fall

The Grimmest Pumpkin Patch in Los Angeles

After misunderstanding a friend’s recommendation for a preschooler-friendly local pumpkin patch, we took Charlie to the grimmest, most Carnie fall experience I’ve yet encountered.

In pursuit of of autumn magic, we drove over to the Pasadena Pumpkin Patch. When my friend Heidi said she always took her kids to their local pumpkin patch and had a great time, I just Googled which pumpkin patches were close to her and made plans. Like an idiot.

As we drove into the CVS parking lot, I questioned Heidi’s taste for the first time in our 11-year friendship. When we walked through the chain-link fence, I knew she must be all the way out of her entire mind. But Charlie was enchanted. He immediately found the pumpkin of his dreams.

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I foolishly only took pictures where it looked like we were at a perfectly acceptable pumpkin patch. 

He liked that it fit in one hand, and that it had the best stem. He also found some dried corn, which he started using as a broom immediately. Neither of these were near as exciting as the prospect of the ultra-grim petting zoo. Wanna touch a real, live, mangey chicken? This is the place for you! What about a piglet with intestinal discomfort? We have two! Do you like goats? This goat does not like you, and is currently escaping through the chain-link fence to explore the freedom of the rest of the CVS parking lot. Don’t worry, Methy Joe has acquired a rake with which to shoe the goat back into place. Please, Mom, please can we pay the $7 to get right in there, in the pin with them, and touch those animals? Kiss them with our faces? Rub the hay in our eyes? I’m especially interested in the parts of the animals that ought to have fur and/or feathers, and yet have neither.

Oh, sorry honey, dad is highly allergic to some manner of evil within this petting zoo, and we’ve got to GTFO before his sinuses explode. I, too, am experiencing itching in places on my face I didn’t know I had.

When can I go on the inflatable slide, Mom? I love the part about how we have to take our shoes off and walk around in what I can only assume are used hypodermic needles and a bit of hay.

Sadly, we had to go before we could experience the full splendor. Andy was legit allergic, so we couldn’t linger, as much as we obviously wanted to. Charlie started throwing a fit upon the news that it was time to pay for our pumpkins and go. Sobbing, as is his custom, “I’m never going to be happy again!” He cried all the way home.

As it turned out, this was not the recommended pumpkin patch in question. The one my friend endorsed was her non-gimmicky, strictly pumpkin-based neighborhood patch. In fairness to me, this questionable autumn experience had a lot of close-up pictures on its website, so all red flags had been carefully cropped out of my internet research. But because I wanted to create a magical memory and didn’t feel like driving all the way the fuck to Moorpark, we now have the magical memories of the saddest petting zoo in Los Angeles, and a son who promises to be unhappy forever.

But a memory’s a memory. I’m counting this one as a win.

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Pumpkin Soup Baked in a Pumpkin

So, this happened.

Pumpkin soup baked in a pumpkin. Boom.

Pumpkin soup baked in a pumpkin. Boom.

After our doorstep pumpkins were declared contraband in the War on Squirrels, I spent last Sunday afternoon gilding the domestic lily. I spent some time looking for crafty pumpkin-soup-in-a-pumpkin recipes before doing what I always do when it comes to soups and stews. Here’s my magic recipe for anything stew-like:

  • Take ingredients you have around.
  • Place in cooking receptacle.
  • Apply heat until it seems done.

For the record, I make a mean stew. I make lots of mean stews, and the above method is the only recipe I sanction. Anyone who tells you they have a precise recipe for, say, chili, and that they have to make a quick run to the store for paprika before they can get started, is not someone you want to do business with. It’s kind of the only thing I can make successfully, especially since the above cooking method is the only one I know of where I can tend to the food in between the more pressing task of tending to my toddler. Onions and olive oil in a Crock Pot on low aren’t going to burn the house down if you need to step away to read “A Crack in the Track” four times in a row. For this specific affair, here’s the gist of what I did. (Note: Recipe serves like 11. Have a friend over for dinner if your pumpkin is giant.)

  1. Took the giant, red heirloom pumpkin off the porch before the squirrels ate it.
  2. Cut the top off at a 45 degree angle and scooped out the seeds and goo, jack-O-lantern style.
  3. Pre-heated oven to 375 degrees.
  4. Put a bunch of stuff in the pumpkin, until it was full of stuff. Including:
    • Salt and pepper (rubbed into the inside of the pumpkin before the other gear went in)
    • A hunk of butter
    • Rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, fresh-ground nutmeg that I actually grated over the pumpkin like I’m Martha Stewart
    • Garlic
    • One Vidalia onion, coarsely chopped
    • Three little cans of mushrooms
    • Chicken broth. I used a whole carton of it, but it was a big ol’ pumpkin
    • Olive oil
    • More grated parmesan cheese than seems reasonable
    • Probably some other stuff… Love? Let’s say I mixed in some love. Wait– No, I meant fennel.
  5. Put in oven for like three-and-a-half hours
  6. Took it out of the oven and scooped the soft pumpkin bits into the broth
  7. Put it in some bowls and put more cheese on top
  8. Ate the heck out of it
Round casserole dish (or thing I had on-hand that was closest to a round casserole dish) and foil around the top, as such.

Round casserole dish (or thing I had on-hand that was closest to a round casserole dish) and foil around the top, as such.

I found a couple pro-tips on the internet before just putting All the Things in a pumpkin. One was from Alton Brown, who said to put the pumpkin in a round casserole dish before putting it in the oven. Everyone else was all, “Oh, it’s cool, just put a pumpkin full of broth on some parchment paper or whatever and put it in the oven. What could go wrong?” My creation sprang a leak about two-and-a-half hours into the baking process, likely due to some over-zealous de-gooing on my part, so I’m glad I listened to Alton Brown. The other pro-tip was from… Someone on the Internet… (I looked at a lot of baked pumpkins before deciding I was going to follow my heart instead of a recipe, so it could have been almost anyone), and [Internet person] recommended putting some foil around the top so it doesn’t fall into the gourd as it cooks. Brilliant. I’m for every cooking tip that keeps me from having to spend the next 10 days scraping bits of charred fall magic from the bottom of my oven.

If I were better at "food blogging," I would have taken a picture of this before it was mostly eaten. But here we are.

If I were better at “food blogging,” I would have taken a picture of this before it was mostly eaten. But here we are.

I toasted the pumpkin seeds in the oven while this was going, and put some buttered apple cider on the stove, and I felt like I had conquered life. It was pretty damned delicious. My father-in-law loved it, Charlie ate every bit of it ravenously, and Andy worked late and ate Fritos and dip when he got home. But he would have found it to be a perfectly acceptable meal, too.

It would have been tastier if it had been made with a different kind of pumpkin, for sure. Our pumpkin was designed for lookin’, not for cookin’, so it wasn’t at all sweet. One of my goals the last couple weeks has been to get Charlie to eat some pumpkin, because it feels seasonally appropriate, and he’d turned up his nose at all previous attempts. He ate a bucket full of it, though was mostly enchanted by the mushrooms, which I’m also okay with.

But then there was the angle I hadn’t considered: A baked gourd has A LOT of fiber in it, and Charlie ate like it was his last meal. So then from 1:30 AM to 3:00 AM, I was up with him as he was screaming like his farts were going to murder him, and we went through two pumpkin diapers. That was less than ideal. I had enough leftovers that I’d planned on giving Charlie a healthy, seasonal vegetable-filled lunch for the next several days, but instead I threw out the surplus to avoid a repeat performance.

And so, I experienced the cycle that I think I’ll continue with for at least the next 17 years: Victory, followed by defeat, followed by five cups of coffee. I’m gonna focus on the victory part for now: Soup baked in a pumpkin! I’m king of the world!

Pumpkin Soup and the War on Squirrels

Preparing for an evening of spite-fueled domesticity.

Preparing for an evening of spite-fueled domesticity.

My father-in-law lives with us and takes care of Charlie while Andy and I are at work. For the record, this is a fabulous arrangement. He is, however, at a crucial point in his ongoing War on Squirrels. Few things make him happier than being able to deny happiness to the squirrels who live in our yard. Those decorative porch pumpkins? It’s November 2nd. They have to go. Today. Because Halloween is over and the squirrels have taken an interest. We cannot leave them out until the day after Thanksgiving as I’d planned, because the squirrels are already sniffing them, and probably licking them too. And if the squirrels enjoy a festive holiday gourd, the terrorists win.

Our squirrels are, in fact, a tremendous pain in the ass. We have this lovely apple tree that we’ve never been able to eat one apple off of, because the squirrels get to them first. Though I really enjoy the idea of having a home-grown apple, I was always too taken with the adorableness of my fluffy little squirrel friends sitting on our porch and gnawing away at an apple bigger than their head, like they think they’re people. Even when a squirrel made a nest right outside my bedroom window and I could hear the scratching inches from my head in the middle of the night as she nibbled through our screen, my primary thought was, “Oh! How nice! She’s getting the nursery ready for her baby, just like me! We’re like twins! And she goes so well with the ‘Critters of North America’ decor I’m working on in here!” But then I did let the cats into my room to stare her down, because in practice, I don’t need a next of baby squirrels sleeping next to my head, no matter how goddamned adorable they are.

When Ed moved in, the squirrels went from adorable nuisance to The Enemy at Home. They’re into the bird seed, they’re digging up the flower bed, AND they’re still eating the apples. Probably they would kill us in our sleep if we let them. So the last 14 months, while primarily being dedicated to the care and nurturing of my child, have secondarily been committed to contraptions, concoctions, and incantations directed at the Enemy Squirrels: pepper spray on the apple trees, peppermint oil around the bird feeder, pepper seeds in the bird feed, cages around the plants, wire around the everything, plastic owls and eagles placed menacingly around the porch, an ever-expanding and increasingly greased up bird-feed-holding pole (that the squirrels continue to climb by simply modifying their previous behavior), and, most importantly, dropping everything at a moments notice to run our back and turn the hose on a squirrel when caught in an offending action. Since the squirrels have outmaneuvered us at every turn, getting stronger, jumping higher, and getting less picky about what they want their pilfered crops to taste like. It would seem that the conclusion is the resignation that we just can’t have nice things, and neither can the squirrels. Ed recently uprooted the vegetable garden and removed the bird feeder; I give it a week before he chops down the apple tree while shouting, “If I can’t have you, nobody can!”

Lest the enemy get a pleasant meal, we’ll be having decorative autumn gourd for dinner tonight. I’m searching the internet for a “wow your guests when you bake this soup in a pumpkin and be festive!” recipe, aiming for one that I have most of the ingredients for. Since I’m an ideal homemaker, this will work out perfectly. There’s no need to wish me luck.

I totally have this autumnal domesticity thing down. Look at these amazing Tootsie Pop Ghosts I crafted for dozens of apathetic trick-or-treaters! Cooking show-worthy gourd soup should be no biggie.

I totally have this autumnal domesticity thing down. Look at these amazing Tootsie Pop Ghosts I crafted for dozens of apathetic trick-or-treaters! Cooking show-worthy gourd soup should be no biggie.

7 Phases of Autumn Magic

When it seemed like I wasn’t going to have children, one of the hardest things to come to terms with was missing out on Kid-Having Autumn Magic. It was something I held in very high regard. Toddlers who wore tweed on their hayrides before cheerfully collecting multicolored leaves for the cinnamon-scented centerpiece that would be in plain view in my clean home during every evening meal from October 1 to Thanksgiving. With the leaves starting to change, with Andy’s mom in town, and with Charlie beginning to appreciate activities and novelty, we made plans to make today our special outing to the pumpkin patch. Probably we could get slightly lost in a corn maze, but only enough for it to be fun, and have some cider before Charlie picked out his dream pumpkin. Let me take you through the phases of today’s Autumn Magic.

  1. Commit to a trip to the pumpkin patch.
  2. Remember that we live in a city, and, with help from the Internet, learn that the closest proper “patch” is at a farm in Bowie, Maryland.
  3. Decide instead to go to Eastern Market (the big DC farmers’ market on Capitol Hill), where there will be plenty of locally grown pumpkins, fresh from the patch, for Charlie to choose from while I drink cider. They might even have some hay strewn about. Urban equivalent of the pumpkin patch, and there for more authentic and appropriate.
  4. Fail to get everyone fed, napped, and showered in time to get to Eastern Market via Metro before I go to work for a brief event.
  5. Promise my mother-in-law that we can stop at Home Depot to pick out a pumpkin as soon as I’m home at work around 6:00. They actually have a really good variety of pumpkins, and there’s location really close to our house. I think they also have some decorative hay in the pumpkin section.
  6. Get home from work around 6:00. Think better of ever leaving the house again.
  7. Skip Home Depot; order Dominos.

This is exactly the Autumn Magic I knew myself to be missing out on when I started crying in the pie aisle at Trader Joe’s a few years ago.

Live, from us not going on a hay ride through a corn maze while sipping cider in an authentic pumpkin patch.

Live, from us not going on a hay ride through a corn maze while sipping cider in an authentic pumpkin patch.