Halloween Severed Finger Cookies

One of my favorite things about graduate school is how seriously most of the people I know take Halloween, and costume parties in general. Gone are the days of purely revealing or unimaginative attire – instead, many people expend considerable effort to pull off witty homemade costumes. A welcome symptom of student procrastination.

Some of my favorites this year included Firefox (the web browser), a nine-foot tall raven, a dust bunny, and an entire village of Spartans. I dressed as Daria and Nick went as Harpo. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and hoping that the grown-up-looking house I share with my roommates means we will have some trick-or-treaters.

I hope everyone has had a great Halloween weekend. If you haven’t had your fill of sugar yet, give these ghoulish cookies a try. There are many variations of this recipe available online. I read through a half dozen and distilled my own. A couple versions suggested using red jam to secure the almonds. I didn’t have any jam on hand, but I think this would be a great addition.

Severed Finger Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen

Ingredients

1 C butter, softened
3/4 C sugar
2 3/4 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
50 whole almonds (I used raw)

Method

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Mix in the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the egg and extracts, and mix until thoroughly combined. (I found it was easiest to use my hands to mix.) Form the dough into a ball and cover in plastic. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Using about a tablespoon of dough, roll the dough into finger length pieces and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Use a sharp paring knife to cut three creases into the “knuckles” and add an almond to one end of the cookie for a “fingernail.” Be sure to secure the almond well. I pushed it down and formed the cookie dough around the sides.

Bake the cookies for about 8 minutes or until the edges just being to brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before moving the cookies to a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining dough.

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Sonny - these look great. my costume is a murder of crows, i made a ton of paper crows that i pinned to my body, wore a crazy propaghadi shirt that had a pile of animal carcasses on it and wore ripped tights on my legs and arms – in the rips i put bloody gashes and did the same to my face. i explained this to everyone all night, especially super drunks girls (over and over again). anyway, cheers and happy halloween. chef friends on mine: http://bit.ly/sILJ2F and this: http://bit.ly/v1HrI5

Sonny - these look great. my costume is a murder of crows, i made a ton of paper crows that i pinned to my body, wore a crazy propaghadi shirt that had a pile of animal carcasses on it and wore ripped tights on my legs and arms – in the rips i put bloody gashes and did the same to my face. i explained this to everyone all night, especially super drunks girls (over and over again). anyway, cheers and happy halloween. chef friends on mine: http://bit.ly/sILJ2F and this: http://bit.ly/v1HrI5

Liz - Bake Pops - Although Creep these are clever finger foods..lol

Liz - Bake Pops - Although Creep these are clever finger foods..lol

R Taylor - I just happened to check your website while looking for a cookie recipe. It’s not yet halloween but I’ll definitely try your recipe. I’ll make different shapes instead and put almonds all over as toppings. Thanks for sharing!

Detroit

On a foggy October morning two weeks ago, Nick and I left Chicago’s Union Station aboard the Amtrak Wolverine line. The route is a beautiful one, beginning in industrial Indiana towns that give way to sand dunes and Michigan vacation spots. The train passes through Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, and Ann Arbor – arriving in Detroit by mid-afternoon.

Neither of us had visited Detroit before, though it had been on my list for years. For my birthday, Nick decided to plan a trip around the Smashing Pumpkins concert. It was a wonderful surprise and a very thoughtful gift.

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After checking in at our hotel, we walked the two miles from downtown to our dinner destination in Midtown. On the way, we found Motor City Brewing Works which turned out to be far more exciting than our original destination. The place was full of friendly people, served good beer, and had fantastic pizza options (like roasted pear & fig). I would definitely be a regular if I lived in the area.

The first real concert I ever attended was the Smashing Pumpkins on their Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness tour. The Smashing Pumpkins were my favorite band and I was thrilled when my best friend Eileen invited me to attend. The show was at a huge arena near Chicago and it was a truly epic experience for a 13 year-old.

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This concert took place at the Fillmore Detroit, a beautifully converted 1925 movie theater. The crowd was great and the show was appropriately epic for the moderately sized venue. Nick and I mused about the absence of solid mainstream rock and roll these days – and then felt kind of old.

I know my Detroit history fairly well and I have a number of acquaintances who have beautifully documented parts of it in pictures, but I wasn’t really prepared for the incredible emptiness of the city. I had expected to find a small district of fully occupied downtown businesses surrounded by vacant properties, but activity was much more spread out and the vast majority of the buildings we passed were vacant – even in the more populated areas.

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and the city was virtually empty until the evening when suburban residents drove downtown to parking garages to attend various cultural events. Only a handful of people patronized the few local businesses before or after the performances. Our visit was short and certainly not representative of the city at large, but the impressions were powerful.

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The next morning we woke up early to watch part of the Detroit Free Press Marathon. It was a dreary day that looked perfect for a race. We made our way along the race route to Corktown to visit Astro Coffee (pictured above). This beautifully designed coffee shop just opened over the summer and already appears to have a strong following. We enjoyed coffee and excellent breakfast sandwiches on housemade bread. Another highly recommended spot.

It was a wonderful, yet brief trip. Detroit is a beautiful city and I think everyone should visit and support the amazing small businesses that are breathing new life into the area. I’m already looking forward to returning. There are a number of places that were recommended to us that we didn’t have time to visit, including Belle Isle, Slows Bar BQ, the Motown Museum, Avalon Bakery, Woodbridge Pub, Cadieux Cafe, and Nancy Whiskey. (Thanks to Elizabeth and Will for all the excellent suggestions!)  Anything else we should add to the list? Feel free to share your recommendations in the comments. You can find more photos from the trip here. I’ll be back soon with a new recipe for you.

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Anastacia - I ran the marathon the weekend you visited! Dreary, but great running weather, you are right. You captured the feeling of the weather perfectly in your photographs.
~Anastacia~

Anastacia - I ran the marathon the weekend you visited! Dreary, but great running weather, you are right. You captured the feeling of the weather perfectly in your photographs.
~Anastacia~

Eli - You made Detroit look way prettier than it did when I went to school there a few years ago.

Eli - You made Detroit look way prettier than it did when I went to school there a few years ago.

jenny - the grand turk downtown had great beer & locals. in fact every bar i went downtown had people who wanted to chat.
also, the Robocop building has a bar at the top that’s quite pretty.
dearborn has the best hummus i have ever eaten.
i urban explored a bit, which is pretty easy there.

jenny - the grand turk downtown had great beer & locals. in fact every bar i went downtown had people who wanted to chat.
also, the Robocop building has a bar at the top that’s quite pretty.
dearborn has the best hummus i have ever eaten.
i urban explored a bit, which is pretty easy there.

Herb Roasted Red Kuri Squash & The Kentucky Bourbon Chase

In early October I left my Thursday night Interface Design class and headed straight to Louisville, Kentucky. It was my first visit to this lovely state and I was excited to explore while running in the Bourbon Chase – a 12 person, 200 mile relay race through distilleries, horse farms, and charming small towns. While training for the big event, we also raised over $6,000 for the National Hospice Foundation.

Our team began in the afternoon on Friday and ran straight through until the evening – on Saturday! We were able to catch a few minutes of sleep in dewy fields and crowded vans, but for the most part this was an around-the-clock event.

The race began at the Jim Beam Distillery and headed to Bardstown and Heaven Hill Distillery, continuing on to Maker’s Mark Distillery, Lebanon, Perryville Battlefield, Stanford, Danville, Harrodsburg, Four Roses Distillery, Wild Turkey Distillery, the Tyrone Bridge, Versailles, Woodford Reserve Distillery, Midway, and finally into Lexington where we enjoyed our much anticipated first taste of Kentucky Bourbon.

I ran with a group of people that, for the most part, I’d never met before. It was a really awesome and intense experience, and I miss them all dearly. It was a wonderful way to make new friends and I’m already looking forward to next year.

Kentucky was unbelievably beautiful. We visited during the peak of autumn colors and were welcomed with inspiring hospitality in every town. We stumbled upon an old abandoned distillery, saw multi-story mash tubs, visited Keeneland, and made a detour to the charming little town of Columbus, Indiana on the way back north. You can find more photos here.

After running 18 miles over 36 hours with little sleep and few proper meals, I’ve been reveling in kale salads, homemade soup, and autumn squash. I suspect that few of you need a recipe for squash preparation, but let this serve as simple encouragement to enjoy the current seasonal bounty.

Herb Roasted Red Kuri Squash

Ingredients

1 squash
2 Tbl olive oil
2 Tbl butter
Fresh rosemary
Fresh thyme
1 tsp roasted ground cumin
1 tsp sweet curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
salt and pepper

Method

Preheat oven to 400F. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds from the cavity (reserve the seeds, see recipe below). Arrange the squash halves face-up on a heavy baking sheet. Rub the olive oil over the squash (including the skin) and place the remaining ingredients in the squash cavity.

Roast the squash for about 50 minutes. Check the squash periodically and spoon the butter-herb mixture over the rest of the squash surface to season. When you can easily pierce the flesh with a knife, the squash is done. Allow to cool slightly and serve warm. Any leftovers can be tossed with pasta and parmesan for a simple dinner.

Cumin & Parmesan Roasted Squash Seeds

Ingredients

Seeds from one squash
1 Tbl olive oil
1/2 tsp roasted ground cumin
salt and pepper to season
2 Tbl grated Parmesan

Method

Preheat oven to 350F.* Remove any large pieces of squash from the seeds and place the seeds in a large bowl. Don’t worry if a bit of squash remains on the seeds.Toss with the olive oil, cumin, and salt and pepper.

Spread the seeds evenly over a heavy baking sheet lined with a Silpat mat or parchment paper. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the seeds are golden brown. Check and stir frequently.

When the seeds are done, remove them from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Transfer to a large bowl and toss with the grated Parmesan.

*(You can also put them in the oven with the squash at 400F. Just watch them carefully.)

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Bill - Awesome! I run Hood to Coast every year and my team had been considering the Bourbon Chase. Great photos!

Bill - Awesome! I run Hood to Coast every year and my team had been considering the Bourbon Chase. Great photos!

Elizabeth - The Bourbon Chase sounds amazing. Keep me in mind if you need another team member next year!

Elizabeth - The Bourbon Chase sounds amazing. Keep me in mind if you need another team member next year!

heather - That stretch of land is some of my favorite in the country, though I may be partial as I have family in the area. We’ve done most of the bourbon trail as well; only a couple left to hit. I’m hoping that during the last tours I’ll finally be able to sip the bourbon without the wince, burn and sip-regret. To actually *run* all the way through there is a feat — bravo. Squash looks amazing. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for Kuri squash.
Cheers,
*Heather*

heather - That stretch of land is some of my favorite in the country, though I may be partial as I have family in the area. We’ve done most of the bourbon trail as well; only a couple left to hit. I’m hoping that during the last tours I’ll finally be able to sip the bourbon without the wince, burn and sip-regret. To actually *run* all the way through there is a feat — bravo. Squash looks amazing. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for Kuri squash.
Cheers,
*Heather*

Gemma - It’s a great race, Bill. (I’ve been thinking about Hood to Coast.)
Absolutely Elizabeth! That would be awesome if you joined us. (I didn’t know you had another blog!)
How lucky you are to have family there! It truly is beautiful. Cheers to you Heather.

Gemma - It’s a great race, Bill. (I’ve been thinking about Hood to Coast.)
Absolutely Elizabeth! That would be awesome if you joined us. (I didn’t know you had another blog!)
How lucky you are to have family there! It truly is beautiful. Cheers to you Heather.

Samantha - Coming across this post made me really crave the Autumn and the smell of roasted seeds. Yum! I really think I need to hop into my kitchen and re-create some yummy fall treats. Thanks for the inspiration. Happy I came across your site. :)

Samantha - Coming across this post made me really crave the Autumn and the smell of roasted seeds. Yum! I really think I need to hop into my kitchen and re-create some yummy fall treats. Thanks for the inspiration. Happy I came across your site. :)

Spicy Roasted Garlic & Lentil Stew

I spent this past weekend visiting Kentucky for the first time and running the Bourbon Chase (more on that soon when I finish editing my photos). The autumn color was truly spectacular and we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful weekend.

Even though we are experiencing a bit of warm snap right now, October has me thinking of peppermint tea and hearty soup as I rustle through falling leaves on my walk to school. The first task on my fall cooking list was this lentil stew that I fell in love with last year. I don’t think I have ever met a lentil soup I didn’t like, but this might be my favorite.

The cayenne and smoked paprika give this stew some snap, but the earthy flavor of the roasted garlic and vegetables balance the dish. It keeps well and makes an excellent workday lunch. You can make this stew with any type of lentil, but I am fond of French green lentils. They hold their shape after cooking, unlike other varieties that tend to fall apart.

Spicy Roasted Garlic & Lentil Stew
Serves 6

Ingredients

1 1/2 lb carrots, peeled
5 Tbl olive oil
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 large shallots, sliced thin
6 garlic cloves, quartered
1 C chopped celery
1/2 Tbl fresh thyme leaves (optional)
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika
dash of red pepper flakes
dash of cinnamon
1 C french green lentils
4 1/2 C vegetable stock

Method

Preheat oven to 400F. Arrange the carrots on a baking sheet and coat with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Roast for 20 minutes. Turn the carrots and add the shallot and garlic. Roast 15 more minutes. Allow the carrots to cool and chop into half inch pieces.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large stockpot. Add the carrots, shallots, garlic, celery, cayenne, red pepper flakes, paprika, and cinnamon. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Add the lentils and the stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occassionally. Season to taste.

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Joe - Roasted garlic is a great addition to lentil soup. Spot-on Fall recipe.

Joe - Roasted garlic is a great addition to lentil soup. Spot-on Fall recipe.

Dina - I love lentil dishes — I’ll give this one a try!

Dina - I love lentil dishes — I’ll give this one a try!

kickpleat - i make a very similar soup. looks delicious and your photos are lovely!

kickpleat - i make a very similar soup. looks delicious and your photos are lovely!

Gemma - Thanks Joe. I agree, the roasted garlic really shines in this recipe.
I hope you enjoy it Dina!
Thanks kickpleat!

Gemma - Thanks Joe. I agree, the roasted garlic really shines in this recipe.
I hope you enjoy it Dina!
Thanks kickpleat!

Good Years

Today is my 30th birthday!

I’m grateful for:
-Parents who are loving, supportive, and committed to education.
-The lessons I continue to learn from my confident, feminist Mom and my active, outdoorsy Dad.
-A smart and sweet brother who is one of my best friends.
-Nick, for sharing adventures with me and always being excited to learn something new.
-Friends, old and new, who bring joy to my days. Especially the brilliant and gifted-advice-giver Eileen.
-My health, mobility, and energy.
-How fortunate I have been to see so much of the world and meet so many amazing people.

Things that are making me happy:
-Being a student again.
-Fall bike rides with fellow library school students.
This song that I have been listening to all morning.
-Seeing bylines and photo credits for dear friends in fancy publications.
-Ordering a pretty dress that I’ve had my eye on.
-Apples and tawny port
-Visiting Detroit and seeing the Smashing Pumpkins in a few weeks (Thanks Nick!)
-Learning more about my camera in my photography class.
-Excuses to buy new books.
-Perfect running weather.
-Feeling healthier than I did at 25.

I’m a lucky lady. I’ll be back with a recipe soon. Cheers!

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Gretchen - Cheers to you! What a nice post and a lovely family.

Gretchen - Cheers to you! What a nice post and a lovely family.

rachel @sweettarte - Happy Birthday! Welcome to 30 :)

rachel @sweettarte - Happy Birthday! Welcome to 30 :)

Alanna - Happy Happy Day, Ms Gemma!

Alanna - Happy Happy Day, Ms Gemma!

Nupur - Happy Birthday! I hope the years to come are full of good things and good people just like the first 30!

Nupur - Happy Birthday! I hope the years to come are full of good things and good people just like the first 30!

Anita - Happy birthday, and thank you for sharing some of your journey with strangers. (Not to mention a carrot/bean recipe which has become a staple here!)

Anita - Happy birthday, and thank you for sharing some of your journey with strangers. (Not to mention a carrot/bean recipe which has become a staple here!)

jenny - happy bday!

jenny - happy bday!

kickpleat - Happy birthday & hooray for 30!!

kickpleat - Happy birthday & hooray for 30!!

Vera - This is so beautiful. Calm and quiet as a full moon. Happy birthday, Gemma :)

Vera - This is so beautiful. Calm and quiet as a full moon. Happy birthday, Gemma :)

Gemma - Thanks Gretchen, Rachel, Alanna, Nupur, Anita, Jenny, kickpleat, and Vera!
I had a lovely birthday. Thanks for sharing it with me.
-Gemma

Gemma - Thanks Gretchen, Rachel, Alanna, Nupur, Anita, Jenny, kickpleat, and Vera!
I had a lovely birthday. Thanks for sharing it with me.
-Gemma