Plentiful Pumpkins!

 

It’s that time of year again, where everywhere you turn, there’s a pumpkin meeting your gaze. Many of these winter squash are decorated as jack-o’-lanterns, while some of the plainer varieties repose as decorations that are more refined, or as actual food options at the markets. Often thought of as a vegetable, pumpkin is actually a fruit, because it develops from the flower and is the part of the plant that contains the seeds. On the other hand, vegetables include the leaves, stems, buds and roots of plants.

In recent years, pumpkins of varying colors beyond the traditional orange have been developed, with hybrids showing off shades of blue, white, tan, pink, red and green. No matter the hue, this fabulous fruit ripens throughout the summer and will normally reach its full size by September or October, thus the “harvest” time of year that pumpkin evokes.

How can authors use pumpkins in their writing? Setting comes to mind first, of course. A few well-placed pumpkins in your story or book can tell readers that it’s late summer or fall, whether the action is taking place before Halloween or well after, and might even offer a hint as to where in the world your writing is set. Using designer colors for the pumpkins in your novel? Then your book is probably set sometime after about 2005, when these became more widely available.

Pumpkins might also be used to tell readers something about your characters. Want to show that your leading lady or man is earthy, a hard worker, and probably likes to cook or bake? What better way than to show them hoeing in the pumpkin patch and getting a little dirt under their nails, or cooking up some pumpkin to use in a favorite recipe. Picture a couple pulling into the farmers market and lovingly running their interlaced fingers over the pumpkin options. Don’t tell me that scene couldn’t express fecundity, possible sexual repression or just raw sexual desire!

I’ve even used this member of the cucurbit family in my novel, Romantivores, which I’m currently revising. This portion of the book takes place in November, so I didn’t want any hint of jack-o’-lanterns hanging around. I’ve chosen to employ simple white pumpkins to line the sidewalk leading up to the stone building where one of my protagonists works. Not only can these white wonders indicate the time of year, but I also wanted them to suggest a less relaxed or homey atmosphere than their orange siblings, since there’s danger lurking nearby that is yet unknown to my main characters.

Last, but certainly not least, what about those books that include lists of recipes or deftly weave directions for tasty treats throughout their pages? Recipes for pumpkin can fill a cook’s needs throughout the day, from breakfast pancakes to tummy-warming soups at lunch or sweet desserts to finish off a delicious dinner. One of my favorite uses for pumpkin appears below. I came upon this easy idea one day when the bananas on my counter weren’t ripe enough for my usual lunchtime smoothie, and I found a can of pumpkin hiding in the dark recesses of my kitchen cupboard.

SQUOOTHIE (Squash Smoothie:)

1 cup cold almond milk (or your favorite milk product)

½ cup pumpkin (chilled is best)

1 tablespoon honey, or your choice of sweetener

¼ teaspoon vanilla

dash of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice

Blend and enjoy!

Options: Ice, banana, peanut butter, cumin, bee pollen, or yogurt in place of milk

 

Herbs and Spices: an Affair of the Palate

I love having the power at my fingertips to lead a potentially good meal around the corner to becoming even better, with simple touches of just the right herbs and spices! What’s the difference between the two, you might ask…is it just the form they’re in, whether fresh or dried? Actually, it has more to do with their origins.

In doing some research to refresh my memory, I was reminded that herbs come from the leafy, green parts of the plants, while spices are derived from the bark, stems, root or bulbs. I’m always surprised if a friend admits to not using many of either, since my over-the-top collection of the dried varieties boasts about 50 little bottles neatly arranged alphabetically. Sounds like a lot, I know, but they all get used, eventually.

Fresh herbs are my preference, but they don’t last very long from the grocery store, and chives is the only one I have luck with growing, long-term. I can keep rosemary, basil, sage and parsley alive for a while, either outdoors or in, but the time is limited. I have a growing penchant for the pungent ones that arrive at the stores in their own little tubes, mixed with a little oil, like ginger, cilantro and basil. You may want to try these, if you haven’t already.

The dried combinations available in the supermarkets are tasty, too, like Italian, Greek and Moroccan seasonings containing herbs and spices that naturally lend just the right touch to foods from those areas of the world. The concoction that I wouldn’t want to do without, though, is Herbes de Provence. The high prices sometimes hint at being imported directly from France, but don’t let them fool you. The less expensive brands in the plain plastic containers work just fine, or you can make your own blend. As Peter Mayle points out in his book, Provence A-Z, there are rules in place that assure the resulting “recipe” for mixtures actually bottled in France: 26%, each, of oregano, rosemary and savory, followed by 19% thyme and 3% basil. I also enjoy a bit of lavender thrown in!

While using a pinch of that favorite “French” concoction recently, my mind started wandering to what “Herbs of Michigan” would contain, leading me to think about which ones might be tied the most closely to regional foods from this state. Better yet, what about a mixture particular to the Upper Peninsula, called “herbs da U.P.”, if you will! I’m sure the combination could vary widely, since immigrants including Finnish, French Canadians, Swedish and Cornish traditionally came to this part of the country to find work in the mines. A specialty that comes to mind first is the Cornish pasty (pictured below), that meat pie so well-known in the upper reaches of Michigan. Many pasty (rhymes with “lastly”) recipes call for onion, tarragon and thyme, which could make an interesting dried blend.

Based on your location or cooking areas of expertise, you may already have your favorites. You could even bottle your own personal blends, to have ready and waiting as you don your apron! It would be great to hear from readers about their herb and spice preferences.

Thoughts on writing, getting published, and enjoying life’s everyday pleasures…

-by Becky Michael   

Join me for a cup of tea, coffee or something stronger over a discussion of some possible shared interests before jumping back onto the road of life!

When I began planning this blog aimed at enhancing my writing platform, I came across the photo above that seemed to fit my needs in so many ways. In the first place, it was auspicious to find such a lovely photograph carrying the word “Platform”. Secondly, writing is actually my fourth career or “calling”. I spent many years as a full-time mother, followed by training and employment as an office administrator. I then furthered my studies to work as a teacher, happily ending up as a full-time writer. All of my life experiences up to this point are now funneled into this creative endeavor. Finally, I love the symbolism in the picture, of the solid ground where I now stand, with the towering mountain nearby still to be climbed.

Maybe you’re also working toward publication after age 50. Could be that you’re a retired educator, too, or enjoy reading, gardening, cooking or collecting vintage items. I’d love to see comments on my musings and hear from others with similar tastes, or with completely different outlooks to pique readers’ and my interests!