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Baking a pack o' pumpkins | NATURE'S KITCHEN (debut)

Nature’s on fire with the season’s change.

Those same brilliant oranges, reds and yellows illuminating the countryside now adorn the isles in local grocery stores — fall harvest varieties of apples, squashes and my favorite: the pumpkin.

The colors and shapes of nature’s seasonal bounty make my mind run wild with creative kitchen creations, and now is the perfect time of year for baking.

As the wind tosses the leaves and the rain cascades against window panes, I find baking makes me thankful I’m indoors. It’s a great way to add extra heat to the house, and it helps conquer the winter doldrums.

Instead of grumping around at winter’s pending gloom, or the fact we can’t feast on all the goodness awaiting our tastebuds and spend the next four months sleeping off the food hangover like the bears do, we can partake in a slight variation of hibernation.

The human hibernation recipe: Pick up a few sugar pumpkins, turn off the television, turn on the oven and your favorite tunes. It’s time for some good ol’ baking.

We’ll be making pumpkin bread.

One warning: I tend to be a little bit of a health food fanatic and in place of white, processed flour I substitute wheat flour, which is very inexpensive to buy in bulk.

Fiber is a major reason why I use wheat flour and bake with pumpkin.

A few facts on fiber: The substance plays an important role in maintaining digestive health and staying regular, fiber can help protect against colon cancer, studies link high-fiber intake with low levels of cholesterol, and we all know high cholesterol is a chief risk factor in heart disease. Research has also shown fiber can level out blood sugar levels, which is good news for those facing diabetes.

One cup of cooked or boiled pumpkin without salt packs in three grams of fiber, in addition to two grams of protein, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 4.9 milligrams of the all-important omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, 19 percent of daily vitamin C intake, 245 percent of vitamin A, all for only 49 calories.

OK, I’ve bragged up fiber and pumpkin enough.

Let’s concoct a pumpkin treat for the palate: pumpkin bread made from real pumpkin puree (no cans in this kitchen) — which is also an awesome base for lazy-morning pancakes.

To get started, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

First cut the pumpkin(s) in to two halves, clean out all the guts, but set aside the seeds to bake as a snack. Next, place tinfoil over the pumpkin and set the halves, shell side down, on a cookie sheet.

Once the oven is preheated place the pumpkins in and let bake until soft, about 30 to 40 minutes.

While the pumpkin meat is softening, prepare the dry ingredients.

A little tip: this recipe is easily doubled or tripled, which I recommend, as it takes an outlay of energy to heat an oven and bake, so why not get more bang for your heating-bill buck?

The dry ingredients for one loaf of bread: one and a half cups wheat flour (white flour is fine), a half teaspoon of salt, one cup sugar and one teaspoon baking soda.

Once combined, set aside in a bowl.

Once the pumpkin is soft, pull it out and let cool. Once cool, spoon the fiber-, vitamin- and nutrient-packed pumpkin meat into a mixing bowl and puree. Not ideal, but if you lack an electric mixer, a hand-held, an old-fashioned metal egg beater will work.

The remaining ingredients for one loaf of bread: one cup pumpkin puree, a half cup olive oil (for a very low fat alternative use apple sauce) two eggs (beaten), a quarter cup water, and the spices: half teaspoon of all spice, cinnamon and nutmeg.

I recommend grating fresh nutmeg. It smells wonderful and it’s organic. It’s also a natural relaxant, just don’t go overboard, as too much is toxic.

Combine the puree, oil, water, eggs and spices, then join with the dry ingredients, but don’t mix too thoroughly. Pour bread base into a well-buttered 9x5x3 inch loaf pan. Little loaves or muffins are fun as well.

With the oven still toasty warm at 350 degrees pop in the pans and bake 50 to 60 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Turn the pan over and let cool, or enjoy a steaming slice right away with a dollop of melted butter.

I find this recipe ideal for breakfast or a slightly sweet snack during the day, with a little peanut or almond butter.

But the best benefit is how delicious the house smells and how toasty you feel inside and out.

Repeat the following weekend.

Tara Lemm is a raging health nut and nutmeg fiend, special to What’s Up. When not in Nature’s Kitchen, she writes sports and education for the North Kitsap Herald.

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