Saturday, October 30, 2021

Jack - o' - lanterns


The annual Halloween pumpkin carving has been going on long before I would have ever given my kids a sharp blade to create their masterpieces. Val used to ask us what design we wanted to add to the one large pumpkin she brought home from the store just a few days before the scariest night of the year. Once agreed upon, she deftly wielded a sharpened carving  knife to reveal a ghastly smile and sinister eyes that would greet the one or two trick - or - treaters who darkened our doorstep on October 31st.

Years later, Karyn got into a carving frenzy to make at least a 1/2 dozen ghoulish decorations lined up on the steps to her mudroom. They could be seen from the street but hardly any children dressed in costume appeared at her door. Her mother -in - law hid in her adjacent apartment and turned out all the lights signaling to everyone that no one was home while Karyn and her her kids ransacked another neighborhood for candy just a few streets away.

Seacoast Shores has always been alive with homes ornately decorated with tacky flair and multitudes of kids running from house to closely built house raking in loads of candy. While the evening is fun for the kids, I find it a bit exhausting having to answer the door every few minutes instead of relaxing with my feet up and savoring a glass of wine. And while the exact night may not be my favorite, I do love some tastefully chosen decorations: a few carved pumpkins, a witch's hat and some lights but never those horrible blow - up things that are deflated across every lawn when the sun comes up the next morning. That's why I still love and will always want to host a pumpkin carving party. It's low key, we can enjoy good snacks, wine, sharp blades and creativity. What could be better?

The kids have not only embraced the knives and gourds tradition, they have essentially taken it over, inviting friends to participate, too. All I need to do is supply pumpkins and carving tools, some newspaper for the mess and Sharpies for the pre-planning designing stage. But don't forget the snacks. Creativity, laughter and focus requires fuel especially now that they are teenagers. Their skillfully finished products reflect how much they have grown. Their adolescent appetites remind me that they will be eventually leaving the nest way too soon. But until that finally happens, there are snacks to be eaten and s'mores to make over the fire on one of the best days of the year when laughter fills the house as we light up the jack - o' - lanterns.

Libby's Pumpkin Roll

Those of you of a certain age will likely remember seeing a photo and recipe of this nostalgic treat on the side of cans of Libby's 100% Pure Pumpkin. I hadn't been able to get it out of my mind until I made not one but two of these recently. The recipe is ridiculously easy and the "fancy" look of the cake makes it festive. I created some "monsters" this year by serving it on pumpkin carving night. Perhaps offering to make it a tradition will be enough to entice my favorite ghouls to come back every year to carve jack - o'- lanterns.

1/4 cup powdered sugar (sifted over a sheet of wax paper the size of a jelly roll pan)

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup canned pumpkin

12 oz. cream cheese, softened (1 1/2 packages)

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (sifted)

9 tablespoons butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan; line with wax paper (trim to fit). Sprinkle a sheet of wax paper with sifted powdered sugar and set aside.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a small bowl. Beat eggs and granulated sugar in a large mixer bowl until thick. Beat in pumpkin. Stir in flour mixture. Spread evenly into prepared pan all the way to the edges. 

Bake for 13-15 minutes or until top of cake springs back when touched. (Darker colored cake pans will make the cake bake faster.) Remove from oven and immediately loosen around the edges using a table knife. Turn cake onto wax paper dusted with powdered sugar. Gently peel off wax paper that was used for baking and discard. Roll up cake and wax paper with dusted powdered sugar together starting at the narrow end. Cool on wire rack for 30 minutes to an hour.

Beat cream cheese, 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, butter and vanilla extract in a medium bowl until smooth. Carefully unroll cake. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly over cake (all the way to the edges). Reroll cake (without the wax paper). Wrap cake in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour and up to 24 hours before serving. To serve: trim off each end and place on a platter with decorations and/or dusted with powdered sugar. Slice into rounds and enjoy.