Monday, October 31, 2011

All About Pumpkin: Fun for Kids & Adults!

Well, kids, October is wrapping up, which also means our pumpkin-themed month is coming to an end. In the spirit of today being Halloween, I'll cover a couple uses for hollowing out a pumpkin.
Of course there is your normal Jack O' Lantern, which is a well held tradition for families. Did you know the American tradition actually comes from Ireland? There, they used to carve out & decorate turnips & potatoes. But when the Irish came to America, they found that the native pumpkin was easier to use. A few of my friends made Jack O' Lanterns this year. Aren't they cute?

But being the progressive adult that I am, I did not. Instead, I made a super-adult-ish pumpkin air freshener. I guess this is where I admit that, for one, there's not much of a difference, mine is just more "adultish." And secondly, I once again took inspiration from Care 2, who in turn stole it from Martha Stewart. But all is fair in love and blogging.

Just like every other pumpkin carving scenario, you'll pick out a pumpkin, cut off the top, and scoop out the guts. My husband really enjoyed the last part. Be sure to save those seeds, we'll get to those later.
I'm not sure if he thoroughly enjoys dismembering pumpkins or just wanted an excuse not to do homework.

End result.
After you get all the yucky stuff done, like most Jack O' Lanterns, you'll pick out a design, and sketch the design onto the pumpkin. The easiest way I found was to print out the design, pin it to the pumpkin & poke holes along the lines. We don't have the fancy-schmancy carving tool kit, so I used an ice pick.

Then you will start cutting. This has been a low-budget project since the beginning, so we used a few knives that we have at home.

I was not expecting it to go well, but it looked great. And while the husband was cutting in a few extra diamonds, I started on the one part that makes this different than a regular Jack O' Lantern: the spices. Basically, you'll want to rub some of your favorite fall spices into the inside of the topper. I chose some cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves. If you want vanilla,  do not use extract, just get some vanilla beans.

After that is all said and done, you're finished. Stick a candle in the pumpkin, light it up and turn off the lights.

Not only do you have a centerpiece for your autumn decor, but the candle & spices will fill your home with the aroma of autumn. Well, mine smells more like Christmas now, but you get the point.

See the spices?
Just because I'm so proud of my carving, I'm throwing in another photo. I should mention that before you carve, you'll want to wash your pumpkin with bleach &  hot water to kill outside germs. I unfortunately did not and my pumpkin started rotting within a week.
Bam! But now it's rotting :(
So, after you get your air freshener set up, you can now tend to the seeds. Previously, I have covered the nutritional goodness of pumpkin seeds. And many of us know the best way to eat them is roasted.
You certainly don't want to eat them like this.
So (obviously) you will want to clean the seeds first. I just used our strainer and gently hand washed the seeds. While that is going, melt down a tablespoon of butter, set your oven to 200 degrees, and prepare a cookie sheet with some foil.

Then you will spread the seeds onto the cookie sheet while pouring the butter over the seeds. The secret is to keep the seeds from over lapping. We added a little garlic salt, then stirred/spread the seeds out a little more before popping them in the oven.

I have to be honest, I really didn't record a time on these, we just kept a close eye and stirred around occasionally. It was a good 10 minutes or more though. You'll want to take them out after they are nice and golden brown. Once ready, take them out, let them cool, and enjoy.
Ready for Om Nom Nom-ing
I should also add when your Halloween is over and your pumpkins starts to rot (like mine), be sure to throw it in the compost pile. Mixed in with the fallen leaves in your yard, you'll have a great compost for your garden next year.

So I guess that's it, that ends our pumpkin-themed month. It's bittersweet. While I'm ready to cover other topics, I really enjoyed sharing my love for pumpkin. I hope some of you are now inspired to include a little pumpkin in your life.

And if you've like the month-long theme, never fear, I have scheduled themes for the rest of the year. Next month, I'll cover how to prepare your home for winter. It will not only help the environment, but also your wallet. See you all next week.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

All About Pumpkin: Pumpkin Body Butter

For years, I've touted how good pumpkin is for you. Who knew it's also great for your skin?!
In case you missed here, here's why you may soon want to try the recipe I'm about to share. But I'm about to share a great, simple recipe for a pumpkin body butter! All you will need is:

1/2 c pumpkin puree
1/2 c coconut milk
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon.

You simply mix the ingredients together. Then apply it to the skin, wait 10 minutes, rinse & dry. This recipe not only offers a great smell, but will give your skin moisture, a boost of vitamins and provide an antibacterial treatment. I loved this body butter and so did my friend, Roxy!

Weird angle, I know.
Apparently you can also shave with it!
I hope you can enjoy these great uses for pumpkin, especially with our pumpkin theme coming to a close. Tune in next week for my last few tips to enjoy pumpkin in your home!

Monday, October 24, 2011

All About Pumpkin: Pumpkin Facial Scrub

Greetings blog-ett-ers! Let's jump back in to the great uses of the amazing gourd we call pumpkin. Today, I'm going to show you two ways to utilize the vitamins in pumpkin to help your skin. It's also a good excuse to spoil yourself with some left over pumpkin puree. I should admit that I stole both of these ideas from Care2 's 11 Uses For Pumpkin.

First let's cover how pumpkin can benefit your skin. As mentioned when I started this pumpkin venture, pumpkin is chock-full of "good stuff." Below is a nutritional list of what's in pumpkin, and what it means for your skin.

Vitamin C: antioxidant that increases production of collagen, a component in cell growth and repair in your skin
Vitamin E: antioxidant that protects and repairs your skin
Vitamin A: another antioxidant that helps your immune system and create/maintain epithelial cells
Zinc: helps repair cells throughout your body, may also help prevent acne, dandruff & diaper rash
Alpha Carotene: antioxidant; used to make Vitamin A, may slow the aging process
Beta Carotene: antioxidant; also used to make vitamin A, help fight against UV light-caused skin aging
Potassium: increases cell production; without it, skin becomes dry
Lutein: another carotene/ antioxidant; it can increase skin hydration, elasticity and skin lipid content

So now that you know how pumpkin helps your skin, let's see how you can use it! How about a nice pumpkin honey exfoliate? All of these ingredients have great nutritional value for your skin, especially if organic. For it, you'll need :

1 tsp of brewed green tea
2 tsp of pineapple puree
4 Tbs of pumpkin puree
1 Tbs of honey
2 tsp aloe vera gel
1/2 tsp jojoba oil
6 tsp of yellow cornmeal

Once you have the ingredients, it's a pretty simple recipe, just mix all the said ingredients together. You'll eventually get a mixture that looks like a bona fide facial scrub!
As with any exfoliate, apply a small dab to the forehead, cheeks & chin. Rub the mixture on the skin in a circular motion. Wash off, dry face and apply moisturizer (I will get to that in a moment).
Yep, hair is still purple.
Unfortunately, I did not have enough cornmeal at first (don't worry, I upped it in the recipe), so hopefully your result will look better than mine.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Musings Extra: Fort Massac Encampment

Hello again blogoshere, I have an extra treat for you this week that finally covers my local community! Don't worry, we'll get back to the pumpkin uses next Monday. I just wanted to share how much fun I had last weekend at the Fort Massac Encampment!

First, a bit of a background. Fort Massac is a historical site just across the river from where I live. As reported by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the area was theoretically used before but was first established when, "the French built Fort De L’Ascension on the site in 1757, during the French and Indian War." It was later rebuilt and named Massiac, in honor of the French Minister of Colonial Affairs.

The French later abandoned the location, and while the British captured it, they never did anything with it. Americans easily took over the territory of Illinois during the Revolutionary war. The IDNR continues to follow the site's history, saying the fort was rebuilt in 1794. The fort has had it's up's and downs of being destroyed, then rebuilt, only to be abandoned. It was not until 1908 that Fort Massac and the land around it became Illinois' first state park.

With that little history lesson, every year, the site is the center of the Fort Massac Encampment. During that time, groups come out to re-create the atmosphere of the late 1700s'. While some camp out and stay for days, most of the public comes during a weekend in October. It's said that the encampment brings in more than 80,000 people a year!
She's making lace!

So naturally, we went with one of my good friends & her family. We had so much fun! There was traditional root beer, buffalo chili, guys in kilts, and lots of fun apothecary stuff! I was even able to pick up a knitting pattern (and lesson) too, but that's for a later day.

Another huge perk is that I also found wool spinners! There's not a reason to now, but one day I want to be able to spin and knit with my own yarn. Huge pipe dream, I know, but hey. So it was great talking to these ladies and learning more about what kind of wheels they use, how they wash the wool, etc.
So all in all, it was a great little morning venture. We'll go back to the pumpkin schedule on Monday. I'll leave you know with an adorable picture of my friend's kids.
What's cuter than this? Nothing, that's what.

Monday, October 17, 2011

All About Pumpkin: For Pets

Hello lovelies! It's another Monday in October, so that means a new way you can take advantage of the great uses of pumpkin! This week, we will cover how pumpkin can help our beloved canine friends.

First, yet another introduction to our dog, Katusmi. We call her our sweet & sour patch kid.
She has properly taken over the city
If you couldn't tell from my previous posts, we love and spoil our little Katsumi. She is a Shiba Inu, an ancient Japanese breed that was almost  killed off during World War II. While she is the main source of my frustration at home, she is our pride & joy. Our little puppy is now almost two! I still remember when we picked her up from a farm near my hometown. 
The first photo with our puppy. She was 2 months old.
Our our cat and dog are practically our children; and we spoil them, whether it's healthier (and more expensive food), lots of photos, even home-made dog biscuits. With that being said, we're always looking for new ways to pamper our pets.

Recently, little Katsumi started having tummy troubles. She acted like her normal self, but there seemed to be two extremes when she went to the bathroom. Since I've started looking into dog care, I've read in several articles that pumpkin can always help a disgruntled tummy (for dogs and humans!) This article from Blue Star Products credits pumpkin as a big source of fiber and a high water content. So, a little bit of pumpkin puree can help diarrhea and constipation! That same article also says pumpkin seeds can help eliminate parasites for dogs and humans too!

"Whatcha' Doin'?"
So naturally, we tried it. First, I cooked up a bland diet*. A day of fasting (but continual intake of water) followed by a bland diet is said to calm the angriest of tummies while providing the nutrients and fiber that our canine friends need. So I boiled one skinless chicken breast, chopped it up, and mixed with one cup of cooked rice, and a few teaspoons of puree pumpkin (do not use pumpkin pie filling). That mixture lasted us a few days.

Several sources also said that after fasting for a day, you should feed only small portions to gently get the digestive system back to work.

I have to say, throughout this entire process, Katsumi anxiously awaited, as if she knew all of my work was for her! Then, there came the time to feed.
Looking back on it, she was probably starving after the day of fasting. But something tells me the smell of chicken and pumpkin probably caught her nose.
Our puppy has such good table manners
And while those ingredients together may not sound appealing to you, she loved it! And it seemed to help, and her system eventually got back on track. For the next few days with this diet, she whined while sitting next to the microwave as I heated up the food each time.
"Om nom nom nom..."
It turns out pumpkin is good for cats too! We have not tried giving Cricket pumpkin puree yet, though we may one day. I have to say, it is a heartwarming experience when you cook for your pet. As when I baked the home made dog biscuits, it felt weird at first. For some reason it's ingrained in my head that pets eat food pellets (how wrong and unnatural is that?!). But now, if we ever win the lottery, I would like to transfer both pets to a raw food pet diet. Too expensive now though... and time consuming. For now, our pets can thrive on their grain-free, by-product free food.

So pumpkin is the soother for upset tummies in animal and man. And yet, there are even more ways to use pumpkin puree! If you tune in next week same Muz time, same Muz channel, we'll cover how pumpkin can help your skin. See you then!

Oh and if you'd like more information regarding fasting & bland diets, look below:
*: Bland diet should only be tried if a)you see/speak with your vet first, b) your dog is 7 weeks or older, c) your dog is not acting abnormally.

Sources about 24 hour fasting and home remedies: WebMd: For Dogs, Well Vet, PetMd.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

All About Pumpkins: Pumpkin Pecan Pie

Every October, I try to find new, great ways to enjoy pumpkin. In case you're wondering why you should try the delicious gourd, I covered that too!

I'd like to introduce you to a sweet, sweet pumpkin and pecan pie. I developed it from my chocolate pecan pie (that's another recipe for later), so it's super easy! Here's what you will need for this hybrid of thanksgiving desserts.
The knife marks were me checking on it

- 3 eggs
- 1 c of dark corn syrup
- 1/2 c of sugar
- 4 Tbs of butter (melted or warmed)
- 1 can of pumpkin puree
- 1 tsp of vanilla
- 1 tsp of cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp of nutmeg
- 1 c of chopped pecan
- 1 pie shell (I used Pillsburry's pre-made) 

While pre-heating the oven to 350, whisk the eggs, syrup, sugar, butter, pumpkin, cinnamon & nutmeg together. If you are looking for the perfect crust, I just laid my awesome recycled foil around the top edge of the crust.

But enough about the tin foil, let's get back to the pie! After you lay down the crust, dump and spread out the chopped pecans on the bottom of the crust. After that comes my favorite part, pouring the mix onto the crust, over the nuts.
Had to show off my husbands photo skills
Simply put the pie in the oven, and let it bake! Let it sit in the oven for 45 minutes before you take it out, take off the foil around the crust, and then put it back in the over for 15 minutes. And ta daa...
And it was a great dessert with some awesome twice baked penne I made the other night! I would say it's not as yummy as my chocolate pecan pie, but it is a fall staple.

And if you are 100% certain that you do not want to cook with pumpkin, keep reading. I also cover a new way to you can use this amazing gourd.

Monday, October 10, 2011

All About Pumpkins: Surprise Chowder

Salutations, blogosphere! In case you missed it, we will be covering the benefits of pumpkin throughout the month of of October. So without further a due, let's go ahead and dive into this week's feature: a few ways to eat pumpkin.

When you think of pumpkin, I'm sure a traditional thanksgiving pumpkin pie is the first thing that comes to mind. But the gourd offers much more diversity than that: there's pumpkin bread, pumpkin chili, pumpkin soup, pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin cheese cake, pumpkin ice cream, the list goes on and on, my friend.

Just to give you an idea of how you can use more pumpkin in your cooking (and have it taste good), I cooked up two delicious recipes with pumpkin.

First, there's my pumpkin & corn chowder. While my recipe includes a few more things, it was inspired by this recipe from Southern Living.

First you will need:

- 2 Tbs of butter or margarine
- 1 small, yellow onion minced
- 10 oz of whole kernel corn
- 16 oz of canned pumpkin
- 2 cups of water
- 2 chicken bouillon cubes
- 2 Tbs sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp of salt
- 1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp of nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp of ground pepper
- 2 c of Half & Half

I don't have a name for it yet, but the chowder is surprisingly delicious; and the taste of pumpkin is not overwhelming. It is a good overall taste of fall, especially when paired with a grilled cheese sandwich!

So here's what you do: first, melt the butter into your soup pan (you will only need that pan throughout this recipe). Then saute the minced onion before adding the corn and pumpkin. You'll want to stir that a bit before the next step.

After that it all nicely mixed,  start pouring in the water, cubes, and spices. After that is all in, continue to stir and heat until the mixture is boiling.
Double, double, toil and trouble...
When you get to the boiling point, simmer and add the cream. You will still need to stir it while the soup heats up, but do not let it boil!

Your finished product should be a nice, smooth, velvety soup with some random, delicious corn bits. I've made this several times now & every audience has loved it so far!

Monday, October 3, 2011

October: Welcome in the Pumpkin!

Hello again, friends. I'm just pumping out the blog entries for you this week! Speaking of pumping, for the rest of the month, we are going to cover the amazing gourd we like to call the pumpkin!
One of our favorite fall activities: Tanners (back in 2008, yikes!)
But let me be more specific. Did you know there nearly a dozen different kinds of pumpkin? With that being said, a pumpkin you would used for a jack-o-lantern is not the same you would use for cooking. The pumpkin that is used for cooking is much smaller and called either a sugar, or pie pumpkin.

Edit: Pie Pumpkin from 2013: less seeds, more flesh

 It's also the kind of pumpkin that is pureed and canned. And speaking of canned pumpkin, the biggest source of canned pumpkin is nowhere else than central Illinois! According to the University of Illinois, 496 million pounds of pumpkin was produced in Illinois in 2008!

Baby Pumkpins!
So what's all the hype about pumpkin? Well, let me be the first to tell you, pumpkin is much more useful than for a thanksgiving pie. First off, let's cover all the great things a bit of pumpkin can do for your diet. 

Not only is pumpkin low in fat and calories, it's a great source of fiber, vitamin C, E, and B5, potassium, and magnesium. It also has alpha-carotene (studies show it could extend your life) and beta-carotene (a great anti-oxidant).

And that's not all. Even the seeds are healthy for you! Pumpkin seeds can promote prostate and bladder health. Seeds also contain L-tryptophan, a compound naturally effective against depression. Pumpkin seeds are loaded with zinc, copper, Omega 3, vitamin K and are an anti-inflammatory.

Did you know half a cup of pumpkin seeds contains 92% of your daily value of magnesium? There are also reports showing that pumpkin seeds can lower cholesterol.
Photos taken from the local Farmer's Market

Not to mention, pumpkins taste great and are an awesome secret ingredient to dishes outside of that traditional pie. 

Throughout the month of October, we are going to cover just a few ways you can use a little more pumpkin in your life. 

Thanks to the great folks at Care2 , I have plenty of ideas to try out! 

Be sure to check in every week to see new, unexpected ways to use pumpkin.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hello October!

Man, how about this, two blogs in one week! But this is a very special blog, for today is the first of October! Now, this month means a lot to me for several reasons. First off, my husband and I celebrate our wedding anniversary on October 11th!

This year will be our second year anniversary!

And I guess this is the one time I get to gush about my marriage. We met the night of move - in day during our first semester of college (August of 05'). After that, we kept bumping into each other and soon became attached at the hip. I slowly fell in love with the man of my dreams while discussing political /philosophical /religious banter over coffee and cheesecake at a campus restaurant. And ever since then, we've worked together through thick and thin. I count my blessings every day that I was lucky enough to find my soulmate so quickly.

But enough of that mushy stuff. There are other reasons to love October. It's also prime autumn season! Fall is such a beautiful time of colors, temperate weather, and about every plant or bug that annoys me dies! Ticks, pollen, mosquitoes, they are all gone! I know that may sound harsh, but every spring and throughout most of the summer, I deal with horrible allergies from tree pollen and various bug bites. So I gladly welcome the first frost every year. Plus, chilly weather is the perfect time to cuddle under a blanket next to the fireplace and read a book while enjoying a nice hot cup of coacoa.

But another reason why I love this month is because October is noted as Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And both causes are near and dear to my heart.

I have mentioned my adoration for Susan G. Komen for the Cure before on my blog. While I am not close to a breast cancer survivor, Komen's achievements have done so much for women in the medical field and out in the world. At one point in time, breast cancer was as misunderstood as AIDS was in the 90's. Founder Nancy Brinker notes that people would cross the street just to avoid contact with her sister, Susan G. Komen, and her "disease". Over the years, Komen has provided corrective campaign about breast cancer. And with all the money the organization has raised, depending on the kind of breast cancer and when it is diagnosed, it can be cured. But most of all, it has empowered women: whether it's through talking to their doctors about a taboo body part, being a proud survivor, or even helping other women by whatever needs possible.

But let's not forget Domestic Violence Awareness. It has taken me years to get to the point of being able to write this next sentence publiclyI was a victim of sexual and emotional abuse when I was younger. While those exact instances were (and, on bad days, still are) traumatic, what was worse is how I felt about myself afterward: foolish, dirty, unworthy of actual love. But it wasn't until I saw other women going through the same pain before I realized it's wrong. And when you think of the centuries that millions of women were abused, and it was socially acceptable... frankly, it's a crime.

I know I said I was done with the mushy stuff, but I have to give my husband kudos again. Not only has he helped me fight my own demons throughout the years, but he himself has helped solve the problem. Back in Illinois, he counseled abusive men and helped them get on the path to a healthy relationship.  While there, he realized so many men are clueless about what a healthy relationship should be. And it's the same for women. The women's movement may have have started over a century ago, but we are still fighting to be equal at home and in the workplace. I should also say it's not always men beating wives; there is a gross underestimation of the number of men abused by women. Either way, it's wrong... and, unfortunately, it is long from gone.

It's that last thought that you need to think about. While some will argue that being submissive is no longer society's expected role for women, it's a problem many of us don't think about anymore. And that is what October is about: creating awareness. So, to bring a bit of awareness of my own, I died part of my hair purple!
Gotta' love the purple!
I have gotten a lot of questions which give me a chance to inform people about domestic violence.

So there it is, I love October and the numerous things it represents: especially the two causes that scream women's rights. However, this month also brings on one more specialty for my blog, but you'll have to turn in next Monday to find out.