Home Archives 2012 September

Monthly Archives: September 2012

0

Before having kids and getting married, pumpkins served a single purpose for me. They were meant to be gauged and poked and scraped into some semblance of a Jack’0′Lantern (I’m terrible at carving pumpkins, by the way. Something about the “guts” and the icky sticky feeling. Yuck!).

After that, in my wilder years, they were good for tossing at a random mailbox or two. I kid! I kid!

But ever since marrying a Prince Charming with a serious taste for all things pumpkin pie, I’ve been working on developing my pumpkin taste buds. It’s a slow process for someone who group up on the pecan pie side of the great Thanksgiving pie divide, but I’m getting there. And for what it’s worth, I now believe we can all live happily on BOTH sides of the pie line. More pie! Who doesn’t love more pie?

So for what it’s worth, these didn’t last an entire 24 hours in my house. That’s more of a recommendation than any adjective that I can conjure up. My family ate the whole pan. Fast.

I prefer bars over pies when it comes to the kids. Bars are a little easier to package with foil and slip into a lunch box for a sweet cafeteria surprise. Pies are a little trickier and often end in me up late scrubbing bit of crust and filling from all manner of lunch box nook and cranny. True story!

I traded the usual graham crust I use and broke out the gingersnaps. Wow! Talk about a spicy, exciting difference and no more work than a normal cookie/graham crust.

Ingredients:

Crust

  • 1 and 1/4 cup smashed gingersnaps
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter

Pumpkin Pie Bars

  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (13 1/2 oz.) can evaporated milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves

Directions:

For crust:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine cookie crumbs and butter with a fork until crumbly. Press into prepared 8X8 baking dish and bake 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

For filling:

Combine filling ingredients in large bowl and mix by hand until smooth, about two minutes. Pour over hot crust and bake approximately 35 minutes, until center sets. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Happy Funtober!

0
Caramel Apple Cheesecake

Caramel Apple Cheesecake

This rich and creamy cheesecake is flecked with cinnamon, topped with apples and full of melty caramel. It’s the perfect dessert for a farmer’s market or apple picking day – you can make the cheesecake ahead of time and add the apple topping with time to set before serving or top the chilled cheesecake with warm apples. The cinnamon in the cheesecake adds a warm fall flavor, and the glossy apples are just a tiny bit buttery tasting. It’s a perfect autumnal desert, especially for those sunny days before the real chill sets in.

Cheesecake Recipe:
- 9” graham cracker crust
- 8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened
- 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
- 1 egg
- ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
- half a bag of caramel bits (from the baking aisle) or 22 wrapped caramels, unwrapped and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Whip up the cream cheese in the mixer until it’s fluffy.
Add the sweetened condensed milk. It’s easiest to blend it with the cream cheese if you drizzle it in while the mixer is running.
Mix in the egg until completely blended.
Add the cinnamon and lemon juice, mix in completely.
Fold in the caramel pieces.
Set the crust on a baking sheet (you don’t want to move a filled pie crust.)
Pour the filling into the crust.
Bake for 30-35 minutes until the edges are set and the center is still a little wobbly.
Let cool before topping. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours before eating.

Apple Topping Recipe:
- 1 large apple – a tart apple is best, but any apple will be delicious
- 1 tbsp butter or margarine
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- ½ tsp cornstarch (optional)
- ¼ cup water (optional)Peel and core the apple, then slice it thin.

Place the apple slices in a small saucepan. Add the butter and brown sugar.
Heat over low heat, stirring constantly, until the apples are flexible.

If you’re serving the cheesecake now, you can slice the chilled cake and pour this over the top.
To thicken the syrup dissolve the cornstarch in cold water. If you don’t have cornstarch use 1 tsp of flour.
Pour the cornstarch and water into the saucepan with the apples and boil until it thickens, this will only take a few minutes.
Pour this over the top of the cheesecake and serve immediately or refrigerate to set.

3
Dip-dyed Pine Cones

 

My mom used to decorate for every single holiday and season when I was a kid. Of course, things always got exciting when October approached. There was natural and crafted bounty galore: pumpkins, gourds, and hay bales from the farmers market, homemade scarecrows, paper bats, leaves, spider webs, and jack-o-lanterns.

It’s a tradition I’ve carried with me into adulthood, albeit in my own way. I tend to like my seasonal decorations to be subtle, at least to begin with: blending in with my existing home decor, rather than adding a layer on top of it. And natural elements are always welcome.

This is why pine cones hold a special place in my heart. They’re natural, sturdy, and free, and the orderliness of their design says both “rustic” and “sophisticated.” But while pine cones look great on their own, I think they also look great with a little color. In orange and black, it’s a quick and inexpensive way to sneak some Halloween into your home — even if it is a little early.

The look of this project is meant to mimic the dip-dyed trend that’s been happening in fashion and home decor. Despite the name, however, these pine cones aren’t actually dipped. In order to make the paint thin enough for dipping, you would have to water it down. But when pine cones get wet, the scales close. Normally, they’d open again when dry, but the paint causes the scales to stick together and stay closed. So if we were to actually dip them, we’d end up with half-closed painted pine cones.

Dip-dyed Pine Cones - Materials

MATERIALS

To make your own, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Acrylic craft paint
  • Water
  • 1-inch, flat paintbrush
  • Pine cones

BEFORE YOU BEGIN

It’s important to note that this project calls for acrylic craft paint as opposed to acrylic artist’s paint. Craft paint is thinner and less viscous and will be easier to work with for this type of project. It’s also significantly less expensive.

Acrylic paint is great for crafts like this because it’s easy to work with, easy to clean up, dries quickly, and is water resistant once it’s dry. What this also means is that if you drip or splatter it onto your favorite shirt or dining room rug, it is very difficult to remove — and basically impossible once dry. When you’re painting pine cones, paint WILL splatter. Make sure you cover your work surface and wear something that you wouldn’t mind accidentally ruining. (Likewise, you probably don’t want to keep your iPhone right next to you — unless you don’t mind giving it a festive, speckled custom paint job.) Keep some clean, cool water and a rag handy for emergency clean-ups.

Additionally, pine cones can be sharp! I’ve never actually cut myself on a pine cone but I won’t say it can’t happen, and trying to handle an especially prickly one can be kind of a drag. Please be sure to inspect the pine cones before handing them over to young children or grown-ups with delicate fingers.

Ready? Me too!

Dip-dyed Pine Cones - Steps

1. Define the painted area. Take your paintbrush and dip it in some clean water. (Don’t blot it.) Then, dip it in paint. Try to get an even coating on the bristles by pouncing the brush lightly and then tapping the flat side of the bristles against the edge of the cup (or whatever vessel you’re using to contain the paint). You want the brush to be heavily loaded with paint, but not dripping.

Decide how much of the pine cone you want to be painted, and paint the outside of the scales in the portion you choose. It’s easiest if you take the pine cone in one hand and the paintbrush in the other, and hold the paintbrush in one place while you rotate the pine cone against the flat side of the bristles.

NOTE: Because the scales are arranged in a spiral — rather than rows — from top to bottom, it can be difficult to know where to stop your top border. I tend to pick a spot and end up painting more than I intended because I think too much about creating a perfect line. If you look carefully at photos 1 and 4 above, you can see that I originally made my top border about one-third of the way from the bottom (1), but ended up painting half of the pine cone (4). Don’t be like me. Relax and remember that “approximate” is okay.

2. Paint the tops of the scales. Next, you want to paint the inner part of the pine cone — the tops and bottoms of the scales. It’s easy to paint the tops because they’re fairly flat; the bottoms are trickier because of the spike at the end of each scale. Load more paint on the brush, if necessary. Hold the flat side of the brush parallel with the tops of the scales, insert the brush between the rows and apply paint to the scales while pulling the brush back out again.

3. Paint the undersides of the scales. Turn the pine cone upside down and repeat the same technique used in step 2 to paint the undersides of the scales. To cover the back side of the spike, angle the brush a little higher and give it a wiggle from side to side. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to remember this: it doesn’t have to be perfectly perfect.

4. Dry. When you’ve finished painting, let the pine cone dry for at least 30 minutes before handling the painted area. I like to let the paint dry for several hours before doing anything else with them.

Dip-dyed Pine Cones - Finished!

These would look nice lined up on a mantle or shelf, tossed in a bowl, or tied to some twine as a garland. It’s a nice, subtle way to add a festive touch to your home.

Dip-dyed Pine Cones - Candy Corn

You’re not limited to one color, either! And you can paint the whole pine cone if you want, although it’s a bit easier to paint a portion, let it dry, and then paint the other portion so that you can hold onto it without getting paint all over your fingers.

If you’d like the pine cones to last for several years, you can seal them with an acrylic spray sealer, which you can usually find at an arts and crafts store. It’s typically available in gloss, satin, or matte finishes; choose whichever you like (I tend to go for matte for a more natural look). Spray outside on a mild day or in a very well ventilated area, away from open flame, and let the sealer dry for an hour or more before bringing the pine cones inside to avoid bringing the fumes in with them.

0

One thing that you can expect to find here at Funtober are fall foliage reports as the leaves start changing. If you live in the vicinity of one of these fall foliage drives, it is easy to pile in the car on the right weekend to see the trees when they have the maximum amount of color. That’s what my parents did to my brother and I when we were kids.

But I know that you may not be able to plan a vacation to see the changing leaves at the last minute. That’s the case if you are hoping to enjoy it by cruise ship, train or extended bicycle tour. So I’m passing along this infographic with the expected peak fall foliage times to help you with your trip planning. It was put together by HomeAway over the summer and I’ve saved it to share with you now.

Fall Foliage Infographic

0

I realized at the end of August that I couldn’t run Funtober alone. I must have been delusional for the first half of the year. How did I ever expect to sell Halloween costumes, post to the Funtober blog, run five directories of Fall fun AND sleep? So I found some help. Three new friends for you to get to know over the next seven weeks as they post here on the Funtober blog.

Without further ado, let me introduce Megan, Kris and Sarah:

Megan Applegate is the author of the Hungry Little Blackbird, a food blog where she shares her recipes and adventures in life. As a mom of four and a foodie by compulsion, Megan is quite active in the kitchen. But her skills aren’t limited to the culinary arts. Megan is also an avid crafter. So I have no doubt that this former newspaper columnist will charm you with her story as she helps you whip up some delicious treats and cool crafts this Fall.

Kris DeGraeve is a contributing editor at How Did You Make This?, where she walks her readers through recreating her craft projects. She’s been recognized on Instructables for numerous Holiday crafts and recipes, including Second Prize in the 2007 DIY Halloween Food Contest for her Blood Spattered Extra Satanic Deviled Eggs recipe. When I showed a few of Kris’ Instructables to a crafting friend, she said, “YOU HAVE TO GET HER ON FUNTOBER!”

Sarah Ehman is the author of Looks Like Dinosaurs, where she posts about her Babysaurus and craft projects. As a graphic designer and artist in a creative household, I can’t wait to see what Sarah is working on for Halloween. Sarah shared with me the address of her old food blog, so I’m confident that her recipes will make your mouth water and send you rushing to the store for ingredients.

What else do Megan, Kris and Sarah have in common? Let’s put three statements from them side-by-side and see if we notice anything:

- “I … absolutely LOVE the fall season.”
- “I LOVE Halloween!”
- “[F]all, and October in particular, is my favorite time of year”.

I’m really excited to see what they are cooking up for Funtober! Let’s give them a warm welcome here.

0

When I started working on Funtober last December, October seemed so far away. Now it is right around the corner. I don’t even have to look at the calendar in order to know. As I step outside in the morning, I can feel it in the air. I’ve consumed my first bag of candy corn already (a 2 for $3 deal placed near the cash register at my local drug store called to me). And witnessed a young child walking from my local farmer’s market with a small pumpkin in her hands.

I set September 15th as the launch date for Funtober over five months ago. Time has flown by. Normally, I would procrastinate an important task. Somehow, I’ve always known that if I did that here at Funtober, it would be a major disaster. I haven’t gotten everything done that I would like. I’ve been wicked busy. But I’m proud to announce that Funtober is here.

There were grand plans for this day in my mind. A huge party at my place. Massive online prize giveaways. Media coverage galore. As busy as I have been over the past week, I’m pretty sure that those plans would have crushed me if I had attempted to implement them by myself. So I’m going to go with this very quiet, we’re open for business, announcement instead. And just attempt to hang on for the rest of the ride this year. You won’t be disappointed with what I have planned.

There’s a lot of information here. Most popular right now is the Oktoberfest section. In particular, our directory of U.S. Oktoberfest parties. The next two weekends are big for Oktoberfest, here and abroad. Right now, it’s the final weekend of the Vail Oktoberfest. Mount Angel is going strong. It’s the opening weekend for Oktoberfest at Big Bear Lake; Helen, Georgia; Alpine Village and Bear Mountain. As well as many more. Next weekend will be even bigger, as THE Oktoberfest in Munich (number 179) taps its keg on Saturday, September 22nd. The largest Oktoberfest in the United States, Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, is next weekend as well. Seattle will party at the Fremont Oktoberfest. And I’m sure I’ve left hundreds of parties off this brief list. But we’re doing our best to keep you informed of them in our Oktoberfest directory.

I could go on for days listing the information that you can find here on Funtober. It took me ten months to put it all together. It’s probably best that you explore it for yourself, though. The right sidebar navigation is your friend. Use it!

Also in the works for this year:
- Tutorials for Recipes and Crafts
- Costume Giveaway(s)
- Costume Contest(s)
- Undetermined Awesomeness

If you love what you see here, consider buying one of the Halloween costumes. It’s what pays to keep the lights on. And your purchase will keep me motivated to implement next year’s plans when I’ve recovered from Halloween 2012. Here is a rough sketch of some of the 2013 and beyond plans, in no particular order. Finishing up the pumpkin patch directory and running a comprehensive apple orchard directory. Travel/Event Deals/Packages with the ability to buy tickets to events here on Funtober. Creating a costume recommendation engine (like has been built for Christmas gifts) and hosting costume reviews. Also, DIY costume tutorials and a place for you to show off the costumes that you have made yourself. I’m also looking at more Fall activity coverage, such as playoff baseball, and an on this date calendar with information about important historical events, births and deaths. You can influence what I/we work on next. Tell me what you like. What needs work. And what you would like to see here in the future.

I’ve taken down the sign that “Funtober Starts September 15th.” So I present you:

0

The Travel Channel definitely has the Halloween spirit this year. You can enjoy the seventh season of Ghost Adventures, the second season of the Dead Files and the first season of Paranormal Papparazzi. Of definite interest to Funtober readers will be the second season of Making Monsters and the one hour special called Halloween Crazier.

Making Monsters follows the work of Distortions Unlimited as they create props for haunted houses around the country, including Netherworld in Atlanta and Dick Van Dyke’s home haunt in Southern California. The second season premieres on Sunday, September 30th at 8PM ET/PT and will continue with two back to back episodes every week until Halloween. So it has been expanded from the four, one hour television episodes that aired last October

On October 14th at 10 PM ET/PT, Halloween Crazier will take you to four more Halloween oriented events around the country, including a mental institution converted into a haunted house, a zombie race, a pumpkin derby and insane pumpkin carving events. Last year, Halloween Crazy on the Travel Channel took viewers to the Dent Schoolhouse in Cincinnati, the Darkness haunted house in St. Louis, the Philly Zombie Prom and San Jose’s Psycho Donuts.

Here are the events that you’ll learn about during Halloween Crazier in 2012:

The Pennhurst Asylum takes the old administrative building of Pennhurst State School and Hospital, a mental institution in Pennsylvania dating back to the early 1900s, and converts it into a haunted house for the Halloween season. If you survive the haunted house, you can search for ghosts in a second building at the facility.

You’ll experience the pumpkin racecar derby and underwater pumpkin carving contests from the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta from September 29 to October 8, 2012.

The show will preview the 5K Zombie Race at Camp Ramblewood in Darlington, MD. And they’ll also take you to Highwood, Illinois for the Great Highwood Pumpkin Festival. In 2011, Highwood set the Guiness World Record for the most lit jack-o-lanterns with 30,919. In 2012, they are looking to carve 32,000 pumpkins during the festival, which occurs on October 18-20, 2012.

0

I spent the weekend working on the costume store. Visitors started emailing me last week asking when they could purchase a Halloween costume here at Funtober. The answer is: Now!

The store isn’t perfect. My list of things to improve is long. But: “If you aren’t embarrassed by what you launch with, then you waited too long to launch”. So it is out there for the world. I would love to hear what you think. Or any problems that you have discovered (like products priced $0.00). I’ve tested the shopping cart on two browsers (Internet Explorer and Firefox). And run through a live transaction to make sure that payments are being processed. I’ve been told that the SSL certificate isn’t working on a mobile phone. I’ll have to look into that – so don’t order from your mobile phone if you see that error.

I’ve already made a number of changes to the site. The pictures were taking too long to load so I switched to a grid and thumbnail system. I’ll probably also divide them into multiple pages to reduce load time. The ability to sort the products by price. And grouping them into individual costume ideas or available costume sizes. Just a few of the many things that need to happen.

If you are going to buy a costume here, you might be concerned about the security of your credit card information. The shopping cart isn’t pretty yet. And the Godaddy outage yesterday demonstrates that there are no guarantees in life. There aren’t here either. But here are the steps that I have taken: Your credit card information is processed automagically by Authorize.net. The checkout page is protected by SSL encryption. And you can verify that you are on a secure page through the Comodo certificate. I’ll put the trust certificates up soon. I’ve also taken steps to improve the security of the platform. And I’ll be investigating if there are any additional measures that I can take.

There’s bound to be problems with the store (and this website in general). Some will be entirely my fault. Others will beyond my control. I hope you will let me know when they happen and give me a chance to fix the problems when they arise. Thanks!

PS: If you need help coming up with a costume idea, let me know!

I started Funtober in part to give myself a great excuse to participate in more fall fun. I work way too hard not to take more breaks and enjoy life. Yesterday, I took a break from building Funtober to attend the Arden Fair in Delaware. But there was plenty that I thought you would be interested in seeing.

Started off the day with some bratwurst and beer but forget to take a picture of it for you. Then wandered around the craft vendors and antiques where I founded these super cute painted signs for only $10. If you want one, I grabbed her business card so that I could pass along her contact information.

There was a lot of other Halloween merchandise for sale. Vintage Halloween postcards and decorations, a talking skeleton and plenty of pumpkin items. I’m going to be in serious trouble this October as I really wanted to buy all of it. I had to resist though as it wouldn’t have been any fun to spend all day carrying it around.

Although it was a fairly nice day, it did turn out a bit hot after spending all day in the sun. But we cooled down with some shaved ice and found a vendor who was selling pumpkin ice cream. I was pretty disappointed that they were sold out of waffle cones but it was much easier to photograph with an ice cream cone that had a flat bottom.

When we left, we stopped to check out the supply of oktoberfest and pumpkin beer. They had their shelves stocked with the fall seasonals so I picked up some to try:

You’ll get to see the reviews of them here as I drink them. Overall, it was a fun time and I’m starting to plan my schedule for October already!