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from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

1 c canned pumpkin
1/2 c nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c packed brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/4 c oat flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
a handful of shelled pumpkin seeds for garnish (I opted for chunky sea salt instead)

First, reduce the pumpkin. Place it in a saucepan over medium heat for about 45 minutes. Keep the heat low enough that it doesn’t boil, but it should appear to be steaming. Stir often. After about 30 minutes, spoon the pumpkin into a liquid measuring cup to check on how much it has reduced. It should be down to around 2/3 cup at this point. Return the pumpkin to pot and cook until it has reduced to 1/2 cup. Set aside to cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, use a hand mixer to cream together the shortening and sugars until light and fluffy. Mix in the cooled pumpkin and vanilla.

Sift in all remaining ingredients and mix to combine. Spoon onto cookie sheets in rounded tablespoons of dough, flattening the tops with your hand. Arrange a few pumpkin seeds in the centers, if you like (or just give them a sprinkle of big salt chunks, if you prefer, like I did. NOM!).

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Makes 2 dozen cookies.

Pumpkin is something that my pantry is never without. So when I decided to make cookies on a whim one morning, these were an obvious choice. And the fact that I had to spend some time reducing the pumpkin meant that there would be no cookie dough for my mid-morning snack. I don’t know if I’d quite sell my soul for this cookie though. Maybe the intro for the recipe just built up my hopes so high that they were impossible to fulfill, but there just wasn’t enough pumpkin to them. I was hoping for something a bit more autumnal, really… and I think throwing some molasses in there somewhere might have given me what I was looking for. As far as cookies go, yes, they’re really good, especially with the delicate salting I gave them to bring out the sweet. They texture- firm, and not crumbly at all, is what really made this cookie win for me. I might have enjoyed just a bit more chew (hello, molasses?). But really, tasty little bites of yumminess, these were. About the reducing business- it actually took more like an hour for me to get to the desired half cup. But, perhaps I was being a bit conservative with the heat on the stove, as I didn’t want to come back from chasing my toddler around to find scorched pumpkin. The rest of the can of pumpkin made for a delish snack for the two of us, sprinkled with cinnamon. Another win for VCIYCJ!
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A week before Halloween, I decided to make this costume. In the past, I would have these HUGE costume birthday parties the weekend before Halloween, and in the last few years, I’ve somehow lost the urge to spend an entire month preparing for my birthday drinking weekend. I was actually really let down by myself; that I wasn’t eager to find or make the perfect costume for my little one- something that I’d always looked forward to doing as a mom. But that urge kicked in as I was dredging through the limited selection of reduced price costumes online a mere seven days before my favorite holiday. I saw a costume like the owl one pictured above in a virtual shop that my bestie showed me back in August, but it was too springtime flowery and too spendy. It haunted me as Halloween got closer. Finally, when it seemed that I already had too much on my plate between trying to finish up a commissioned portrait, taking a watercolor class, and the rest of daily life, the urge really struck.
Six days before the holiday, we headed out to the fabric store to purchase our fabrics. I used scrap felt for the eyes and beak, a scrap of fuzzy fleece for the chest and face, and the rest is purchased flannel, perhaps about a yard in total. I did a few sketches, and used an existing hood from one of her sweatshirts and a tighter hat as a guide for the owl’s head, and then constructed the rest of it on my own. I must say, I work best under pressure. Because in those six days, I was able to finish a 3×4 foot portrait of my nephew dog, prepare this cake (for the 4th time, with raisins, BOMB!) for mine and my mom’s birthday, spend a day with mom, learn some new watercolor techniques, carve some pumpkins (see below) and bust this costume out.
I’ve taken some pattern drafting classes in the past, and I must say, if you like to sew, and want to learn to sew your own clothes that fit perfectly, I highly recommend seeking some out. It definitely helps if you are one of those people who enjoys visualizing and translating a three dimensional idea into a two dimensional pattern and back into a three dimensional product, but it’s something that you can definitely get better at. I found my class at our community college, and learned SO much in just two trimesters.
I don’t have a pattern for this costume 1) because I didn’t have time to make one and document as I worked, and 2) because it’s so similar to the one I was inspired by. Next year though, I’m thinking ahead. I’m going to start early. It’s going to be fabulous. Hold me to this. Please.
Another festive thing that took place were these bars:

Salted Caramel Popcorn Pretzel Bars adapted from Shutterbean

Nonstick cooking spray
12 cups plain popped popcorn (from 1/2 cup kernels or 2 microwave packages)
4 cups coarsely chopped small salted pretzels
1 cup toasted almonds, chopped
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
2/3 cup Unsweetened MimicCreme
2 cups (1 package) Dandies vegan marshmallows

Coat a 9 x 13″ baking dish with cooking spray.  In a large (your biggest!) bowl, toss together popcorn, almonds and pretzels.  In a medium saucepan, bring sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup water to a boil over medium high.  Boil, undisturbed, until mixture is amber in color–8-12 minutes.  Remove pan from heat and slowly pour in cream (mixture will sputter).  Immediately add marshmallows; stir until melted.

Pour caramel mixture over popcorn and pretzels and quickly stir with a rubber spatula to coat.  Transfer mixture to dish and use a dampened hands to press the mixture into the pan.  Sprinkle with a heavy dose of kosher salt.  Let cool completely before cutting into bars.

They were SO GOOD. I veganized them, using this awesome product called MimicCreme that I found recently at my market, in place of the heavy cream, and Dandies vegan marshmallows in place of the regular marshmallows. Those marshmallows have the best flavor, I had to resist eating half the package. It paid off, and these made such great treats to share with friends and family. As Shutterbean shared with me, the recipe claims to make 12 servings, but those would be HUGE. I ended up with 24. And I’m the queen of out of proportion portions! I’d recommend chopping up the marshmallows so that they melt more easily- though they aren’t jet-puffed, they’re not minis either! They’re much denser with a better flavor than the regular nastioso marshmallow. A special thanks to Bean for coaching me through this- from not disturbing the boiling sugar mixture to reassuring me that this concoction really WILL fit into that 9×13″ pan!
And, here are my pumpkins. I like to wait until just a few days before Halloween so that they don’t get all yucky and moldy, needing a shovel to be disposed of. Also, I was smart this year and wore vinyl (Latex would work too, if you aren’t allergic like me) gloves to guard against that awful dry skin that I always get from carving multiple pumpkins. I can’t believe it took me so many years to figure this out. I always do a kitty as my warm-up pumpkin. It’s tradition:

I hope that you had a happy Halloween!

from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero

1/2 c canola oil
1/3 c brown rice syrup
2/3 c dark brown sugar
1/3 c nondairy milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c all-purpose flour
2/3 c whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 c roasted whole almonds, measured first then roughly chopped
1 1/2 c rolled oats
1 tsp or less of fleur de sel or any coarse-grained salt, for sprinkling (I used sea salt)

Preheat oven to 350. Line two medium-size baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix together the oil, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, nondairy milk, and vanilla until smooth. Sift in the all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt and stir to moisten the ingredients. Fold in the almonds and rolled oats. The batter will appear rather wet but will firm up a bit within a few minutes.

Drop dough in generous tablespoons, about 2 inches apart, onto the baking sheet. Lightly sprinkle the tops of the cookies with coarse-grained salt (the recommend about 6 to 8 large grains of salt per cookie). Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookies are slightly puffed and the edges appear dry.

Let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Store in a loosely covered container as these cookies get soft if tightly covered. Makes 2 dozen cookies.

Salt AND almonds, you say? Two of my favorite foods, married? (What? Salt isn’t a food? My taste buds disagree.) These cookies were begging to be baked, ASAP. Before I ever enjoyed cooking, I was a mean cookie baker… though after losing so much cookie weight and then all that baby weight, I’m always wary to step back into the kitchen for one of my favorite hobbies, as eating the dough is a very guilty pleasure. And cookie dough with salt on it?!? Oh man. Dangerous. Needless to say, I didn’t end up with 2 dozen cookies, but I did have a belly ache! We brought these over to a family dinner to be shared with some dear old friends, and they were a success. Served with Coconut Bliss, yum. The salt is so subtle and such a treat, but it wasn’t weird to non-saltophiles, which I’d feared. The cookie was like a classic oatmeal cookie, but a little more caramel-like, thanks to the brown rice syrup. And the roasted almonds, delightful, especially when we paired it with the ice “cream,” though the cookies are chewy enough that they don’t need anything on the side, really…. This recipe gets a “yummy!” written in its margin. I’ve made two other recipes from this book, and they’ve both been devoured happily by many. This pair (Moskowitz and Romero) are true vegan heroes. Thank you!

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