Getting down to brass tacks: DIY brass-tack pumpkins, a tried-and-true tempura recipe, and a fast, but still fancy, chocolate dessert!

Rattan lantern, carved wood lantern and brass tack pumpkin on table.

After the week that felt like a thousand years, this one was a little easier.

By Saturday, the jubilance was palpable. Friends said they awoke to the sound of horns honking. You could turn on any news station (even that news station) and see throngs of people shimmying through the streets, the joy visibly apparent in every triumphant thwack of their conga drums. We even headed out, a rare occurrence since Covid-19, for donuts–what better way to celebrate than with something sweet?

There was a frisson of something radical happening. It felt a bit like a 1960s-throwback. It felt like good had triumphed over evil. It felt like we could finally exhale.

Then there was the hiccup come Monday, Tuesday, and so on when we realized political gridlock was grinding any progress to a halt. And that’s when I realized it was time to start making these pumpkins.

Closeup of inserting brass tacks into faux pumpkin.

Sometimes you just need a craft that is as cathartic as it is easy. And I’ll tell you, mindlessly poking a brass tack into the body of a faux pumpkin felt both therapeutic and remarkably relaxing.

Now’s also the perfect time to purchase faux pumpkins because even though we’re yet halfway through November, according to the music being played in the donut store, it’s also Christmas time, which means faux pumpkins are on super-sale.

I’ve found packages of 300 brass tacks (you’ll need about three of these packs per a pumpkin that is approximately the size of your hand) available year-round for $1 each at The Dollar Tree, but they’re also available at any office supply store.

For all those putting up Christmas lights already (one of our neighbors simultaneously has jack-o-lanterns flanking her entry and a lit Christmas tree and inflatable nutcracker displayed in her front window), I say: Slow downnnn! Until the turkey is plated and the stuffing is served, I’m savoring November.

As you can see, these pumpkins are fairly elemental to make, but here are some tips to ensure your success.

Start at the bottom with a single row, then work your way to the top (where the faux stem is).

Closeup of inserting brass tacks into faux pumpkin.

Once you’ve finished the first row, begin the next row at the bottom making sure to slightly overlap the first row with the second row, creating a scale effect.

Finishing the overlapping rows of brass thumbtacks on the faux pumpkin.

Continue in this fashion until you have completed one segment.

This craft is so mindless you can chat while you work, play a favorite song, listen to a podcast–or even take your chances and turn on the news!

Keep going until you’ve finished all the segments, working from left to right. Before you know it, (I found it took about an hour to complete one), you’ll be down to the last segment. Begin and end the last segment just as you did the first.

When you get to the end of your therapy craft, chances are you’ll be feeling really good!

Closeup of how to make a brass tack pumpkin from a faux pumpkin.

And now you’ll have all these pretty brass pumpkins to place throughout your house in preparation for possibly no one coming over to see them. But you’ll see them, and you were able to relieve some of that pent-up tension by poking and poking and poking again at that pumpkin–and that is what really matters.

Plus, unlike real pumpkins, you’ll still have them next year when, we can hope, your only stress will be the full house you’re hosting for the holidays. 🙂

Brass tack pumpkin on table next to pewter vase with white firework chrysanthemum, and a silver milk pitcher with a fern leaf.

I used ours to decorate our fall tablescape, along with the velvet pumpkins I made in previous years. Velvet pumpkins are another quick and easy craft. If you want to read my post-from-the-past on how to make them, click here.

The pumpkins on the far right are made with a new package of tacks and you can see they’re bright and shiny, but they will darken as they age. If you want to keep them looking bright for a bit longer, spray them with a clear coat of satin spray paint.

Fall tablescape: dining table with a runner down the center and velvet pumpkins, faux birds, and brass-tack covered pumpkins. A succulent pumpkin centerpiece.

This was the setting for last week’s Sunday night dinner when my mom came over for our weekly socially-distanced soiree (if four people can count as a soiree). These plates from Anthropologie are no longer available, but here’s a plastic version of some that are equally charming.

Fall table setting with black plate on rattan charger, succulent pumpkin, brass tack pumpkins and faux birds in background.

We had these same Lumina pumpkins displayed on our dining table for our not-so-spooky Halloween and I turned the largest one into a succulent pumpkin centerpiece for our new look which is it’s-almost-Thanksgiving. If you’d like to make your own, you can read my how-to post here.

Because the days are growing shorter, I put the succulent pumpkin outside during the day and bring it in at dinnertime to serve as our centerpiece.

Outdoor patio scene with succulent pumpkins shown.

What’s so wonderful about these living centerpieces is not only do you save a bundle on buying (or these days…ordering) fresh flowers every week, but when it’s time to transition into all-things-Christmas, you can plop the pumpkin in the ground and the succulents will continue to grow using the decomposing pumpkin as fertilizer–and, come spring, you’re likely to sprout some pumpkins.

Succulents covering white pumpkin.
Here is the living centerpiece soaking up the rays of the day!

Now the table’s decorated. What to serve?

I have a pet peeve about investing time and expensive ingredients on a new recipe only to be utterly disappointed. I don’t just let it go. Instead I’ll have to take a few deliberately deep breaths, consciously keep myself from remarking about it throughout the entire lackluster meal except for the occasional, “It sounded so good when I read it!” and even when the plates have long been cleared, I’ll wish I had a pumpkin to stab. And I’ve felt this way after making many a tempura recipe.

They all promised a light and airy batter, but none tasted like the tempura I’d order off a Japanese menu–until this one by Tyler Florence. It was so good, instead of lamenting anything, I kept saying, “This tastes like it came from a restaurant!” (my hallmark of good food), and, “If it did, I’d order it again!” (the highest honor I hand out 😉 ).

A black bowl serving tempura with a lemon wedge on the side of the tempura.

Not only is the batter light, crispy, salt-and-peppery, and delectable down to the last bite, but the added bonus is the part you make just at the end after you’ve done all that frying and cleared away most of the oil. You add freshly grated ginger, chopped garlic, and sliced scallions to the oil and fry them for a minute until they are crisp, then dump them on top of your plated tempura. If you can’t get to a Japanese restaurant any time soon to order tempura, you might not mind so much once you’ve made this recipe.

Hot tip: To give you an indication of how much this recipe makes, I made a quarter of what the recipe called for (thankfully it was easily divisible) and even though there are only two of us who eat tempura over here (our almost-five-year old shuns such things) we still had leftovers the next day. Also, I used some of the batter for 1/4″ slices of zucchini and 1/2″ slices of onion and thought the veggies made a nice addition. But most importantly, when it calls for chilled soda water, make sure IT’S A FRESH BOTTLE! The fizz of an opened bottle fades by the next day and the batter won’t be as light without that first-day carbonation.

And another tip: After we realized we were wasting large bottles of club soda that were not-so-sparkling a few days after opening, we started keeping the mini-sized bottles of Schweppes, which are the perfect size for most food and drink recipes, on hand.

If you’re fried after frying and don’t want to spend much time on dessert, you may want to try this recipe for Pots de Creme. The key is using good quality chocolate as it’s one of the three ingredients. I found this recipe off the bag of Guittard (a good chocolate) Milk Chocolate Chips.

2 c Guittard Milk Chocolate Chips

3/4 c whole milk

1/4 c butter

Place chips in a blender. Heat the butter and milk over low heat until the mixture just begins to boil. Immediately pour the hot liquid into the blender container. Cover and blend at high speed until smooth, about a minute. Pour into dessert dishes and chill until set.

Brass tack pumpkins on dining table with pot de creme in white bowl on white plate.

Please note: the recipe actually called for three hours of chilling time which I changed to “until set”, because I made these the other night and popped them into the fridge just before dinner and by the time we were finished (an hour later, at most) they were perfectly set.

Brass tack pumpkins on dining table with pot de creme in white bowl on white plate.

PS: I also added a dollop of whipped cream on top to add some lightness to the heaviness of the chocolate creme. For a fall-flavor sensation, use a whisk or mixer with a whisk attachment to whip 1 cup heavy cream and 2 T sugar. When almost-stiff peaks are formed (be careful not to over beat or the mixture will curdle), add 2 T Frangelico hazelnut liquor. Try it and your taste buds will thank you! If you don’t have Frangelico on hand, dark rum also works.

There you have it, a craft to calm you and two recipes to nourish you!

Here’s to having a happy, easy week next week–the kind that makes you want to beat a drum and shimmy in the streets! 🙂

Thanks for stopping by!

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