Pumpkin Pie Pudding

Pumpkin pie pudding (click through for recipe)I made pumpkin pie pudding as much for the flavor as for the alliteration. I'm a kitchen poet.

Which is the lamest kind of poet you could ever aspire to be.

But this isn't about me. It's about pumpkin pie pudding, which is exactly what it sounds like, pudding that tastes like pumpkin pie. No surprises here. Except how easy this is to make.

Pumpkin pie puddingCan you stir? Good. You have all the skills you're gonna need to make this then. And it's a good one too. You're gonna want to make this for friends. Don't tell them it's really easy. Lie to your friends.

I'm just kidding. Don't lie to your friends. That's not friendly.

Easiest ever pumpkin puddingPumpkin Pie Pudding, serves 5-6.

1 large box vanilla pudding mix (and any additional ingredients needed, like 3 cups milk)
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/8 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2-3 cups whipped cream (fresh or cool whip, whatever)
2 cups ground up ginger snap cookies

First make the pudding. Follow the box directions. After cooking, whisk in the pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice until well combined. Refrigerate until cold.

Easy pumpkin puddingWhile you wait for the pudding to cool off, you can make the whipped cream (or use store bought, either way) and grind up the ginger snap cookies. The fastest way to grind up the cookies is in a food processor. A good blender would probably work pretty well too.

Once the pudding is cold, layer everything into cups. Put ground ginger snap cookies first, then pudding, then more cookies, more pudding, then the whipped cream on top. You can garnish with a cinnamon stick if you're really fancy.

Pumpkin pie pudding  You can make the pudding a day or two ahead of time and assemble before serving if you're making these for friends. Or eat them all yourself over the course of two or three days. I won't judge. Live your life. xo. Emma

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

Middlesex (Discussion)

Middlesex Book Club DiscussionTruth be told, when I selected this book, I was a little worried. I've probably started and put down Middlesex five times over the past ten years, never getting further than a chapter or two. However, I spent about two weeks trying to make my selection for the book club, and Middlesex kept popping into my mind. Either a friend was reading it, I overheard a conversation about it, or the final tipping point, it fell off the shelf, barely missing my head. I took it as a sign I should probably just read the darn thing and decided to commit, and here we are a month later.

I have to just come right out and say that I LOVE THIS BOOK. It's so funny to me that it took nearly a decade to finally read it, but I think in a way I'm glad it did. Maybe the timing had to be right...or my perspective had to be just right...or maybe I just put too much thought into things. Haha. But really, I absolutely devoured the book; the intricate story lines chronicling generations, the characters who peeled away more of themselves chapter after chapter, the descriptions of the mundane that Eugenides somehow made magical. Reading this book was an amazing experience. 

And I think that for many people who pick up this novel, they too will think of it more as an experience than as just reading a book. As with anything, I'm sure some won't like it, but if you do manage to fall in between the pages and get lost for a while, you'll probably come out a little bit different than you were when you started. And isn't that the purpose of a good book? To get lost, then find bits of yourself changed on your way out? I know for me, this book did exactly that.

So let's begin. I feel a little nervous trying to simplify this book into bullet points– I really think I could talk about it for days– but in the spirit of conciseness, I'm going to limit it to just six or seven ideas. I'll number each discussion point (some of these just thoughts, some questions), so if you'd like to number any of your corresponding comments, that would be great. Or if you just feel like writing your thoughts freestyle, that's awesome too. I can't wait to hear what you think. And for those who haven't yet finished the book, be aware that there are spoilers below.

1) First, when you turned the final page, what were your first thoughts? Did you love the book? Did you feel drained or invigorated? Did you feel satisfied by the ending? What character did you love the most?

2) Let's talk about the writing. The first thing that struck me was the narration style. This was what threw me off the first few times I tried to read the book. It begins before Calliope's birth, and from there comes to the present, to the past again, and so on and so forth. At first this was off-putting to me. But as I read, it was like all the little puzzle pieces Eugenides gives us– a piece here, a piece there, something that might resemble a piece way back there– they all started to move towards one another, making sense of a seemingly confusing start. It was beautifully epic, and I was surprised by how well it all came together. So I ask you– did the narration style bother you? Did you enjoy the back and forth? For me, I feel like because it was such a long book (500+ pages), it was a welcome shift. I enjoyed having so much background and history (I can't help but think of the immense research that went into writing this), and I loved seeing how it played out as we flipped back to the future.

3) Do you see yourself in Calliope or his journey at all? I feel like although some might not initially see any way they could relate to this character, that almost every single person can indeed relate in some way. For me, it was in that sometimes painful, curious, stumbling coming of age/coming into your own sexuality. From my point of view– someone whose gender identity matches the gender assigned at birth– the whole teenage journey was already bumpy enough. It's very hard for me to imagine how difficult it must have been for Cal, someone whose gender identity did not match the one assigned. But I think whoever you are, there are similarities to be found in that awkward, universal experience of becoming who you will be. There are so many layers to it that are touched upon in the book– sexuality, friendship, parent/child relationships, puberty...and so I would love to know what part of Cal you related to most.

4) It was interesting to finish the book and look back at all of the relationships between words and symbols– Middlesex as the title and the street Calliope lived on, and really, being in the middle of his own "sex." The motif of "middle" was prevalent throughout the novel, along with the theme of duality– one foot in and one foot out shown through cultures and time periods, relationships, and decisions. The silk worms– weaving their silk through the entire story; the Mulberry tree and its stages; Chapter 11 and his part in the family's financial ruin/bankruptcy...but then also giving Cal the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start over as his brother. When you think of your own life, do you see any symbols like this– any recurring themes or running motifs? If you were to write the story of your life, can you step back and see any constants, any ideas that have had a place throughout your story?

5) Did you have a favorite passage (or passages) from the book? I dog-eared my copy like crazy, underlining and highlighting, but I think my very favorite quote is this:

“Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in "sadness," "joy," or "regret." Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy." I'd like to show how "intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members" connects with "the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age." I'd like to have a word for "the sadness inspired by failing restaurants" as well as for "the excitement of getting a room with a minibar." I've never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I've entered my story, I need them more than ever. ”  

 6) And then of course there's the discussion of Dr. Luce. I've looked through some of the study guide that goes along with the book and had to stop and think about the question, "Was Dr. Luce the villain?" From my point of view, yes and no. I'm not sure if he was necessarily villainous as he was unethical. It was interesting to read from his perspective and imagine what he felt. Was he doing what he really felt was best for Cal, or was he doing what he felt was best for everyone else/society? The idea of surgeries like these taking place, either at birth or afterward, made me so upset. How terrible to have someone make a decision like that for you and to grow up never knowing the difference, but perhaps feeling different without knowing why. When I was looking through answers to this question, some readers also brought up Father Mike as a possible villain. For me, he definitely isn't the villain either. So then is there one? Could the villain be more of an idea working against Cal? Society or society's idea of "normal"? Old world medicine or time? What do you think?

7) And finally, a very broad question– what did you learn from Middlesex? I could go on about how introspective this book made me– thinking about my own adolescence, the sexual experiences I had, trying to put myself in totally different shoes and viewing my preteen and teenage years through that lens, but I'll stop here and just say that yes, I definitely learned something. It also made me think back to when I had our first son, Henry. I posted something about finding out his gender via an anatomy scan, and one reader commented telling me that sex and gender did not necessarily go hand in hand. I was finding out the sex, not the gender. I didn't know this prior to that comment, but I was grateful for that education. And so this novel reminds me of that. And other things too– about how so often we live in our own little world, blind to people who might be different than us, and how compassion and tolerance and choosing to learn about unknown things, rather than be scared of unknown things (or people or ideas) is paramount.

Thank you guys so much for reading this book with me this month, and thank you to Emma and Elsie for having me! As a former high school English teacher, writing out these discussion points has brought back many great memories, although I really would have loved to go on and on about so much more. I feel like I barely scratched the surface, especially when talking about Calliope's family tree and all of the history preceding his birth. I can't wait to chat more with you in the comments below though, and hopefully open up some additional avenues of thought too. xoxo. Dani (Come hang with me on Instagram!)                                                         

Make Your Own Fire Pit in 4 Easy Steps!

This would be great for the backyard! Firepit in 4 easy steps (click through for tutorial)       I've never been much of a camping person (I'm more of a "glamping" person for sure). I've certainly done my fair share of it over the years, but I have to admit that I love my outdoorsy events best when I can still end up in a real bed after a shower at night. However, one of my favorite camping-related activities is a campfire. It's warm, it's cozy, and there's usually some sort of yummy snack involved in the process.

Last fall we bought a mini portable fire pit for our backyard, and we liked it so much that we decided we wanted to build a proper fire pit this year so we could have fires more often. After doing some research, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it's really not that hard to build your own professional-looking fire pit. It's a pretty easy process to plan out, and although it does take a bit of muscle to complete, it's totally worth a bit of cardio. Ready to create your own backyard campfires (and get an arm workout in the process)?? Good, let's get going!

This would be great for the backyard! Firepit in 4 easy steps (click through for tutorial)   Supplies:
-colored spray paint
-gravel to fill your pit
-shovel, mattock, or other digging tool
-concrete landscaping stones and metal firepit ring (optional). You can buy the stones by themselves or in a kit that comes with a metal ring.*
-masonry adhesive
-rubber mallet 

Before you start your fire pit, you’ll want to check on the recreational fire codes for your area to make sure that a fire pit is allowed (you can call your local fire department if you aren’t sure). You want to build your pit at least 10 feet from any building structures, trees, fences, or other obstructions. Keep in mind also that you don't want anything hanging above your fire pit, so even if a base of a tree is 10 feet away, you don't want to have branches hanging directly above the fire pit.

*NOTE: You can get your landscaping stones from your larger hardware stores (like Lowe's or Home Depot), but make sure to also check smaller local hardware stores (and specifically stone and landscape businesses) to see what other types of stones are available. I got my stones at a local stone place because they had a large range of colors to choose from (and I like color choices!).  You can also either do two or three layers of stone, with or without the metal ring–it’s up to you and your budget.

This would be great for the backyard! Firepit in 4 easy steps (click through for tutorial)           Ok, let’s get to work!

1. OUTLINE YOUR FIRE PIT. Lay out the bottom ring of your stones in the grass where you want the fire pit to be. If you are going to use a metal ring, like we did, you can use that to build a few stones around to find your circle.  Remove a few stones so you have space between them, and use the spray paint to mark where the outside of the stones would hit. Remove those remaining stones and complete your painted circle.

2. DIG YOUR FIRE PIT. Use a shovel, mattock, or whatever other digging tool you need to dig out your circle 6” deep. Depending on where you live, this will be an easier or more difficult task. Our Missouri grass has crazy strong roots and we have lots of giant rocks in the soil, so this was quite an arm workout for us! 

3. FILL YOUR FIRE PIT. Once you have a 6” hole dug, you’ll want to pour your gravel into your hole until the gravel is level with the ground. The gravel will give your fire pit an important drainage area when it rains.

4. BUILD YOUR FIRE PIT. Place your first ring of stones around the edge of the gravel circle and use a rubber mallet to tamp the stones flat and even with each other.  Again, if using a metal ring you can keep that in the middle to make sure you are fitting your stones right up against the ring. When placing the second row of stones, place some masonry adhesive on the bottom of each stone and stagger the placement of the second row (the middle of each stone should sit on the end seams of the row beneath it). Use the rubber mallet to even and tighten the stone placement. Repeat the process with the third row. 

This would be great for the backyard! Firepit in 4 easy steps (click through for tutorial)         When you actually build a fire in your brand new pit, you'll want to start with a smaller collection of newspaper, dry leaves, and sticks all piled up together. Once you light that starter pile you can start adding bigger branches and smaller logs, and then move to bigger pieces of wood as those catch on fire. After you've had several fires, you'll want to scoop out (or use a shop vac to vacuum out) most of the ashes so they don't build up too high and blow around like little pieces of white ash snow. It looks cool at first, but then it lands in your hair, and you're like, "OK, not cool anymore..."

This would be great for the backyard! Firepit in 4 easy steps (click through for tutorial)   This would be great for the backyard! Firepit in 4 easy steps (click through for tutorial)      This would be great for the backyard! Firepit in 4 easy steps (click through for tutorial) This would be great for the backyard! Firepit in 4 easy steps (click through for tutorial)        This would be great for the backyard! Firepit in 4 easy steps (click through for tutorial)           This would be great for the backyard! Firepit in 4 easy steps (click through for tutorial)               This would be great for the backyard! Firepit in 4 easy steps (click through for tutorial)     This would be great for the backyard! Firepit in 4 easy steps (click through for tutorial)              This would be great for the backyard! Firepit in 4 easy steps (click through for tutorial)  This would be great for the backyard! Firepit in 4 easy steps (click through for tutorial)          As you can see, we are loving our fire pit so far. It feels like it was just what our yard was missing and we didn't even know it! We've already had several fires in it so far, but our experience went to the next level of fire pit enjoyment when Josh built us a corresponding semi-circle bench. We'll show you how we made that bad boy soon.

Of course, you've got to have your campfire amenities, and for us that's a s'mores basket, mountain pie maker, and moscow mules. What do you think? Is this your year for a fire pit? xo. Laura

Credits // Author: Laura Gummerman, Photography: Sarah Rhodes & Laura Gummerman. Photos edited with Stella and Piper of the Signature Collection.
 

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