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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy All Hallows Eve!

There is a lot of excitement at our farmhouse today.  We try to remind the little ones that Halloween is really All Hallows Eve as we get ready to celebrate All Saints' Day tomorrow and remember All Souls' Day on Monday.  Our house is filled with a flurry of activities this morning and afternoon, and our children are eagerly anticipating trick-or-treating tonight.

Our daughter made the last of the pumpkin spice jack-o-lantern candy.  I know the last thing we need today is more candy, but when else am I going to use these molds?

We baked caramel apple cupcakes and decorated some of them with caramel frosting.  When we ran out, we used up some leftover maple spice frosting for the remainder.

The children and their dad carved jack-o-lanterns.  I photographed.

Although, they mostly designed and carved the pumpkins themselves.  Yes, that is a nail sticking out of the one.  There is also a Minecraft creeper etched into the back of another.

Pumpkin seeds are currently being cleaned and roasted in the oven.  Only my husband has the patience to separate all the goo from the seeds.

I've been reading our Halloween books to our six year-old daughter.  She decorated the pumpkin and named it Norbert.

Some of us are just hanging out.

Have a safe and happy Halloween/All Hallows Eve!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

October Family Traditions

October is such a fun month.  Nights are cooler, but it still gets warm enough to enjoy the outdoors during the day.  All of nature turns the most brilliant warm, fall colors, and there seems to be a plethora of activities and events to participate in.  Just as we have our summer traditions on and around our farm, we also have our annual fall traditions, and most of them occur in the month of October.

We visit farms and orchards, sometimes as a family and sometimes on school field trips.  At this orchard, first graders got a tour and were able to fill a bag with their pick of apples to take home.

We usually get to go on at least one chilly hayride in October.  I grew up going on hayrides in the fall, bundling up and often sipping hot cocoa on the way.  Our children still love these and never seem to grow tired of them.

Sometimes our hayrides occur at a local corn maze.  This particular farm has a different theme each year, and this fall it was set up as The Hundred Acre Woods from Winnie the Pooh.  As we walked---or should I say, ran---through the maze, the children had to stop at various spots to find a clue that would lead them to the end and tell them whose birthday it was.

Sometimes the clue simply informed you that you hadn't solved the mystery and must continue on.

This farm also has games, play areas, face painting, food and hot cider, a dark maze, pedal carts, and a pumpkin patch.

It even had these creative little tractor pull rides that our teenage son and other adolescent friends squeezed themselves into.  My kids never seem to outgrow this place.

Our family loves all things pumpkin, so it is our tradition in October to try as many new pumpkin products as we can find.  I think there are more this year than I've ever seen.  Last week we found Kellogg's Pumpkin Spice Frosted Mini-Wheats, Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter, and the adults enjoyed the Pennsylvania Brewing Company's Pumpkin Roll Ale.

We couldn't get through the month of October without my baking at least one batch of pumpkin chocolate chip muffins.  Now that my oven is repaired and working again, I have no excuse, so I'd better get to making some more this week before the month is over.

I don't know if other areas of the country have "turkey shoots," but here in the Allegheny Mountains they're kind of a big deal.  They don't actually shoot at turkeys, but they use shotguns to shoot at targets, and the top three participants win eggs (third place), potatoes (second place), or a big frozen turkey (the grand prize.)

My husband and our eldest two sons went down to the nearby Sportsman's Club to give this a try.  Last year was the first fall that we did this, but I think it is now a part of our fall traditions because...

...our 22 year-old son made the best shot and won us a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner!  I have to admit that during all the years I lived in suburbia I never heard of a turkey shoot.  There were foxhunts in the local public woods every year, but you needed the proper gear---namely, a horse---for that.  For the turkey shoots, you simply come with your shotgun, ammunition, and $20 to participate, and you might go home with free food.  Mostly, it gives the locals an excuse to hang out, shoot guns, and eat.

Although the younger children can't participate in the turkey shoot, everyone gathers on and around our king-size bed to watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

I remember eagerly anticipating the airing of this movie, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and The Wizard of Oz when I was a girl.  Now that we own them on DVD and video, it's not quite as exciting, but we try to wait until October each year to watch them.  I still love to snuggle up with my kiddos to watch all the classic Peanuts Gang movies.

Our teenagers are starting their own October traditions as they are now attending costume parties and dances with their classmates and friends.

Naturally, carving jack-o-lanterns is one of our traditions this month.  We still need to carve our pumpkins this year.  The above photo is actually from last October when we were fighting off our loose goats who kept sticking their heads in our hollowed out pumpkins to eat the seeds and pulp.

Our October traditions will be completed on Halloween night when we go trick-or-treating.  We live so far out in the middle of nowhere that no one comes to our house to trick-or-treat.  We either have to go with friends who live in neighborhoods or walk through the streets of the nearest little town.  Personally, I wouldn't mind giving up this tradition since I'm not in favor of all the candy the children get and want to devour immediately, but they still love it too much.  I just do my best to ration the candy, which means it's still on top of the refrigerator where they can't reach it until Christmas or my husband and I pick out the best chocolate and eat it when they aren't looking.  Unfortunately, that latter option works against my attempts to keep my waistline from expanding.  

What annual October traditions do you and your family share?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Feelings of Gratitude

I have been given a week of numerous blessings, and I am bursting with feelings of immense joy and gratitude that I want to share.

Our 22 year old son came to visit from South Carolina this week, and he brought his little fluffy friend with him.

The middle part of the week brought warm days with temperatures around 70 degrees.

The children were out of school for several days due to parent/teacher conferences and an inservice, which meant we were able to spend these warm days together outdoors.  Reports from teachers were very positive, and our children have adapted to their new school quite well.

Amidst the autumn colors everywhere, there were these rare patches of bright green that stood out dramatically.

This little guy stood out noticeably too.

Many of these photos were taken by my teen daughter who was photographing and videotaping with her phone, sometimes unbeknownst to me.  Did I ever mention how grateful I am for yoga pants?

This is the view from the bridge on our lane which I get to see every day on my way to and from the mailbox, and I am eternally grateful for being fortunate enough to live here.

On Friday, the sky was the most vibrant shade of blue I have ever seen.

The golden yellow leaves were spectacular against the backdrop of that blue sky, and I am so grateful for the autumn colors we experience up here in the northeastern mountains.

I am grateful for sweet little boys and smelly beagles who are nearly impossible to walk on a leash.

On a "not-so-preppy" afternoon, our children shot arrows, bbs, and even threw a tomahawk at homemade targets in our backyard.  Our 10 year-old son even made his own bow that works remarkably well.  I am grateful for being able to live out in the country where our kids can be kids and not have to worry about neighbors or neighborhood ordinances.

We took our grown son and his fiancee to dinner at a quaint, locally-owned, country restaurant, and I am grateful for the time with them and for the fact that all of our children are now old enough to sit for several hours in a restaurant without a tote full of activities to keep them entertained.

Most of all, I have immense gratitude for being blessed with this large, loving, beautiful family with whom I get the privilege of sharing all these other blessings.

May you all have a lovely weekend full of people and places that fill your hearts with gratitude.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Oh for the Love of Pumpkin!

I can never get enough of pumpkin this time of year.  I'll be cooking and baking with it from now until Christmas.  I shared with you the recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins in a prior post, and it can be found HERE.  Below are a few of our other favorite pumpkin dishes.  Now I just need to get my broken oven repaired or replaced.  That is definitely messing up my autumn "To Do" list.

Pumpkin Pancakes

In a large bowl mix all of the following ingredients: 2 eggs, 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup mashed pumpkin, 
1 3/4 cups of baking/biscuit mix, 2 Tablespoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 1/4 cup vegetable oil.  Drop by spoonfuls onto a hot greased griddle or cast iron skillet.  When bubbles appear on top, flip pancakes over.  Serve with maple syrup and butter.

Pumpkin Cobbler

Mix all of the following ingredients together: (1) 28 ounce can pumpkin, 1 large can evaporated milk, 1 cup sugar, 3 eggs, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Pour this into a 9x13 cake pan.  Spread 1 box of a yellow cake mix on top of all the ingredients.  Slice 2 cubes of butter on top of cake mix.  Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes.  Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.  This is really a hit around the holidays.  It's a nice break from the traditional pumpkin pies, but you still get the festive pumpkin.

Pumpkin Cake Roll

For the filling, combine 1 cup powdered sugar, 6 ounces of softened cream cheese, and 1/4 cup softened butter.  Beat smooth and set aside.  Then for the cake, beat 3 eggs on high for at least 5 minutes.  Gradually beat in 1 cup sugar.  Stir in 2/3 can pumpkin and 1 teaspoon lemon juice.  In a separate bowl, sift together 3/4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Fold the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture.  Generously grease a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with a rim.  Sprinkle well with flour.  Spread batter in pan; then sprinkle nuts evenly over top.  Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.  Turn the cake onto a terry dish towel that's been sprinkled with powdered sugar.  Starting at narrow end, roll towel and cake up together.  Cool.  Unroll and spread with filling.  Roll up cake without towel.  Wrap in plastic wrap; chill.  Slice and serve.  *I know this sounds a bit time-consuming and complicated, but after making it once, you'll find it's not that bad.  Just wait till you and your family taste it.  This is probably our absolute favorite pumpkin dessert.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Blustery Fall Weekend

Brrr.  It got quite chilly here in the Allegheny Mountains this fall weekend.  There were even spots that saw a mix of snow, sleet, and rain.  We spent most of our time warm and cozy indoors with good food, extended family, and fall treats.

To start the weekend, we baked, filled, and frosted these Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes from Duncan Hines.  Every now and then, I do break down and use a boxed mix.  The grocery stores are carrying so many interesting autumn treats, so I thought I'd give this a try.  They were quite tasty and are all gone by now, of course.  One problem: my oven quit working, so we mixed them up in our kitchen, then walked up to the cabin to bake the cupcakes, and then carried them back down to the house to frost.  Perhaps the little hike shaved off a few of the 225 calories in each cupcake.

Another fun find that my husband surprised me with that has no calories is this Pumpkin Body Butter found at Trader Joe's.  It's just as luxurious as the regular body butter but smells scrumptuous.

We spent Saturday afternoon around our long kitchen table playing card games with the grandparents.  The big people played Phase 10.

Then we played Uno Attack with the little people.

I was going to wait another month to break out my thick sweaters and boots, but it was so cold that I gave in and even broke out my long silk underwear... And I was still cold.

The grownups decided to dine at a new, unique, farm-to-table restaurant called Revival Kitchen.

Don't try to get in without reservations because chances are you'll be out of luck. 

 Fortunately, we did think to make reservations, and we had a table back by the wine bar where we sampled wines from Seven Mountains Winery, and then ordered a couple of bottles to drink with dinner.

For appetizers, we tried Smoked Trout Deviled Eggs and Miso Glazed Shitake Mushrooms.  My father-in-law is the truly adventurous eater though, and he ordered Bread and Bone, which is bone marrow served with grilled sourdough bread, short rib onion jam, and an herb salad.  There was no way I was touching that even though I was assured that it is delicious and healthy too.

My husband and I tried the Maple Cured Smoked Duck Breast with roasted brussels sprouts, crispy polenta, and those fancy rings of squash.  This was tasty, but I realized I'm not a polenta or duck lover.

The grandparents tried the Herb Marinated Chicken with risotto, goat cheese, and grilled broccolini...

...and the Gnocchi with ricotta, charred broccolini, garlic cream, and crispy Lacinato kale.  Everyone was in agreement that it was all superb, but I was stuffed.

However, we weren't too full for dessert.  We sampled the pumpkin cheesecake, chocolate brownie with peanut butter mousse, and a chocolate pudding cake filled with fruit and nuts with a toffee sauce underneath.  It was unanimous that the pudding cake was the most original and the winner of the evening.  Somehow, my husband and I awoke in the middle of the night with indigestion from eating so much, but the grandparents slept like babies.  Go figure.

On Sunday, after we attended Mass together and had lunch, we ventured over to the public library where they had all kinds of organized activities for children.  Our youngest was the only one willing to make paper bag puppets.

But they were all more than willing to decorate cookies with autumn decorations.  If it involves eating, they're in!

When we came home, I discovered why I have to recreate my porch display every morning because the pumpkins and Indian corn have been knocked off the hay bale.

And despite the cold, winds, snow and sleet, the weekend ended looking like this. 

I'm loving fall!