Recipe: Cocoa-Chili Roasted Pumpkin/Winter Squash Seeds.

As I speak, there is a roasted butternut squash-parsnip-carrot-sweet potato soup going on in my house.  (My take on this recipe, in which the OP probably didn’t spatter hot soup all over the backsplash and the outside of the front door and the neighbour’s Hallowe’en decorations even though she was really, really careful and wore an apron and a welder’s helmet and everything).

The point of this? (Besides the fact that there is soup happening and it’s perfect for these chilly evenings when snow is threatening).  The squash seeds!  Don’t throw them away.  Grow them in your garden next year or roast them.  I did the latter, and decided I’d use a familiar flavour combination in a new-ish way:

Cocoa-Chili Roasted Pumpkin/Winter Squash Seeds

Do this first: preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius).

Then throw the raw seeds that you just scooped out of your squash (ew, that sounds a tad impolite – my apologies) into a small saucepan.  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Turn the heat down and simmer for about 15 minutes. Drain the water from the seeds and pat the seeds dry with a paper towel.

Lay the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper.  Now comes the tricky part – adjusting the measurements that I sort of winged in the first place.

For 1/2 cup seeds, add:

1 teaspoon butter or ghee or coconut oil, melted

1//8 to 1/4 teaspoon baking cocoa powder

1/8 teaspoon chili powder

1/8 teaspoon salt*

Stir everything together on the baking sheet and pop in the preheated oven.  Roast for 10 minutes then take the pan out and stir the seeds.  Place them back into the oven for another 10 minutes, then remove.  Cool completely and then dig in.  You may need to make a few batches of these until you get the heat that you want (or just add more spice during or at the end of roasting). I’m a wimp, so this is sufficient on the pepper scale for me.  I think more than one person might consider that the addition of a bit of ground cayenne might kick things up nicely as well….

If you don’t like chocolate (difficult to believe but I’m told it’s true for some folks), I have a lime and chili roasted pumpkin/winter squash seed recipe that you may enjoy – check it out here.

*There are metric conversion tables available here. 

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Enjoy!

Ten reasons pumpkins are awesome.

(Excerpts of this piece were originally intended for another project but I thought it would be fun to share this today…especially as pumpkin pie is going to be a feature of so many Thanksgiving meals south of the border).  🍗 🍰🍷

More than just the ubiquitous feature of seasonal hot beverages and desserts, or decorations set out to greet trick-or-treaters and serve as the centerpiece on a bountiful Thanksgiving table, pumpkins are the fascinating subjects of myth, history, science…and sport. Whether you intend to eat, drink, grow, or hurl them, this list of pumpkin facts is guaranteed to help you get your festive groove on.

  1. One word: pie.

The heaviest pumpkin in the world was grown in Switzerland in 2014. It weighed 2,323 pounds (1,053 kilograms). The American record for heaviest pumpkin was set in 2015 by Gene McMullen, of Illinois. His massive prize-winner weighed 2,145 pounds (973 kilograms).

If you are looking to grow your own giant pumpkins, be prepared to supply them with plenty of cow manure, water, and sunlight. A goodly amount of labor is necessary to keep the vines properly pruned so that most of the energy of the plants are directed to fruit production – and so that the vines do not snap as the pumpkin’s girth increases. It is not unusual for pumpkins of the largest varieties to add an astonishing two inches (five centimeters) to their circumference every night.

The largest pumpkin pie was baked in 2010 in New Bremen, Ohio. It weighed 3,699 pounds (1,677 kilograms) and was 20 feet (6 meters) in diameter. There is no word on whether or not the world’s largest batch of whipped cream record was broken at the same time.

  1. They are mysterious.

Pumpkin, squash, gourd – what is the difference? It is all relative, really. All of these plants are part of the family Cucurbitaceae, which contains over 100 genera and 700 species (including melons). Botanists try to distinguish them all by categorizing characteristics such as leaves, seeds, and fruit, as well as their use. Most pumpkins are identifiable by their rounded, ribbed, hard skins – but then again, so are some gourds. And we should not refer to pumpkins as vegetables – they are, botanically, berries.

  1. You can hurl them with slingshots, trebuchets, or cannons.

If smashing pumpkins seems like fun (of course it does!), then why not go the whole hog and build a pumpkin cannon? Competitive pumpkin chucking (punkin chunkin) events are held annually all over the United States. The longest pumpkin chuck on record took place in Moab, Utah, in September 2010: the cucurbit flew 5,545.43 feet (1,690.24 meters) from a pneumatic cannon dubbed “Big 10 Inch.” Pumpkins-to-be-chucked must have thick enough skins to be able to handle the G-forces of the launch without breaking in mid-air, which would result in a disqualification.

  1. They come in many colors.

Do you think all pumpkins have orange rinds? Definitely not! While red pumpkins are not much of a stretch, ghostly white varieties such as ‘Casper’ and ‘Lumina’ are the new superstars of designer Hallowe’en centerpieces. The appropriately-monikered ‘Baby Boo’ is the tiniest of the white bunch, with a mere three-inch (7.6 centimeter) diameter. There are even blue pumpkins, of which the Australian-bred ‘Jarrahdale’ and the lightly speckled ‘Blue Moon’ are probably the most common. Orange-skinned pumpkins may have more beta carotene and other orange pigments than those sporting more exotic hues, but nearly all pumpkins, regardless of their rind color, have orange flesh.

  1. They are cooler than turnips.

The tradition of carving a pumpkin into a Jack o-Lantern for Hallowe’en has murky origins in Irish legend: a man named Stingy Jack twice tricked the devil and was not allowed into heaven or hell after his death. Forced to roam in perpetual night, Jack carried before him a lantern made of a carved turnip, its innards removed and replaced with a lump of burning coal. During the festival of Samhain, which marks the end of the harvest season and the entrance into the dark winter months, celebrants often carried lighted turnips, beets, and even potatoes. The practice was later adopted for Hallowe’en. When Irish and Scottish settlers arrived in North America, they found that pumpkins were a plentiful, native crop long grown by indigenous peoples. It was also obvious pumpkins were far better candidates for carving than turnips. It is only recently that pumpkin decorating has become popular in Europe.

  1. Canned pumpkin means more pie.

The sweet and tasty glop that we buy in the store is not actually the puréed flesh of the same cultivars of aesthetically-pleasing pumpkins we usually cut into Jack o-Lanterns. Pumpkin varieties that are slightly less pretty, but far more creamy and delicious (such as ‘Dickinson’), are usually used for processed pumpkin products. Eighty percent of all pumpkins in the United States are grown in the state of Illinois – most near the village of Morton, where 100,000 tons (90,718 tonnes) of pumpkins are processed annually. Ninety-five percent of all those pumpkins end up in a can.

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  1. There are lots of them.

While the United States grows a serious wagon-load of pumpkins – nearly all them sold during the month of October – China is actually the largest producer of pumpkins in the world. In 2015, China grew nearly 7,716,179 metric tons (7 million metric tonnes) of pumpkins and other squash, mostly for domestic consumption. The world’s largest exporter of pumpkins and other squash is Spain, which supplies most of Europe with cucurbits. Unsurprisingly, the United States imports the most pumpkins on the planet, primarily from Mexico. Much of this production is for processed (canned) pumpkin products.

  1. Mmmmm…beer.

Modern brewmasters are not merely jumping onto a seasonal bandwagon: pumpkin beer has a long history in the United States. In the 17th century, when sugar and malt were not easy commodities to attain, pumpkins were plentiful substitutes and pressed into service for beer-making. By the mid-1800’s, malt was readily accessible but pumpkin remained a staple of quality brews.

  1. They go well with cinnamon.

Since when did the flavor and scent of a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and ginger come to represent the single ingredient “pumpkin” in cooking and baking, fragrances, home décor items, and those famous lattes? If you have ever eaten a piece of cooked pumpkin, you will notice it is pretty bland, and benefits from the addition of other ingredients to make it more pleasing to the palate. In the 1950’s, commercial spice companies recognized the marketing potential of premixing the home baker’s pumpkin pie spices for convenience – and the rest is history. Nowadays we sometimes forget that pumpkin does not actually contain any cinnamon.

1.They have many edible parts.

Each pumpkin contains an average of 500 seeds.This depends, of course, on the size and variety of pumpkin. Most pumpkins take between 95 and 120 days to produce seeds, so do not waste them – eat them! (Here’s a good recipe). Pumpkin flowers are also edible, but pick them sparingly if you want to harvest pumpkins later on.

Recipe: Roasted pumpkin and lentils.

In lieu of photos of skeletal trees, interesting living sculptures, and a harrowing (!) trip to a ghost town, this year I’m offering up a Hallowe’en post with a recipe.  It’s a frighteningly good one, though, and it uses pumpkin, so it will hopefully meet with unanimous approval and gifts of tiny individually-wrapped chocolates.

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Roasted Pumpkin and Lentils

SPOILER ALERT:  Gratuitous pumpkin gore ahead*

1 small pumpkin

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup red lentils, washed and drained

4 cups water

½ tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp salt

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tsp ground curry

1 tbsp minced garlic

1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1 large tomato, diced

1 tsp red pepper flakes

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Metric conversion table here.

*First, prepare the pumpkin. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Carefully cut the pumpkin in half, and scoop out the seeds. (Save the seeds to roast later on).  Place the pumpkin, cut sides up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Brush olive oil into the cavity of the pumpkin halves.  Roast the pumpkin in the hot oven for 45 minutes.  Cool, then scoop out the flesh into bite-sized pieces.

Using a colander, rinse the lentils under cool water. Into a large saucepan, place the 4 1/2 cups of water and lentils.  Bring to a boil.  Add the turmeric and salt.  Cover the pot and cook at medium heat for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are soft.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the cumin seeds, curry, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and red pepper flakes.  Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add the roasted pumpkin and lentils (including the liquid) to the pan.  Mix well.  Cook about 5 minutes, then add fresh parsley.  Serve over hot cooked rice or noodles.

I think it would be highly appropriate to chow down on this festive comfort food with a side of miniature chocolate bars while enjoying a recording of Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone reading Edgar Allan Poe stories and poems (the link may be found here; you’ll need a Spotify account to listen).  Freakishly fantastic!

Recipe: Lime and chili roasted pumpkin seeds.

I posted this recipe way back in 2012, but I recently made it again and updated the photography on the original entry (which also explains how to properly save pumpkin seeds, if you’re interested).  This is a really easy recipe, and it has just the right amount of spiciness (you can omit the cayenne pepper if you prefer a bit milder flavour).

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Lime and Chili Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Seeds from one pumpkin

3 tbsp freshly-squeezed lime juice

1 tbsp olive oil

1/4 tsp salt (if you have coarse salt, use that)

1/2 tsp chili powder

pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius).  Combine all ingredients except seeds in a small bowl.  Carefully wash pumpkin seeds in cool water, removing all of the extra bits of pulp.  Dry the seeds thoroughly between several layers of paper towel and transfer to the bowl with the lime and chili.  Combine thoroughly and spread seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Roast seeds in preheated oven for 10 minutes, then remove pan and stir the seeds, spreading them out once again in a single layer. Place in oven for another 10 minutes, then remove and allow to cool.  Enjoy!

What is your favourite recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds?

Living art.

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Beautiful or slightly unnerving?  What’s your take on this lounging lady?  (She was a work-in-progress at the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton, Alberta, in summer 2014).

Personally, I am absolutely enamoured with her hair….

Happy Hallowe’en!  

Ghost town trek: Lille, Alberta.

The spookiest part of hiking into Lille isn’t the fact that your destination is a ghost town…it’s that the trailhead keeps shifting around in a sinister manipulation of time and space.  It’s as if the place wants to protect all of its secrets and remain hidden in the dark, quiet* woods.

Either that, or my hubby and I are just terrible route finders.

We did as the guide book said: we parked in the meadow that we easily located after passing by the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre in Frank, Alberta, in the heart of the Crowsnest Pass.  We thought we had it all down pat as we jogged up the cutline past the accoutrements of oil and gas activity and headed towards Goat (also called Bluff) Mountain.  Although we read in the book that we were to hang a left at “any obvious junction,” we thought the gravel road that the people in the SUV were driving down couldn’t possibly be accurate (who hikes along a ROAD?), so we kept ploughing onward until we had to bushwack through a huge grove of wind-stunted aspens and we kinda sorta got the inkling that we might be going the wrong way.

We ended up climbing part of Goat Mountain that day.  After a few hours of being blasted by wind and scraped by trees, we conceded defeat and went to the Interpretive Centre to ask for directions.  (Yeah, I know what you’re thinking).

We made our second attempt to find the unfindable town of Lille the next morning.  Guess which road it was on?  Apparently, most people don’t hike all the way in – they drive in!  If you have a 4×4 or an ATV, you can navigate the numerous creek crossings and not have to hoof any bit of it at all.  We chose to park our truck (she of the delicate constitution) where the road degenerated into a goat path and walked the rest of the way.  And although our efforts were nearly thwarted by The Only Slightly Wobbly Bridge of Doom,

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The Swamp of Skeletal Trees,

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The Red Herrings (I mean Red Crabapples) Designed to Throw Us Off the Trail,

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and the Devilishly Dangerous Free Range Cattle,

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we eventually found the No. 1 Mine Site at Lille, as well as the townsite.

Construction on the town began in 1901 by the British Columbia-based company Gold Fields Ltd..  There had been hope for gold deposits in the clear-running creeks, but the lure of big coal was worth setting up camp for.  One of the founders of the company, J.J. Fleutot, managed to secure funding from financiers in the city of Lille, France, and so formed the West Canadian Collieries Ltd. to manage the burgeoning mines.  A railway was built, which you can still see the spectral impressions of today (unless I’m wrong, and these mounds are instead the work of some insanely large and industrious dew worms):

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One of the interpretive signs indicated that the railway had a mind-boggling 23 trestles over the distance of only 11 kilometres (the area sits near the confluence of three generously sized creeks).  A good chunk of the railroad was damaged during the Frank Slide in 1903, which cut off the town of Lille and crippled its industry until it was rebuilt.

By 1906, Lille was a proper town, with a hotel, a school, and a hospital.  The population peaked somewhere around 400 in its heyday, but by 1912, it was all over when the coke market went into decline.  The mine was closed and everyone living in the town moved on.

Now, Lille is just bits and pieces in a cow pasture, but you can walk (or, apparently, roar* your ATV or dirt bike) among the foundations and wonder about the past.

The Seriously Scary Window (Chute?) in the Wall at the No. 1 Mine site.

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The Guts of the Formerly Three Storey Hotel.

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The Really Creepy Fire Hydrant Out in the Middle of Nowhere.

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And, most impressively, the Decaying Coke Ovens, which were built of bricks manufactured in Belgium.  The bricks were numbered and shipped to Lille, where they were reassembled in what I imagine was sort of like an IKEA build on a massive scale, only without the hex-key wrenches.

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Oh yeah, and because it’s Hallowe’en and this is a story about a ghost town, here is a photo of the bones of something that obviously couldn’t find the trailhead to Lille, either.  Yikes – sure glad we asked for directions!   😉

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Happy Hallowe’en!  Have you ever spent any time in a ghost town?

Link:  The History of Hallowe’en in Alberta – Trick or Treat (Retroactive)

Skeletons in the forest.

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It DOES have a bit of a spooky quality to it, doesn’t it?  On a hike a couple of years ago, my hubby and I came across this grove of dead trees in Sibbald Flats, Kananaskis.  The trees were originally planted in 1974 as part of a logging reclamation project.  Something tells me even more reclamation is in order….

Wishing you a safe and happy Hallowe’en!  Are you doing anything to celebrate?