of interest but in the not-so-distant past, it was all part of the undertaker’s job. How did I come by this information? It all started with an ad in the newspaper for a funeral home that listed both funeral and ambulance services.

What has been holding your attention lately?

This week I have been learning about tablet weaving (or card weaving, as it is sometimes called). I have always loved the idea of weaving. I love the history of it and the beautiful textiles and artwork that can be created. Tablet weaving creates long, narrow pieces of weaving used for things, such as belts, bookmarks, trim for clothing, or straps for bags.

Tablets, or cards, are usually made of plastic, though some are cardboard. I decided to make my own out of an old deck of cards. Depending on the shape of your tablets, you can weave different patterns. Below is a description of how I made the tablets (I am using 7 cards, but you can use any number you want to get your desired width):

  1. To make my cards square I used two cards, placing one lengthwise across the other card, drew a line, and cut.
  2. Next, I used the three hole punch to put a hole in each corner of the card. I set two hole cutters, after much trial and error, so that I could quickly work through all of the cards, cutting two holes at a time without having to measure on each card.
  3. I rounded the corners of the cards so that the sharp corners do not snag the yarn.
  4. Next up is warping, or threading the yarn through the holes. I used yarn the length of my arm span, which ensured that there was enough leftover for the knot at the end holding all of the yarn together. I am using plain old dishcloth cotton (which I am hoping is not too thick) because it is inexpensive and because I had extra on hand.

Now I need to find a good place to anchor my weaving, make a shuttle, and give it a go. That will all be in Part II next week.

It seemed that weaving was everywhere this week. There were handwoven scarves at the market, a display on textiles at the library, and this post on weaving in Laos. As always, handwork is beautiful in the many forms it takes.

What did you learn this week?

P.S., I will update this post with pictures in the near future; the pictures I had ready turned out to be blurry. I will also put up last week’s post soon. It is sitting in my notebook, awaiting some further attention.

Happy National Learn to Row Day! Today USRowing and boat clubs all around the U.S. celebrate National Learn to Row Day by hosting learn-to-row clinics where anyone can sign up to row in an 8-oared rowing shell. I have rowed off and on since the late 90’s and, when I haven’t lived near water, I have at least been able to read about rowing. Below are a few books I’ve enjoyed reading along with a couple I plan to read in the future. Hope you enjoy!

Rowing to Latitude: Journeys Along the Arctic’s Edge by Jill A. Fredston

Assault on Lake Casitas by Brad Alan Lewis

The Red Rose Crew: A True Story of Women, Winning, and the Water by Daniel J. Boyne and David Halberstam

The Shell Game: Reflections on Rowing and the Pursuit of Excellence by Stephen Kiesling

The Sculler at Ease by Frank Cunningham

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