Baking a Pumpkin Pie from Scratch

This week’s New Thing is actually an old New Thing that I didn’t have an opportunity to post about before. However, given that we are well into autumn, and Thanksgiving is fast approaching, I thought now would be a good time to share it.

Pumpkin pie is my favorite holiday treat. I can’t get enough of it. (Though oddly enough, I may be the only girl who does not go crazy over all things pumpkin spice.) I casually mentioned to my friend Lilas (who joined me for my juice cleanse a few months ago) that I was curious about how hard it was to make a pumpkin pie from scratch. Lilas, who seems to know all there is to know about everything, responded that it was not hard at all and she had a recipe I could use.

Pumpkin Pie Ingredients

It turns out, other than a pumpkin and condensed milk, I had most of the ingredients in my pantry. The recipe called for sugar, cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice, ginger, vanilla extract, some salt, eggs, evaporated milk, and of course one pie pumpkin (which, it turns out, you can find in most groceries this time of year).

Pumpkin Carving

Cutting open the pumpkin was not easy. It took quite a bit of sawing and hacking before I was able to split it open. I was convinced I was going to lose a thumb in the process. In fact, I managed to nick my finger. Don’t try this at home, kids. You should use a serrated knife rather than a smooth knife because, ironically, a smooth knife might slip and cut you.

Inside Pumpkin

After a fair bit of work I was finally able to split the pumpkin open. I used an ice cream scoop to remove the seeds to get it ready for steaming. Unfortunately, I forgot to save the seeds, which is a pity because they are delicious when roasted.

Steam Pumpkin

Once the pumpkin was sliced and cleaned, it was time to soften it up. You can do this in the oven, on the stove, or in the microwave. We chose the microwave because it was the fastest method. Even with the quick option, it took 15-30 minutes for it to fully soften.

Pumpkin Pie Crust Ingredients

While the microwave was doing its magic, we started on the pie crusts. You can’t make a homemade pie using store-bought crust.

Making Pumpkin Pie Crust

Instead of making the crust completely from scratch, we cheated a bit and used gingerbread cookies. (This also made for a yummy mid-baking snack.) We threw a box of the cookies in the food processor and crushed them until all that was left was crumbs. This took longer than expected, apparently food processors are not made to crumble cookies.

Gingerbread Crust

All it took was cookie crumbs, a lot of butter, and some eggs.  We formed our crusts and put them in the freezer to harden and help prevent them from burning while baking.

Cooked Pumpkin

Finally, the pumpkin was softened and we were able to scoop the cooked pumpkin from the skin. Lilas said that the pumpkin skin was tasty, so I decided to give it a try. She was right, it was delicious. The great things about making pumpkin pie is that the entire pumpkin is scrumptious.

Pumpkin Puree

We threw the cooked pumpkin into the food processor and pureed it until it was nice and smooth. This is what is affectionately known as “pumpkin glop.”

Pumpkin Pie Filling

We combined the pumpkin glop with the sugar, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger, vanilla, eggs, and evaporated milk. I expected it to be a thick consistency, since it had to harden up to be a pie, but it was practically liquid. This concerned me, but Lilas said it was normal.

Pumpkin Pies

That one small pumpkin was enough to make 3 pies! I was shocked!

Pumpkin Pies in Oven

The pies took about an hour to bake and made the house smell like heaven. They probably would have cooked faster but I kept obsessively checking on them. The entire process took a while and, like the last time I baked a pie, they had to cool before we could enjoy them.

Homemade Pumpkin Pie

The pies turned out even better than I expected. They tasted absolutely perfect! And the great thing about having 3 pies means you can give them away to friends.

In conclusion, if you want a delicious homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving but you don’t want to risk slicing off your own digits, just send an invite my way.

A Camel Safari & A Drive-Through Petting Zoo

After another long hiatus from the blog, a few weekends ago I crossed something off of my list I have wanted to do for a while: going to a drive-through petting zoo and riding a camel. My friend Amy (from belly dancingrock climbing, the aerial fitness class, and several other posts) joined me for the day. The 100-acre Circle G Ranch is just north of Knoxville and is home to 500 animals (30+ different species).

Long Horn Cattle

When we got there they were still saddling up the camels so we took a drive through the park while we waited. We bought a few buckets of food for the animals so we could have an up-close-and-personal experience.

Cow Attack
When we started the trip around the park we leisurely passed some zebras, llamas, and alpacas (yes, like the sweater). I thought it was going to be a pretty uneventful drive. However, upon rounding a corner we came across a herd of longhorns, water buffalo, and highland cows. They were really excited to see us.

Highland Cow

The quadrupeds had little concern for personal space. All they cared about were the pellets of food we had to give out. The highland cow even took one right out of my hand. He had a rather dirty mouth. (You should have heard the things he said!)

Emu Attack

It turns out the highland cow was the least of my concerns. I soon discovered the waking nightmare that is the emu. They are terrifying. They are like small feathered velociraptors with long necks and soulless red eyes.

Emu Attack 2

You couldn’t look away, even for a second, because as soon as you did they would multiply in number. At one point three of them had their heads in the car. One even stole some food right out of Amy’s lap. There may or may not have been a lot of screaming involved.

Ostrich

After the run-in with the emus I was quite glad to see the ostrich behind a fence. It made Big Bird look small in stature. They can grow up to 9 feet tall.

Barbary Sheep

Not all of the animals were terrifying. The barbary sheep were absolutely beautiful, though there were so many of them in the herd they created a bit of a road block. We had to distract them with food to get them out of the way of the car.

Fallow Deer

We also saw several fallow dear. They had gorgeous white cream colored coats with spots on their back; a bit different than the ones you see in your backyard.

Pot Belly Pig

There were of course also some very curious farm animals. This little piggy just had to come say hello. There were dozens of adorable piglets running around too.

White Camel

Is it just me, or does this camel look like Don Knotts?

Camel

After our drive, we saddled up for a ride around the park. This one, above, kept trying to make a meal out of my arm. Apparently I looked tasty.

We took the same path as we did in the car and the entire trip took about an hour. It was a cool fall day, but fortunately we were still bundled up from a football game earlier that morning. Our guide told us all about the animals in the park, where they are from, what they eat, and how they care for them. A few of the animals are even endangered.

Riding a Camel

It was a really relaxing ride. I should note that despite referring to several of the animals as “terrifying” we actually had a great time. They weren’t really that scary … just “curious,” or so I am told.

End of Ride

Apropos of nothing, while it doesn’t really qualify as something new, I wanted to share another image from my safari weekend. 102,455 Tennessee football fans (minus a few Florida fans) got together and made the coolest showing of school pride in the history of sports. We managed to turn Neyland Stadium into a giant checkerboard.

Neyland Checkerboard

We didn’t win the game, but getting to see this in person was still very special and something I will never forget. We should try to do this again sometime, eh?

Eating at a Restaurant Alone

Normally when I do something outside of my comfort zone on this blog it involves jumping out of a plane, walking on fire, or plunging into an ice-cold lake. While this week’s post seems mundane by comparison, it actually made me really uncomfortable to think about it. When I saw an article asking “Are You Ashamed to Eat Out Alone?” I decided it was time to mark this one off of the list.

Yes, I’ve grabbed a quick bite here and there by myself before. I have a favorite lunch spot back home that I sneak off to each time I visit and I’ve spent hundreds (probably thousands) of hours studying alone at coffee shops. But I have never gone to a nice restaurant and enjoyed an entire meal alone.

I set up a few ground rules:

  1. I could not go to a bar, but it was ok to sit at a bar.
  2. No technology. I had to keep my phone in my bag (though taking a photo or two was ok).
  3. I had to go to a nice local restaurant.
  4. I had to order, at the very least, a cocktail I’ve never tired, an entrée, and either an appetizer or a dessert.
  5. I could bring one piece of reading material.

Picking a restaurant was not an easy task. There are new amazing restaurants popping up in Nashville every day. The choices were limitless, but I wanted to find just the right spot. Perhaps I was over thinking it, but since the only thing I was there to enjoy was the atmosphere and food, I had to make sure both were just right. I tried to find a place I hadn’t been to, but nothing was really striking my fancy for this particular experience. I perused lists of the best restaurants in Nashville and City House seemed to pop up every single time. I’d been there before so I knew it had excellent food, a great drink selection, and I could sit at the bar and watch what was going on in the kitchen. It was perfect.

I had to work late, so I got to the restaurant after 9. I asked for a seat at the end of the bar. I settled in and ordered a drink called the Bandit, which was made of Averna, grapefruit juice, Ginger Ale, and a lime. It hit the spot.

Margherita

I ordered a margarita pizza. Usually you can order it with an egg on top, but they were out that night. Heart break! If you have not had an egg on a pizza before then you are not living life to its fullest. I had the perfect seat; I could watch the guys spin the dough and then cook the pizza right in front of me in a beautiful wood-fire oven.

Pizza Oven

To keep me company I brought a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, a book I have not read since middle school. Perhaps it is appropriate that the epigraph states, “Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.” I don’t get a lot of time to read for pleasure. In fact, other than in-flight magazines, I don’t think I’ve read for fun in over a year. I forgot how nice it is.

Kitchen view

For dessert I had the Honey Vanilla Panna Cotta which had fresh peaches, preserves, prosecco jelly, zabaglione, and buttermilk cornmeal cookies. This was my first time trying panna cotta. It was basically a sweet creamy gelatin dessert with some white wine jelly and fresh peaches. The peaches were sweet and fragrant; they were all I could smell while I was eating the dessert. It was absolute heaven.

Panna Cotta

I really liked eating by myself. I was nice to have some alone time at the end of the day. I particularly liked that being alone meant I got to move at my own pace. If I wanted to read for a few minutes while I contemplated having a 4th slice of pizza I could (and did). Usually I am so busy talking at dinner that I forget to eat and then have to devour the food so I don’t make people wait. This time I could eat as much as I wanted at the pace I wanted, and I enjoyed the dining experience a lot more. I even finished my entire dessert (but I did take home the last 2 slices of pizza).

The Roller Derby

This week I decided to expand my horizons in the world of sports and attend my first roller derby. I’ve heard about the Nashville Rollergirls for a while, but I’ve never had a chance to go see them. I spent most of the time confused about what was happening, even after reading the rules.

The teams each have 5 skaters on the track. The teams are made up of a Jammer, a Pivot, and 3 Blockers. The Jammer wears a star on her helmet and is the skater who scores the points. She does so by passing the other team’s blockers. The Pivot is a blocker who may become the Jammer, and score points, if the Jammer passes on her star. Finally, the Blockers try to stop the Jammer from passing and scoring points.

Roller Derby Block

Really, it just looked like a lot of people running into each other. Each bout consists of a series of 2-minute “jams.” They start out with a lot of shoving until eventually a Jammer breaks free. In this instance, it was Toronto’s Jammer who constantly lapped Nashville’s blockers. There are actually some rules regarding blocking; a skater may block with her shoulders, hips, and rear (yes there was a lot of bootie bumping), but blocking with elbows, hitting in the back, and tripping are illegal.

Roller Derby Jam

Perhaps we didn’t pick our first bout well. The Toronto Brusiers beat the Nashville Brawl Stars 342 to 136. Ouch.

 

I asked my friend Will to come with me. He agreed, as long as I promised to photograph and post his “disappointment at watching women play sports” on the blog. Knowing Will’s sense of humor, and believing him to be a relatively normal human being, I assumed he was joking. Then it occurred to be that a few weeks prior we had to explain to him what Title IX was. The jury is out. However, Will actually loved the roller derby and got pretty invested in the game. In fact, I took another video, but couldn’t post it because of his enthusiastic and expletive laced cheering. So instead, here is a picture of Will lying on the floor pretending to be a cat.

Will Cat

Making Cheese & Milking Goats

I’ve been a bit remiss lately with my posts. I’ve been spending most of my time at the office so trying New Things has had to take a backseat for a while. Last Sunday I was able to sneak away for a few hours to try my hand at cheese making and drove north of Nashville to Standing Stone Farms to have a class with Paula Butler.

Paula started by telling us the legend of how cheese was discovered. The story is that a man was traveling through the desert in the Middle East. He carried goat’s milk with him in a pouch made from the stomach of a calf. After his day’s journey he stopped to rest for the evening. When he opened the pouch, after a day in the desert heat, the milk had separated into curds and whey. He drank the whey and went to sleep. When he awoke the next day, he discovered the curds turned into cheese overnight. In order not to waste anything that could be valuable food, he tired the cheese, and the rest is history.

Once we got a short intro to the world of cheese, we began making delicious butter, mozzarella, and ricotta.

Seperating Butter

Paula showed us a super simple way to make fresh creamy butter. All it takes is room temperature cream and an empty plastic bottle. Pour the cream into the bottle, up to 1/4 full, and give it hard shake about once per second until the butter starts to form. Eventually the buttermilk will separate. Pour out the buttermilk (into a colander and bowl if you want to keep it), and what is left over is the butter. Just cut open the bottle and, voilà, delicious homemade butter!

Homemade Butter

It was the best butter I’ve ever had. It was light, creamy, delicious, and only took 2 minutes. I don’t think I’ll ever buy butter again.

Tasting Butter

Yes, I’m eating butter with a spoon. Don’t judge. If you tasted it, you’d do the same.

Mozerella Ingredients

Next we moved on to a super fast mozzarella that you can make at home in about 40 minutes. To make the mozzarella, we used a gallon of whole pasteurized cow’s milk, citric acid powder, calcium chloride, liquid rennet, and salt. Rennet usually comes from the lining of a cow’s stomach (hence the story about how cheese was discovered above), but Paula, being incredibly awesome, uses vegetarian microbial rennet. I was pumped about this.

Curds and Whey

Apparently cheese making is not cooking, it is science and it is pretty exact. For some cheeses, everything must be sterilized. If you do the wrong thing at the wrong time or at the wrong temperature, you get clumpy soup instead of cheese. For some cheeses, everything must be sterilized before you begin. I won’t go into the details of what to add when, but the most interesting ingredient to me was the rennet. The purpose of it is to coagulate the milk and to separate it into curds and whey. (See curds above and whey below.)

Whey

After science does its thing, and all the curds are separated, you add salt and place the curds in the microwave for 1 minute at a time, and drain any extra whey. Apparently if you don’t drain the whey, the cheese won’t come together.

Stretching Mozerella

Once all the whey is gone and you have a solid pile of mozzarella, take a spoon to stretch and fold over until it becomes taffy like. From there, you can shape it into balls, pinwheels, or anything else you desire. The hot fresh mozzarella was so yummy. I couldn’t stop eating it.

Ricotta on Stove

Finally, we made a delicious ricotta. The ingredients were a gallon of whole milk (goat or cow), 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, citric acid, and kosher salt. Combine the ingredients and heat milk to 184 degrees. You need to make sure to occasionally to scrape the curds off of the sides of the pots, otherwise it leads to hours of scrubbing or replacing your pots. Once it heats to 184, set it to the side for 15 minutes.

Ricotta Curds

When it is done cooking, you have delicious fresh ricotta.

Fresh Ricotta

We first tried it plain, which was warm, delicious, and creamy. Paula then suggested adding some hot sauce. What a brilliant idea. Cheese + hot sauce = life changing.

Ricotta Hot Sauce

After the cheese making class, Paula took me out to meet her adorable goats.

Goats

She started with 2 a few years ago, and has now worked her way up to a herd of 34.

Goat Milking Riser

When she opened the door, the goats ran right up to their stands. Apparently the goats are creatures of habit and know exactly what to do and the order in which they should be milked.

Milking a Goat

Paula brushed down and then cleaned the utters to prevent anything from contaminating the milk. She showed me how to grip the utter and roll my hand down to get the milk. She said that this is different than the process for milking cows, but I’ll just have to take her word for it. Trixie (I think that was her name) wasn’t a fan of a newbie trying to milk her. After she protested, I stopped, but Paula encouraged me not to let the goat bully me. Which I found amusing.

Goats Milk

Succes! I milked 3 goats and only managed to get one of them angry at me. I’m not sure how much time I’ll have for cheese making anytime soon, but I do plan to make homemade butter from now on.

Sweat Lodge Ceremony

I few weeks ago I returned to the Golden Wings Center for a sweat lodge ceremony. After glass walking and fire walking there, experiencing a sweat lodge was obviously the next logical step.

According to Angela and Justin, the wonderful owners of Golden Wings: “The sweat lodge is a Native American purification ceremony. The Spirit can pick up some ‘rust’ along the way with the experiences of physical life. This rust is all the beliefs we carry that keep us in fear and judgments. The sweat lodge (Inipi) is symbolic of the womb. By returning to the womb, we leave each lodge with the opportunity to begin life anew. In this sacred experience, we are purified and cleansed. The focus is towards the future: once we let go of that which no longer serves us, we can begin to enjoy the blessings and new beginnings ahead of us.”

The sweat lodge was made of a round wooden frame approximately 10 feet in diameter and was draped with dozens of blankets. In the center of the lodge was a circular pit dug for the hot stones. Outside of the lodge was the alter and ceremonial fire (which was heating the stones).

Sweat Lodge Fire

There were about 25 of us in the tiny little lodge; it was very close quarters. We either sat on towels or directly the ground. I elected for a towel, despite being advised that the dirt would be cooler. I’m just not that earthy. The steam ended up making things quite muddy so I think I made the right decision. Once everyone piled in, 7 glowing red hot stones were placed in the pit. A prayer was said and they closed the flap on the front of the lodge so it was pitch black on the inside. I was not expecting this. The darkness made me really uncomfortable. It was disorienting and I felt out of control.

Inside Sweat Lodge

Once the water started being poured over the rocks the heat became oppressive. I was expecting something like a sauna or hot yoga (which I love), but instead it was like being hit by a train and the humidity made breathing difficult. I was shocked at just how quickly sweat began to pour down my face. I spent most of my time sitting there telling myself that it would be over shortly and that my inability to breath was just in my head. I longed for fresh air. Fortunately, we were only in there for a few minutes. We were in there long enough for some prayers and a song and then, happily, the door was opened allowing some of the heat to dissipate. Some people stayed inside during the break. I, however, chose to get out and stretch my legs and enjoy, what felt by comparison, a very cool 90-degree day.

We then piled back in for round two. This time 7 more rocks were added to the pit and the flap was shut again. I didn’t think it could get any hotter in there, but it did. This time when the water was poured and the steam started to rise it felt a bit like I was drowning. No matter whether I took deep or shallow breaths, I felt like I was under water. Finally, when I just couldn’t sit there an longer, I shouted “door!” This was the signal for them to let me out. I wasn’t panicked or afraid to stay in there, I’d just sat in there long enough to realize that it wasn’t for me.

Sweat Lodge Structure

Some people talk about being “called” to do certain activities. Something just speaks to them and says “today you should walk on fire” or “today you should take part in a sweat lodge ceremony.” Well, that day I definitely felt called to go sit in a refreshing cold creek bed rather than sit inside of a pitch black sweat lodge. One of the things I love most about Golden Wings is that it is isolated from outside world and I can spend a few hours technology free. There was something very peaceful about spending a Sunday afternoon with nature.

Creek Bed

I can definitely say that the sweat lodge is not for me. I’m glad I tried it and got to have the experience, but it wasn’t spiritual for me the way it is for many others. That said, I can’t wait to back and attend more events with my Golden Wings family because it is definitely my favorite place to keep trying new things.

A Night at the Drive-In

This week I experienced two New Things: Letting someone pick a New Thing for me and, as a result, going to a Drive-in Movie.  Early in the week I was informed that I had to leave work by 5:30 (not an easy task) because we had special belated birthday plans for Friday night. I was given no hints, no clues, just that I needed to leave work by a specific time for something on my list.

I love surprises, but I love figuring out surprises even more. Thus, I began my line of questioning.

“Can I wear a cocktail dress?”
“Sure, but you’ll be over dressed.”
“Can I wear cut-off shorts?”
“Do you even own cut-off shorts?”
“No.”
“Are you trying to figure out what to wear or figure out what we are doing?”
::lying badly:: “Figure out what to wear. I want to dress appropriately.”

I then consulted my actual To-Do List, but there are so many options on there it didn’t help narrow it down. When Friday arrived, I was still contemplating what I needed to wear. When I asked again I was told, “It doesn’t matter, nobody other than me is going to see you.” Once I found out we were driving an hour to get there, my first thought was, “Great, he is going to take me to a field and murder me, I better find someone to feed my fish.”

Much to my delight, I was not left for dead in a ditch. Instead, we arrived at the Stardust Drive-In Theatre in Watertown, Tennessee.

Drive in Theatre

Our first order of business was loading up on snacks. They actually had a veggie burger, which surprised and thrilled me. And of course we got the obligatory popcorn, sodas, and (my favorite) Skittles. You have to show up pretty early to get a good spot and to avoid the concession line, but that gave us plenty of time to relax and enjoy the beautiful weather as we ate.

At the drive in

The drive-in had a double feature: 22 Jump Street and some Tom Cruise movie that I’ve never heard of. We left after the first movie because it was getting late and we had a long drive back. 22 Jump Street was hilarious and I highly recommend going to see it (especially if you liked the first one). I was particularly impressed with the sound. In order to hear the movie, you turned the radio to the associated radio station. Because of the acoustics of the car, it sounded even better than in the theatre.

Drive in Movie

I can’t wait to go back. Next time we’ll be totally prepared with a picnic basket, blankets, chairs, and whatever else we need to partake in the full drive-in experience.