Pumpkin carving

It’s almost Halloween so it’s pumpkin carving time. This is the first year the kids were really involved in the process so I took a little time to search the internet to see what new ideas were out there this year. I came across this list of ideas and used a few of them (http://www.buzzfeed.com/emofly/13-brilliant-pumpkin-carving-hacks).

We took the prerequisite “before” picture of the pumpkins before we started carving but the kids were too interested in seeing if the chickens were going to come join them to look at the camera.

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First we cut out the tops and took all the seeds out, saving them for roasting later (check out the recipe here https://morethanahomestead.net/2014/10/28/roasted-pumpkin-seeds/). I was surprised the kids were not very into this part, “too yucky” they said.

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The chickens didn’t seem to mind.

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So the first carving tip I used from my Google search was to use a dry erase marker (like this http://amzn.to/1sAIBbI ) to transfer your pattern to the pumpkin instead of a Sharpie because any bit that remained on the pumpkin could be easily wiped off (makes sense). The kids held the pattern in place while I traced it onto the pumpkin. Then I cut it out shape with a small kitchen knife.

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The next tip I picked to try was using a cookie cutter and a rubber mallet. We had a large metal Mickey Mouse shaped cookie cutter and several small plastic ones. The method is simple, just tap the cookie cutter into the pumpkin. A Halloween themed set of cookie cutters like this would be ideal (http://amzn.to/1tGT8Zw).

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The metal cutters of course worked best because it acted more like a sharp knife cutting through the pumpkin. It was also deeper than the plastic ones I had so that helped. The short plastic ones ended up just acting more as a stencil because they weren’t long enough to go through the thick pumpkin. I was also afraid of tapping the plastic ones too hard with the mallet and potentially cracking them, but they were surprisingly tough.

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I loved this method, as long as you have a good metal cutter. The edges of the cut were very smooth and clean. Much nicer than a knife cut.

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In the end we had a Puppy pumpkin (using the plastic cutters), a Mickey Mouse pumpkin, and a traditional style Jack o’ Lantern.

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The final result with their candles at night was really cute.

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Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

If you have never tried roasting pumpkin seeds it’s very simple and the result is a yummy healthy snack food from something you’d probably otherwise just throw out when carving Jack o’ lanterns. Check out our pumpkin carving adventure here: https://morethanahomestead.net/2014/10/28/pumpkin-carving/ . I looked up some recipes online to use as a guide and this is what I found (http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/toasted_pumpkin_seeds/).

When you’re cleaning out the inside of your pumpkin just put them in a large clean container.  I used a 5 gallon bucket.

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When you have all your seeds in, fill the bucket with fresh water and a agitate. Kids love this part.

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All the seeds will float to the top and the chunks of pumpkin flesh will sink to the bottom. Use a slotted spoon or colander to scoop the seeds off the top and transfer to a large pot.  Add enough water so the seeds are soaking a few inches from the bottom of the pot. We had three pumpkins worth of seeds and I added about two tablespoons of salt. If you want to get really specific the recipe I found online suggested a ratio of two cups of water: 1 tablespoon salt: half cup of seeds. Bring water to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.  Also pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.

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Drain into a colander and then dry any excess water off the seeds.

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If you seed any bits of pumpkin that didn’t get washed away this is a good time to pick those out in addition to any of the small immature seeds that will not roast well. Then transfer the dry seeds back to your dry pot. Add enough extra virgin oil to coat the seed thoroughly.

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Then add a generous coating of salt. I used Himalayan Pink Sea Salt. If you’ve never tried it, do yourself a favor and get some. It is so much better than regular table salt in both taste and nutrition. This is the brand I use (http://amzn.to/1xByCap) and I love it.

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At this point spread the coated seed on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven. Every oven and every pan cooks a little differently so check the seeds about every 5 minutes to make sure they are not getting too brown. I use a silicone backing mat call a Silpat (http://amzn.to/1oXEoEd) on my cooking sheet instead of aluminum foil and it is wonderful for cooking everything from cookies to biscuits. Nothing sticks and easy cleanup. They come in multiple sizes to fit any sheet pan.

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Take the seeds out after 5-10 minutes and stir them around. You can tell if the seeds are getting close to being done when the are getting just lightly browned.  The seeds below show the levels of done-ness with the far left still being somewhat translucent and raw and the seed on the far right is nicely done.

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To get the whole batch done took about 20 minutes, stirring 2-3 times. Let cool and enjoy. If you have seeds with really thin hulls some people will eat them whole. These were pretty big with tough outer hulls so I would treat them similar to how you would shell a sunflower seed, just eating the inside.

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How to make a terrarium with toddlers

Terrariums

This week’s little project with the kids was making terrariums. I remember seeing one in a relatives house as a child and being fascinated by this little green world in a glass case. There are probably lots of ways to make one but ours was pretty simplistic (which is what it needs to be to keep a 3 year old and 2 year old interested long enough to complete it). We had a set of old kitchen canisters we found when cleaning out the basement that were the perfect size for us, but if you want to get fancy there are tons you can find here online http://amzn.to/1FDz4uI .

1. Base layer

Put a layer of rock at the bottom of your container (or in our case take some gravel from the sidewalk). Note: Adding activated charcoal to this layer will help keep mold and bacteria from growing. We didn’t have any on hand but if you have a fish tank you probably already have some, if not you can get activated charcoal here http://amzn.to/1t5gOW8 .

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2. Sand layer

Not an essential layer, you could skip right to step 3 if you have charcoal, but this will help with drainage and hopefully keep the terrarium fresh.  Our sand was easily sourced from the sandbox. If you want to add some visual interest you could use a tinted decorative sand like this http://amzn.to/1uFZnb8 .

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3. Soil

Again, a pretty easy step, just go in the yard or grab a bag of potting soil and add a thin layer on top of the sand. Take care not to mix layers or you will not get the desired drainage effect.

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4. Gather plants

This was a really fun step. We took our trowel and a bucket out to the stream near the woods. There were several different types of mosses, ferns, and other small plants that we picked up along with some little rocks. If you don’t have access to this like we do maybe ask a neighbor or try a nearby park or other green area as a resource (just make sure you have permission before you start digging too much).

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5. Arrange plants

Another fun step with the kids. They loved picking out what was going to go where. Just make sure you press the plants down well to remove any air pockets and get adequate root-soil contact.

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And here is the finished product. Enjoy!

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