5 Minutes To Save Your Feet

It’s official: the holidays are in full swing, and I couldn’t be happier about it!  I love baking Christmas cookies, getting and decorating a tree, seeing family, and (of course) going to all of the holiday parties.  Getting dressed up, finding the perfect outfit, choosing the perfect shoes.  The shoes! Shoes around the holidays are fabulous!  Dainty and girly details like lace cutouts or hints of sparkle make shoes especially fun this time of year.  But you know what they say about beauty and pain?  No one loves the feeling of a fresh blister developing along their heel because they braved the pretty new shoes for their office holiday shindig.  Well, here’s a handy little tip for how to “break in” that new pair of shoes in under 5 five minutes.

Take those new shoes, and put them on over a pair of thick/bulky socks.  Put your hair dryer on medium heat, and start “drying” your shoes.  You’ll want to “dry” your shoes for about 2 minutes each (3 if they’re really stiff shoes) making sure to pay special attention to the toes, heel, and balls of the feet.

Congratulations!  Your new shoes are broken in and ready to party!  And might I say, they are fabulous!

Pumpkin Munchin’

It wouldn’t be Pumpkin Week without being able to actually eat some pumpkin.  With 6 pumpkins to work with, I’ve had plenty to go around so I have two recipes for you today.

First up is penne with a creamy pumpkin sauce.  I will admit openly that I took this recipe from Martha Stewart’s site.  I’ve never tried to make pumpkin sauce before; it was nice to have something to reference.  Martha’s recipe calls for a can of pumpkin puree, but since I had 6 sitting around I decided to make my own puree.  Of course, I failed to take pictures of this process, but it’s fairly simple.

Pumpkin Puree
1. Remove tip of pumpkin, and cut pumpkin in half.
2. Scoop out seeds (and set aside to roast later!)
3.  Place the pumpkin halves on a covered baking sheet.  (I prefer tin foil, but it could be wax or parchment paper as well.)
4. Cover with foil, and bake in the oven at 350 for about  1 1/2 hours.
5. Let them cool, then peel off skin.
6. Place in food processor or blender, and puree until smooth.

I had significantly more puree than what Martha’s recipe called for, so I put the remainder in the freezer for safe keeping until I have time to make some pumpkin pie.

Now that my puree was ready, I moved on to making the actual meal.  For those you who don’t want to click the link, here’s the recipe.  Oh, and the gluten-free pasta is my addition.  I’m sure it will work just as well with plain old penne.

Penne Pasta with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces (gluten-free) penne regate, or other short pasta
  • Coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin puree
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more for garnish (optional)

Directions 

  1. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 2 cups pasta water; drain pasta and set aside.
  2. In pasta pot, heat oil over medium. Add rosemary and fry, stirring, until starting to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer rosemary to a paper towel, leaving oil in pot.
  3. Carefully (oil is hot and will spatter) add pumpkin puree, garlic, half-and-half, Parmesan, vinegar, red-pepper flakes, and 1 cup reserved pasta water to pot. Stir sauce until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Add pasta to sauce, and toss to coat. If sauce is too thick, add some reserved pasta water. Season generously with salt. Serve pasta sprinkled with fried rosemary and, if desired, more red-pepper flakes.

Now, about those seeds we’ve set aside.  Everyone knows you can roast pumpkin seeds with a little butter and salt and they will come out yummy.  I, however, don’t particularly enjoy making the same bar-worthy snack year after year, and I’ve had a bit of a sweet tooth lately, so I decided to try something a little different.  I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to roast the pumpkin seeds in the same mixture of spices I use for pumpkin pie.  They turned out more delicious than I thought they would.  Crunchy, sweet, with just a hint of salt, and they smelled delicious while they were roasting.

Cinnamon Spice Roasted Pumpkin Seeds 

Ingredients 

  • 2 Cups pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp sugar (I always use splenda baking blend, but not everyone likes that)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Directions 

  1. Wash pumpkin seeds, removing as much pumpkin pulp as possible, and set aside to dry.  Heat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Mix cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, and salt together in large bowl.
  3. Mix butter, melted, into spices and stir until well mixed.
  4. Toss pumpkin seeds in mixture, spread onto greased cookie sheet and bake for 25 minutes.
  5. Flip seeds, bake for another  25 minutes.
  6. Take out, allow to cool, and enjoy!

Mumkins

What happens when you mix the traditional fall color of golden pumpkins with colorful pops of color?

Mumkins happen!

Someone gave me mums as a gift recently, but since I have zero experience with planting flowers, the poor pink flowers just sat on my step in their straight-from-the-store plastic container.  Then I found myself with an extra pumpkin while making my jack-o-lanterns for the season.  I remembered seeing these somewhere (though I can’t remember where) so I hollowed out my extra pumpkin and now my mums are extra cheerful and seasonal.

Oatmeal Banana Face Mask

I love when the seasons change.  The beautiful green of summer gives way to vibrant orange, deep red, and glittering gold leaves.  Eventually that fades away and the world is covered with a crisp white blanket of snow, which melts into explosions of flowery color.  Yes, the seasonal change has always been something filled with joy and magic.  And dry skin.

It’s no secret that nourishment and moisturizer are the key to soft, supple, youthful skin.  I follow a strict skin care regiment twice daily, and yet every time the seasons change my face does an excellent impression of the Sahara.  For a solid week it feels like there is not enough moisturizer in the world to quench my skin’s thirst.  Until the Great Beauty Product Purge, I had a lovely selection of low-to-moderately priced facial masks to help battle this desert-like dryness.  Unfortunately the change to Fall caught me by surprise, and I haven’t had time to find an appropriate replacement.  So when I woke up this morning with that tight dry feeling, only five days after turning 29, I panicked.

I was tearing through my bookshelves looking for my home remedy and holistic healing books when I saw it.  My Grandmother’s recipe notebook. My Grandmother had beautiful skin.  Even through fighting cancer, she always looked ten years younger than she was.  I didn’t expect to find anything in it regarding skin care, but seeing it made me miss her so I started looking through it.  I wasn’t really reading the recipes.  I was noticing how similar our handwriting is, how the loops and slants in our letters are the same.  Then, as I was pondering how we both use a mix of print and cursive, I saw her recipe for an oatmeal banana face mask.  “For when I need extra moisture in my face and hair.”

I’ve never tried to make a mask out of basic kitchen ingredients before, but I was desperate.  I gathered up the ingredients and started “cooking.”  Honey, milk, half of a sliced banana (the other half was a nice compliment to my breakfast), and half a cup of oats.  Slice the banana, crack the egg, blend it all together, and voila!  Baby food.  I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of putting this on my face, but I’d come this far.  I might as well finish what I started. I covered my face and neck with a generous portion and still had plenty left over.  I decided to apply it to my hair as well, (I have serious end damage, but I’m not ready to search for a salon just yet.) and left it on for the required 15 minutes.  By the time it was dry I looked like something out of George Lucas’ imagination.

Admittedly, it was not easy to remove the mask from my hair, but the results were amazing.  My skin was quenched and actually glowing!  It felt like my face had drank ten gallons of water.  And my hair?  Soft, shiny, and healthy.  Even my tragically dry ends look and feel totally nourished.  It’s amazing what you can do with a few standard breakfast foods.

Oatmeal Banana Face Mask

1/c cup oatmeal
1/2 banana, sliced

1 medium/large egg
1 tsp honey
1 tsp milk

Mash banana, and place in a blender.  Add all other ingredients and puree until creamy and smooth.  Apply liberally to face and neck.  (If using as a hair mask, apply to midshaft and ends, the pony tail section).  Leave on for 15 minutes.  Remove with soft cloth and lukewarm water.

Wishes on Cupcakes

I am not really a birthday person.  Actually, that’s slightly inaccurate.  I love celebrating the birthdays of my friends and family, but when it comes to celebrating my own birthday, I’m not so into it.  It is, historically, a bad day for me.  I’m not just saying this in the way that girls do when they don’t want to admit they’re getting older or fishing for compliments from their closest frenemies.  I’m talking more about the “Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” kind of thing.

What?  You don’t believe me?

Two years ago a tourist left his camera bag outside of a downtown mosque.  This resulted in the bomb squad shutting down a major road, which happened to be my main line into the city, both by bus and car.  The rerouted traffic caused such confusion that instead of arriving to work early enough to treat myself to a lovely latte and enjoy my morning, I was 2 hours late for work and 20 minutes late for a meeting with my boss’s boss.  I was frantic and nervous the rest of the day, and when I left to go home I found the city traffic had still not recovered.  It took an hour to get home (which was 12 miles away at the time) and I was in no mood to cook, so I ordered delivery…which took almost 2 hours to arrive.  By the time it got there I had surpassed hungry and was squarely in the realm of exhausted, so I pulled out the slice of cake I had ordered, stashed the rest in the fridge, said a quick “happy birthday to me” and went to bed.  Sadly, this is about par for the course.

So when my mom asked how I wanted to celebrate my birthday, I said I wanted to bake cupcakes.  I was told it was sad to bake my own birthday cupcakes, and for a lot of people that may be true, but I love to bake.  I find it relaxing, calming, and fun.  So yes, I baked my own gluten free Black Forest birthday cupcakes, which was a new recipe for me.  (I also got a lovely sushi dinner and a local vineyard tour, but more on that later.)  They turned out to be lovely (despite my substituting muffin papers for proper cupcake papers), and I absolutely stuck a candle in one and made a wish.

 

Oh, and for the record, today was actually a pretty good day.

Gluten Free Black Forest Cupcakes 

Ingredients

  • 2 1/8 cups gluten free flour mixture
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon gluten free vanilla
  • 2 cans potted cherries (cherry pie filling)
  • 3 cups whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup icing sugar

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 farenheit.
Mix first 10 ingredients together, and beat until well blended.  Pour into cupcake papers, and let sit for 5 minutes so batter can settle.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan.
Combine whipping cream and icing sugar in a chilled, medium-sized bowl.  Beat at high speed until stiff peaks form.
Using a piping bag (or a ziplock bag with a corner cut off!), pipe frosting onto cupcakes
Top with cherries!

If you enjoy cupcakes with filling, remove a portion of the cupcake with a teaspoon while they’re still hot.  Mix half of the icing with with some cherry filling, and spoon into the center of the cupcake.  Replace removed portion of cupcake, and allow to cool before piping frosting as mentioned above.