Pumpkin week ended with a mini-vacation to Southern California where we planned to get our ghoul on for Halloween. We and 13 of our friends rented a totally shabby 5,000-square-foot shack on a golf course, put in many long hours of hard labor by the pool during the day, and suffered through some really boring live music at night. It was a tough gig. To relieve us of this misery, my initial plan was to bake and bring everyone pumpkin treats—pumpkin crisp and pumpkin cookies—but some last-minute packing emergencies (i.e., I didn’t start packing until the last minute) derailed that plan, so instead I took some breaks from the laborious tasks of sleeping late and lounging in the hot tub to bake the crisp and cookies in the shack’s grossly oversized kitchen.
The recipes for both pumpkin treats originated with Supporter Jenn, and before that I think they might have come from a Phish chat board (who knew people used these boards for talking about more than which version of what song they saw at what show what year under what circumstances and whether it rained?), but they were both super easy and–for my vegetarian friends, which are, I think, like, all of you–totally meatless.
This was the first time I’d cooked anything in a kitchen other than my own, which was a challenge. I thought about this earlier in the week when Lauren was making lasagna in our kitchen, because she mostly didn’t seem fazed by the fact that she was in someone else’s kitchen making this extremely complicated recipe, but when I looked around I realized it was probably because she’d brought her kitchen with her, all her own pots, pans and utensils. I mean, she even brought her own casserole dish. Pfft. I have a casserole dis… nope. I absolutely do not own the size of casserole dish Lauren used for pumpkin lasagna. Oh, snap.
Of course, before I got lost in that gigantic kitchen, I got lost in the grocery store, which I thought was totally reasonable since I was practically in a foreign country. PROJECT 29 to 30 Steph, who had already done her new thing for the day, turned her attention to helping me find evaporated milk. No shit, it took us 20 minutes and walking up and down the same four aisles 12 times before she finally found it on the coffee aisle. For real? When I bought evaporated milk a few days earlier in Atlanta (before the packing emergency), I found it on the baking aisle, so I thought it couldn’t possibly just be my grocery store ignorance that had us wandering the store for so many minutes. To soothe my ego about this recurring issue, I did some investigating on getting lost in the grocery store and found this awesome piece about placement of grocery stock. Suddenly I felt a lot less bad about all the times I’ve been lost at the farmers’ market. From now on whenever I can’t find something I’m just going to blame it on the stock boys. Assholes.
Back at the house I fumbled around the imposing kitchen looking for all the baking accoutrements I would need for my first pumpkin treat: pumpkin crisp. Despite its impressive demeanor, the kitchen of our casa de fancy pants was seriously lacking in cooking and baking supplies. I imagine the people who live in these kinds of houses don’t do much cooking. They have people for that. Fortunately for me, I can barely tell one kitchen item from another, so using a broiler pan as a cookie sheet was completely acceptable. Our real only obstacle, which threatened to be relatively major, was that no one could figure out how to work the can opener. Actually, we weren’t even sure the object we were using was a can opener or a cork screw; when we finally determined it was probably the former it became even more frustrating when it turned out to be nothing more than a can-opener-or-corkscrew-shaped paperweight, since accessing the contents of the can was kind of crucial for assembling the pumpkin treats. You know. Pumpkin.
Several people had gathered in the kitchen at this point—either because they were shocked I was actually awake before noon (Sarah F), or this was the first time they had actually seen me cook (Sarah F), or because actual real breakfast food was happening on the stove (everyone else)—and it was someone among this group who finally noticed that an electric can opener had been sitting on the counter the whole time, laughing at us as we each took turns fighting with the can opener/corkscrew paperweight. Whatever.
Things moved at lightning speed after that. Ingredients mixed. Mixture in oven. Pumpkin crisp baked, removed and summarily devoured. Because the crisp was so easy to make after those first few hiccups, it made me think about how easy my life will be once I know where every single thing is in the grocery store and once I have every single kitchen item at my disposal forever until eternity. I can cut prep time on everything down to like 30 seconds. This was such a great daydream. Until I made the fucking cookies. Goddamn fucking pumpkin cookies.
I took a break between the crisp and the cookies. A long break. I consumed a few adult beverages. And sat by the pool a little. And lounged in the hot tub a bit. And took a nap. By the time I got around to the cookies, I was A) overconfident and B) drunk. The thing about cookies is you have to have sustained interest in tending to them in fits and starts: one batch in and one batch out, remove some to cool, put more on the cookie sheet, another batch in, another batch out. Blah, blah, blah. But there’s always a weird time period of five or seven minutes in between with nothing to do; it’s just short enough that you can’t really start a new chore or project, but just long enough to be bored to tears standing in the kitchen by yourself. Cookies really aren’t for me. I read over the recipe again while the first batch was in the oven, trying to entertain myself at my little pity party in the kitchen. It was then that I discovered the flaw in cooking while overconfident and under the influence (CWOUI): things such as, like, measurements get blurry but you don’t care. I might have accidentally added twice the amount of pumpkin the recipe called for. Oops.
To fix this I just started adding shit to the remaining batter. To be fair, this little revelation made my pity party a lot more interesting. A little more flour here, a dash more of whatever else was in the recipe there, and voila….fuck, more batter. More cookies. More time standing here by myself. I really hate baking cookies.
Pumpkin crisp, in. Pumpkin cookies, out.
Prep: 15 min.; Bake: 1 hr., 5 min.; Stand: 10 min.
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (18.25-ounce) package butter-flavored yellow cake mix (I used Betty Crocker Super Moist Butter Recipe Yellow Cake Mix, per the original recipe’s suggestion)
1 cup chopped pecans (I skipped the pecans, but eh, it was still delicious)
1 cup butter, melted
Whipped cream (optional) (I didn’t do this optional part, but I’m sure it would have been great)
Ground nutmeg (optional) (I don’t think I did this either, I don’t like nutmeg)
Stir together first 5 ingredients. Pour into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle cake mix evenly over pumpkin mixture; sprinkle evenly with pecans. Drizzle butter evenly over pecans. Bake at 350° for 1 hour to 1 hour and 5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven, and let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream, if desired. Sprinkle with nutmeg, if desired.