Three autumns ago, the mister and I became homeowners. We sat in our cold, messy house, the blue-white light reflecting from the snow outside into our curtain-less bedroom. The kitchen was bare, our pots and pans stacked in boxes somewhere. After the big drumroll of finding the house, getting approved for a loan, and hastily packing our things from our little apartment, we finally made it, and I didn’t know how to feel. Would this place ever feel like home?
Our last place, a sunny little two bedroom apartment on the second floor, was a little tight. We faced a park, and were surrounded by retired couples with names like Rowena and Art. Sure, I had to keep my canning pot on top of the dryer in the hallway, and yes, it was a little tricky to prep food on two feet of counter space, but we made it work, and it felt like home.
I’m a nester. Invite me over for any amount of time, and you’re bound to find souvenirs of my presence everywhere. I’ll use your blankets, ensconce myself in your comfiest chair and leave books and reading glasses on your coffee table. I’ll snoop in your kitchen, and examine pictures and shopping lists stuck with magnets to your refrigerator. I’ll even make you a meal out of random ingredients in your pantry if you let me.
The problem was, I hadn’t nested yet. Everything I needed to cook a good meal was in boxes stacked up in the garage. Thinking of my dutch oven so cold and lonely in a box somewhere made me sad. Whenever the house feels gloomy, I cook. But here I was, my belly utterly unsatisfied by the least offensive fast food I could find, dreaming about the day I would unpack my spices and make something worth talking about.
On a recent Sunday night, the front door was nice and steamy from the simmering vegetable broth and spiced pumpkin bread I had made earlier that afternoon. Two friends came over for a last minute get together. They walked in, greeted by Luca’s enthusiastic jumps and howls. When the little fur tornado calmed down, we made our way into the kitchen. Kim and Lori studied the pictures stuck to the fridge and examined my shopping lists and meal ideas. We sliced into the still-warm pumpkin bread, puffed- up and proud, its top crust laden with toasted walnuts and crunchy raw sugar, and carried our steaming, mismatched tea cups to the living room.
The best way to eat pumpkin bread is with one’s hands, and we began to pull warm bite-sized pieces from our slices, bits of moist crumb and toasted walnut falling back onto our plates. Almost like the steam releasing suddenly from a pressure cooker, Kim sunk into the corner of the couch, and sighed, “It’s just so cozy in here”. It finally dawned on me.
Ahh, okay. Here we are.
Whole Wheat Pumpkin Walnut Bread
Adapted from The Art and Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet
Makes One 9 x5 inch loaf
As it was, this pumpkin walnut bread was the best I had ever tasted, but it’s in my nature to tweak recipes, no matter how good. In this case, I replaced the white flour with whole wheat pastry flour, which turned out to be just as moist as the original. The raw sugar on top adds a crackly crunch. This pumpkin walnut bread comes together easily and freezes beautifully when double-wrapped in plastic and placed inside a freezer bag.
- 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour*
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts
- 1 teaspoon raw sugar
1) Preheat the oven to 350˚F and place an oven rack in the middle position. Lightly coat a 9 x5-inch loaf pan with butter and line with parchment paper.
2) In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger and salt until throughly incorporated. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and water. Add the sugar and whisk until blended. Add the pumpkin puree, canola oil and vanilla extract. Stir until combined.
3) Add the pumpkin mixture to the bowl with the dry ingredients, and stir until well blended. Add 3/4 cup of the walnuts and stir until evenly distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and level the top. Scatter the raw sugar and remaining 1/4 cup chopped walnuts over the top of the batter.
4) Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, until the top crust is dark golden and firm, and a toothpick just barely comes out clean. Allow to cool for 25 minutes before cutting. Leftovers can be stored for 2 days at room temperature if wrapped in plastic, or up to 4 days in the refrigerator.