Tag Archives: pumpkin

Winter Leftovers: From Closet to Bowl

Today feels like spring might be . . . almost . . . willing to show its face around here. That doesn’t mean we won’t get snow in March or even April or May. But it does mean it’s time to start working on Saturday mornings with our bartering crew again. Tomorrow we’ll make soil and seed brassicas and transplant lettuces into the newly renovated bluehouse and rake the sticks that have blown all over the farm this windy winter. Stonebridge Season 21 will be underway!

The advent of spring brings thoughts of fresh vegetables but we won’t have veggies in the garden for a while yet. We do have some wintered-over spinach in the fields that we can harvest from time to time, but mainly we’re still eating the food we preserved from last year’s gardens by freezing, dehydrating, canning, or just storing in various ways.

Carnival Winter Squash

We still have lots of “sundried”—dehydrated—tomatoes for pasta, quiches, and omelettes. In the insulated cool room of our barn, we have garlic and onions. In the bottom drawer of the refrigerator, we have a few carrots that haven’t gone soft yet (hint: leave just a stub of green stem on them and they’ll store longest). In the freezer, we have broccoli, peas, mushrooms, and some chopped peppers, along with frozen tubs of marinara sauce, salsa, and cooked squash. In the closet of the unheated bedroom, we have a butternut and a carnival squash that still look great (an insulated cooler in a garage works well too). The shelves of the root cellar are lined with canned chutneys and jams.  And in buckets in the barn, we have dried beans.

Speckled Rose Beans (we're not sure of the variety name)

This winter we pledged to start using a pressure cooker. Our friends who use them kept encouraging us to give it a try, but we’d both been scarred by childhood fears of kitchen explosions in the old days when pressure cookers didn’t have the safety features they have now. I also associate pressure cookers with what my grandmother called “pressed chicken,” which she’d make for sandwiches on our long drive home from North Dakota to Colorado every summer. My grandmother was a great cook and I miss her fresh bread, but I always found that chicken a little strange with its gooey texture and suspicious gel when refrigerated. Just another childhood memory to make me a vegetarian today.

But we figured we could get over those scars enough to use a pressure cooker for beans at the very least. We grow several varieties of dried beans at Stonebridge, including the Oregon state bean, Peregion, a beautiful black and white bean that has a distinctive flavor. I like beans but never felt like we were cooking them to their optimal texture.  One trick that helps is to put 1 tsp of baking soda in the soaking water overnight and then rinse well before cooking. This helps make the beans less gassy. Another trick is to never, ever salt them until they’re done cooking because salt makes them tougher.

Oregon Peregion Beans

These tricks helped my bean consumption but I still didn’t like having to leave them on the stove or in the crockpot for hours and I still didn’t love the texture. I wanted more from my beans, especially after we’d spent so much time growing, threshing, cleaning, and soaking them.

So we bought a 6-qt pressure cooker, held our breaths, and got it rocking with our soaked beans, water, a couple veggie broth cubes, some Cuban-inspired cumin and oregano, and a couple cloves of garlic. After about 20 minutes, the cooker come to pressure and the top regulator weight started dancing over low heat. We simmered for 15 minutes and then shut off the burner and let the cooker slowly release the pressure, another 25 minutes. Now we’re brave enough to put the whole thing under running water, which makes the steam release in a few minutes, but that first time, we thought we’d wait.

Jacob's Cattle Beans

The beans were wonderful—tender, creamy even, with delicious flavor. We’ve been making beans once a week all winter in a large enough batch to freeze extra for lunch burritos, nachos, or enchiladas.

We’ve graduated to another dish as well, one that uses a winter-stored squash from our closet. If you’ve got a pressure cooker, try the Risotto with Squash and Sage recipe below. I don’t have fresh sage this time of year so used dried and it was just fine. I also had enough uncooked squash left to use in a soup, so I got two dishes out of one butternut squash.

If you’ve still got pumpkin in your freezer (many people roast, puree, and freeze them for bread or pie), try the Pumpkin-Citrus Bundt Cake recipe too. We host digital storytelling workshops here in the summer so I was looking for something that I could make ahead and freeze for a morning treat later. This cake is delicious and gets even a little moister with freezing. I left out the poppy seeds & orange peel and added mini-chocolate chips because I love pumpkin and dark chocolate together. I don’t see why winter squash wouldn’t work here as well—they’re pretty interchangeable with pumpkins.

We’ll keep eating beans and finish off what’s left in our freezer and storage. By then, the spinach will be thriving and the lettuces will be big enough in the bluehouse for harvest. Next year, we’ll have greens and carrots growing all winter in the bluehouse and that will be a delight. But we’ve done okay this winter with what we’ve put by from our own fields–and we’re glad we got over our fear of exploding pressure cookers!

Pressure Cooker Risotto with Winter Squash and Sage
Adapted from County Home, Feb 2008

½ cup finely chopped onion
1 Tbl. Olive oil
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
3 ½ – 4 cups veggie broth
1 ½ Lb. butternut or other winter squash, peeled, seeded, and cut in 1-inch chunks
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tsp fresh sage or 1 heaping Tbl dried sage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grated parmesan cheese for topping

In a 4- or 6-qt pressure cooker, sauté onion in hot oil over medium-high heat until golden. Stir in rice and coat with oil. Carefully add wine; cook and stir until rice has absorbed the wine (about 30 seconds). Add 3 ½ cups broth and cubed squash.

Lock lid in place. Over high heat, bring cooker to pressure. Reduce heat just enough to retain pressure and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off heat.

Quick-release the pressure by placing cooker under cold running water. When the pressure indicator has popped down, carefully remove lid, tilting away from you to allow steam to escape.

Set the cooker over medium-high heat again and stir vigorously. It will look fairly soupy at this point.

Cook, uncovered, until mixture thickens and rice is tender but still chewy, about 3-5 minutes, stirring every minute or so. If it becomes dry before the rice is done, add ½ cup broth. The finished risotto should be slightly runny because it will continue to thicken on the plate.

Turn off heat. Stir in ½ cup Parmesan, sage, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with additional cheese on top if desired. Makes 4 main dish servings or 8 side dish servings.

Pumpkin-Citrus Bundt Cake
Adapted from Krista Frank’s recipe in Country Woman

2 cups cooked pumpkin
1 ¼ cugs sugar (turbinado is fine)
1 ¼ cups fat-free milk
2 eggs
½ cup orange juice
1/3 cup safflower oil
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cup unbleached flour
1 ½ cup whole wheat or WW pastry flour
2 Tbl grated orange peel (optional)
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 Tbl cornstarch
1 Tbl poppy seeds (optional)
1 tsp each cinnamon, ginger, cardamom
½ each allspice, nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
1 cup mini dark chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350.
Grease and flour a bundt cake pan.

In large bowl, beat pumpkin, sugar, milk, eggs, juice, oil, and vanilla until well blended.

In separate bowl, combine flours, orange peel, baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch, poppy sees, spices, and salt.

Beat dry mixture and chocolate chips into pumpkin mixture until blended. Pour into prepared bundt pan.

Bake at 350 for 60 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the thickest part comes clean.

Cool for 10 minutes. Place a rack on top of the pan and invert the cake onto the rack.

This freezes well when wrapped in foil and thawed before serving.

Winter Luxury Pie Pumpkins


Filed under ecobiography, sustainable agriculture

Halloween, El Día de los Muertos . . . y Frida

I just made this season’s last batch of salsa fresca from the bowl of tomatoes and a few leftover Anaheim peppers sitting on our kitchen counter. Pureed with white onion, garlic, lime juice, and cilantro still fresh from the garden, we’ve got salsa to celebrate El Día de los Muertos with the pinto beans simmering on the stove.

Saturday was the last pick of our farm season and our Stonebridge Halloween party. Kids and adults played round after round of doughnut-on-a-string from the donut-dangler in the greenhouse, while families carved jack o’ lanterns on picnic tables in view of snow-covered Longs Peak and Meeker. The weather was resplendent once again, perfect for celebrating the end of a long and bountiful season. People brought canned, brewed, and handmade samples of their culinary and craft talents for the “Can-Do” basket—take one, leave one—and left much appreciated gifts for the farmers’ winter pantry as well. The best farm inspired costume? Renee as an heirloom tomato in stuffed long red underwear and a twig “loom” in her hair. Get it? But all the costumes were clever and beautiful and vibrant on such a gorgeous day.

After the party was over, the afternoon was still lovely, so John and I went to the Longmont Museum for their annual El Día de los Muertos event.

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We sat outside to watch masked dancers in brightly ruffled dresses or white lacy gowns twirl around each other, swirling their skirts like flowers in the sun.

After the dances, we ate refried beans, rice, tortillas, and pan de muerte, sweet bread of the dead, with hot spiced Mexican cocoa and visited the altars that honor community members’ loved ones now departed. The museum was packed; Longmont hosts the biggest El Día de los Muertos event in the state of Colorado and it’s wonderful to see Longmont’s bicultural heritage celebrated in this way.

In Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel The Lacuna, the fictional protagonist Harrison Shepherd keeps a journal about his service to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, which steers his life down a political, historical, and artistic path of great interest to readers. Part of the richness of the novel is Harrison’s detailed descriptions of the food he cooks for the famous couple’s many parties and national celebrations. Kingsolver’s genius is at work here: Harrison gets a job mixing Rivera’s plaster because the lonely boy has learned from the family cook how to mix a lagoon of flour and water for pan dulce.

Even as a young boy, Harrison keeps a diary that describes his life with his mother after their return to Mexico (his father is from the US). For the entry titled 2 November, Dead People’s Day, he writes of going to the cemetery with their cook to honor family members who have passed away: “Leandro, wife, and dead people are having their party at the graveyard behind the rock beach on the other side. Tamales in banana leaves, atole, and pollo pipian. Leando said those were the only foods that could attract his brother away from a lady. He meant Lady of the Dead, who is called Mictec-something—Leandro couldn’t spell it. He can’t read.”

Harrison means Mictecacihuatl, Queen of Mictlan, the underworld, who presides over the bones of the dead. El Día de los Muertos is an ancient Aztec tradition in Latin American cultures, but in Mexico has more of a celebratory feel than in other countries as families gather at cemeteries to socialize in community with good food and friends, a gathering that brings death front and center and perhaps makes its inevitability less frightening by the omnipresent images of Death and skeletons and skulls, reminders that life on earth is temporary. Still, I learned recently, you wouldn’t wish someone a “Happy Day of the Dead” since the tradition is more about honoring the dead than partying with them.

In a previous posting called “Dying in Orange,” I wrote about how the fall season reminds me of Frida Kahlo’s life and work, how she painted her own image implanted in the fecundity of the natural world. So this year I dressed as Frida Kahlo for Halloween and El Día de los Muertos, inspired by the way her body became another canvas for her art.

I found earrings and a bracelet made by an artist on Etsy.com dangling with charms of Kahlo’s 1939 painting The Two Fridas, red roses and hearts, and an ornate silver cross. I re-strung a chunky orange necklace of my grandmother’s, the closest thing to Kahlo’s pre-Columbian jewelry I could find; I wore a full skirt bought on a trip to Mexico a few years ago to celebrate the wedding of a favorite student with his wonderful family, and a shawl woven in green tendrils that might have been the background for one of Kahlo’s paintings. I bought dark purple lipstick to add a vibrant touch and I twisted my hair in two braids on top of my head and bobby-pinned an orange zinnia I had dried. I needed more flowers, but the zinnias had been killed by the first frost days before, so a single bloom had to do. For shoes, I found tooled black leather pumps at Serendipity, one of my favorite local vintage clothing shops.

[But writing this and including my picture here makes me a bit uncomfortable: it seems too personal, too much about appearance. Maybe this helps me understand a little bit the risk Frida Kahlo took in creating such intimate and hyperpersonalized art.]

Some people said I should dress like Frida more often. Others said I already do. It’s tempting. I loved wearing a colorful and slightly flamboyant costume, the skirt swishing around me, the shawl so adaptable to the nuances of temperature and sunlight throughout the day. And jewelry . . . what better way to express personality, culture, and occasion than jewelry?

All this is to say that the end of the fall is a glorious time to celebrate all that the earth and our labor has given and to honor those who have come before us, as well as our own insistence on life even as winter—and death—approaches.

For those in the Boulder County area, the Longmont Museum and Cultural Center will feature photographs of Frida Kahlo by her friend and lover Nickolas Muray from Nov 13 – January 2, as well as a presentation on her art and a retablo workshop.


Filed under memoir, sustainable agriculture, women's writing

Dying in Orange

The pumpkin vines are dying back, exposing a landscape of garrulous orange. I’m glad we have enough carving pumpkins for all our CSA members this year; I feel like a failure when we can’t give every family at least one. John’s not sure jack o’ lanterns are the best use of field space but he humors those of us who need to carve a pumpkin at the end of October.

They’re more than decorative, I tell him. It’s the ritual that’s important, one that marks the end of the season and is rooted in ancient folk traditions celebrating the last days of harvest before the coming winter. Besides, I tease, we have to grow pumpkins because we don’t grow turnips big enough to carve like they did in medieval Europe.

Last night we watched the PBS documentary The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo and I’m trying to figure out why I’m so attracted to Kahlo as an artist and woman. With the publication of several books on her life, including Barbara Kingsolver’s recent novel The Lacuna, and a popular film produced by and starring Selma Hayek, Kahlo has become an icon of feminist self-expression, female sexual liberation, and heroic achievement amidst physical suffering. Her likeness and paintings are found on everything from key chains to matchboxes. She may even have eclipsed her husband, the muralist Diego Rivera, in artistic stature.

I was introduced to Frida Kahlo as a college student in the late 70s by my two wonderful professors of Spanish language and literature who were admirers of Kahlo’s work before it was discovered by feminists in the United States.

Like George O’Keefe, whom she met, Kahlo struggled as a woman artist within an art world defined and dominated by men, including her own husband, but she was not a woman to be ignored.  Kahlo used her body as a canvas draped in traditional Mexican dress and flamboyant jewelry, creating an image of herself that never conformed but rather confronted bourgeois notions of female decorum.

But it’s more than her colorful life that fascinates me; it’s the sensory shock of the art itself. Often confined to her bed, Kahlo painted what she saw in the mirror but used the outward appearance of her body to express the inner world of her imagination. Kahlo painted her compromised and exposed body in pain, bloody and wounded, but also in the midst of vivid natural surroundings, tendrilled in lush greenery and vibrant flowers. As Carlos Fuentes writes in his introduction to The Diary of Frida Kahlo, “[N]o matter how interior her work was, it was always uncannily close to the proximate, material world of animals, fruits, earths, skies.”

The documentary examines the influence of Catholic iconography on her work—the retablos of the crucifixion and lives of the saints. But her work also features the macabre element of death, as is found in the skeleton figures of El Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead when families gather at cemeteries to picnic and remember those who have passed to the spirit realm.

According to Fuentes, the Mexican idea of death is not finality but origin: “Without the dead, we would not be here, we would not be alive.” In this way, he writes, Kahlo’s work “had the sense of fooling death, of fooling around with death.” In the painting The Dream, for example, a sleeping figure of Kahlo floats in a bed with Death leering from the canopy above.

It’s the juxtaposition of everpresent death with verdant life that makes her paintings so startling. Her art is beautiful yet frightening, a thorny reminder that death is the part of life that makes us live it more.

Like Kahlo’s art, celebrating the end of our farm season with bright orange jack o’ lanterns allows us to participate in the ritualof life and death with laughter and a touch of the macabre as they wink and grimace and remind us not to take ourselves too seriously.


Filed under memoir, sustainable agriculture, women's writing