By: Wendy Rhein
I am not crafty. Not in the Martha Stewart way. Not by a long shot. I mean, let’s be honest, not even in the Better Homes & Gardens realm. I cannot paint, I cannot draw. I do not knit. I do not sew. I do not paper mache nor do I bead. I may have some limited skills. I can make a mean hangman. And I can arrange flowers. But that’s it folks. Nothing craftier than that.
This has been a big challenge in parenting my elder son, Nate. He is a very artistic, inventive child. He loves art, he loves to draw and create, and I love that he loves that. But I often feel limited and inadequate in the mama department when he asks with some exasperation if I could just make a rocket ship out of cotton balls, Elmer’s, and some toothpicks without yelling. The sad truth is, not only can I not do it without yelling, it won’t look anything like a rocket, my fingers will be glued together, and many ‘grown up stuck-in-traffic only’ words will have been uttered throughout the creative process.
This frustrating dynamic reared its ugly, unMartha head on Friday night when it was time to carve the family pumpkin. I love fall and all that this season represents as a time of transition, of endings and beginnings. I love the rituals and traditions that surround this season for my family so I get as excited as six-year-old Nate to make jack o’lanterns. We have a clear division of labor – I cut the top of the pumpkin off, empty it of its ‘guts’ as he calls them, and cut the design to his specifications. His job is to prepare the design. Normally this can take a couple of days and half a ream of paper. But this year, he had one design in mind. When he showed me, it was truly terrifying. Shocking. And to me, impossible. It was simple. Two Jedi knights, light sabers crossed, in battle stance. How the hell was I, the queen of triangle eyes, an upside-down triangle nose, and a big toothy smile, supposed to carve this into a squash?? But more importantly, how can I disappoint this kid, sitting here with his little face, this beautiful, expectant face, looking up at me thinking that his mother can do anything? ANYTHING.
And then it came to me. “Nate, go get your Nana. She can do it. She’s the artist.”
And in fact, she is. My mother in her retirement from a second career as a clinical psychologist is now an avid and rather talented painter. (She is also incredibly crafty and does all those things I mentioned in the first paragraph that I cannot do. Dammit.)
For the next hour, Nate and my mom, aka Nana, bent over this big orange landscape and made painstaking cuts and scraped in shadings. With each cut, an arm, or leg, or light saber came to light. With each cut, Nate ran into the kitchen to show me the excised piece, to tell me what its negative space represented. “Mom! This is Anakin’s knee!” “Mom! This is Obi Wan’s head, it’s so cool!” After much deliberation, quiet consults with foreheads almost touching over the big pumpkin’s flesh, they finished. In the final minutes, I was once again called to help – to carefully pick up the masterpiece and clean out any shaved debris that may have fallen inside. Yep. Give me the guts and the trash. That I can do.
And, I must say, it is fantastic. It is clearly his design and her dedicated steady hand. A real family effort. We turned off all the lights and placed the jack o’lantern on top of the entertainment center, not having a front porch any more to put it on. I like this way though because we get to enjoy it as much if not more than neighbors would have. With the lights off, and the candle lit, we all gasped at the image that shone brightly. Nate was so excited with the outcome of the Nate and Nana collaboration that he fell back on the couch and exclaimed “this is better than watching TV EVER!”
For me, watching them work together is a gift because I see him learning new skills and having someone who can share the dialogue and language of art and creation. Someone to help open his mind to new uses for traditional tools. And, it was a real testimony to how our family works. We each can do what we are good at – Nate conceived the plan, my mother made the design a reality, and I picked the goopy seeds from the pumpkin and cooked them. If I have any creativity it is that: being able to see the possibilities inside of someone else’s goopy mess.
In honor of the pumpkin fest, I am sharing my favorite pumpkin bread recipe. It is a little spicy, so be aware of that if you’re into sweeter, more cake-like breads. And, this recipe makes two loaves at a time because my crew can eat two loaves in a week. No glaze or butter needed; it is that moist (although I wonder sometimes what a thick schmeer of homemade pumpkin butter would taste like on it).
Maybe next weekend…
Spiced Pumpkin Bread – remember it makes 2 loaves!
1c vegetable oil
3 large eggs
16oz canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling – that’s another thing altogether)
1t ground cloves
1 1/2t cinnamon
1t ground nutmeg
1t ground ginger
1t baking soda
1/2t baking powder
Preheat the oven to 350. Butter two 9×5 loaf pans. Beat the sugar and oil in a mixing bowl until it makes shiny ribbons when you hold the whisk or beater in the air. Add the eggs and pumpkin and mix. Sift all the dry ingredients into another bowl. While this may seem like a superfluous step, it helps to combine all the spices and baking soda/powder evenly into the flour so you don’t have clumps in the finished product. Nothing ruins a tasty treat like biting into a bitter wad of baking soda! Once the dry ingredients are sifted, mix them into the wet ingredients in two batches to make sure it is combined. Do not over mix. Divide the batter evenly between the two loaf pans and put them in the oven, middle rack. Bake until a tester toothpick comes out clean with maybe a crumb or two attached, about one hour to one hour and 10 minutes. Let them cool in the pans for 10 minutes and then carefully run a knife around the edges of the bread and then turn them out on a plate to completely cool.
These freeze well, if you can’t eat two loaves in a week (shame on you) by simply wrapping them in plastic wrap, then in foil, and putting the brick of bread in the freezer. I’ve heard they can last a couple of months in the freezer without losing their moistness, but really, why bother?