I love autumn. I love the changing leaves, my legs look markedly better when wrestled into submission by 80 denier full support black tights and the excuse to eat rich ‘warming’ foods. I decided to celebrate this entry into autumn by treating myself to a new fluffy blanket for binge-watching my favourite TV programmes in, which of course, have all started again.
I have been watching Grey’s Anatomy, Supernatural and Law & Order S.V.U. for so long that it feels like catching up with friends on the first day back at school. What has everyone been up to over the summer? Happily, with my crew, it always seems to be the same things. In fact, it’s mostly slaying demons, solving crimes and rocking a full face of makeup whilst performing groundbreaking surgery. All of which is absolutely fine because the familiarity is comforting.
In Bahrain and Mexico autumn was marked by the temperature falling from above 40 C to a decidedly balmy 25C. This negated any excitement that heralded a clearcut change in season. In fact, it simply meant that white t-shirts could potentially be worn again as underarm onion rings were less likely. In Istanbul, a very hot and sweaty summer has been followed by a chilly, grey 11C. Jumpers have been pulled out of hibernation and finally I can wear boots again. No need to shave legs or get a pedicure until April now! Hurrah for seasons! All four of them! Those primary school charts finally make sense!
The end of October also heralds the beginning of holiday season. Even more celebration for my sentimental self! More excuses to eat delicious food, wear glittering eyeshadow and vampy lipstick everyday and drink my bodyweight in hot chocolate. First holiday on the list is a classic. Halloween. I first remember getting dressed up for Halloween when I was still in primary school. At that time, the local football club used to run a Halloween evening for youngsters full of wholesome activities like apple bobbing and lobbing bean bags at coconuts. Of course, fancy dress was mandatory. Our very first Halloween was a bigger deal for my mum and dad than for myself and my brother. To be honest, we were too young to appreciate what was going on. My folks however, went all out. There was no way their kids would pale into insignificance at their first Halloween party!
Remember, this is Bahrain in the late 1980s. It was still a small, laid back and sleepy little island. Definitely not the consumerist behemoth it has evolved into today. Somehow, I’m not sure how, my parents managed to find a shop that sold face paints. Proper, theatre grease paint. My maw actually sewed two black cloaks for us and my dad managed to track down vampire fangs for my brother and a witch’s hat for me. We were dutifully stuffed into black welly boots, black trousers and black t-shirts.
My brother managed to get away with some red blood drawn on his face and dripping onto his neck. I, on the other hand, got the full brunt of my dad’s excitement in owning bright green grease paint. Any visible flesh on my body was duly anointed. Face, neck, hands, everything was painted bright green. Dad then realised that by painting me completely green all my features had disappeared. No matter. Black greasepaint was used to highlight my nose, eyebrows and outline my worried eyes. My lips were painted bright red, exaggerated to mimc the mouth of a clown. To top off the whole ensemble, fake fingernails were slipped on. Yes, I was truly scary. In fact, the whole effect was horrifying.
We arrived at the football club to find the small clubhouse and even smaller patio overrun with our school friends shrieking at the cold water in the apple bobbing tubs, exclaiming at each others costumes and dangling upside down from the monkey bars. Fed up parents were knocking back beers whilst surreptitiously comparing their kids’ costumes. It was overwhelmingly chaotic. Holding my mum’s hand I remember looking around and feeling excited to be part of the sensory overload. Then, as my brain gradually started to make sense of what my eyes were taking in, my heart began to sink.
All the girls from school were dressed up in a style identical to each other but very different to my own. Let’s just say, it was cute, girly and pink glitter abounded. A particularly vile girl (okay – my nemesis) bounded up to me, gave me the mean girl once-over (you all know what that is) and then started laughing. She then realised that my humiliation wouldn’t be complete without an audience and summoned over her pack of cronies. My mum at this point had drifted off to compare notes (compare costume efforts) with the other mums. I was left vulnerable and open to attack.
“Where’s your costume?”
“Did you forget to dress up?”
“Did you look in the mirror and realise you didn’t need a costume?”
The comments flew thick and fast. Their spiteful jeering faces blurred in front of me. It was so unfair. I didn’t realise Halloween was a beauty contest. I genuinely thought you had to look scary and obviously my folks did too. I didn’t realise that even at the tender age of 8, Halloween was an excuse to parade your assets if you were female. Woe betide anyone that didn’t. Suddenly my hurt coalesced into rage. My mum had worked so hard to sew our costumes. My dad looked so proud when he turned me bright green. How dare this coterie of skinny, blonde, glittery pink witches belittle the work they had done. Without thinking, I opened my mouth,
“Why don’t you look scary? Do you not understand Halloween? We all know you can’t spell it..”
Now, the queen witch was blessed with long blond hair, a dazzling athletic ability and unfortunately, not much else. She was just clever enough to realise how genuinely stupid she was. I guess everyone has their weak point no matter how long or shiny your hair is. However, the backlash of screeching and crying was worth it. Especially when she ran off to get her mum who then approached my mum. When pushed to recount the conversation word for word it was clear that the best thing to do was for myself and the coven to go our separate ways. Moral of the story. Intelligence beats pink glitter wings. Every time.
From that moment onwards, I made an oath to myself that Halloween was going to an opportunity to exercise my creativity and nothing more. My costumes up until now have been (what I’d like to think!) vaguely original, completely tongue-in-cheek and invariably unflattering. Ranging from Dr Robotnik (remember the baddie from Sonic the Hedgehog?) to a cheese grater (complete with colander helmet), jellyfish (helloooo bubble wrap) to one of the 118 runners (fully moustached of course). I’ve held haunted house parties in which everyone had to dress as a song title with silly games set up in every room to carving a pumpkin with YM every year. I love Halloween because I’ve made it my own – and I urge you all to do the same!
So, in the spirit of Halloween I’ve come up with a wee recipe that helps you celebrate autumn, the start of the holidays, and of course, uses up that extra pumpkin left over from your carving frenzy.
Spiced pumpkin muffins – makes 10
You will need:
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (full fat all the way!)
- 1 and a 1/2 cups pumpkin purée
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar (there is no light or dark in Istanbul – only brown)
- 1/4 cup white sugar (if you prefer a sweeter muffin – add half a cup. Or you could add 1/4 cup of maple syrup as well as the sugar for the ultimate autumn taste sensation)
- 115g butter, melted
- 2 and a 1/4 cups wholemeal flour (you can use plain flour too)
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 3 tsp. ground ginger
- Pinch of ground cloves (I forgot to add these)
- Pinch of white pepper
- 3/4 cup dried cranberries (I had this brainwave as I was pulling them out of the oven)
To make pumpkin puree simply pop all your pumpkin flesh into a pan and add 1/4 cup of water. Pop a lid on and boil until it’s soft. Then blend. Done.
Start off by setting your oven to 190C and getting your muffin tray ready. I have some snazzy silicone muffin cups which are ace but unfortunately I only have 8. So I have a mix of muffins and little cupcakes to get all my batter used up!
In a mixing bowl add the eggs, yogurt, pumpkin purée, brown sugar, and white sugar.
Then realise you forgot to melt and cool your butter so quickly do that. I don’t have a microwave any more (and strangely – don’t really miss it. So I melt my butter in the old-fashioned way. In a frying pan.
When your butter is cooled (i.e. if you can stick a finger in it and it feels pleasant), pour it into the mixing bowl with everything else and give it a good stir.
In a separate bowl,sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and pepper (check out Grey’s in the background – not sure my work computer should be doubling up as kitchen TV).
Now – this truly is the secret to moist, delicious muffins. Pay attention…
Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
And very slowly and gently, fold the mixture a few times. If you want to add cranberries – this is when to thrown them in.
Really, it should only be a maximum of 8 times. There should still be lumps. Look at my batter, there’s still lumps and bits of unmixed flour. Trust me – that’s a good thing!
Now spoon into your waiting cases and pop into the oven. These take about 15-20 min depending on how good your oven is. They’re ready when a toothpick is inserted and then comes out clean. They should also be springy to touch.
So there you have it. My spiced pumpkin muffins. Now grab your fluffy blanket, a warm muffin, some good hot chocolate and settle down for an evening with Dr Grey and the gang. Best feeling ever!