pumpkin slices
Celebrate the Moments of Your Life
March 8, 2006

Even though San Francisco smells springily of damp earth and dried eucalyptus casings, and the trees are bursting into fat flower in Golden Gate Park, I can still make pumpkin bread and muffins, right?

Back home in Minnesota, I used to drive my friends nuts around this exact time of year. Ignoring the fact that the temperatures were firmly stuck in the twenties, I'd tell them that I felt spring coming on. Nicole would get really annoyed in homeroom as I went on at great lengths about how I was certain I smelled spring that morning. She often told me I had to stop being such a morning person because she wasn't and she couldn't deal with my hyperness.

That "hyperness" was a direct result of the coffee I drank then. The sickenly, fakily, industurially sweet "coffees" from General Foods International "Remember that little cafe in Vienna?" Coffee. I remember when we first started stocking that in the Vander Weide house. My older sister and the Seventeen magazine clutched in her urgent hand was the driving force. Jennie found upon some article or something that had a recipe for manicotti, and suddenly we were having a fancy dinner with my parents wedding china. Beyond Jennie's now-famous manicotti, what I most remember is that was when she introduced Chocolate Mint General Foods International Coffee to the house. That was the only flavor we had for a good long time. Eventually, however, I think we wore my mother down to try the other flavors. She was initially against it -- something about coffee stunting our growth -- but I do recall us promising faithfully to only have it for special occasions, like Christmas dinner and Thanksgiving. We thought we were terribly elegant when we stirred hot water and the powder together in gold-rimmed Royal Dalton cups. We also shamelessly played up the fact that we really needed to sample the Dutch Chocolate variety on account of Dad being Dutch and all us girls being half-breeds.

In college, after having sampled the cinammony Cafe Vienna, the orange Cafe Valencia, the oddly liquor-like Cafe Kahlua, and the now-boring chocolate lines, I settled on French Vanilla as my living-end favorite. I had this whole ritual in the dorms. I'd boil the water and pour it into my mug. It would be too hot to drink, so I'd take a shower and when I got back to my dorm room, it was the perfect drinking temperature. In the sorority house, I kicked it up a notch by adding spoonfuls of the mix to actual coffee the kitchen brewed every morning. My GFIC habit came to an abrupt halt in Boston when I discovered Starbuck's on Charles Street and came to the realization that the powdered stuff just wasn't going to cut it any more. I needed more caffeine and also I needed coffee that tasted like coffee and not like chemicals.

And now that I got that tangent out of my system, on to the pumpkiny goodness. When I got married, the members of my mother's mystery book club (always referred to as "The Mystery Book Club Ladies" and completely comprised of neighborhood mothers) put together a recipe book for me. Encased in protective plastic sleeves and handwritten, every recipe is a pinhole look into each Minnesota mother's kitchen. There are things like Wild Rice Soup to start off with; Elegant Chicken and Easiest Lasagna in the World as hearty main dishes; and Butter Pecan Turtle Cookies and Saucepan Brownies for dessert. Every year, Nancy E's artistic script tempt me with her recipe for Pumpkin Bread. Yes, Pumpkin Bread smells more like fall than spring, but it's cold here and the smell of spices is warming, so deal.

recipe book

Nancy E's recipe for Pumpkin Bread

Place in one bowl:
(you can sift if you want)

1 1/2 cup sugar
1 2/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon each cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon
Pinch of cardamom

Add:

1/2 cup salad oil
1 cup pumpkin
1/4 cup water
2 eggs
3/4 cup raisins

Bake 1 hr @ 350. Makes 2-3 loaves in 4x8" pans.

One thing to remember is to lightly whisk the dry ingredients together before adding the wet. Another thing to remember?

pumpkin whisk

Don't whisk in the WET ingredients. Be smart and use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula instead. I flung batter clear into the living room trying to get that clump free.

Instead of raisins, which I really don't like in any foods, I use 1/4 cup chopped walnuts and 1/2 cup chopped pecans. In another experiment, I try pecans and shredded coconut and that actually turned out quite well. Well, sort of.

pumpkin loaf

I mean, it tasted good but I did something weird with the pan. I used a cake pan instead of the loaf pans I used for the pumpkin-nut loaves and either I didn't bake it long enough or my oven is screwy or I CAN'T BAKE or it wasn't hot enough or I CAN'T BAKE, because when my husband snatched a slice before dinner, he called out, "Hey, is it supposed to be this runny in the middle?" Stupid razzin'-frazzin' skewers coming out clean making me believe the thing was actually done because THAT'S WHAT I'VE BEEN TAUGHT! Ugh. So, I shove the thing back in the oven at some ridiculously high heat (475, to be exact) because I was roasting red-skinned potatoes and cipollini onions for dinner. Don't worry, I tented it with foil to prevent burning. However, when the thing finally cooled (it promised to be done in the center but, since by this time it was so riddled with skewer test holes it looked diseased, I had given up on making a success of this little experiment) it was crusty and hard on the outside and moist, juicy, and STILL WET ON THE INSIDE!

Sigh. Yes, I know I shouldn't have done what I did with the high heat, but honestly? I was so irritated I just didn't care any more. I hate baking. On the other hand, our potatoes and onions had a nice spicy aroma about them.

They should make a pumpkin flavored General Foods International Coffee. That way, I could pour myself a cup and say wistfully, "This reminds me of that tiny kitchen in San Francisco WHERE I MADE A DISEASED PUMPKIN CAKE THING!" Yeah, celebrate the moments of your life. THAT PISS YOU OFF!

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