The Damn Month of Pumpkin: or How Bubbie's Pumpkin Cookies Get Me Home

Bubbie's Pumpkin Cookies

There is something about the first frost that makes my mind turn to holiday music, dressing in layers and a longing to be back home.

Thankfully the first frost was not where I currently live, but seen on Facebook thanks to an old friend back in Minnesota. The sight of the browned grass, crumbled leaves, and ice, did for a hot second, make me mentally wax poetic of my youthful days growing up in Duluth, MN. October snowstorms, February's burst water mains, April's ice caps that last into June. By the way it's October 18th and I have my air conditioning on in my apartment. Bless The South. 

Duluth is where Winter comes early to the party, eats all your favorite chips, crashes on your sofa, and suggests you make pancakes the next day before overstaying its welcome well into Spring. It is during those winter months that I have painted a memory of foods gone by that led me to the kitchen today. Be it Just J's Dumps, Just Joni's Fudge (recipe yet to be released), or The Matriarch's Sauerkraut and Dumplings, I cannot help but anticipate a long holiday break in a few months. However as it is October, or The Damn Month of Pumpkin as it should now be known, I will for my own mental stability of being a million miles from home make Just Joni's Pumpkin Cookies (now to be known at Bubbies Pumpkin Cookies). The only other acceptable pumpkin flavored food besides pumpkin pie. 

Please note that because I am a high maintenance gay son who cannot leave well enough alone I have altered my own mother's recipe. I will leave it up to you decided which works better for you.

BUBBIE'S PUMPKIN COOKIES

RECIPE BY JUST JONI




Bananas, Bread and Blog Celebrity

With his bananas and my cream cheese batter we made this banana bread baby

With his bananas and my cream cheese batter we made this banana bread baby

Being a mild mediocre huge blog celebrity like I am it is almost impossible to go out in public and not be chased down by hoards of fans and paparazzi. This weekend was no different. I was casually dining al fresco with Just Joni along the near paradise like shores of Lake Superior when out of the corner of our my eye I see lurking behind a bush a young man. Now in some places when you see men lurking in the corner watching you there's an exchange of money involved. But this young man had the look of food desperation on his face. As if he had a taste of the most amazing cream cheese batter in the world and would do anything, I mean anything to get another hit. 

Like I said. I am used to this sort of thing all the time. So I just continued to pop my gnocchi and figured that poor boy would find a hit of cream cheese batter and move on. But sadly his desire for my cream cheese batter was too strong. And he called out begging I give him my cream cheese batter.  

I must admit I am touched. My cream cheese batter has not been this popular since Lawyer processed my divorce papers.

So I have decided to put my cream cheese batter out there for everyone to try. I will warn my female fans that my cream cheese normally only attracts men but I'm willing to bet with the right mix of spices and love you would also fall in love with my cream cheese batter.   

Benjamin's Cream Cheese Batter Banana Bread

(inspired by Cream Cheese Filled Banana Bread Recipe from lilluna.com )

  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Butter, Softened
  • 2 Eggs
  • 5 Mashed Ripe Medium Bananas (now i'm sure some of you are thinking, "I prefer to use large dark bananas". Trust me. I would also like to just use only large dark bananas. But usually I only get offered medium lightly colored bananas. And as any girl knows you just made due with the bananas you are offered.)
  • 1 Tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla
  • 1 Tsp Baking Soda
  • 4 TB Sour Cream
  • 2 Cups Flour 
  • 1 1/2 Tsp Chinese Five Spice
  • Cream Cheese Batter:
  • 8-10oz Brick Philly Cream Cheese (there is NO other cream cheese)
  • 1/3 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 TB Flour

Prepare two regular loaf pans with pan spray and either lined with parchment paper or dusted with flour. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  

In medium bowl whisk together flour, baking soda and Five Spice. Set aside. In a new medium bowl mix together 1 cup sugar and butter until creamed. Add in eggs, bananas, salt, vanilla and sour cream until fully incorporated. Combine both flour mixture and banana mixture in larger bowl until incorporated. 

In separate bowl cream together cream cheese, 1/3 cup sugar, egg and flour. 

Divide bread batter into quarters. Pour 1/4 into the bottom of each prepared pan. Spoon 1/4 of cream cheese batter onto the bread batter in each pan. Roughly 3-4 heaping tablespoons evenly spaced. 

Layer the remaining bread batter over both pans. Then divide the remaining cream cheese batter over both pans. Again roughly 3-4 heaping tablespoons evenly spaced. With either a long skewer or narrow knife or toothpick drag through the batters to create a marbled look to your liking.  

Place in oven and bake until done - roughly 50 minutes.  

All this talk of bananas has me singing "The Banana Boat Song" by Harry Belafonte as featured in the classic film Beetlejuice starring one of my fans Winona Ryder. I am sure she is a fan. Why wouldn't she? I've stood by her through everything.  And by everything I mean 1992's Dracula.

Love you Wino!

Doughnuts, Doughnut Holes, and Deceptive Doughnuts

For years now I have been listening to Sister talk about her love of strawberry doughnuts. When asked, she will tell you that it is not simply a doughnut with strawberry glaze, but a strawberry doughnut with strawberry glaze. She will also tell you that, though kind of you, do not buy her a doughnut with pink glaze assuming it tastes like strawberry. It won't. 

She weaves a yarn about our father, Just J, taking her to the famed House of Donuts in Duluth as a child. I have only one memory of that joint and it was after a night of drinking kamikazes out of a pitcher. I guess HOD had the strawberry doughnuts that have set in motion the lifelong pursuit of cakey goodness. 

Now last week while I lay in bed gazing into the eyes of my ever cheating lover, Netflix, I received a text from Sister that was simply a Pinterest photo of a Strawberry Doughnut with the text, "can you make this?" beneath.  Having once made doughnuts long ago in my former life of a food stylist I naturally answered, "Yes of course I am a master of doughnuts."  

Cut to a week later up at Just Joni's home in Duluth and I am sweating it out over a simmering pot of canola oil frying up Martha Stewart's very own (non cake) Cake Doughnuts and hand dipping the now golden brown STRAWBERRY flavored doughnuts in STRAWBERRY flavored glaze. Being more of a custard filled Long John guy I wasn't sure what to think of the end result. I will say I popped a couple of those glazed over pink balls in my mouth and I wasn't disappointed. Took me back to the one winter with that tall blond what's his name. He loved a good hole too.  

Doughnuts - Super easy to make. However, like one recipe implied...it's okay to buy plain doughnuts at the grocery store and glaze them yourself and impress everyone. Deceptive as it sounds, why not? I mean I'll judge you, but I won't know if you don't tell me. 

Cake Doughnuts

RECIPE FROM MARTHA STEWART

Okay so I added Strawberry Flavor to the wet ingredients. Enough to make a hint of strawberry. AND instead of sprinkling sugar on top I mixed up a standard powdered sugar, milk (and strawberry flavor) glaze.

Sister seemed to like them. I am planning on binge eating some at around 3 am in my underwear, in the dark, wondering what that blond guy is up to these days.  

Tots M'Sheep I am out - see you next week!



Birthdays, Black Forest Inn, and Balls Covered In Cream

It was a little dark in there. Like Black Forest dark.

This warm hearted month of February I turned 29 again. Not one to enjoy my birthday I had to drag out the decision of where to go out to dinner with Just Joni, Sister, Sister's Husband and SAGL until the absolute last minute. It was at this 11th hour that I also decided to kill two birds with on stone (or scone - I really don't like scones) and use this dining out as an opportunity to knock off the February portion of my New Year's Resolution to eat out at a new (to me) establishment once a month. 

Please keep in mind these reviews are as important as the one Mystic Pizza received from The Everyday Gourmet. This movie impacted me in so many ways.

February's restaurant of choice was the Black Forest Inn

This joint has been around since two days before forever. As long as I lived in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis (about 7 years) there was this ominous black billboard above the corner of 28th and Hennepin simply stating "Black Forest Inn". 

Now not being a fan of the Germans (I'm still a little worked up about that war). I never fell for the marketing of the billboard. Plus the location of the place was vaguely "unsafe" in my then naive Uptown mind. 

So now two months into our New Year's Resolution, SAGL and myself keep adding restaurants to our list. I wanted to make sure we hit a variety of non-burger/pizza/fusion places that seem to spread like herpes in every lifestyle center in town. 

As I arrived fashionably 10 minutes late and 1 hour buzzed on whiskey I found Just Joni and The Gang situated center stage within the walls of Epcot's dirty one night stand with the former Federal Republic of Germany. It was to die for. Red painted chipped tables everywhere. Frescoes of German looking people doing German looking things (pre WWII German looking things). And about 7 other diners. 

Not too busy. 

At the suggestion of my Ex Work Wife myself and Sister's Husband ordered the hassenpheffer. Rabbit. I was gunning to get my hands on a rabbit for dinner. And naturally in a city where rabbits are as prevalent as Scandinavians it was not available. Strike one Black Forest Inn. 

We needed a minute so we started with the aspic. What's that you ask? It's amazing. It's meat and vegetables all in the safe confines of a jello mold. That's right! Gelatinous Meat! Spread on a slab of pumpernickel with some dijon mustard and you are all "ich leibe es!"

My second choice of entre emerged and it was two giant balls of meat covered in a white sauce. I had to act as if this was the first time I had ever seen two giant balls of meat covered in white sauce coming at my face. It was one of my greatest performances. 

Tasty. A little bland. Not as salty as I would have preferred. But still very good. Extremely filling. And worth the trip back this Summer when the patio is open. Ex Work Wife regaled me with stories of 1980's Summer Days when she and her friends would dine in the style of Allamange while wearing en vogue jump suits.I am now looking for my own jump suit to recreate the event.

Dessert was not bad. We tried both the kirsch flavored Black Forest Torte and the so called best selling Apple Strudel. I will say the crust on the strudel was damn good.

Overall a once in a lifetime try here in Minneapolis. I mean my God it's been around since 1965. How many restaurants can claim that?

I have to go. There is bread rising in my bathroom because it's the warmest room in the house this winter. And I maybe just ate an entire wedge of Port Salut cheese and I'm now gassy. 

One last thing - we are now on the INSTAGRAMS! Follow my everyday shenanigans at benjaminplante_ on INTSTAGRAM!

Touching Junk, Traveling Car Plants and Toned Tour Guides: Or My First Trip To California

Traveling Houseplants and some junk on Nob Hill

You know your vacation is going to start off great when the mother seated in the row behind you on the plane says to her toddler son, "if you don't quiet down the other people on this plane are just going to open the door and toss you out. Right into the sky. Do you want that?".

It took all I could to not turn around and offer to hold the door open.

A few months back Sister asked a room of her closest friends and family if anyone was interested in a road trip this Summer. Now I don't know why but nobody raised their hands. So being one for adventure and assuming it would probably never happen I volunteered.

A few weeks after that I found myself with a plane ticket to San Diego...

We landed in San Diego, which I believe is Spanish for border town. Checked into the hotel and quickly met up with an old friend (let's call her SoCare) from back in my skinny days. SoCare was just as cute as she was the day we parted in Minneapolis years ago. In fact I'm pretty sure she hasn't aged. Which made me feel real old.After binge eating on margarita's and carne asada fries Sister and I nestled in for a quick sleep before hitting the California freeway. 

In preparation we made our first food pit stop at Starbucks and Albertson's Grocery. We stocked up on protein bars, La Croix canned water (holy water really), and our traveling houseplant. Every road trip needs a succulent to keep you company.

Stops Along The Way

First Stop - The Cabazon Dinosaurs

I'll wait for you to get up off the floor in shock and awe. 

The Cabazon Dinosaurs are friggin' famous. You may recall them from such great films as Pee Wee's Big Adventure or The Wizard starring an Oscar snubbed Fred Savage. Sister got hit on by some tiny blond Aussie Actress who was probably working there to keep her visa up to date but didn't realize Cabazon is NOT a close suburb to LA. 

And...

We learned all about...nothing. It was so damn hot that we basically ran through the museumparking lot with a fence. We did get to climb up the T-Rex though! How many of you can say you have done that?

Second Stop - After our prehistoric misadventure we sped on our way to LA. LA is Spanish for 1 hour commute. 

In LA we got to see the Griffith Observatory which offered wonderful views of the Hollywood sign, West Hollywood, and the abs of two shirtless men who I am pretty sure don't work there but kept our attention for a solid 30 mins.

We accidentally parked right under the Capitol Records building which naturally convinced me that the End Times were going to start while we were there. Every apocalyptic movie set in LA has that damn Capitol Records building blowing up at some point. 

Quick walk around some blocks. Cooled off in a Trader Joe's (like all TJ's this one was in Hurricane Katrina mode) and loitered in a Grilled Cheese Restaurant just to cool down again.

It was at this point that made our way to Long Beach for a nights stay at the famed Queen Mary. It's a ship and it's haunted. 

We met up with my lovely friend, P-Cubed, for some cocktails on the Poop Deck. Being that the boat was older than God the menu of the bar reflected that. Sister and I got all warm and fuzzy with some Moscow Mules (maybe one or five) and P-Cubed was classic with a beer and cheese tray. We all three made besties with a man on shore leave who was living on the boat for a month and waxed poetic about life before the blog. And then watched as Sister attempted to compete in Dance Dance Revolution. Because every haunted ship from the 1930's needs an arcade.

The next day we left the boat free of spiritual self possession and made our way up the historic Highway 1 along the coast. 

We were making our way through Oxnard California when we stumbled upon our one and regretfully only In and Out Burger. I had been told by many a friend that I needed to try one. We all know I have a thing for meat and buns of all varieties.Thankfully the tank topped and follicly unchallenged man in front of me ordered his burger "Animal Style" reminding me to do the same.

THE BURGER WAS WONDERFUL! But not so much that we stopped again on our trip. We had other places to hit up. Like Target for some Peanut Butter and Jelly Trail Mix. Buy some now and thank me later.

And we kept going North...

As we wound our way through the drop dead gorgeous Big Sur on our way to Monterey we indulged in the listening pleasure of CBS Radio Mystery Theatre. What's that you ask? Are we geriatrics? No, but we love a good suspense story that runs anywhere from 26-45 minutes. You can bet the car was dead silent as we learned why Helena wanted her best friend Jane dead.

Seriously check out CBS Radio Mystery on iTunes or the website above. You will not be sorry and if you are we are not friends. 

Find the gay sea lion - hint: I am not in the photo

Third Stop - Monterey

Monterey California is just okay. No offense Monterey but you kinda look like every Lake Superior city we've ever stopped in for smoked fish or cheese curds.

However we did indulge in a donut and La Croix breakfast on the beach. If for some sad reason you find yourself in Monterey California stop at Red's Donuts on Alvarado St. Google it. You will be happy. 

Fourth Stop

We left Monterey and headed East through what basically is pure farmland. Thankfully we stumbled upon Biglieri Farms . Sister had to remind me that we were not going anyplace I could cook the homemade raviolis and made me put them back. So I just bought Horseradish Jelly and some Balsamic Onion Jam.

The Horseradish Jelly I recently slathered on a white cheese quesadilla with some caramelized onions. So delicious I made two.

There were like 20 Asians riding Harleys in Tahoe at one Vista Point. The best part was the 20 white people on Kawasakis that showed up 2 minutes later. 

Our resting stop for the night was Tahoe. 

When planning the trip we had talked about going to Tahoe but it was up in the air. Then The Family Matriarch kindly reminded us that our Grandfather (whom we had never met) was buried there. And once The Family Matriarch made the proclamation we knew we were stopping in Tahoe. Glad we did. After some grave hunting we took in some sights and ended up on a great little food tour.

First on our food tour was Freshies Restaurant.

This Hawaiian themed joint was in what was probably once a really cute strip mall. And now just home to a bookstore, Freshies and some Thai joint. Sister and I had our beers and ordered the "Magical Potato Balls". Freshie...you had me at balls. Magical balls at that. They were pretty damn good. But we had to move on. There were two more scheduled eating spots on the tour.

Second on our food tour was at the 11th Frame Diner inside the Tahoe Bowl. South Lake Tahoe's #1 Favorite Family Fun Center. As advertised on the brochure at the hotel across the parking lot, Tahoe Bowl was home to some delicious gourmet hot dogs. 

Nothing like a nice thick wiener smothered in avocado, crumbled bacon and cheese. We followed it up with what boiled down to an enormous wiener covered in cheese wrapped in a bun.

I highly recommend a stop at the Tahoe Bowl - South Lake Tahoe's #1 Favorite Family Fun Center. I'm not sure how many family fun centers there are in South Lake Tahoe but I'm certain this is #1. 

Third and final stop on our food tour of the hotel parking lot was MacDuff's Pub. This joint was super cute and the food was pretty damn good. The only part I didn't like was when they tried to seat us at a little lovers nook where the Q-Tip at the next table decided to rest her neck brace on the our table. We moved to the bar. 

I tried the pizza (enjoyable). And Sister tried the Truffle Mac and Cheese. The Mac and Cheese was pretty damn good. Make a stop and try to become friends with the super cute blond girl at the bar. I want to know her on Facebook but didn't have the lady balls to beg her to be my friend. 

The rest of the time in Tahoe was spent on the phone with Just Joni as she describe what Tahoe was like when she lived there. Nothing has changed in 40 years.Nothing.

Fifth Stop - San Francisco

The next day we ventured West to the city on a big ass friggin' hill...San Francisco. Now I was told that The Ancient Gays settled there eons ago. I'm pretty sure they all left and were replaced by European male tourists. After a quick refresh at our hotel we ventured out into the night to find sustenance.

We ended up at Uncle Vito's. This joint was busy at 10 at night and well worth the wait to snuggle next to some locals. Order the Mountain Pizza and the larger than life carafe of house wine. The walk home up the hill was so much easier after the wine.We loved Uncle Vito's so much (and not because of the hot waiters) we went back the next night. 

On our first full day in San Francisco we covered about 9 miles. Hit up some classic tourist sites but fell in love with two places. 

1. Cordon Bleu is the true definition of hole in the wall. Located in Nob Hill this place couldn't cost any less and couldn't be any more adorable. It was recommended to me by my friend Max (which is a kick ass name for a girl so she gets no anonymity on the blog - sorry Max.)

The two ladies running Cordon Bleu cook almost everything up right in front of you. Like I watched them sear half a chicken and pull it for my Five Spice Chicken entree. And I know I say a lot of food I eat is crack like but this shit was. There was some sauce in the bottom of the bowl that I nearly tipped back like it was the milk in the bottom of the Cocoa Pebbles breakfast I had as a kid (hello young health issues).Between Sister's noodle salad and the egg roll that came with her meal AND the spring rolls we ordered as appetizers we were calorie loaded for days. 

Which is why we stopped to have a beer one block up the hill. 

Those hills are so damn steep...

2. The Hyde-Out. After three hours at this bar I will say this was the best part of the San Francisco pit stop.This place has been around since the The Ancient Gays moved in and everyone that settled there, fags and hags alike are still there. The barmaid knew every ones name that walked in the door and after a few drinks she knew our whole story. We chatted with the regulars, scoffed at the not so regulars who couldn't handle the place and eventually got a round on the house.Oddly The Hyde-Out is on Instagram. Which Sister is addicted to.Find them on Instagram. I am not sure how the whole instantly gramming thing works. But Sister says you can find them by looking for "thehydeout". 

And as you read earlier we found ourselves back at Uncle Vito's for dinner again the second night. Don't judge. They do good pizza. And it's across the street from a theatre that advertises that you can "touch our junk".

All in all it was a great trip. It only took two days in to forget that I had to eventually go back to a cubicle and earn a living. But for a few days I was on vacation. 

Now it's time for Fall. I'm already thinking about what to cook for Thanksgiving. 

Later Bitches. 

p.s. most of the photos were taken by Sister - I was lazy and I knew she needed to keep her fans happy on Instagram

p.p.s. SoCare, I nixed the picture of us because I looked like a bloated picnic table. That is possible.I was shocked myself.