We realize that the profusion of pumpkin products isn't everyone's cup of squash. So we feel a little sheepish admitting that we're suckers for some of this pumpkin stuff (which reminds us, we need to get to See's Candy for a box of their pumpkin spice lollipops).
With that in mind, we put together a list of our favorite seasonal pumpkin picks. Our criteria were pretty simple. Because most people bust their budgets during the holidays, everything we chose sells for around $5 or less. Also, we ignored calorie counts and nutritional value -- let's face it, even though pumpkins are a vitamin-rich vegetable/fruit, most of the treats made in their name aren't what you'd call healthy. Our rationale for neglecting our usual dietary concerns is simple: 'Tis the season to eat whatever the hell you want. The upside of this over-indulgence is that we won't have any problem figuring out our top New Year's resolution. These items are available through December, unless otherwise indicated. Turn the page.
6. Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte
Cost: $3.75 - $4.75, depending on size
This classic Starbucks hot beverage (think espresso meets pumpkin pie) is now in its ninth year and is more popular than ever. There was a caffeine crisis earlier this fall, when rumors spread that stores were running out of the holiday drink. As the Wall Street Journal reported, customers panicked when they thought they were facing loss of lattes. A Starbucks spokesperson told us in an email: "Pumpkin Spice Latte is exceeding our expectations and is one of our most successful limited-time offerings of all time. It is selling faster in certain stores and we are quickly replenishing inventory but there are no beverage outages."
5. Philadelphia Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese
Cost: around $2.50 - $3, depending on where you buy it.
Pay no attention to the long list of ingredients on the tub. Just give in to the nice pumpkin-y/cinnamon-y schmear, which Kraft brings out as a "limited edition" holiday item. We enjoyed it spread lightly on zucchini bread, waffles, and graham crackers, with the operative word being "lightly," given how sweet this is. Try mixing a dollop with plain Greek yogurt, to make a party dip for cut-up fruit. And, of course, this cream cheese would be perfectly at home on our next pick.
4. Western Bagel's Pumpkin Bagel
Cost: 99 cents for one (a baker's dozen is $8.75)
Western Bagel tells us they've been baking pumpkin bagels for 20 years. They recently revised the recipe, and the result is a pleasant and mild pumpkin flavor, which works surprisingly well in bagel form. We liked it best toasted with butter; it's also great with plain cream cheese. (But we'd recommend skipping the lox and onions.)
3. Le Pain Quotidien Pumpkin Muffin
Made with fresh pumpkin and topped with organic pumpkin seeds, Le Pain Quotidien's popular muffin is thick and moist, with just the right amount of sweetness (from agave.) It's especially nice heated up a bit. And a little butter and jam never hurt. If you want to try one, go in the morning, because by afternoon the muffins are usually long gone.
2. Trader Joe's Pumpkin Butter
In addition to liking the taste, we also appreciate that we can pronounce all the ingredients of this non-dairy spread (pumpkin, sugar, honey, lemon juice and spices.) This is one of Trader Joe's most popular seasonal items, often selling out, because certain customers resort to hoarding. (Define hoarding. We think buying six jars at once is perfectly normal.) We use it to bake pies, muffins, breads and scones. (If you bake with it, you'll want to reduce the sugar in recipes.) The pumpkin butter comes in a glass jar, a plus if you're avoiding canned foods in order to consume less BPA.
1. SusieCakes Pumpkin Cupcakes
We've never met a cupcake we didn't like at SusieCakes, and that's certainly true with their monthly holiday specials. We approve of how every cupcake has a sinkhole of frosting right down the center. If you hurry, you still have a couple of days to try October's pumpkin spice cupcake with maple butter cream frosting. But don't despair if you can't get there in time; for November they're offering an equally delicious pumpkin spice cupcake with cream cheese frosting. SusieCakes also has other seasonal sweets for under $5, such as an individual-sized pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin-motif cookies.
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