How I Met My Dinner: October Means Pumpkins!

Oct 12, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Alicia Lieu, How I Met My Dinner

by Alicia Lieu

Be sure to check out the recipes at the end of this post and check back every month as Alicia shares her adventures of How I Met My Dinner!

Pumpkin has become synonymous with October. Besides being a term of endearment, pumpkin can morph into a pastry or a pie, sweet or savory entrees, a drink or a dessert. It seems like any eating establishment that wants to stay up to date is offering a pumpkin treat of some sort. Even my local Vietnamese sandwich shop is offering a seasonal Pumpkin Spice café au lait!

Native to North America, pumpkins have carved out a special place in my heart. My fondest pumpkin memories growing up include picking out a pumpkin from the local pumpkin patch and carving a jack-o-lantern for every Halloween. The classic show, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! would have me rooting for Linus’ hope of seeing The Great Pumpkin, and hoping that I never get a rock while trick-or-treating like poor Charlie Brown. Wikipedia reports that after the program aired on television, boxes of candy poured in from around the world for Charlie Brown. My grown-up pumpkin wish is to attend the annual Great Glass Pumpkin Patch sale in Palo Alto, California. These hand blown glass creations make Cinderella’s carriage look economy class.

Starbuck’s Pumpkin Latte started the whole trend, in my mind, with plenty of companies cooking up products that “taste like Fall,” including Dunkin’ Donuts pastries and coffees, Mars’ Pumpkin Spice M&M’s and even Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Dog Treats. Pumpkin has gained so much visibility over the past couple of years that I wouldn’t be surprised if it ran for office next term! The pumpkin trend can cause a bit of confusion, as some of the concoctions are labeled pumpkin when there isn’t an ounce of the orange squash in the recipe. Pumpkin Spice would be the correct label for those, and to add to the potential mix up, there are also pumpkin pie based flavors and desserts. So with all the combinations and permutations, we end up with Pumpkin, Pumpkin Spice, Pumpkin Pie and Pumpkin Pie Spice creations.

Although my brain may have trouble keeping up with all these new foods, my taste buds certainly don’t. I will share my recipe for Pumpkin Lattes at the end of this article. It is inspired by Starbucks, which also used to serve Pumpkin Scones. I did see a desperate Facebook post of a friend who had to visit several Starbucks locations before getting her hands on one of these, but persistence usually pays off.

There are some places that keep their pumpkin offerings all year round. Sarabeth’s has a pumpkin muffin that existed even before I remember Starbucks making pumpkin famous, because Sarabeth was famous for her spreadable fruit first. There is a bakery in Manhattan’s Chinatown called Golden Steamer that serves up steamed buns with pumpkin puree in the middle, albeit not spiced like pumpkin pie, and is an unbeatable value at 80 cents per piece. The flavor reminds me a bit of these fried pumpkin cakes I experienced at a “hot pot” restaurant in Shanghai. They were a glutinous pumpkin filling coated in bread crumbs and deep fried, served with condensed milk for dipping–absolutely heavenly! I have not found them here in New York yet, but I will keep looking.

Last, but not least, I have discovered these seasonal disks of sunshine at the grocery store. Little Debbie bakes these Pumpkin Delights that are soft-filled cookies. These individually wrapped pumpkin filled delights kept me and my cohort of talented conductors energized and ready to learn this past week. Having a distinguished and dynamic instructor was at the root of all our learning, but the sugar boosts were a great afternoon pick-me-up, along with the quest to find the best coffee in Midtown Manhattan.

At the end of the week I did find incredibly complex and bewitching pumpkin ale: Southern Tier Pumking. If you can find it, drink it. The quest for edible Fall continues as I plan a trip out to Trader Joe’s, after a San Diego food blogger mentioned seeing 23 different pumpkin flavored items. I am going to bring home some of their Pumpkin Biscotti and Pumpkin Macarons the next time I brave the line there. Perhaps even the Pumpkin Butter will jump into my basket as well!


I really love the Pumpkin Lattes at Starbucks, but they can really add up and bust my budget! I enjoy making them at home, but I will still order them occasionally when I’m out. I gave up my espresso machine with a milk frother when I moved to New York, so I have recipes with low tech and medium tech requirements to make them.

Pumpkin Latte (low tech)
1 packet Starbucks via Pumpkin Spice
2 ounces hot water
8 ounces milk
Whipped Cream (optional)

Empty packet of StarbucksVia in a tall mug. Add 2 ounces of hot water and stir to dissolve. Place the 8 ounces of milk in a spill proof and microwave safe container. Shake the milk until frothy. Remove the lid and heat the milk in the microwave for two minutes or in a pan on a stovetop until heated through. Pour the milk into the mug with the Via. Garnish with whipped cream.

Pumpkin Spice Syrup

3/4 cup sugar (any variety)
3/4 cup filtered water
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

In a saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves. Let boil for 3 more minutes then remove from heat. Place pumpkin pie spice in a loose leaf tea bag and let steep for 5-10 minutes. Remove the bag of spice. Let the syrup cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Pumpkin Latte (med tech)
3 tablespoons Pumpkin Spice Syrup (or to taste)
2 ounce shot of espresso or double strong brewed coffee
8 ounces milk
Whipped Cream (optional)

Combine the syrup and espresso in a tall mug and stir. Heat milk and pour into the syrup and espresso mixture. Froth using a hand held frother (or alternatively, place the milk in a blender to froth before pouring). Garnish with whipped cream.

Check back every month for Alicia’s next food column & check out past columns in our Food section. You can follow Alicia on Twitter @AliciaJLieu.

Alicia Lieu grew up in Cupertino, California. She has Master’s Degree in Music Composition from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Bachelor of Art from UC Santa Barbara. A New Yorker with the heart of a Californian, she currently resides in Queens, NY and blogs about food in Jackson Heights.


  1. Great latte recipes. But really, do you think that whipped cream is optional?? If it calls for whipped cream there must be a reason!!

  2. I suppose whipped cream shouldn’t be optional! It isn’t for me! Thanks for reading, Margaret!

  3. Those pumpkin steamed buns sound amazing! Speaking of pumpkin flavored, Trader Joe’s has a tea, with no sugar, that is pumpkin pie flavored. It’s very yummy and has no calories so I do not feel guilty about drinking the 1000 calories in the Starbucks Latte.

  4. Thanks for the tip, Emma! I’m definitely picking up some tea at Trader Joe’s. No calories is even better than a skinny latte!


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