Cooking My Heart Out: On pumpkins, fall, fashion, school and Grandma

It’s Fall, my favorite season! Just look at its brilliance, abundance and color! There is nothing like fall! It’s like the Goldilocks of all seasons.  I love it!


Pumpkins are about as close to the top of my list of favorite things about fall, as a round heavy shapeless and hard to cut vegetable can get. Besides the fact that they are so good for you, they are also a fashion inspiration. I can pretty much find all pumpkin colors in my closet.


But my favorite thing about the pumpkins, is the desert that my grandma used to make for me.

Many years ago, I’d come home from school, and the intoxicating aroma of pumpkin and cinnamon would fill the house. My grandma’s pumpkin rice walnut pudding was my favorite treat in the fall. She made it frequently; mainly to indulge me. And also to make good use of the enormous pumpkins we had in the yard.
Today, when I was freaking out my dogs, chopping pumpkin and making the dessert I grew up with, I wasn’t aware that it was my grandma’s birthday….I always thought her birthday is on Oct 15, until my dad asked me if I made it in her honor. I guess I did…

I posted a photo of my dish with the memory snapshot above on Facebook and several of my friends asked me for the recipe.

So here it goes:

The best pumpkin to eat is either the Green Hubbard (pictured below) or the butternut squash. Both work well. I sometimes even use sweet potatoes. They have pretty much the same consistency.


This slicing job isn’t for everyone. You MUST find either someone qualified who has done this before, or have it sliced at the store… Better yet, just find pre-sliced pumpkin, or just do it with sweet potatoes.

Or if you are like me and think that you absolutely must do it yourself, you may proceed AT YOUR OWN RISK! I do NOT recommend it for several reasons.

1. I have had friends rushed to the emergency room because they almost sliced their fingers off, trying to slice a pumpkin!!!


2. The process is extremely noisy and may scare the living daylights out of your pets. As it’s evident in Exhibit A. (“We might be next!)

Scaredy Dogs

This is what the Hubbard pumpkin looks like inside. (I like to gather these seeds, dry them on a paper towel and throw them in the garden in spring. And then wait for pumpkins come Halloween time. )


Once you’ve chunked your pumpkin, you can prepare the rest of your ingredients and begin:

Pumpkin/ Rice/ Walnut pudding

My Grandma’s recipe.


2lb Green Hubbard Pumpkin ( or butternut squash or sweet potatoes) This is the weight you need after it’s been cut and cleaned. So look for a pumpkin that’s heavier. If you have leftovers, you can make a delicious pumpkin soup.  Recipe for that will follow soon.

1 cup of Arborio rice (the one you buy for risotto, you can also use a japanese rice called Kokuho )

1 tsp of vanila

4 cups of milk


1 cup ground walnuts

5-6 TBS brown sugar

2 TBS butter


Once you’ve established who will be cutting the pumpkin and have it chunked, (the flesh of the pumpkin is easy to cut.) you can proceed with slicing the flesh in 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick slices. They can be in any of shape the bigger chunks came out to be. There is no rule about that.. 

Get your baking dish and put a few pieces of butter at the bottom of it.

With your hand, sprinkle the dry rice to cover the bottom of the dish. Liberally, but not more than a layer of grains

Now arrange a layer of  the pumpkin slices

Sprinkle sugar, cinnamon, ground walnuts

Now again



Sugar, cinnamon, ground walnuts

Continue like this until you finish all your ingredients.

You need to top off with sugar cinnamon and walnuts and leave some of these toppings aside..

Take the milk and carefully pour on top of everything, just below the rim of the dish

Sprinkle again with Sugar, walnuts and cinnamon.

Place the baking dish on top of a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil (you want to minimize the damage to your oven. who wants to clean burnt on milk!)

Bake in preheated oven on 350 for 45 min or so… If your oven is temperamental, cover the dish with foil for 30 min at 400, then take the foil off, switch to broil on 450F to brown the top.

I am really bad with measurements. I hardly ever measure anything.. unless I bake a cake or bread. This is a very relaxed recipe. If you like rice, then put some more. I personally prefer more pumpkin.

Bottom line about the rice and the milk is that it’s 1 part rice to 4 parts liquid – this gives the rice a nice plump feel with a little crunch in the center. and it is not too dry.

so if you take 1/2 cup rice, then you need 2 cups milk

if you go for 1 cup rice – 4 cups milk

2 cups rice – 8 cups milk

etc. you get the drift.

Since I wasn’t sure where I was going with the baking, I did it a little differently.

My Impromptu Recipe (Pumpkin Rice Walnut Pudding 2)

Armed with my knife and meat tenderizer, I chopped the  green Hubbard pumpkin in chunks.

Arranged it on a cookie sheet sprinkled with brown sugar and baked it for 30 min.

Meanwhile, I boiled 1 cup rice with 4 cups milk, 3 tbs sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract (but not all the way… i.e. I didn’t let it absorb all the liquid)

Then I put little chunks of a tbs of butter on the bottom of a baking dish

Poured the whole milk-rice mixture in the dish

covered it with the “pumpkin puzzle” (once it was baked it was even easier to slice it in little squares and trapezoids)

Put all the ground walnuts on top, sprinkled with the rest of the brown sugar, added cinnamon, some more milk to fill the dish, and baked it for about 20 min (until the liquid got absorbed and the top was browned)

Now that I’ve done it both ways, I still prefer the original recipe. The one I made today is very good , but I’ve done it the original way, and I will go back to doing it like Grandma. It is a more incorporated taste and I guess I am just partial to the sentimental value of a layered look and taste.

I miss you Grandma. Happy Birthday! You would have been 98 today.


Cabo San Lucas and the Fruit-Man Inspired Tropical Ceviche

View of Land's End arch on the southern tip of...

So my love for ceviche is apparent in any restaurant I go and see it on the menu. I literally stop reading the rest of the menu and order my ceviche. If further hunger pangs insist on tormenting my brain, then I look at the menu again.

Lately though, I’ve been disappointed by the ceviche I was served in two prominent Atlanta fish restaurants. So I ventured out to make my own, determined to get all flavors gelled before serving it, and also was looking to give it a twist. (not particularly fond of cilantro… love all herbs, cilantro…hmmm not on that list.)

We are lucky to have Buford International Farmers Market right here in Atlanta, where I can be lost for hours and hours, studying the mystery fruits, veggies, roots, fish, frogs, and all sorts of creatures… I love observing the people who come from every corner of the planet. Most of them in some traditional dress, or at least an accessory; speaking so many different languages, you’d think you are in the UN cafeteria. I’m also guilty of staring at their shopping carts to see what they bought, and if it’s something completely unknown to me, (and if they speak any of the languages I speak) I ask them what it is, and how they plan on eating it..

Photo by Zenocracy© 2012

Photo by Zenocracy© 2012

Long story short, I jumped in the car, and took the 30 minute drive to the market to find products for my inspiration: it came from the beaches of Cabo San Lucas.

View into Cabo Harbor

View into Cabo Harbor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



San Lucas Marina

San Lucas Marina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)










In the hot lazy summer days, while lying on the beach, the foreign tourists are being spoiled rotten! Besides having your extended bar with service all the way out on the beach, you also get constant visits from traveling salesmen and women – pottery, scarfs, dresses, jewelry, sunglasses, traditional dancers who perform on the beach, and last but not least – the fruit man!

Photo by Zenocracy© 2011

Oh I loved the fruit man! He would come, dressed in his white clothes, carrying his table on his shoulder. And the table would be the display case for dozens of fruit which found their stabbing death on spear-looking devices along the table. There were ripe mangoes, bright orange papaya, red juicy watermelon, fragrant cantaloupe and of course limes. He cuts them up in front of you, places them in a bowl, squeezes an entire lime all over the bowl, and then (if you are brave) he sprinkles the whole thing with lots and lots of chilli powder! OMG! What freshness! And the chilli zing is just enough to make you feel the spice, but surprisingly, make you feel cooler. Just what you need in the tropical heat of Cabo!

Dreaming of my Cabo bowl, I headed for the Buford Market, to get inspired for my ceviche.

So I bought:

1 Guava fruit

1 Papaya

2-5 Mexican organic mangoes (depending on the size you buy more or less of these)

1 pink grapefruit

1 pineapple

2-3 blood oranges

2-5 avocados (preferably softer as you will need to use them right away)

1/2 lb large organic lemons

1/2lb large organic limes

1 – 2 large red onions

1-2 red and yellow peppers

3-5 jalapeno peppers

1lb large wild caught shrimp (fresh never frozen)

1/2 lb tuna fresh (if possible)

at home i had

Curry powder

Chilli Powder

Sea Salt

I honestly didn’t use any measurements besides kind of assessing the space i have in the bowl that I will be using the ceviche.

First, I start by juicing at least 3 lemons and 3 limes. Followed by cutting up one or two oranges and the grapefruit in slices w/out the fiber (you need to watch Andrew Zimmern‘s technique here  now that you have a fragrant bowl of juices and fruit, drop your tuna pieces in there to marinate while you are cutting up the rest of the fruit.

I added a pinch of cinnamon, some curry, sea salt, honey, and chilli powder

Using your hands, incorporate all the tuna into the fruit and juices.

Take the pineapple and slice half of it in chunks (small enough to spoon or to attach to a fork together with some other tasty pieces from the ceviche)

The shrimp – I personally don’t like them raw, so i drop them for a minute in boiling veggie stock to just turn pink and then scoop them out and drop in the ceviche bowl.

Now come the rest of the fruit – the papaya, the guava and the avocado – slice, remove stones and then chunk or chop in bite sized pieces. Add as much or as little of these as you please.

Don’t forget your veggies (which I admit I initially forgot and am adding now) the peppers, the jalapenos, and the onion – they all bring that savory/sweet taste balance that makes the whole thing so delicious!

Make sure that you have filled your bowl but not all the way to the top, as it will make it difficult to mix and incorporate.

Keep washing your hands and using them to mix and coat everything in the delish tropical juice that has by now filled up your kitchen with amazing tropical fragrance.

I love parsley and mint, so instead of the ceviche staple the cilantro, which i don’t particularly care about, I take some parsley and mint and chop to add to the ceviche at the end.

photo by Zenocracy© 2012


ONE VERY TASTY SANGRIA!!! take all the fruit that is left over and instead of wrapping and refrigerating, (which is another name of letting it rot in cooler temperatures) just throw in a punch bowl and then pour your favorite (not super expensive) red wine.

If you refrigerate both bowls for about an hour, you’d have one fruity party!

Play some flamenco music, light up some candles, and you are in business!