Although frost has taken away pressure from getting garden produce preserved, I am still spending lots of time in my kitchen.

In preparation for making Thanksgiving pies, I have been roasting pumpkins and sieving the meat. Over the years, I have created a process that also drains off excess moisture. As a side benefit, there are the pumpkin seeds, which are probably the most popular edible portion of processing pumpkins at our house.

Since the pumpkin seeds are so readily consumed, I also season and dry squash and jack-o-lantern seeds. I have never had so many seeds ready for munching as I have this year.

We are heading south to Iowa for our Thanksgiving celebration at my brother Dean's home. We have an every-other-year rotation of going to Iowa or staying in Minnesota for Thanksgiving. My only duty is bringing pies. I bake them Wednesday, the evening before Thanksgiving.

The drive to my brother's house takes five hours, since his home is almost in Missouri. Thus, we will be getting up early and starting the trek to the south, hoping to arrive by noon. A group of relatives will stay a couple nights at a motel located in a town a few miles from their home.

Part of the fun in visiting this area in southeastern Iowa is shopping at stores operated by local Amish or Mennonite residents. One of my favorite stores is the Dutchman's Store in Cantril, Iowa. My sister-in-law, Janice, plans for a Friday excursion for all the interested shoppers, while the guys hang out at the farm-along with a bevy of kids.

I like finding food items sold in plain plastic bags filled with wonderful treats like chocolate sponge candy or plastic containers of colored sugar for decorating Christmas cookies. The area where my brother lives is called the clay hills of Iowa and the landscape is not at all the classic wide flat, vast agricultural spaces, one might assume for Iowa. Along with the interesting landscape, retail stores are tucked away in rural villages, sometimes located on farmsteads.

Last night I spent an evening cooking up a lunch for one of the offices where I work. We take turns hosting a lunch once per month - sharing the responsibility between a dozen employees. Normally, the host person takes orders for take-out food, so the overall task is not too difficult, it just requires some organization. Sometimes we manage to forget our turn (me, last year), but overall, it is a nice time to sit around a big conference table and chat about non-work matters (this is one of the event rules). The jokes are extraordinary!

For some reason, I decided to cook for my turn. I figured taco Tuesday would not be too difficult to create. The host person supplies a dessert to go with the meal, but costs for the meal are reimbursed by the group. Initially, I just could not think of something to bake, so I picked up a boxed cheesecake of assorted types.

After I'd made my purchase, I was shopping at another store when I overheard another shopper talking about the carrot cake she had baked for her own birthday. Suddenly, I knew what I should have baked. I have bags of fat, fall-harvested garden carrots in my garage fridge.

So, not only did I bring cheesecake, I also baked a carrot cake that included 3 cups of finely shredded carrots and chopped walnuts, topped with a cream cheese frosting.

So my quick prep evening turned into many hours and a kitchen filled with dirty cooking/baking dishes. As a sort of blast from the past, I tried to remember my simple recipe for something I once made plateful after plateful for my young, hungry teenage men. They called it chips 'n cheese. They should thank their sister for bringing this recipe home from California after a visit.

I can still envision myself loading plateful after plateful of this, which would be quickly toted off to the lower level where the guys were hanging out.

The recipe was simple - a mixture of ground beef, refried beans and tomato sauce was seasoned with a packet of taco seasoning. A portion of the hot mixture was sprinkled over a plateful of tortilla chips, topped with shredded cheese, then heated briefly in a microwave.

As simple as this sounds, it had been a few years since I had cooked up a batch and it wasn't until I cooked it, that I remembered a can of tomato sauce was a necessary ingredient.

For taco day, I cooked up a batch of this meat/bean mixture for one of the tacos fixings. Each employee created their own tacos from a selection of fixings on either soft or hard shell tortillas.

It is only fair that I include the carrot cake recipe. I am planning to create another one for the Iowa sojourn. The recipe came from my one of my favorite cookbooks, "Farm Recipes & Food Secrets from the Norske Nook," by Helen Myhre and Mona Vold. Every cook should have this cookbook in their kitchen-but you might need to drive to northwestern Wisconsin to find a copy at one of the Norske Nook restaurants in that area.