Winter Settles In

I haven't posted anything in this blog for a month now. I considered posting for Bloom Day and Muse Day, but the dates passed me by and I'm afraid I had to miss out (not that I would have had anything to post as far as blooms go). Since Thanksgiving, we've been inundated with snow and ice here in Kansas City, yet the weather has generally been quite mild. As we left for Christmas with family in Jefferson City last Saturday, we were trailed by clouds full of more snow. I'm unsure how much we got, however, because most of it has melted off.

The photo on the side here is how the vegetable garden looked just 3 weeks ago, taken right as the snow was falling over a layer of ice. I believe we got a couple of beautiful inches that day.

And here's the Egyptian lady in the front garden, covered up in snow. I never bothered cleaning up this area, but I think the dried-up foliage adds a lot of interest to what would otherwise be blank space. The sedum and irises look particularly nice.

My indoor herb plants have taken over sections of the living room, essentially any space I can eke out, as the sunlight is very limited. This project led to a Goodwill search for any sort of small table or plant stand I could find. We found a little cart that fits quite a few plants and can be wheeled around. I'm not exactly sure what the intended purpose of this thing is, but the rack on the bottom seems like it would fit magazines or something of that nature.

For Christmas this year, I decided to go homemade and made gifts of preserves and pumpkin bread. We had a great deal of preserves left from last summer and fall-- apple-ginger marmalade, salsa, and a green tomato dip--but I also made some apple butter and tomato marmalade.

Pumpkin and/or squash bread has been a sweet staple for the last few years. The original recipe comes from a Martha Stewart Living magazine from 02/03 and is originally intended for buttercup squash, but I've figured out it works just as well for any other type of winter squash--including pumpkin. Halloween being my favorite holiday and autumn being my favorite season, I usually buy as much squash for decoration as I can afford to. But after the season is over, these vegetables tend to get thrown away, which strikes me as such a waste. If you compost your vegetables, it's not as big a deal, but that's still a lot of food to throw away, if you ask me. For the last 2-3 years I've been roasting, pureeing, and then freezing pumpkin and squash in an effort to be more frugal and create less waste. While it's true that jack o'lantern pumpkins contain more water than the smaller and more dense pie pumpkins, I've used them for pies, pumpkin bread, and even pasta sauce. Despite what some will tell you, I've not noticed a discernible difference in flavor.

While roasting and pureeing in the fall can take some time, it's worth the labor later on. It's actually pretty simple. For smaller pumpkins and squash, cut the vegetable in half and pull out the seeds. (If you want to, you can hull the seeds and roast them, or dry and save for planting next year.) For larger pumpkins, cut into pieces to fit on a cookie sheet or roasting pan. Cook at 450º-500º for about an hour or however long it takes for the flesh to get soft. You want the skin to dent completely when you touch it. Scoop the flesh into a blender or food processor and puree. Spoon puree into plastic containers or freezer bags. That's it! Now you have puree for pies, bread, cakes, pasta sauces, and maybe more.

To celebrate the season, here's my recipe for pumpkin/squash tea bread. Copy it and make a batch at home. It makes one regular loaf or 4 mini-loaves and freezes beautifully. Since we tend not to eat a lot of sweets, I will freeze half a loaf for later.

Squash or Pumpkin Tea Bread

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cup flour (unbleached preferable; can be cut w/whole wheat)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup roasted squash or pumpkin puree (sweet squash like butternut or buttercup)
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Butter and flour a loaf pan (or 4 mini-loaf pans) and set aside. Into large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, spices, and salt; set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, squash puree, melted butter, and 1/4 cup of water. Fold squash mixture into flour mixture. Stir in pecans.

3. Pour the batter into loaf pan and bake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Turn bread onto a wire rack and let cool.

Here are 4 mini-loaves made last Friday. This year I tried a low-sugar bread cut with a Splenda/brown sugar mix, and it worked fairly well. My stepfather is a diabetic, so it's a bit easier for him to enjoy this version for breakfast. The low-sugar variety is not as sweet and rises a bit higher when baking. The color is also lighter, but if you're watching your sugar intake, it's something to try.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!