Seven Little Pumpkins All In a Row, and Pumpkin Bread Sandwiches Ready to Go…

November 17 pumpkins 024

Do you remember the story of Cinderella?  It is a story about transformation, and kindness, and about seeing magical possibilities in our everyday surroundings.  Cinderella’s fairy godmother offers her the opportunity to fulfill her dreams of attending the ball and meeting the prince.  To take her there, a pumpkin is transformed into a gilded coach, mice into horses, and a rat into a coachmen.  Everyone gets a fresh chance at life.November 17 pumpkins 003

I love sharing this story with children because it encourages us to take a fresh look at our circumstances to see the possibilities we might otherwise overlook.  It invites us to step out of whatever limitations we perceive for ourselves, and find the path which will lead us to a more fulfilling and enriching future.

Pumpkins are a symbol of abundance.  Full of plump, tasty seeds, they remind us to plant the seeds of possibility  in our own lives, which will bear fruit for us over time.  Whether we make new friends, read useful books, join an organization, continue our education, learn a new skill, or volunteer in our community; we can all take small actions now which will bring us happiness and greater opportunities to live our dreams.November 17 pumpkins 026

These little pumpkin arrangements are also about seeing fresh possibilities in everyday materials.  They are constructed from locally grown pumpkins we have been enjoying on our mantle since September.  I clipped Nandina leaves and berries, sprigs of Kalanchoe, some Echeveria rosettes, garlic chive seed heads, and Hibiscus seed pods from the garden.  The Hibiscus have a lovely shape, but aren’t a very festive color at the moment.  A quick spray of metallic gold paint allows them to bring a little sparkle to the arrangement.  The only purchased materials are the reindeer moss, and the hot glue, which holds the arrangements together.

The pumpkin stems are left in place.  I began by gluing the heaviest living materials, the Kalanchoe and Echeveria, to the pumpkin and pumpkin stem with hot glue.  I don’t expect these to take root in this much lighter moss, but will take the arrangements apart after Thanksgiving and plant these pieces in potting soil.  The Nandina berry sprigs and leaves were the next items glued, then the garlic chives and Hibiscus.  Moss is used to cover the stems and visually anchor the arrangement onto the pumpkin.  It can be pushed into place on the still hot glue on the stems, or glued directly onto the pumpkins.  I haven’t put any water on these arrangements.

These little pumpkins will complete the decorations for our community event on Tuesday.  Afterwards I’ll most likely give a few of them to friends, and bring the others home to enjoy through the end of November.  They will complement the large pumpkin and succulent arrangements I made a few days ago.

Pumpkin bread has been baking this morning as I type, and the whole house smells sweet and spicy.

If you would like to bake some for yourself, here is the recipe for two loaves.  I’ll slice this bread fairly thinly, spread on the cheese filling, and make tiny sandwiches for the refreshment table on Tuesday.  It is a healthy and delicious late autumn treat, and I hope you will enjoy making it.

Pumpkin Bread  350FNovember 17 2013 pumpkin bread 002

(Roast 1 c. of walnut meats at 350F while gathering the other ingredients)

Prepare two loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray and a narrow sheet of waxed paper on the bottom of each pan.

Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl:

6 c. self-rising flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. grated nutmeg, 1/2 tsp. ground cloves,  1/2 tsp. ground cardamon, 1 c. dried cranberries and 1 c. roasted, chopped walnuts.

Mix together in a large stand mixer at low speed:

2 eggs, 3/4 c. sour cream, 3/4 c. melted butter, 1 1/2 c. light brown sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla, 1 tsp. orange extract.

Add 1 can of pumpkin puree.  (read the label and make sure you are buying pure pumpkin with no added sugar)

Mix at low speed until smooth.

Stop the mixer and add 3 cups of the mixed dry ingredients and 1/2 c. apple cider.  Mix at low speed until nearly combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and repeat with another 3 cups of dry ingredients and another 1/2  cider.  Mix at the lowest speed until just combined.  Scrape down the bowl again, and pour in the remaining dry ingredients.  Stream in apple cider slowly as you mix the ingredients at the lowest speed until the batter is moist and all of the flour is combined (about another 1/2 c. of cider).

Remove and clean the beater.  Fill each loaf pan 1/2 full.  Scrape down the mixing bowl again to incorporate any ingredients at the bottom, dividing the remaining batter between the pans so they  are equally full.  Bake at 350F for an hour, and then begin checking on the loaves.  They will probably need about 75 – 80 minutes total cooking time to be done all the way through.

Allow the loaves to cool completely on racks.  Turn out of the loaf pans after the first 10 minutes.  Wrap each loaf in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours before trying to slice it thinly.

Cheese Spread

Combine in the bowl of  a food processor fitted with the blade:

1 large container whipped cream cheese, softened; 1 tsp. onion powder; 1/2 tsp. garlic powder; 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper; 1/2 tsp. sea salt; 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary; 1 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese; 1/4 c. grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.  For a little more heat, add a teaspoon of chopped hot peppers.

Process until smooth.  Scrape into a lidded plastic container and use immediately to fill the sandwiches.  If making ahead, store in the refrigerator, but allow to soften before spreading.

Make the sandwiches ahead and chill before serving.  Each loaf should make 2-3 dozen small sandwiches, depending on how thickly the bread is sliced, when every slice is cut into 4 small squares.

Succulent Arrangements on Pumpkins

November 14 pumpkins 016We  are still in the season for all things pumpkin, and I was inspired by Claire Jones to try a pumpkin succulent arrangement after seeing her post on her Garden Diaries blog in October.

We are looking forward to a neighborhood gathering next week, and I wanted to try to construct succulent arrangements on pumpkins for our refreshment table at that event.  Pumpkins just disappeared from most shops after Halloween.  I felt very lucky to find exactly the shape pumpkins I was looking for at the Homestead Garden Center last week, and even luckier when Jonathan made a gift of them as they clear out fall stock to make room for Christmas.November 14 pumpkins 001

I found a bag of good, thick moss at Michael’s craft store for around $8.00 today.  It is beautiful moss, but not quite enough to sufficiently cover two pumpkins.  Luckily I had a frosted moss fern, Selaginella pallescens, which needed a trim going into garage storage for winter.  I expect that its aerial roots will allow it to root into the moss, and its similiar texture filled in the gaps.

Claire suggested cutting the stem off of the pumpkin to begin.  She used a moss which looks a little thinner than what I found, and covered the entire stem area with a sheet of moss.  The depression in the top of the pumpkin allows moisture to collect to hydrate the plants.  I really liked the stems on my pumpkins, and decided to leave them in place.  This made it a little easier to attach the plants.  I was able to drape rooted stems of “Angelina” stonecrop around the stem, and glue the stems of some of the rosettes to the pumpkin stem instead of to the moss.November 14 pumpkins 002

If you want to try this arrangement, first gather your plant materials.   I used nearly every piece of plant material I cut today, and could have used more.  Cut heavily so your finished pumpkin will look lush.  This is a good project for this time of year because it is good to trim back the succulents as the come inside for winter.  Cut the stems longer than you might otherwise, so you have plenty of surface area to glue.  Purchasing plants just for this project, at least in Virginia, would be very pricy.  Taking cuttings from established plants keeps this project affordable.November 14 pumpkins 005

I dropped one of my largest succulent pots while bringing it into the garage this week, so I am very motivated to take cuttings from those plants ahead of having to repot all of the plants into new pots next week.  Claire indicates that the succulent cuttings should root into the wet moss.  Succulents are often very slow to root, but are also good at growing aerial roots and taking moisture directly from the air in some cases.  They hold their hydration well and can go “unplanted” for several weeks.  I’ll want to take this arrangement apart after Thanksgiving and cook the pumpkins.  The cuttings will be fine until then, and can be set into small pots of soil for the remainder of the winter to finish rooting.November 14 pumpkins 009

In addition to the stonecrop, and moss fern, I also cut heavily from a Kalanchoe which is still outside.  I don’t think it will survive the winter, but has rooted into the ground near our back porch.  It is a fairly old plant now and needs to be repotted.  I just haven’t gotten to it, and so cut it back hard for this arrangement.

After wiping the pumpkins with a damp cloth to remove dust, I securely hot glued hunks of the sheet moss into place around the pumpkin stem.  The sheet moss forms the base for the rest of the arrangement and needs to be securely attached.November 14 pumpkins 007

Then, I began working in layers to attach the moss fern and stonecrop, then the Kalanchoe, and finally the Sedum, Echeverea, and other cuttings.  Some of my pieces had a little potting soil and root, which I left on, and covered the soil with other plants.  I made an effort to put hot glue on the sides of stems, but never on the broken end, where moisture is absorbed and roots should begin to grow.

This is a very peaceful process.  There are no instructions to give, other than to allow the plants to show you how they best fit together.  Work with your cuttings until you are pleased with the arrangement and it looks complete.November 14 pumpkins 010

Claire used branches of Nandina, berry clusters, okra pods, and other dried materials in her arrangement.  I cut some Nandina branches and berries, but decided to save those for another project.  I liked the effect of the moss, fern, and succulents just as they are.

After giving the glue a few minutes to dry and harden, I took each pumpkin to the kitchen sink and sprayed lightly with the hose sprayer to re-hydrate the moss.  I didn’t do this before constructing the arrangement because I thought the glue would adhere better to the dry moss.  When the moss hydrates, it plumps up and looks alive.  Regular spritzing will keep the moss and fern fresh.  Overdoing it might induce rot in the succulents, so as in all things, we’ll find a happy medium.

November 14 pumpkins 012The finished pumpkins are out on the deck, where they’ll stay as long as temperatures remain in the 40s or above, until needed for our gathering on Tuesday.  One of them will become a Thanksgiving gift for my parents, and the other will take a place of honor on our dining room table Thanksgiving week.

I still have several small white pumpkins that I want to trim with moss and succulents ahead of Tuesday.   These large pumpkins needed most all the cuttings taken today, so the small ones will have to wait until tomorrow.

Thank you, Claire, for sharing your beautiful decorated pumpkins, and for inspiring me to try something  new.  This is such a beautiful way to use pumpkins, and another way to “shop our gardens” for components for gorgeous floral arrangements.

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