You want scary? You should see me carving a Jack O’Lantern. Don’t worry, this isn’t a gruesome or gory story; no blood has ever been spilled. Sadly, this is simply a story of a boring pumpkin carver. Me.
This is a realization many years in the making. I don’t remember carving Jack O’Lanterns as a kid. But when my Baby Niece (“BN” as I refer to her in this venue) was growing up I was always the designated carver. I haven’t asked her lately what her memories of our pumpkin carving are, but her lack of vocal nostalgia through the years speaks volumes. It’s not that my Jack O’Lanterns were bad or messy, it’s just that they were…tame. Two triangular eyes. A triangular nose. A jagged mouth. Zzzzzzzzzzz.
From the vantage point of time passed, I see a two-fold problem. The first is relatively simple. Tools are everything, and I always feel that the tools I have at hand are inadequate for the “art of the gourd.” Pumpkins are big and have tough skins (I’ve worked for people like that) and kitchen knives always seem too small or frighteningly too big (I’ve worked for people like that too. Hmmm…)
I have seen Martha Stewart go at the poor defenseless vegetables with all manner of electric drills and saws. Where’s the sport in that? Bringing electric power to bear here seems like performing open heart surgery with a jack hammer. (I’m a big fan of Martha’s, but the look of glee on her face as she went at the pumpkin with a hole saw was eye opening for more than just the pumpkin.)
Last year at Williams-Sonoma I saw an electric tool designed specifically for pumpkin carving. Where’s the finesse? Where’s the artistry? Besides, if I used that a friend of mine would have labeled me a “cheater” to the end of my days. (I have a couple of friends who like to throw pumpkin carving parties. Let’s just say it’s a tough room.)
If you sense some hemming and hawing on my part it is likely due to the second part of the two-fold problem. I tend to personify the pumpkins. When I shop for a pumpkin I don’t choose the first pumpkin I see. I look for one that is big, round, and, for lack of a better description, happy. For me, pumpkin shopping is not unlike adopting a big round orange mutt from the pound.
Let me digress for a moment. I have a friend who has a dog. One Christmas season, someone (not me!) had the inspiration to place a set of felt reindeer antlers on the dog. I will never forget the look of shame and disappointment on the dog’s face as he hung his head in shame. If the dog could have spoken, he likely would have said, “Antlers? You’re kidding, right? I thought you were better than this.”
I look at my beautiful, happy pumpkin, and can’t help but feel the same attitude coming from him—I mean–it. So, my instinct is always to enjoy the fat, happy pumpkin as is.
But social obligations being what they are, when invited to a Jack O’Lantern carving party one must arrive with the makings of a Jack O’Lantern. That’s where some butter, flour, and eggs come in handy.
Yes, if there’s a holiday and a party, it’s likely that I can find a cookie to suit the day. In this case a Jack O’Lantern cookie isn’t a cheat, no; it’s a creative swerve into another lane on the highway. All you need is a Jack O’Lantern cookie cutter.
The first time I made Jack O’Lantern cookies, I used a tangy maple-flavored dough, sprinkled them with a dusting of maple sugar, and filled them like a sandwich cookie with chocolate buttercream.
This year I thought it would be fun to go with tradition and use an orange colored filling. A chocolate cookie would be good, but a little predictable. I was in the mood for something else, so the cookies are mocha-flavored.
I was faced with a few choices for the filling, and decided to present you with an either / or decision. You can use an easy buttercream and tint it orange, but if kids are involved in the occasion, I thought it would be fun to make them into a kind of a Halloween S’Mores cookie. I painted the bottom cookie with melted chocolate, let it set, then topped that with a dab of Italian meringue (Marshmallow Fluff from the jar is a perfectly acceptable substitute) tinted orange. I closed the sandwich with a cookie whose eyes, nose, and mouth were cut out so the orange filling would show.
The trick? I didn’t have to carve a pumpkin. The treat? Cookies, of course.
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