I’m still alive.
Lots has happened since I last invaded your screen to share with you pieces of my deranged psyche. Like…my roommate moved back in. Yes, remember Joanne? She moved out into her own apartment and I was so proud of her and so happy for her and then I realized that I actually don’t like living alone. Thank God she came to a similar conclusion so after her lease ran out, we moved her back into my house. The problem is that she was lonely in her apartment and so she started adopting cats. I already have two cats so instead of just two single gals and a couple cats, now we’re two single gals and a completely unreasonable number of cats. Which…wouldn’t be so bad except they all hate each other. My two cats got along with each other before, but now that there are new cats in the house, they have decided that EVERY cat is the enemy and we hear a lot of hissing and growling and those famous blood-curling cat screams. But so far there’s no blood, just the constant threat of blood shed and a few tufts of cat fur.
Joanne bought this stuff at a fancy pants pet store that is supposed to chill them out. It’s some sort of cat xanax potion in a dropper bottle you’re supposed to feed to them. Clearly it was made by someone that doesn’t own cats. It’s a scientific fact that cats will never take anything directly from a dropper bottle unless it’s highly toxic to them and will result in veterinarian bills that will drain all of your retirement accounts. If you want cats to swallow something, it has to either make them terribly ill or it has to be disguised in something you DON’T want them to drink like your coffee. And cats are more clever than dogs. You can’t just wrap something in a flavor they like. For example, my cat loves cheese but only if it’s on MY plate. The second I toss a piece of cheese on the floor for her, she is suddenly vegan until the next time I’m trying to eat cheese without sharing. This potion Joanne bought smells like rotted sardines mixed with loathing. I tried to give it to one of the cats and she gave me the same face she gives me when she whiffs nail polish remover and then she turned and did the “cat slink” out of the room. I didn’t see her again for 2 days. So, apparently, it works by showing your cats that you don’t love them anymore and making them move out. It probably would have worked as designed except our cats are indoor only and the one I tried it on is the one that’s too stupid to find the portal to the outdoors and so she tried to live under the bed but finally gave in to being loved again when she saw me eating cheese that I wasn’t interested in sharing.
So… There are 2 single 30-something women and 4 female cats under one roof. For those of you keeping score, that’s two women, 12 ears, 6 mouths, 80 claws, and 179 billion pieces of stray cat hair. I found a cat hair in the freezer the other day. We’ve changed the cleaning lady’s schedule so she’s here more often and we’re working on a deal to just abduct her and push her into a life of slavery where she just vacuums cat hair all day and we just keep pouring wine into her to prevent her escape. She’s not as opposed to this plan as you might think she should be. She is highly motivated by wine.
Sure there are benefits to living alone but I can assure you none of them outweigh the comfort of pulling up into my driveway and seeing the house alive with lights and probably too much estrogen.
Also, with Joanne home, I have a reason to cook again. You see, I’ve been in a digestive disaster-zone for so long that my digestive system just revolts when I eat like a regular person. What I’ve learned is that I actually feel better when I eat as little as possible. This is NOT me advocating anorexia or any other severe diet or eating disorder. It’s just that with my health issues, eating is not always an option for me and when it is, it’s still not anywhere close to what a normal person would or should eat. If I eat tiny little samples instead of meals, I feel pretty good usually. So, when your idea of a meal consists of about 3 ounces, you waste a lot of food. I felt guilty cooking meals that I knew would never get eaten. And it’s really hard to cook for one, let alone one with a renegade digestive system. I’d give away what I could but there aren’t as many takers as you might think for leftovers. People love getting baked goods but 3/4 of a leftover pork loin is surprisingly hard to unload. However, Joanne and I have a perfect symbiotic relationship. I HATE grocery shopping and she HATES cooking. I send her the grocery lists and she does the shopping and in return, I keep the fridge stocked with breakfasts, lunches, and dinners and probably more baked goodies than I should. I feel like in this scenario I have the better end of the deal but if you ask her, she’ll tell you that she’s the one that’s winning. I feel like as long as we both feel that way, we’re doing okay. Truth is that having someone to cook for makes me feel valuable. And having someone to come home to at the end of the day makes me feel happy. And having four cats between us makes me feel like I will never eat a piece of cheese in peace again but that’s okay.
And now that Joanne is settled back in, it’s time to feverishly join into the culinary event we wait for all year: pumpkin flavored everything. So, grab your pumpkin spiced latte and sit back and relax because this past weekend, I bought four sugar pumpkins and so there is going to be a LOT of pumpkin happening.
What will I start with? Pumpkin pie? Pumpkin ice cream? Pumpkin rolls? No…I’m going to start with a classic and supposedly simple recipe that is a right of passage whether you’re buying sugar pumpkins to puree for your favorite recipes or you’re just carving faces into their big brothers to terrify neighborhood kids on Halloween: roasted pumpkin seeds.
You might be scratching your head wondering why I’d pick something so easy. Well here’s why: IT’S NOT EASY! I’ve spent years and years and hours and hours preparing roasted pumpkin seeds only to have to throw most of them away. People that write the recipes are stupid stupid idiots that clearly haven’t ever tried to follow their own directions. If they had followed them they’d know that their recipes don’t yield perfectly toasted and delicious snacks. They yield piles of wasted effort, a terrible burning smell, and a very loud and obnoxious way to test your smoke detector. And, admittedly, they offer a way to meet some of your local single firefighters but not a chance to impress them since they’ll be there to extinguish your oven and will automatically assume you are a terrible cook. You see, there’s a fine line between a perfectly roasted pumpkin seed and a kitchen fire. Sure, I’ve made the plain salted roasted pumpkin seeds before with little effort and very little fire department involvement but I am not a simple salted seed kind of girl. I want flavor. I crave sweet with my salty. Or spicy. Or whatever but every time I went down the path of moderate creativity at the suggestion of a recipe-writing a-hole with internet access, I ended up with tears leaving trails down my ash-stained cheeks. Well…NO MORE! I have finally perfected the perfectly sweet and salty roasted pumpkin seeds. I have made the effort pay off. I have snacks! And the cats don’t even want me to share!
First of all, no matter what you want to flavor your pumpkin seeds with, you have to get to the darn things first. And believe me when I say that this is not a job for lightweights. I am sore today from cutting pumpkins. Those babies are tough and the fight to get to those seeds is not one for wimps. And if the local fire department isn’t there to extinguish your kitchen fire, you may not have easy access to an ax. But here’s a trick. Instead of using that butcher knife that offers you very little control compared to the thick and hard flesh of the gourd-king, try using one of those little pumpkin carving kits. They come with these teeny thin saws that work a lot better in pumpkin flesh than a butcher knife. And you’re a lot less likely to lose a finger in the fight. If you’re not planning to carve a jack-o-lantern and you don’t want to buy a special kit just for pumpkin, consider going to Home Depot and getting a drywall saw. Seriously, a little pre-planning here can save you a lot of sweat and potentially a lot of blood and maybe a digit or two. It is possible with a knife but you have to have a LOT of strength and one slip could mean evisceration or amputation.
Once you have the pumpkin open, you’ll be staring into a pile of stringy pumpkin goo and you’ll have to get through all this to get to those seeds. I cannot tell you how many hours I’ve spent hunched over my counter carefully picking pumpkin seeds free of the tangled entrails of a pumpkin, but I can assure you it was too many. I’ve discovered an easier way. Fill a large container like a bucket or your kitchen sink with water. Drop all that pumpkin goo into the water and shake it to release the seeds from the fibers that hold them. The pumpkin seeds will float and the goo will sink. You’ll still have a little work to do but you should be able to use a slotted spoon or a wire strainer to skim them off the top of the water.
To roast pumpkin seeds, they have to be dry. Since they were all covered in slime and then covered in water, you now have a bunch of wet pumpkin seeds. Everyone that writes pumpkin seed recipes says that you should spread them out on paper towels to dry. These people are a-holes because the pumpkin seeds go through some sort of chemical bonding process with paper towel. I’ve even tried using tea towels to the same effect. As a result, after you’ve already spent hours picking seeds out of pumpkin goo (unless you used my trick), now you have to spend hours picking all the seeds off paper towels or tea towels. NOT COOL! Seriously, if you try to remove the seeds from the paper towel or tea towel while it’s all still wet, you still have to encourage the seeds to let go. If you make the fatal error of leaving them to dry on the paper towel or tea towel, it’ll take about the same level of effort to free them as it would take to get Guy Fieri into a pair of skinny jeans. So, I’m here to tell you how to do it. Remove the seeds from the water and spread them onto a smooth cotton tea towel or cotton napkin. The smooth cotton ones don’t seem to stick as bad as the looped terrycloth ones. Pat them a bit to dry them and then immediately dump them into a dish or a zip top baggie. They’ll still be damp and you’ll still have to shake them a bit to get them off the towel, but they will let go. If you can wait a day or two for them to dry out, just leave them in a dish sitting out of the way and stir the container whenever you walk by to allow them to dry out. If you’re like me and must eat snacks now, then you’ll have to employ some alternative tactics. I recommend a hair dryer.
Now the seeds are small and lightweight so if you just blast them with the hair dryer, it’s going to look like a pumpkin exploded all over your kitchen. Instead, put them into a gallon size zip top baggie or a paper bag and turn the hair dryer to low and dry carefully allowing the air to escape the bag without taking the seeds with it. Shake the bag gently and dry away most of the excess water. The drier the seeds are, the easier it will be to get them to toast.
Now that I’ve saved you hours of picking seeds free of goo and more hours of picking seeds free of paper towels, let’s get to the part that seems so easy and painless: roasting. It’s important to note that there’s only a few seconds between a perfectly done pumpkin seed and a visit from the fire department. So, I finally figured out that half my problem was roasting them in the oven. I would run off and do things and not keep an eye on them. If you don’t have ADD like I do, you might be able to make the oven work for you. But it just wasn’t working for me so I took a tip from my idol, Alton Brown and started roasting them in a pan on top of the stove. I can control the heat and I can watch them toast and get them exactly where I want and even taste as I go.
But the biggest secret to perfect pumpkin seeds is: don’t get creative until you’re done toasting them. You see, I realized that I often wasn’t burning the pumpkin seeds but I was burning what was on them. I was having an especially hard time with the cinnamon and sugar pumpkin seeds I like best. Of course! Sugar burns!!! So, here’s how you make my salty sweet pumpkin seeds without burning them.
You take a large flat bottomed skillet, you put 2 tablespoons or so of oil in it over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, toss in a few handfuls of pumpkin seeds (separated from the goo, rinsed and dried already) and a healthy pinch or two of kosher salt to taste. Keep the seeds moving as you allow them to toast. Then, once they’ve taken on the color you like, dump them into a bowl lined with paper towel to soak up the excess oil and NOW add your seasoning – while they’re still hot and a little oily. I like to add cinnamon, sugar, and more salt. A lot of salt. Like an unethical amount of salt. Shake them all together and then remove the paper towel and store in an airtight container once they cool…if they last that long. Another combo I like is garlic salt and pepper but you can add whatever seasonings you like at the end. If you want to add a seasoning that needs a few minutes of toasting to develop the flavor, toast the seasoning separately in a dry pan and toss into the seeds once they’re done so you can fully toast the seeds without worrying about burning whatever seasoning you’re using.
Now that I know the secret to perfectly roasted pumpkin seeds with minimal fuss, I get mad every time I see or hear someone recommend something stupid like covering them with sugar before cooking or laying them out to dry on paper towels. I feel like I endured years of abuse at the hands of chefs and recipe authors. I want all the hours back that I spent peeling pumpkin seeds off of paper towels. I hope this post saves you some headache and time.
So, for those of you just swinging by for the recipe:
1. Dump the pumpkin innards and seeds into a bucket of water or a sink filled with water. Shake the innards to release the seeds and then skim the seeds off the surface of the water using a strainer or slotted spoon.
2. Transfer the seeds to a flat cotton cloth and pat lightly to get the excess moisture off.
3. Dump the seeds into a zip top bag and dry them carefully using a hair dryer set to low. Be careful to allow the air to leave the bag without spraying the seeds everywhere. If you don’t have a hair dryer, spread them out as much as you can on a glass or metal dish and allow to air dry.
4. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Once it’s hot, add the seeds and season with salt (and only salt!).
5. Toast the seeds in the pan moving them constantly or stirring constantly.
6. Remove the seeds to a paper towel lined bowl. Add additional seasonings such as cinnamon and sugar or garlic powder and pepper and toss to coat while the seeds are still hot.
7. Remove the paper towel and discard and allow the seeds to cool.
8. Store in an airtight container.
And most importantly, if you see your friends spreading wet pumpkin seeds onto paper towels, stop them before it’s too late. And if you know of a way to get the cats to stop loathing each other, we’re all ears…and claws.