The Tale of Two Giant Pumpkins

It’s always a bit of a letdown when Halloween is over, particularly when I have a house chock full of decorations to remove. This year was one of our favorites ever because of all the parties and pumpkins. A friend commented, “You seem to have posted more pumpkin pictures on Facebook than usual this year.” Not sure if she meant it as a compliment or critique but I’ll take it as the former.

The murder of Stanley the Pumpkin

Usually we put the Great Pumpkin on the driveway and it sits there ’til Halloween. This year, our friend Phil generously lent us his flatbed trailer for the entire month so the Great Pumpkin sat in front of our house while also going to fall festivals and the kids’ schools.

Next year: world tour?

But there’s a sad tale about Jamie’s 1,220-pound beast, Stanley. About a week after we got him professionally carved, he started rotting out quickly and then the squirrels came in for the attack. With as much pomp and circumstance as Stanley came into the world, his was a quiet, dignified death as Jamie cut him up and composted him back into the pumpkin patch a couple of weeks ago. Sniff.

So, pumpkin No. 2 “Elbert” was the shining star for Halloween. Weighing in at only 695 pounds, Elbert was the ugly, warty step-sister but still shone brightly last night.

It’s a tradition for kids to pose every Halloween with the Great Pumpkin, like our darling neighbors

Our neighborhood is renowned for having great trick-or-treating so we get a lot of transplants who bilk our treats and festivities. I don’t mind but I can always tell who they are because they marvel at how big it is i.e. “that is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!”

On the other hand, the kids in our area have seen it all month so we only got complaints from them. “What happened to the big one!?”

High-maintenance, I tell ya. They didn’t know how good they had it.

For details of Stanley’s demise, go to Jamie’s blog Also, stay tuned for details on our Halloween festivities!


Recipe: Perfectly Pumpkin Magic Cookie Bars

Confession: I have a bakery weakness. OK, I have many of them. But when push comes to shove, I can usually resist the temptation of cookies, cakes and doughnuts.

But on the off-chance I spot a rare magic cookie bar at a bakery? All bets are off and I must buy it.

If you’ve never had a 7-layer magic cookie bar you’re missing out. Anything with sweetened condensed milk is a winner in my book but then add coconut, chocolate and graham crackers? #Winning.

For our pumpkin party this year, I decided to go one step further and add pumpkin. Try it.  You won’t be disappointed.


Perfectly Pumpkin Magic Cookie Bars

  • 4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 32 whole crackers)
  • 1 cup of butter
  • 1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 11/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup salted almonds or pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup chocolate chips. I also chopped up some Hershey’s Pumpkin Spice Kisses, which are available seasonally.



Heat oven to 350 degrees. Create a foil sling with a 1 inch over hang in a 9×13 pan..

  1. Combine graham crackers and butter  and stir until well blended. Press mixture onto bottom of pan
  2. Combine sweetened condensed milk, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and stir until well combined. Pour mixture over graham cracker crust.
  3. Sprinkle on chocolate chips, followed by the nuts and then finish by sprinkling coconut on top.
  4. Place assembled pan in the oven and bake for about 35-45 minutes. Let cool in pan completely and then transfer finished pan to the refrigerator to chill before cutting.
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    In case you missed it: Delicious Pumpkin Pie Crisp Bars

Recipe: Delicious Pumpkin Pie Crisp Bars

I still remember the day I became obsessed with eating all-things pumpkin. I was pregnant with Hadley, called home and my family was eating pumpkin pie for Canadian Thanksgiving.  As a wave of homesickness washed over me, I developed a pregnancy craving for pumpkin that never went away.

Thankfully, the pregnancies did.

I absolutely love our pumpkin party and all the delicious treats our friends bring. I mean, just look at this spread!

Every year, I like to experiment and fell in love with two new recipes that I tweaked until they were just right. I’ll share one this week and another next week.

About the recipe: two of my favorite treats are pumpkin pie and apple crisp. This recipe melds the best of both worlds with the “crisp” not only as the topping but also on the bottom and delicious pumpkin in between. Then, add cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger and this treat tastes like fall.

Pumpkin Pie Crisp Bars


1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups quick oats (old fashioned works too)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pumpkin Pie Filling
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed-light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1 pinch ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups canned pureed pumpkin
1/3 cup half and half
Whipped cream and cinnamon, for serving (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, oats, salt and baking soda for 30 seconds. Add in 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar an mix until no clumps remain. Combine melted butter and vanilla and add to mixture, then stir with a spoon until evenly moistened. Gently press half of the mixture into a greased 8 by 8-inch baking dish (a 9 by 9-inch baking dish would be great to, just reduce the baking time slightly as needed) and bake in preheated oven 15 minutes.

Meanwhile in a mixing bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and salt. Add in egg, egg yolk and vanilla and stir until blended. Mix in pumpkin then milk. Pour mixture over baked cookie portion and return to oven to bake 15 minutes, then remove from oven and sprinkle remaining cookie crumb mixture over top while breaking the crumb into small bits. Transfer oven rack closer to the top-center (not directly beneath but a few levels below) and return to oven to bake about 20 – 25 minutes longer until golden on top and center only giggles slightly. Remove from oven and allow to cool 1 hour at room temperature, then transfer to refrigerator to cool 1 hour longer (or serve warm from the oven like a crumble with ice cream). Cut into squares and serve with sweetened whipped cream and a light dusting of cinnamon if desired.


In case you missed it:

Drumroll: And the Great Pumpkin’s Weight is….

Like a giant pumpkin to the slaughter: a pumpkin party to remember

Stanley the Pumpkin Does Colorado Schools and the Fun Run

When a Man Loves a Woman: The Pumpkin Version

Recipe: Delicious Pumpkin Pie Crisp Bars

(Drumroll) And The Great Pumpkin’s Weight Is….

After a thoroughly exhausting, fun and wet pumpkin party, the day of the weigh-off was even more chaotic as we juggled Bode’s soccer and my volleyball game (thanks to Aunt Lisa for coming to the rescue with rides!)

Jamie says he loves driving the Great Pumpkin to the weigh-off because of all the stares and cheers he receives.

And who can blame them with this cargo?

The festivities are at Jared’s Nursery in Littleton and have grown from a little podunk weigh-off to a veritable harvest festival with a haunted house, face painting, mazes, bouncy castles, games and food trucks.

But still, the highlight is always checking out the giant gourds.

It feels a bit like you’re wandering around the Land of the Lost with these 100-pound pears. And of course, all those pumpkins.

I felt really happy for Jamie because, for the first time, his pumpkin was among the largest and was the one people singled out for pictures.

Of course, we had to pose for our requisite family photo with the other woman. Though in this case, she’s a man named Stanley in honor of my dad and Jamie’s best friend. My friend Fiona called us the “Mannings of the pumpkin growing world.”

I’m sure that means we must be millionaires.

The kids’ division was first. Early in the season, Hadley lost her pumpkin so they both grew Bode’s pumpkin, which is just a nice way of saying he did most of the work but she wants part of the credit.

Regardless, they blew away the other kids and won with their biggest pumpkin ever: 429.5 pounds! It went 15 percent heavier than its measurements.

Up next was the adult division. Jamie’s pumpkin developed a small crack five weeks prior, which automatically disqualified it from competition but he still wanted to weigh it. It was measuring out to be over 1,400 pounds, which would have beat the 1,308-pound Colorado state record.

But it wasn’t to be so. Though Stanley was a beast, he went “light,” which in pumpkin terms means he wasn’t as thick on the inside so turned out to be about 200 pounds lighter than Jamie had hoped.

A man and his giant pumpkin

But 1,220 pounds is nothing to be sad about. Stanley was a few hundred pounds heavier than Jamie’s personal best and was one of the biggest grown in Colorado this year. His friend Joe ended up growing a 1,478-pound pumpkin and won the competition. Which just means there’s an even bigger goal for next year.

Congrats to my cute family on a job well grown!



Like a Giant Pumpkin to the Slaughter: A Pumpkin Party to Remember

Last week was a blur as I chaperoned Hadley’s three-day camping trip and returned home to throw our annual pumpkin party the next day, followed by the chaotically fun giant pumpkin weigh-off.

Translation: I barely slept.

We always invite oodles of friends and setup the party in our backyard, which, between that and our neighbor’s lot where Jamie grows the pumpkin, there is plenty of room to roam. But this year, we had a further complication: lots of rain. We have a good-sized four-bedroom house but it is certainly not big enough to comfortably house 60+ people but that’s exactly what we did.

That was only the tip of our muddy iceberg that night.

I expected people to un-RSVP due to the inclement weather and, if we’re being honest here, I kind of hoped they would so we would have a more manageable crowd. But we have wonderful, supportive friends (yeah!) and a deluge of them waited until the very last minute to say they were coming (not yeah!)

The motivator was probably my Facebook post that announced the party was still on despite the rain with the promise of mud wrestling in the pumpkin patch.

We told our friends to dress for the weather and that they did. Though Meredith went a wee bit overboard with her dorky umbrellas.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Admission to the pumpkin party is your favorite pumpkin dish and we had two tables full of pumpkin rolls, pies, cookies, pumpkin seed guacamole, cinnamon rolls, cakes, dips, pumpkin-spiced hot chocolate and so much  more. I made two new treats that will become permanent fixtures–pumpkin magic cookie bars and pumpkin oatmeal bars (recipes forthcoming). It was one of my favorite spreads ever.

And I’m not just talking about the middle-aged spread I had after sampling them all.

Usually when it’s time to cut the pumpkin off the vine, everyone races out to the pumpkin patch but we had three kinds of people.

1) The “been there, done that” types who opted to stay inside.

Note: My unsupportive children were numbered among them. The Pumpkin Man may disown them for this major trespass.

2) The “I’m intrigued but I don’t want to get wet” types. These people crammed inside near the back door and the more interested sorts stood on the deck so they were able to dash back indoors if they got too soaked.

3) The “I’m all in” types.

These hearty  souls were rewarded with quite the show and major complications surfaced because:

1) It was raining. In case you’d forgotten that.

2) It was muddy.

3) Stanley the Pumpkin weighs several hundred pounds more than Jamie’s previous gourds.

Usually, Jamie and a few of his buddies adjust lifting straps around the pumpkin, they attach it to the forklift and the machine very carefully lifts it off its bed of sand onto the flatbed trailer while the crowd cheers.

But this year, there was muck everywhere so the backhoe could not get enough traction to lift the pumpkin out of the patch. After several failed attempts (and a backhoe that literally almost tipped over from the weight of the pumpkin), Jamie and his pit crew changed strategies. They  knocked down one of the poles supporting the hail netting so the backhoe could go in at another angle.

As we watched the drama unfold, one of our drenched-to-the-bone neighbor’s daughters raved to me, “This is your greatest pumpkin party yet! The rain! The mud! And they might not even get the pumpkin out of there!”

She sure has a differ view of greatness.

After what seemed like an eternity, the deed was done. Jamie and his buddies looked like the Swamp Things as they emerged from the patch and I was horrified when I saw one of them had blood all over his face.

“What happened?”

“I’m not sure. I was trying to push the backhoe when it got stuck and I got bloodied up.”

It was the Great Pumpkin’s first sacrificial lamb. But I’m sure it will not be the last.

Be sure to read the details of the weigh-off and the Great Pumpkin’s final weight!

How to mend a man’s broken heart: fresh peach pie with shortbread crust

We had a heartbreak at the Johnson household yesterday. Jamie’s pride and joy (no, not his children but his giant pumpkin) blew up. We knew at the rate it was growing, it would be very possible for it to crack and that it did. He intends to caulk the split and hope it makes it to the weigh-off at the end of September but it is now disqualified, which is a disappointment because it was on-track to becoming a state record.

Jamie with 1,000+ pound Stanley the Pumpkin during happier times

He still has another pumpkin that is growing less rapidly as back-up but for now, the dream is dead.

So, how do you mend a man’s broken heart? Through his stomach, of course. As I was driving home from mountain biking, I passed Heinie’s Market, a family-owned and operated fresh produce market and spotted the  most glorious Colorado Palisade Peaches. One of Jamie’s favorite desserts ever is his mom’s fresh peach pie so I figured it would give him at least a little bit of a lift. A couple of my friends asked for the recipe so I’ll post it here.

What I like about this pie: I’m a crust snob and shudder at any recipe that says to use those crap pre-made or frozen ones. But I’m also not the best crust maker so this one calls for what could be classified as shortbread and is so so so easy to put together.

And there is nothing better than fresh peaches when they’re in season so why on earth do we bake them and suck all the glorious goodness out of them? The crust is baked but the peaches are not so the sweeter and better the peaches, the more delicious the pie. Trust me, try this recipe and you’ll never look back.

Oh, why peach pie to help salve the wound?

Because pumpkin pie would’ve added insult to injury, of course.


Grandma’s Fresh Peach Pie with Shortbread Crust


1 cup of butter
2 cups of flour
1/4 cup of sugar (though I add a touch more)
dash of salt

Mix and press onto a pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes and let cool.


2 cups of boiling water
2 1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup of cold water
3/4 cup corn starch
1 3-oz package of peach Jello
1/4 cup of lemon juice
4-6 fresh peaches

Instructions: Boil 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Mix sugar, salt and cornstarch with the cold water. Pour the mixture into the boiling water and let it cook until it is thick and clear (about 5 minutes). Add the Jello powder and cook for another minute. Take the saucepan off the head and add the lemon juice. Let it cool. Peel and cut the peaches and stir them in. Pour into the pie shells and refrigerate until you’re ready to eat.


To read about Stanley the pumpkin’s demise, be sure to go to