Pumpkin Panna Cotta

Pumpkin Panna Cotta

The Midwest has its own quirks, as does any region. It isn't until you leave the area for awhile that they suddenly become apparent (and oh do they become apparent). I've moved around a bit in my 20s—living in North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, and Wisconsin for various lengths of time—but it wasn't until I spent some time in Europe that my Midwestern quirks really began to show.

As a child of the Midwest, I would occasionally see television shows or movies that would mock the Minnesotan "yah, sure, ya betcha" accent (Fargo and New in Town, I'm looking at you). Unlike the classic Minnesotan accent (which, by the way, is greatly exaggerated and I haven't met a soul who actually speaks like that except this woman), the quirks of the Midwest seem to stay in the Midwest. In fact, we hardly recognize we have them.

Pumpkin Panna Cotta

Lately, I've noticed the Midwestern use of the phrase I s'pose. Let's be clear; it is never "I suppose." It's I s'pose. Around the Midwest, this turn of phrase is used frequently and I've only recently started realizing just how often I use it myself. I s'pose has come to mean I-don't-want-to-talk-to-you-anymore when you are on the phone or I'd-really-like-to-be-going-now when you are visiting someone in person. It's perceived to be very polite, but it's nevertheless effective.

For instance, when on the phone with a relative or friend, simply saying "Well, I s'pose" will signal the end of the conversation and the goodbyes will soon begin. Just recently, when my family had the relatives over for Thanksgiving, everyone was sitting in the living room and it was getting late into the evening. My uncle said the magic words I s'pose in a short lull of conversation and everyone immediately stood up to head on home.

Who knew such a simple, grammatically incorrect phrase could hold so much power?

Pumpkin Panna Cotta Pumpkin Panna Cotta

Perhaps the biggest Midwestern quirk is our pronunciation of very simple words. We use long vowels instead of short vowels in certain situations. Simple words like bag, magazine, or dragon are pronounced with the long a sound (as in baby or mate) instead of the short a sound (as in cat or mat). While most Midwesterners would hardly bat an eye at this, I've found you do get made fun of for it when you venture out into the rest of the world (and I have, on several occasions).

This was never more apparent to me than when I was at a grocery store checkout in England. I was packing my purchases up in my backpack when I realized everything didn't fit and I would need another bag. I asked the lady for a bag (using the long vowel "a") and she stared at me like I had grown a second head. "A bag?"

"Yes, a bag? One of those?" I said, pointing to the paper bags in her hand.

She still stared at me, uncomprehending this seemingly ridiculous request.

"A BAG?" I said once more, confused, resorting to miming the shape and function of a bag to get my point across.

"Oh, you mean a bag." She said, using the short vowel a, looking sorry for me, as if I had gone through my life mispronouncing such a simple word.

What quirks do you notice in the regions where you live?

Pumpkin Panna Cotta

Pumpkin pie has been a staple of the holiday season for as long as any of us remember (and for good reason, too—it's delicious!). This Pumpkin Panna Cotta is a twist on the traditional pumpkin pie. With the buttery crust gone, the pumpkin filling finally has a chance to truly shine on its own. Panna Cotta is essentially a thick custard and, when combined with the flavors and spices of the classic pumpkin pie, it becomes the perfect substitute to the real deal. Once you taste your first bite, I have a feeling you will forget pumpkin pie ever had a crust.

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Pumpkin Panna Cotta

Yields 6 4-ounce servings

1 1/2 cups milk
1 envelope (2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1 cup heavy cream (or low-fat half & half for a healthier version)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Whipped cream (optional)

Place milk in medium saucepan and sprinkle gelatin on top. Let sit for 5 minutes to soften gelatin.

In a blender, combine heavy cream, sugar, pumpkin puree, and spices. Blend until absolutely smooth. Whisk together pumpkin mixture with milk. Cook over medium heat until mixture begins to steam (not boil), stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and ladle mixture into 4-ounce ramekins or containers.

Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight before serving. To serve, add a dollop of whipped cream and sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg.