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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😉 ).
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.
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.
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! 🙂
I started three new projects this week and was on-track to redesign a bathroom, figure out how to turn a so-so office into one that was stylish and ready for its Zoom-closeup, and turn a commercial space from “Ick!” to chic.
And then Election Day and the following days of “What the heck?!” happened: time stood still (I imagined our clocks dripping a la a Dali painting), my focus turned from looking at tile to toggling between various news channels, and I began cramming handfuls of our son’s Halloween candy into my mouth as a coping mechanism–I imagine it will make an unwanted appearance on my waistline next week.
But I couldn’t help it. As I explained to friends, family and clients in the rapid-fire texts we’d send one another signaling support during this time of crisis when morality itself seemed moribund, waiting for the results of the election felt like waiting for a loved one to come out of surgery. Until I knew He was going to make it, my entire focus fell by the wayside.
The one thing that has helped was knowing we are in this together. We’re not alone. More people than not collectively care. So just in case you were also feeling the opposite of calm, I thought I’d suggest some happy, soothing things. A figurative flashlight, if you will, to help us as we make our way out of the woods.
Not to promote drinking….but, you might want to try this cocktail. I give my mom credit for coming up with the basics when one night she asked aloud “I wonder if ginger kombucha and Maker’s Mark would taste good together?” It turns out they did. I added to it until I turned it into my new favorite cocktail. It’s not too sweet, the freshly grated ginger adds a refreshing bite, and the element of kombucha can kind of make you feel like you’re imbibing something healthy. Kind of.
Ginger Kombucha Cocktail
Servings: Makes one strong cocktail--you're welcome!
Cheers! You should start to feel better in about fifteen minutes or fewer. 🙂
Go outside! I know it sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes we all need a reminder to get some fresh air. Did you know the air outdoors is often 2 to 5 times cleaner than the air which we sit inside inhaling…and exhaling…and inhaling? Not only is the air outside often cleaner, but a little sunlight can do a lot of good as we enter these shorter days because exposure to sunlight can release a much-needed dose of serotonin. As you probably know, serotonin keeps us calm and focused and without enough exposure to sunlight, our natural levels can dip. Nail-biting elections have also been known to drop levels of serotonin off a cliff.
I don’t think anyone needs encouragement to eat more–at least, I don’t; eating is my happy place when the state of things seems to spiral out of control–but eating good, healthy meals, is a wise idea to keep your wits about you. Even the act of cooking can be comforting. Recently I’ve found following a new recipe to be a welcome distraction. This one for Company Pot Roast was well worth the effort (and, be forewarned, there is some effort, but also a great payoff when you taste how comforting and yummy this dish is)!
ButI do suggest this: this recipe makes a lot of sauce and as you’re likely to run out of meat before you run out of sauce (there is sauce for days–literally, you’ll have leftovers for days!) we found ourselves making plates of sauce, piling on sliced Swiss cheese (Gruyere also works) and microwaving the dish until the sauce was heated and the cheese was melted. It tasted like a heartier, more vegetable-filled version of French Onion soup.
And another tip: I plated the dish over egg noddles to sop up some of the sauce and garnished the meal with Italian parsley, otherwise, I thought it seemed too blah looking.
Okay, so maybe you’re too stressed to follow such a long recipe. Before I tasted it and knew it was a success, I almost texted my foodie friend to say, “This better work or I want the last hour and a half back!”–there is quite a lot of slicing and searing and chopping before you even get to the part where you stick the roast in the oven–to cook for 2 1/2 hours!– so do plan ahead!
In that case, here’s another recipe, courtesy of Ina Garten, which I made Election Night knowing I’d want be glued to the television, not the cutting board. She describes it in her cookbook as the meal she’ll prepare when she’s in a hurry, and she was right. It’s simple and quick to prepare, but delicious and comforting to consume.
Tip: See that tiny green thing midway up the chicken breast? That was what happens to the basil leaf the recipe recommends you stick under the chicken skin. Because like most cooked green things, basil leaves have an incredible ability to shrink, I’d suggest adding four or five basil leaves (instead of the recommended one) under the skin of each breast to add more flavor–and color! After all, this is called Chicken with Goat Cheese and Basil not Chicken with Goat Cheese and A Tiny Speck of Something Green Which May or May Not Be Detectable As Basil. But that’s just my opinion.
While we’re on the subject of cooking, here is a wonderfully cheery clip of everyone’s favorite (or at least their top five) cooks: Julia Child. Watch this and I bet you’ll feel your blood pressure drop almost immediately. Okay, while you’re at it, watch this one, too.
After all that time standing and stirring, your feet might need a rest. I ordered these house slippers from Target a couple of weeks ago and have been slipping them on every morning ever since. They’re cozy, come in other colors , they’re real suede, and…wait for it…they’re only $20!
I don’t know about you, but I always feel better after I clean the house–not during, but after. Once the dust has literally cleared, I move things around. A new arrangement gives me a new perspective and I certainly needed that this week. And since we just wrapped up on all-things-Halloween, it seemed the perfect time to transition our house into all-things-Fall.
I wiped away all the spooky, and added a plethora of pumpkins.
And a couple of faux pheasants. And a table runner. Here is a similar one that is pretty and a pretty great price.
Then I followed my own advice from last week’s post and added a gazillion lanterns and battery-operated LED candles around the house, set them to timer mode, and now every day at 5:00 pm, just as the shadows start to creep in, they’re kept at bay by the cozy glow of candlelight. I wish you could see it aglow at night. It’s so pretty!
Admittedly, I couldn’t tear myself away from the news this week, but it did occur to me I should switch the channel and watch something so engrossing I’d forget our country’s democracy was in danger. The thing was, I didn’t know what to watch (what would be as compelling as watching our country almost go to hell in a hand basket?) because I had already watched the most engrossing, captivating, enchanting show ever, Gran Hotel, on Netflix. It’s set in 1907 Spain, has Spanish subtitles, swelling orchestral music, a plot that will keep you guessing til the end (it’s a who-dunnit) and the most beautiful sets and actors you can imagine. I’ve told so many people about this show and so far they’ve all gotten hooked.
My mom and I watched it at our respective houses, would call each and instead of saying “How are you?” say “Can you believe s/he did that?” and we dreaded it coming to a close. When it did end, we were in withdrawals for a brief period during which time I filled the void by following most of the main characters (well the actors who played them, although I like to believe they’re still the characters) on Instagram just to keep them in my life. I know I sound like a crazy person. That is how good this show is: it’s crazy-making!
If drinking, breathing fresh air, wearing comfy house slippers, cooking, cleaning your house, and binge-watching television fails to calm you down, there’s always chocolate cake. I found this recipe for Chocolate Cake in a book a client/friend/dear person lent me, The Sweet Life In Paris, by David Lebovitz which is also a very good read and makes you think you might not be missing much by not being able to travel to France right now (he makes a case for Parisians not being the politest of people).
Before sharing the recipe, he explains every Frenchwoman he knows has a go-to chocolate cake recipe that she’s committed to memory, that can be made on a moment’s notice. And if there was ever a week that called for chocolate cake to be consumed in big, hulking wedges, drowned down with a cold glass of milk (or maybe a Kombucha Ginger Cocktail), I think this was it.
Here’s to next week being much better, to staying calm, staying kind, and counting all the votes!