Homemade fresh pumpkin pie – yum!

Naughty Squirrel Nutkin destroyed one of my pie pumpkins! I always buy two and brought the other in to safety. Because I MUST have fresh pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving! My sister clued me in to using fresh pumpkin puree a number of years ago and I cannot go back to using canned, and I especially do not want a storebought pie. The recipe she (now we) use does not have all those spices like the usual pies, which can be intense. This recipe only uses cinnamon, and the simple ingredients make for a lovely, light, custardy autumn pie with vanilla accent.

People love this alternate version of the often not-that-well-liked usual pumpkin pies. Of course, I only use Penzey’s cinnamon and vanilla – or that from The Spice House (a Penzey online relative). Quality matters, especially when baking. I’m sharing our “secret” recipe, below.

Homemade Fresh Pumpkin Pie

1.5 cups fresh pumpkin puree*

3/4 cup sugar (I use less)

1 egg

1/2 cup milk (the mild flavor of oat milk probably okay)

1.5 tsp real vanilla

Preheat oven to 375F. Mix all ingredients together using a blender. Pour into a smaller-sized, not deep-dish unbaked pie shell. The aluminum pans from the store are the right size. I use a homemade graham cracker crust with cinnamon and ginger added. Carefully push the filling up a bit along the sides so it doesn’t shrink from the crust while baking. Sprinkle cinnamon across the top – don’t forget! Bake about 45 minutes until set, like a custard pie. Cover crust edges with strips of tinfoil if it starts getting too brown.

*Cut a pie pumpkin (not the big Halloween ones) in half and clean out seeds. One at a time, place a half cut side down on a glass pie plate and add water to about 1/4 inch high. Use a paring knife to cut slits in the skin. Microwave on High for about 5 minutes. Keep microwaving, checking every few minutes, until flesh is soft and can be scraped out into a bowl. Repeat with the other half. (Alternately, bake cut sides down in the oven at 350F until soft.) Puree the flesh with a blender. Unused puree can be put in your breakfast oatmeal or yogurt or added to pancake batter to make amazing fluffy orangey pancakes.

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My old history: Columbus Hospital Chicago and Saint Frances Cabrini

I grew up in the midst of cornfields and went to a small town college in the midst of cornfields. Illinois has a lot of cornfields. Going to elementary and high school in a small town surrounded by farms, most kids knew me and knew I had a Japanese mom. But in college, nobody knew me and kids thought nothing of asking “what are you” and “where are you from—no, really.” Sometimes I wanted to say I was from Mars, but other times I wanted to scream, “I am a human being born in Chicago—Illinois!” Some years ago I learned there is a term for this being sick and tired of being asked about your race by strangers, it’s called “racial fatigue.”

Recently, while working on my big project digitizing old print photos—still not done and I have “digitizing fatigue”—I came across a very old photo of the Chicago lakefront hospital where I was born. I couldn’t find any lakefront hospital on Google Maps and asked my dad its whereabouts. All he remembered was that it was in Lincoln Park (not in the zoo!). Nope, no lakefront hospital but I saw a park pavilion that is in my old photo. Then I remembered I was born in Columbus Hospital. I researched it.

Columbus Hospital was founded by Italian Catholic immigrant Mother Frances Cabrini in 1905. Mother Cabrini worked in this hospital and died there in 1917. She is known in New York, Chicago, and across the U.S. and worldwide for her missions to educate and provide health care for the poor, especially immigrants and orphans. Many churches, schools, and hospitals are named after her. Mother Cabrini was the first U.S. person to be canonized as a saint (1946). After her death, her room at Columbus Hospital became a pilgrimage destination until a shrine was built for her on the grounds in 1955. My parents, not being Catholic, did not bring newborn me to pay homage to Saint Cabrini else maybe I would not have gotten that terrible sickness when I was a wee tot (apparently measles complications, prior to vaccine development). On the other hand, perhaps by nearness of her caring spirit I did survive.

In 2002 Columbus Hospital was closed and, lakefront property being in high demand, later demolished to build a luxury condo. A big miracle was that Mother Cabrini’s shrine was left alone to be refurbished and re-dedicated in 2012. I can see the very tall high rise on Google Maps, with the short national shrine attached behind it—a strange combination. Across the street from the high rise is the Lincoln Park Gazebo along the shore of the North Pond. That gazebo is in the old photo I have! It helped me find where the hospital used to be, before I remembered the name. Mother Cabrini is thought of as Chicago’s saint and is the patron saint of immigrants.

I found only a couple actual photos of Columbus Hospital, Chicago, online so am posting mine (from my dad) here in case others want to see it within its setting of late 1950s. It is taken from the east side of the North Pond, looking west to the hospital and the gazebo that’s still there.

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Publishing two more family memoirs with Lulu

It’s been a busy couple months with a lot happening but I managed to produce two (short) family-only memoirs! They both turned out beautifully through Lulu.com. I have several older blog posts about using Lulu but Lulu has changed some since then. I use Lulu for these family-only books because I can still (so far) upload a .pdf file made from a Word document rather than one made with Adobe InDesign publishing software as most printers require. I have an article in my blog’s Resources section about formatting in Word to look as professional as possible. With Lulu you do not have to order a minimum of 25 copies and Lulu will ship copies directly to your relatives who do not live near you. Of course I choose the option NOT to publish for commercial sales else Lulu would send the book to Amazon. It is not cost effective to use Lulu as a go-between, not to mention selling to the public requires professional formatting and cover design or you look like an amateur – don’t let anything betray you!

Lulu also has cover templates, not many choices anymore—especially no font choice for the title and no title placement choice—but they work for simple covers. For one memoir I uploaded one of my photos to fill the entire cover, picking an image where Lulu’s no-choice title placement would work okay. For the other cover I had to use (free) Canva to make a 8.5×11 cover with a background and inserting a small photo that would show up underneath where Lulu would stick the title. Of course you can hire someone to format your manuscript and design a nice cover to upload to Lulu, but for my casual family-only books all that expense of professional work is not necessary.

One of the books I put together and published was my father-in-law’s stories and his genealogy. He did not have many stories but I wanted to save them as his history and legacy, and with very old family photos and genealogy they made a nice 8.5×11 booklet. We only needed ten copies. I had them printed in premium black & white so those really old photos would show up nice and clear. I took cell camera photos of the old print photos and had to use the free photo editing program with MSOffice to remove the spots and small discolorations and fix lighting as best able.

The other book was a mini memoir of my first (and likely only) trip to Japan with my sister and our daughters. That trip was back in 2015 and, haha, I’m still recovering from the exhausting challenge. But, I saw everything on my big bucket list except for Ueno Park and certain Kyoto temples. The trip was almost two weeks long and each day was a story of mishaps. Since we took just one tour and stayed in Airbnb “apatos” we were on-your-own tourists in a land of language we couldn’t read or speak—except for me a little after a limited time of lessons. Fortunately I took brief notes and had kept an itinerary that we mostly followed and that was enough, along with copious photos, to jog my memory. Shockingly, my family members were no help in remembering much, so good thing I wrote this travel memoir for us.

I made copies of My Crazy Trip to Japan for me and my fellow travelers (so four copies, and one .pdf emailed to my world-travele niece who has not settled anywhere). I used premium color—the color photos I thought would turn out fine using regular color printing did not turn out fine. Always order one proof copy to check! My dad found out about the book and wanted one so Lulu shipped one to him. He called me halfway through reading to tell me how much he was loving it, and he loved my writing style. I posted about this on Facebook and included a photo of a fortune cookie message I’ve saved. I got plenty of requests to read the book! A future project may be to scrub identifying personal family details out and upload an ebook to Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon).

Note: Your perfect trip (or life) is not so interesting as a trip (and life) of foibles, mishaps, and troubles. It’s the imperfections and struggles that make you human, interesting, and relatable, so don’t be afraid to write about them.

PS: Japan really is an amazing country to visit!

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