Gifts, Large and Small

Today I am grateful for the gift of not one but two pumpkins.

A friend who comes to church with me asked me if I use pumpkin. I said yes, I use it my vegan beer brownies* and in cakes, in soups and in pies and as a side dish. She pointed to two pumpkins used in her landscaping and asked if I wanted them when she was ready to change decorations.
I said yes, and expected to pick them up the next week.

However, we had a freeze warning.

(I think my friend is 4’10” and north of seventy-five years old.)

Last Sunday she told me she had the pumpkins for me in the garage, and I could get them after church. When she opened the garage door, she led me to a red wheel barrow.. She had stacked them in there; each was the size of a snowman’s base. I have no idea how she managed to lift and wheel them in. “Careful pushing that,” she said as I wheeled it toward my car, “It’s heavy!” And she gave a small smile.

She also gave me two of her aloe vera plants that she’d had in her garden all summer. One will live in the living room, the other in the kitchen.

My brave husband spared my fingers by carving up the first of the pumpkin for me into chunks, and I am cooking them slowly but surely. We had some roasted with nutmeg and butter on Tuesday, and it was delicious, we ate every spoonful. And there will be more. Some for diabetic friendly pumpkin cheesecake, some to mix into chocolate cakes, some to simmer with coconut milk into soups and some to eat like a vegetable.

Sliced pumpkin, covered with a towel, waiting to be roasted. Copyright Ann McLellan Lardas, 2017

We have reached the portion of the year where Winter wishes to overtake Fall. The leaves have turned and faded; many have fallen. The days are shorter, the darkness comes faster and remains deeper.  The only way to fight the darkness is love.

Love is, among other things, someone protecting her enormous pumpkins, for you, from the squirrels and the frost, so you can bake and share it.

I am grateful.

* Beer brownies — in a huge mixing bowl, combine two packages of dairy free brownie mix, one can of pumpkin (14 ounces, or about a cup and a half of home cooked pumpkin), and one twelve ounce bottle of cheap beer. Stir. Spread the mix into two pans according to the direction on the package and bake as directed. Vegan.

That Lenten Chocolate Cake

That Lenten Chocolate Cake

Purists mix this in the pan, but I use a mixing bowl, to keep the floor clean.

Stir together the dry ingredients:
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons cocoa powder (friends use more)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Add the moist ingredients:
2 teaspoons vinegar
2 tablespoons vanilla (friends use way more)
2 cups warm water
¾ cup vegetable oi

Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, soda and salt into mixing bowl. Make three holes; in one put vanilla, in one put vinegar, and in the last hole put
oil. Over this pour warm water and mix back and forth until all is mixed. Do not beat.

Pour into:
one nine by thirteen baking pan, or
two 8″ or 9″ round or square pans (eight inches will be taller, nine inches thinner) or
one bundt pan, or
make a dozen cupcakes.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Top with frosting or sprinkle with powdered sugar.
(To do this, put some powdered sugar in a small strainer and shake it gently over the cake.)

Variations on the Theme

Mint Chocolate Cake:
Frost with mint frosting.

Chocolate Chip Cake:
Omit cocoa and add up to one cup chocolate chips.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip cake:
Add up to one cup of chocolate chips.

Chocolate Cherry Cake:
In place of water, use all the juice from a jar of maraschino cherries plus enough water to make two cups. Chop the cherries (or don’t) and add them at the last minute.

Apple Sauce Cake:
Omit the coco powder.
Use applesauce instead of water.
Add 2 teaspoons (okay, tablespoons) cinnamon.

Photo credit: serenejournal via Foter.com / CC BY

Farmer’s Cheese

This year, Orthodox Easter, or Pascha, will fall on May 1. One of the dishes we traditionally make is called syrnaja pascha, “pascha cheese.” It is a cheese-cake like food that we mold into a pyramid and eat slathered onto a sweet bread called kulich.

One of the ingredients for pascha cheese is farmer’s cheese. Apparently there are two kinds of farmer’s cheese. One is a hard product that you can chop up and put in salad. It’s closely akin to paneer and does not lend itself well to blending or molding. The other is the kind that they sell in Russian stores. We could not find it in the part of Houston where we lived for eleven years, so the ladies at church taught me how to make my own.

Farmer’s Cheese

Scald one gallon milk.

Remove from burner and add one quart buttermilk (from the nuns, I learned to pour things in the sign of the Cross. Since you’re not supposed to stir this, it makes even more sense here.)

Cover with a towel and place out of breezes for a day and a night and a day.

At the end of the second night, place it in the oven on “warm.”

In the morning you will see a mountain of curds in a sea of whey (unless it doesn’t work. Some years it doesn’t work, and California milk needs to be treated differently for reasons I do not understand).

Strain the curds into a very clean pillow case or tee shirt — cheese cloth has too wide a weave for this.

Refrigerate in a closed container until you are ready to use.

One gallon of milk plus one quart of buttermilk makes approximately two and a half pounds of Farmer’s Cheese.

Does it save money? Yes! Locally, in Fairfield County, Connecticut, Farmer’s cheese runs from $3.99 to $7.99 per pound. I can make ten pounds of cheese for about ten dollars.

Photo: Curds sans whey