29: Halloween, Pumpkins and Snacks That Go 'Crunch' In The Night

Today on Dana’s Low Carb For Life, we’re going to talk Halloween Strategies, pumpkin plans, and crunchy food, so stick around!

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Hey, Gang! Welcome to episode 29 of Dana’s Low Carb For Life, brought to you by CarbSmart.com, your smart choice for a low carb lifestyle.


If you’re listening to this some time in the indefinite future, as I am recording this it is the second week of October, and we’re going to be darned seasonal today. So if you’re listening in January or May or something, you’ll just have to keep these thoughts in the back of your mind for next October.


What are our seasonal topics? First of all, I’m going to talk about how to survive the scariest day of the year: Halloween. I’m not talking about the costumes and spooky decorations and haunted houses and such. I’m talking about all that candy! How are you going to get through Halloween with your waistline and your resolve intact? I’ll be talking hard-core strategy, and also opining on the subject of how Halloween is celebrated. Gee, me, have an opinion? Who’da thunk it?


Then I’m going to talk about that most seasonal of vegetables, the pumpkin. I’m very fond of pumpkin, and while it’s carbier than leafy greens and cucumbers and celery, it can still fit into our low carb menu. I’ll give you the digits for the big orange vegetable, and also give you some ideas for cooking him.


And finally, we’ve got a great post from a listener answering the question “What are your favorite low carb crunchy foods!” Some wonderful ideas here, including one I’ve never tried, but have to! You’re going to want to hear that.


So let’s get right to it! Let’s talk about Halloween, both for you and for your kids.


A few years ago on an online discussion of Halloween plans, I first encountered the concept of “trunk-or-treat,” a Halloween event that is apparently gaining popularity across the country. People dress their kids up in costumes, pack candy in their cars, and go to a predesignated parking lot. There the children run from car to car, collecting candy.


Call me a fossil – I’m just over a week away from my 53rdt birthday – but this seems entirely wrong-headed to me. It takes all the spooky fun and all the exercise out of trick-or-treating, while leaving all the sugar. Indeed, it reinforces the idea that the best thing, the most important thing, the most fun thing about Halloween is the candy.


Yeah, yeah, all of you twenty and thirty-somethings are rolling your eyes at yet another old person saying, “When I was your age . . . ” Please, bear with me. My best, my brightest Halloween memories do not have to do with candy, although I was certainly a little sugar-junkie. They have to do with the excitement of being out after dark, running door-to-door, fallen leaves crackling underfoot, seeing the Halloween decorations at each house, ringing doorbells, shouting “TRICK OR TREAT! ,” the repeated oh-ing and ah-ing over our costumes.


But, Dana,” you protest, “it’s a different world. It’s too dangerous to let our kids do that.” Actually, according to the reports I’ve read, there is no more crime against children today than there was in my childhood. It’s the reporting of crime, and therefore the perception of crime, that has drastically increased. How about poisoned candy? Ignoring entirely that the candy itself is poison, Snopes.com reports that not a single case of Halloween candy poisoning has been verified. And what’s to keep some madman from bringing poisoned candy to trunk-or-treat?


None of this reassurance matters a whit if no one in your neighborhood participates in trick-or-treat anymore. No use sending your little goblins to houses where no one is prepared.


Well, geez, then, Dana, why’d you bring it up?” Because it’s clear that Halloween traditions in this country are shifting, and have yet to settle on a new form. This means you have input into what the new traditions will be. I’m hoping I can encourage you in a direction other than “trunk- or-treat.”


My vote would be a return to the Halloween party, with spooky games and music, and at least some non-candy foods. Read ghost stories by firelight. Bob for apples. Carve jack-o-lanterns. Have a scary laugh contest, and a costume judging. (With lots of prizes – scariest, prettiest, funniest, most creative, etc. The more kids get prizes, the better.) If you have space, how about creating a haunted “house” in your backyard? (I have a big backyard with a path through the woods that would be perfect for this. Alas, I have no children. ) The drawback to this is that private parties are invitation-only events, and some kids could get left out. This is a great reason for organizations, from scout troops to neighborhood associations, to create their own “everybody welcome” Halloween events.


If you’re still in a trick-or-treat part of the country, may I make a few gentle suggestions?


* Focus as much attention as you can on the many fun and creative Halloween activities that don’t involve sugar. Help your kids make their own costumes. Decorate your house. Make styrofoam tombstones with funny epitaphs for the front lawn. (We did this; it’s super-easy.) Go to the library and take out a recording of haunted house sounds. Watch some spooky movies, with an eye to the movie’s scare/violence level and your kids’ ages, of course. Make the fun about something more than sugar.


* Consider handing out something other than candy. My sister, a teacher, has been known to buy little prizes in bulk at the teachers’ supply store to hand out for trick-or-treat; she reports the kids like them. Handfuls of pennies have been reported to go over well. So have individual packets of peanuts. Back when I lived in a trick-or-treating neighborhood (out here in the country I’ve never seen a single trick-or-treater – too few houses with too much space between ‘em) I would let kids grab a double handful from a basket of peanuts in the shell. Believe it or not, kids generally exclaimed “Oooh, peanuts!,” not “Hey, lady, where’s the candy?” Do not do what Dr. Sinclair, my childhood dentist and next door neighbor, did, and hand out toothbrushes. A sure way to get egged and TPed, both.


* If you do give out candy, buy candy you don’t care for. Don’t get your own particular kryptonite. For instance, if I were giving out candy (fat chance!) I’d consider Twizzlers, Chuckles, or candy corn, none of which I’ve ever liked. This way you’re far less likely to binge between trick-or-treaters.


* If you foolishly insist on buying your own favorite candy for trick-or-treat, buy the minimum you can get away with. I’ve known plenty of moms to give in to a candy binge as a consequence of “Oh, I have to make sure I have enough!” – leading to bags and bags of leftover Snickers bars. If you do wind up with leftover candy, take it to work and leave it in the break room.


* Lay in a modest stash of sugar-free candy. I generally have both sugar-free Reese’s and sugar-free Hershey’s Dark miniatures in the house. Having your own treats will help keep you away from the kids’ goody bags. The laxative qualities of sugar-free candy will prevent your pigging out on it!


* If you’re concerned about your kids’ sugar intake – and you should be – consider having a talk with them in advance about some sort of strategy to minimize damage. Perhaps you could have them choose their five or ten favorite kinds of candy; anything not on that list goes in the trash. Maybe you could freeze most of their haul and dole it out over the winter, piece by piece. But please don’t let them simply devour it all over a few days’ time.


And have a super-fun and spooky Halloween!


Pretty soon we’re going to get to Low Carb Voices, and those ideas for low carb crunchy food, but first, since we’ve talked about Halloween, let’s stick with the seasonal theme and talk about pumpkins!


You know it’s autumn when fresh pumpkins show up in the grocery store. Sadly, around here they’re only available from late September through Thanksgiving. I assume it’s because most people only use pumpkins for pie, or as a decoration. This is a darned shame. Have you tried fresh pumpkin as a vegetable? It’s wonderful! It’s also one of the lower carb of the winter squashes.


It’s also one of the best sources of pro-vitamin A (substances your body can convert into true vitamin A) around. Vitamin A is an important antioxidant essential to the immune system. It is also known to play a key role in eye health – it’s vital for good night vision, and a deficiency can cause dry eyes, and may promote cataracts. One cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin has 12230 IU. It also has calcium, iron, protein, vitamin C, 9.3 grams of usable carb, and only 49 calories.


For cooking, look for small pumpkins around 2-3 pounds – they’re easier to handle, and you’re more likely to eat them up. I hate it when stuff goes bad in the fridge!

Whole pumpkins keep for weeks in a cool place, but once you cut them, you should cook them soon. I’ve kept leftover raw pumpkin for a day or two in a zipper-lock bag in the refrigerator, but that’s about it. If you can’t find fresh pumpkin or don’t want to cook one, canned pumpkin is available in most parts of the country year round, but chunks and slices and wedges of pumpkin are so great, you really ought to try it at least once.

Still not sure what to do with a pumpkin other than sticking a candle inside? Here are some delicious ideas to get you cooking.

* Try dicing into chunks, steaming as a vegetable, and spicing it with nutmeg.

* Cream of pumpkin soup is wonderful, especially with a little curry powder. To be fancy, try serving it in a hollowed out pumpkin!


* Run one or two chipotle peppers through your food processor or blender along with ½ cup of sugar-free pancake syrup and a ½ teaspoon or so of salt or soy sauce. Now roast wedges of fresh pumpkin at 350, basting frequently with the syrup mixture, until they’re soft. Serve as a side dish. This is great on the grill, too, if it’s still nice enough for grilling where you are.

* Half cubed fresh pumpkin, half cubed rutabaga makes a great substitute for cubed sweet potato in stews. 1 cup of cubed sweet potato has 22.8 grams of usable carb, while the 50/50 pumpkin/rutabaga mixture has just 7.5 grams of usable carb per cup, so the carb savings is significant.

* A can of pumpkin, mixed with one mashed sweet potato, makes a good “sweet potato casserole” with far fewer carbs.

* Toss chunks of pumpkin into your pot roast along with some carrots and turnips

* Make your favorite pumpkin pie recipe with your favorite sweetener in place of the sugar. Add a little sugar-free pancake syrup for a New England touch.

* Don’t throw away those seeds! Pumpkin seeds are also low carb, and are one of my favorite snacks. They’re so much better fresh than bought at the grocery store! Pick off any major strings, toss them with a little oil and salt, and roast them at 300 for 45 minutes. I don’t rinse them; I find the caramelized pumpkin juice adds a delicious flavor – I eat these shells and all. Of course, you can find pumpkin seeds roasted and salted in the shell in most convenience stores and mini-marts. Health food stores and Hispanic markets carry them hulled, often labeled “pepitas.” 1 ounce of shelled pumpkin seeds has just 4 grams of usable carb, along with healthy monounsaturated fats, protein, and healthy doses of zinc and magnesium.


* Run shelled pumpkin seeds through your food processor to make pumpkin seed meal. This is a great substitute for almond meal in low carb baking, should you have a nut allergy.

This great side dish makes use of both pumpkin and pumpkin seeds. Buy the seeds already shelled, and roast the seeds out of your pumpkin as a snack. Shelling a half a cup of pumpkin seeds is a big job.


Chili Lime Pumpkin


1 little pumpkin, about 2 pounds ( 1 kg)

2 tablespoons (30g) butter

1 tablespoon (15ml) oil

½ cup (120g) shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

1 teaspoon chili garlic paste (look in the Asian section of the grocery store)

2 teaspoons lime juice


Whack your pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds. Peel off the hard rind, then cut the flesh into slices about ¼” (6.25mm) thick.


Put the butter and the oil in a big, heavy skillet over medium heat. Swirl them together as the butter melts. Now, lay the slices of pumpkin flat in the butter and oil mixture. Sauté until lightly golden on both sides, and tender, yet still al dente. You’ll need to do this in more than one batch; keep the stuff that’s done warm on a plate under a pot lid.


While this is happening, toast your pepitas by stirring them in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until they swell a bit – about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat when they’re done.


When the pumpkin’s all cooked, put it all back in the skillet. Mix together the chili garlic paste and the lime juice, and gently mix it in, coating all of the pumpkin slices.


Lay the pumpkin slices on serving plates, top each serving with a tablespoon of toasted pumpkin seeds and serve.


Yield: 8 servings


Each with: 89 calories; 5 g fat; 2 g protein; 10 g carbohydrate; 1 g dietary fiber; 9 g usable carbs.


Reprinted from 500 More! Low-Carb Recipes by permission of Fair Winds press


So eat some pumpkin! I’m going to stash a few in a cool place, and enjoy ‘em into the winter.


Okay, it’s time for Low Carb Voices! The question last episode was “what do you eat when you want something crunchy?” Potato chips, pretzels and Doritos are out, and people frequently complain that they miss crunchy foods. A listener named Laura posted some great ideas at the show page, Dana’s Low Carb For Life.com. She writes:


Crunchy (and usually salty) snacks:

1. I make pepperoni chips by putting pepperoni on a paper plate and microwaving for 30 seconds to a minute. Then I blot with paper towels and let cool a little. They are crunchy & GOOD!!!!

2. Crispy bacon

3. Pork rinds (with cinnamon and sweetener)

4. Your crunchy chicken skins—but they go too fast and I LOVE skin on my chicken so I don’t get many that I can just use for skins

5. Grated cheese melted on parchment paper in the microwave—i usually add salt to those.

6. Nuts

7. raw broccoli & cauliflower are now the substitute for potato chips in my husband’s lunch—(he has been doing low/lower carb now for 2-3 months and he has lost 20 lbs. NOT FAIR!!!!!!!!)

Love your show, Dana Carpender!!!!! YOU ARE AWESOME!!!!!!


Hey, Laura, YOU are awesome! Thanks for all the great ideas! Especially that pepperoni thing. I’m going to make those this week, and try ‘em with a little cream cheese. How bad can it be?


Given this week’s show, I think this week’s question has to be “How are you going to keep Halloween low or lower carb for you and your family?” Any great ideas, we’d love to hear them! If you’ve got any other ideas to share, or a question, a recipe, an idea for a low carb treat – really, anything to share with the low carb community, call (412) 385-DANA, that’s (412) 385-3262, and let us know!


If you have any friends you think might like the show, please steer ‘em to the show page at Dana’s Low Carb For Life, and if you like it, how about leaving a review at Itunes? We’d love it.


Don’t forget to check out the blog at Hold the toast.com, and join my facebook fan page at Dana Carpender’s Hold the Toast Press – lots of great folks there; it’s a fun ongoing conversation.


And of course, 300 15 Minute Low Carb Recipes is now available at Amazon.com, or order through CarbSmart.com along with your other stuff. If you’ve already got it and you like it, go review it!


That’s it! Remember, till next week, stay low carb for life!




5 Replies to “29: Halloween, Pumpkins and Snacks That Go 'Crunch' In The Night”

  1. Well, Dana, I finally got caught up on ur pod casts and was ready to actually call in with my brilliant crunchy lo-carb snack… Anyhow, Laura beat me to it!
    Aaaahh… fried peperoni chips are the bomb… I walk around with a bag of them and as i snack everyone I meet is like, “what are u eating?” I tell them it’s fried peperoni and it’s not long after, that they ask if they can try some… anyhoo… Love ur show. (oh and I did remeber to leave a review for u on iTunes.) I really find your show encouraging and informational. The history facinates me. Anyhow, Thanks for all of ur hard work! PS one little alteration, I fry my peperoni in a skillet, it’s just like making bacon. I also like my peperoni (as well as my bacon) so, so, so super over cooked that it’s on the verge of turning into a cinder… (well, maybe not that far gone…;) I’m sure the microwave would be just as effective… I just prefer the stovetop. (Pure habit, plus it’s a fun excuse to cook with tongs!) Anyhow, have a good week, say hello to ur chickens for me!

  2. I hadn’t thought of using the skillet!! Thanks, Lee-Ann. I tried cooking them in my toaster oven once and had a little fire, so don’t do that one, low-carb buddies!

  3. Baked kale chips are good- just google “kale chips” for a recipe.

    An excellent mock “Cheez-Its” cracker is super simple. Just cut a slice of Kraft Deli Deluxe American cheese into 12 or 16 little squares and put on parchment paper. Microwave for 1 minute. They’re awesome! Other cheeses might work but this particular brand is perfect.

    I also fry shredded cheese in little circles on a skillet. Awesome chips or chalupa/tostada shells. Try pepper-jack cheese!

    Also, I make crackers with almond flour and egg whites. 1 cup almond flour to 1 egg white generally + any spices you wish. Sesame seeds are great! Roll dough in little balls and flatten until quite thin on nonstick foil or parchment paper and bake until golden around the edges. I’ve sweetened these, added vanilla and drizzled them with chocolate as well.

  4. A little late in responding to this but I’m from Pilgrim country and live for pumpkin season. I do all the things you mentioned, and basically treat the pumpkin like acorn or butternut squash. But I also make meals IN a pumpkin. Stews, chili, tandoori chicken etc are great baked & served in a pumpkin. (For an extra special company dinner get very small pumpkins and serve each guest their own!) Just cut off the top and scrape out the seeds. Poke the inside of the pumpkin all over with a fork, spread (inside) with butter and sprinkle with seasoning. Then wrap in foil and partially bake it in the over @350. Just to where there is some give when you test it with a fork. Time will vary depending on the size of your pumpkin. You can butter and wrap the top separately and save it for the “presentation” or just cut up the flesh and mix it into your stew/chili etc. I pre-cook the meat ie saute chicken chunks, beef chunks or ground beef just until the pink is gone then mix the other ingredients for the recipe. Fill your pumpkin(s) re-wrap in the foil and bake for 45-60 minutes. When you test for doneness be sure to stick your fork down into the middle of the sides to be sure it’s soft all the way through. To serve just spoon your recipe along with the cooked pumpkin. If serving individual pumpkins remind your guests to take some pumpkin with each bite. Never fails to please and surprise people!

    A note on crunchy snacks: I get thinly sliced swiss from the deli when it’s on sale. Cut into small pieces, lay on parchment paper and bake in the oven for a few minutes till just starting to get golden brown. Tastes like potato chips and even makes some air bubble puffs like chips sometimes do.

  5. I tried the pepperoni chips last week, and I must say I have been addicted to them ever since. I LOVE bacon, but not keen on the greasy mess involved with cooking bacon on the stove. Well these pepperoni chips taste just as good as bacon, and are so much easier to make. I crumble the chips to use as Bacon Bits on my salads, omlets, and in my chicken and egg salads.

    I tried both the thick and thin-cut pepperoni, but I find the thin-cut makes the best chips.

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