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Pumpkin Carving Tips from the Pros

by Alexandra Zega

Maniac Pumpkin Carvers "Starry Night"Is your Jack-o-lantern's face comprised of three triangles and a lopsided grin? Welcome to the lame pumpkin club. Both professional carvers and talented amateurs are doing some pretty cool things with pumpkins these days like etching out layers to create intricate patterns of light and cutting elaborate silhouettes that go far beyond traditional kitty faces and ghouls. Shine quizzed two experts on how they achieve their magical results

Choosing a pumpkin

Marc Evan is one-half of Maniac Pumpkin Carvers, a Brooklyn-based custom carving business that turns out more than 300 pumpkins during their autumn rush. Although Halloween is especially busy, Evan says there is also a big demand for harvest themed pumpkins and fall wedding decorations.

Different pumpkins are suited for different projects. "For a classic lantern style, we look for a lighter pumpkin that's free of defects," says Evan. "For something sculptural we're want something misshapen and heavy for its size."

Look for a healthy stem that isn't completely dried out. The pumpkin will last longer.

Avoid pumpkins with bruising or soft spots. They will also rot faste

Storing a pumpkin

Wash and dry your pumpkin when you bring it home to get rid of dirt and microorganisms.

Both before and after carving, pumpkins should be kept below 60 degrees. Evan says to store in the refrigerator if possible.

Rub some lemon juice diluted with a little water onto the cut edges to prevent browning and then coat lightly with petroleum jelly.

Wrap with cellophane until ready to display.

Pumpkins begin to deteriorate after about 24 hours so carve as close as possible to the time you plan on displaying.

Carving a pumpkin

Scrape out the inside so its very clean, smooth, and dry.

If the pumpkin is wobbly, slice the bottom off for a secure base.

Have a sketch or photo to work from. "We don't like to wing it," says Evan. There are also lots of free design templates available online.

Use a soft pencil to draw your design on the pumpkin.

Experiment with tools. Evan thinks pumpkin carving sets are good for beginners, but as your skills improve, you can play with other tools. "We're always looking for stuff at a kitchen store or hardware store that might solve problems."

Cut small areas first. If you carve out big chunks, it will leave the face of the pumpkin weak and may cause it to break when you are doing finer work.

Create dimension by scraping layers into the outside of the shell like a block of wood.

As you are carving, occasionally turn off the lights, put a light source in your pumpkin, and check your progress.

Try up-lighting your pumpkin from the outside or cutting a hole the back instead of the traditional lid top. "We like to cut an opening in the back and leave the top intact," says Evan.

Battery operated lights are safer than traditional flame candles. If you do use a traditional candle, use a votive in a glass holder and make sure the flame doesn't touch the pumpkin's flesh. Cut a tiny chimney hole in the upper back area to let smoke escape.

Never leave a lit pumpkin unattended.


Three Hot Cinnamon Cocktails You Have to Try This Fall

by Alexandra Zega


The Autumn Kiss features cinnamon-spiced whiskey, maple syrup, lemon, and more cinnamon.

When summer turns to fall and we feel compelled to relinquish our margaritas and mojitos in favor of drinks that will nurture and warm us, it's still good to think about what's in season. Fall is when apples, pears, pomegranates and grapes are at their peak, among many other flavors and ingredients. The flavor of cinnamon symbolizes the changing season, able to magically ignite the senses into feeling warm and calm. It can be the basis of a cocktail or a garnish, a perfect companion to anything apple, and just as effective as a kick-in-the-pants hot hit of spice.

From the bark of a tropical tree, cinnamon is most often ground into powder and used to season stews, rolls and apple pies. In the form of cinnamon sticks, it adds a flavorful twist to apple cider.

In either form, cinnamon has been gaining serious ground in cocktail culture, with Kahlua making Cinnamon Spice versions of its coffee liqueur. There are several varieties of cinnamon schnapps, from Goldschlager (the one with actual gold floating around in the bottle), to one called Firewater.

Whiskey producers add to cinnamon cocktail trend

But cinnamon and whiskey seems to be a particularly popular combination. Early Times last year released Fire Eater, a hot-cinnamon flavored whiskey. Red Hot Cinnamon Flavored Whisky from Canada even comes with a warning.

Spicebox Spiced Whiskey, another from Canada, features a blend of differently aged whiskeys, infused with cinnamon, nutmeg, three types of vanilla beans and other spices.

Two whiskey producers have even rumbled legally about the names for their cinnamon-inspired bottlings, with Sazerac Inc., who produces a whiskey called Fireball (with the tagline, "Tastes like Heaven. Burns in Hell") disliking the name of Hood River Distillers' SinFire (a "sinful spirit.").

Staying away from the notion of heaven and hell is the otherwise provocatively named Füchen (pronounced the way you think it would be), a small-batch, savory herbal liqueur made in Denver that tastes of vanilla and cinnamon that can be blended with pineapple juice and grenadine (aka "Füchen Till Dawn") or Coca-Cola (aka "Sid and Nancy").

On the rum side is Dancing Pines Distillery's Spice Rum, infused with whole nutmeg, vanilla bean and cinnamon stick; and Sea Island Spice Rum, made by Firefly Distillery, best enjoyed on the rocks with a splash of lime juice and ginger ale.

Because of autumn's one-day hot, one-day cold indecisiveness (and our own), we offer several options for optimizing cinnamon's sometimes sweet, sometimes savory complexion of flavor.

Autumn Kiss

Serves 1

Created by Kyle Ford of Cointreau


1 ounce Cointreau

1 ounce Mount Gay Extra Old Rum

1 ounce whole milk or heavy cream

1-2 dashes angostura bitters

Dash of cinnamon for garnish


1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan.

2. Heat like you would a cup of coffee, medium heat for one minute, and stir.

3. Serve hot in a tall martini glass.

4. Sprinkle cinnamon on top.

Black Spice

Serves 1

Created by Evan Faber of SALT Bistro, Boulder, Colo.


1½ ounces spiced rum

¾ ounce black walnut liqueur, such as Dancing Pines

¾ ounce grapefruit juice

dash of Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur


1. Stir all ingredients with ice.

2. Strain into a coupe glass.


Serves 1

Created by Ali Tahsini of Bourbon & Branch, San Francisco. Averna Amaro is a traditional Sicilian liqueur.


2 ounces cinnamon-spiced whiskey, preferably Spicebox

¼ ounce Averna Amaro

¾ ounce fresh lemon juice

½ ounce maple syrup

½ ounce egg white

grated cinnamon


1. In a mixing glass, combine all ingredients.

2. Dry shake (no ice) to emulsify the egg white.

3. Add ice and shake again to chill.

4. Strain into a large cocktail glass and garnish with freshly grated cinnamon


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