Archive for October, 2010

Switch Witch or Halloween Grinch?

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

candy junkie

So, I’ve read numerous posts and articles on how to deal with the Halloween-induced sugar craze, and haven’t weighed in because I wasn’t sure how I planned to handle it this year. It was so easy the first year, when we took the boy across the street to a neighbor’s house, he got one Reeses, ate it and went to bed. Those were the days. It didn’t take long for him to catch on to trick-or-treating, though, and last year he left no door unknocked in his quest for more candy. And of course, it’s not just one night — this is our second consecutive 3-day weekend of Halloween festivities. (Yes, part of that was our own doing, but I served healthy snacks at that one too!) At first, I was leaning towards trying the “Switch Witch” idea this year, letting the boy select 10 pieces of candy and then leave the rest out for the “Witch” to take and leave a toy. (I called it the Halloween Fairy to make it sound less scary; I’ve since heard it called the “Pumpkin Fairy” too.) He reacted angrily at first, but I kept dropping casual mentions of it. He still seemed unconvinced. And frankly, he’s rather spoiled in the toy department so I wasn’t crazy about escalating Halloween to another gift-demanding day.

While I would prefer he eat nothing but fair-trade (not Nestle) chocolates and Yummy Earth organic lollipops, the thing about Halloween is that you can’t really control what candy comes into the house.* And as I grew up in a sugar-banning household, I want to avoid creating a child who swings to the other extreme when he leaves the house. I don’t want the candy to be some mystical magical thing that he lusts after all year long. I finally started to think the best approach would be to let him eat all the candy he wants this weekend and if he made himself sick, maybe that would cure him of the cravings for a while. We talked about healthy food vs. junk food again Friday afternoon, and how if we’re going to eat sweets we have to have a healthy breakfast first. I stocked up on broccoli (his favorite vegetable — really!) and apples at the market. I don’t know if it’s the best approach, but I don’t want to turn it into yet another subject of whining, bargaining and tantrums. So we’re embracing the sugar for the weekend, and bracing for the sugar crash Monday.

Here’s a preview of what’s in store … and note, this performance is before he’d even eaten the cotton candy. (Click image to watch the video.)

Happy Halloween, y’all — whether yours is artificially sweetened or all natural. ;-)

*We’re fortunate that, aside from a little hyperactivity, we don’t have any allergy or other health issues with candies. I feel for those parents who have to be more vigorous in their monitoring of the candy haul.

Kooky Spooky Halloween Party Treats

Friday, October 29th, 2010

What do you get when you combine four 4-year-olds, Halloween costumes, and make-your-own popcorn ball Jack o’Lanterns? Sweet, sticky fun! With a small dash of chaos. ;-)

Kids Halloween Luncheon Menu

  • nuts & dried cranberries
  • “Goblins” on a Log
  • Monster (Carrot) Fingers
  • “Pumpkin” Grilled Cheese
  • local Apple Cider

It was a beautiful day, but cooperation for organized games was a little lacking … we managed the pillow case race and one round of the “pumpkin walk” before the kids ran back inside to play.

The party centerpiece — White Chocolate Seckel Pear Ghosts — doubled as party favors, and we decorated popcorn ball Jack o’Lanterns before wrapping up with the boy’s favorite Halloween show: Word World’s “Kooky Spooky Halloween” (we <3 PBS Kids!). So much fun!

Recipe: Popcorn Balls

Ingredients:

  • a large bowl of plain, air-popped popcorn (about 8 cups)
  • 1 bag mini marshmallows
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • pinch salt
  • to decorate: white chocolate candies, candy corn, gummy worms &/or licorice ropes.

Instructions: In a large saucepan, melt butter over low heat. When completely melted, stir in salt and marshmallows, stirring to coat marshmallows with butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, until marshmallows are melted into a smooth liquid. Remove from heat. Pour melted marshmallow over popcorn, stirring with nonstick spray-coated wooden spoons until thoroughly combined. Oil hands, then grab a large handful and roll into a ball. Set on wax or parchment paper and let rest.

To make Jack o’Lanterns: Melt a small piece of white chocolate bark. Provide kids each a small assortment of candy (candy corn, gummy worms, etc.), a popsicle stick and a little bowl of melted white chocolate. Have them use the popsicle stick to apply the white chocolate “glue” and attach candies.

Makes 8 balls. Wrap uneaten balls in plastic wrap, but they’re best eaten the same day you make them. Enjoy!

Happy Halloween!

Fresh from the Pumpkin Patch (and Whole Wheat Pumpkin Bread)

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Fall is my favorite time of year, especially here in Virginia where we are blessed with beautiful weather and picturesque colors this time of year. After growing up in the Pacific Northwest, with those infernal evergreen trees, the brilliant shades of fall leaves here never fail to impress me. And of course it’s not truly fall ’till we’ve ventured to the pumpkin patch. This year, with two kids in tow — and unlike her big brother’s first trip, the Foodie Bebe didn’t sleep through the whole experience. Of course, that may be because we spent the entire day at the farm… But when your farm is part working farm, part Disneyland (right down to the crazy insane lines for the hayrides and food), what else can you expect?

the great pumpkin hunt at Butlers Orchard

the great pumpkin hunt at Butler's Orchard

The past two years we’ve gone to Butler’s Orchard in Germantown, Maryland. It’s large, but activities are spaced out so it doesn’t feel quite as crazy as some of the other local pumpkin extravaganzas. It’s a 60-year-old, family-owned farm, and they actually grow things there. I have nothing against farms who turn into amusement parks if that’s what they need to do to lure people in and turn a profit, I just ask that they actually still grow something. When so many places just plop pumpkins from who knows where into a field, it’s nice to see some honest-to-goodness pumpkin vines. I don’t know if all the pumpkins were grown there (there was a remarkably high percentage of “ginormous” pumpkins, as the boy would say), but close enough for me. There’s a farm store where you can get all sorts of apples, baked goods, canning supplies and other harvest accoutrement as well. On weekends in October, there’s live music, bouncy houses, giant slides, caramel apples, barbecue, apple cider, pony rides, a corn maze …. even pedal tractors and a pumpkin coach pulled by mice (with a little help from a tractor).

A long day of play on the farm demands a hearty breakfast first, and this pumpkin loaf is a perfect start. (Made with our homemade pumpkin puree, not the carving pumpkins we got on the farm.)  I used whole wheat pastry flour to add just a smidge of healthfulness, but you can use white if you prefer.

Recipe: Whole Wheat Pumpkin Bread

  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Maple Glaze:

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • ~ 1 teaspoon water

Instructions:  In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. In the mixing bowl, beat the eggs on low speed until combined. Add pumpkin, sour cream, butter, vanilla and sugar and mix on medium low until smooth. Add dry ingredients, mixing on low until just combined. Pour batter into a lightly greased bread pan (9x5x3), level off the top, and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes before removing from pan.

To make the glaze: Whisk together powdered sugar and maple syrup, then add water until a thin consistency is achieved. (If you have maple extract, add 1/4 teaspoon.) Drizzle over the cooled loaf and let stand a few more minutes before slicing.

Makes 1 9-inch loaf. Enjoy!

whole grain pumpkin bread

How to Make Your Own Pumpkin Pureé

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Happy October! While I may spend my Septembers pretending summer isn’t over, October 1st is officially time to bring out the Halloween decorations, head to the apple orchards and pumpkin fields, and begin the fall baking season. And nothing says fall like pumpkin … bread, muffins, pie, cheesecake, there is no shortage of ways to enjoy my favorite fall flavor. While the recent canned pumpkin shortage is reportedly over, I still prefer to avoid BPA-contaminated canned foods and make my own pumpkin pureé. It’s really quite simple, and one good sized pumpkin will make enough to last through the fall. Naturally the best place to begin is at the farmers market, where you can find all sorts of unique and flavorful pie pumpkins — I’ve had good success with the Cushaw and Cinderella pumpkins pictured below. Just ask your farmer which variety he or she recommends for baking.

You can also likely find something labeled a pie or sugar pumpkin at the grocery store right now, which is where I picked up this little pie pumpkin.

To begin, use a sharp knife to cut off the stem and then halve the pumpkin.

Use a spoon to scrape out the pumpkin guts. Added bonus of baking your own pumpkin pureé? Pumpkin seeds, which you must save, wash and roast. We’ll come back to that.

Place your cleaned pumpkin halves cut side down on a parchment-paper lined rimmed baking sheet.

Bake at 400 degrees for 50 minutes to an hour, until pumpkin is soft to the touch.

Remove from the oven and let cool. Then scoop out the baked flesh, and divide it into one cup portions. Freeze what you’re not using right away, and just thaw a portion in the refrigerator whenever you’re ready to bake.

Now about those seeds. Once dry, toss them with a tablespoon of melted butter or olive oil and your favorite seasoning combination — cinnamon and sugar, cumin and chili pepper, smoked paprika, etc. Roast at 400 degrees for 7 to 9 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure they brown evenly. Remove from oven, let cool and enjoy!

What’s your favorite pumpkin treat?