Last weekend I stared death in the face as I squared up to one of my greatest fears. Well, to be more accurate, I stared snails in the face because I gardened and I am terrified of creepy crawlies. Basically, I don’t like anything that isn’t cute and furry, or brightly coloured.
I may have squealed rather a lot when a snail reared its tiny head at me, presumably gnashing its teeth in an attempt to intimidate me, but then it started moving very slowly in the opposite direction, so it was fine. I’m not sure when I developed my horror of minibeasts, though I do remember being repulsed when, at the age of about seven, I jumped off a swing and crushed a snail with my knee. It was nasty.
Anyway, one of the benefits of my recent move has been gaining a garden. It’s a typical London garden, i.e. tiny, neglected and mostly concrete, but a garden it remains. For the past few years I’ve had vague fantasies of living like The Good Life, as a self-sufficient woman rearing shit and growing other shit. Well, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and mine was the impulse purchase of a child’s pumpkin growing kit in Morrisons.
The first step was easy. I planted the pumpkin seeds in the tiny pot provided and left it to sweat. I was really pleased that some shoots came up, as I have a history of planticide.
Soon, my seedlings were too big for the confines of the tub, so I got some compost and managed to repot them without casualty.
I started getting them used to being outside. I begn buying and borrowing gardening equipment. All the while, avoiding what was to come.
Spoiler: It was mostly woodlice.
I yanked at stuff , snapped twigs and raked at the earth with a tool borrowed from my mother, and an hour or so later, I had achieved this.
I’m pretty sure that at least one plant is already dead, but I planted it anyway in case it’s a Jesus pumpkin plant.
The wild plants in the rest of the bed are covered in aphids, so my next task is to make some spray to get rid of them. But I have a pumpkin patch of my very own!
These pumpkin cupcakes turned out to be a great way to use up the pumpkin I had left over from my previous Halloween baking exploits. The pumpkin makes the cupcakes nice and moist with a hint of spice, and the cream cheese frosting adds a great tang (as well as a second hit of sugar). Again, I think they would be much improved by a few nuts.
I don’t have any great pictures of these. Because the frosting was a bit loose, I decorated them at work, where there is no natural light.
Makes 12 cupcakes
- 1 1/2 cups plain flour
- 1tsp baking powder
- 1/4tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4tsp ground ginger
- 2/3cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup light olive oil or butter
- 2 large egs
- 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
- 1tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts such as pecans (optional)
For the frosting
- 8oz cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
- 2 3/4 cups icing sugar (I used muscavado icing sugar)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
This will leave you with some leftover frosting. I made my frosting with about 3/4 of the ingredients stated but it came out a bit loose and I’m not sure why.
1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F
2. In a large bowl, cream both types of sugar and your butter or oil, until well combined.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in between
4. Add pumpkin and vanilla
5. Slowly sift in the dry ingredients (including spices), continuing to mix between additions.
9. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Meanwhile, make your frosting. Cream together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. I used an electric hand mixer.
10. Mix in the vanilla and then the icing sugar until thick and smooth. If the frosting is a bit slack, chill in the fridge while your cupcakes cool.
11. Once the cupcakes are cool, pipe or spoon on your frosting. Combine them any way you like, I don’t judge.
I’m getting quite into my autumnal baking, so I decided to try this bread flavoured with the increasingly popular spiced pumpkin. As I learnt, plain pumpkin doesn’t have much of a flavour but it does give this bread a lovely colour, and add moisture. As it’s an American recipe (upcoming stereotype warning), it’s incredibly sweet. I’ve dialled down the sweetness in the recipe below, but you can find the original here. The result is very similar to a cinnamon roll, with an added kick from the glaze if you use it. If I make this again, and I definitely will if I see pumpkin on sale, I would add some pecans because nuts make everything better. Everything.
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2tsp (1 sachet) instant yeast
- 3/4 cup (half a tin) pumpkin puree*
- 1/4 cup sugar (granulated is fine)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 1/2 cups strong white flour
For the spiced sugar
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 tbsp butter
For the glaze
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/8 cup brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp milk
- 3/4 cup icing sugar
- 1 tbsp rum (replace with more milk if you want to make this non-alcoholic)
*Yes, I used tinned pumpkin. There was no way I was going to mess around with a pumpkin myself, and I had some left over to make another autumnal recipe. It does look funny, though.
1. Brown 2tbsp butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Browned butter seems to be very fashionable in America at the moment. You allow the butter to melt and turn frothy…
2. Remove pan from heat and gently add milk. Return to the hob and heat through.
3. Allow to cool until just warm. Add the yeast and 1/4 cup of sugar, and leave to stand for 5 minutes.
4. Add the pumpkin, salt and 1 cup flour. Stir until combined.
5. Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until you have a slightly sticky dough.
6. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 6 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. It will still be a little sticky, try not to add too much flour.
7. Transfer the ball of dough to a lightly oiled bowl. I put mine back in the saucepan to save on washing up.
9. While the dough is rising, make the cinnamon sugar that will flavour the bread and create the tearability of the loaf.
Brown another 2tbsp butter. Add the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and mix well, making sure the sugar absorbs the butter evenly.
16. Cover and leave to rest for 30-45mins.
17. Preheat your oven to 180C/350F.
18. Bake your risen loaf for 30-40mins. The top will be a deep golden brown. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, before removing to a wire rack.
19. Prepare the glaze. Heat the butter, milk and brown sugar in a small saucepan. As soon as it comes to the boil, remove from the hob and stir in the rum and icing sugar. Pour over the loaf while it’s still warm.
Another of my Knitting and Stitching Show purchases was a kit to make a pair of pumpkin earrings for Halloween. I decided to dig out my old jewellery making stuff and turn them into jack-o-lantern earrings.
You will also need small jewellery pliers
This is a really cheap project. I bought my kit for £1 and you should be able to pick up the materials for this amount or less.
‘Carve’ your pumpkins
You can simply draw faces on with black marker or nail varnish and a tiny brush.
If you fancy more of a challenge, use yellow and orange varnish to give the design a shining light effect. Starting with the yellow, roughly fill in the areas you want to look cut out.
If you have orange too, blend it in with the yellow. I used a crisp packet as a palette to help me. I also looked at reference images on Google to help me get an idea of how the light shines through pumpkin carvings.
Next, outline with black to neaten the design. I used a striping brush, which was extremely fiddly. A marker would be much easier I think.
Thread a seed bead, and then the pumpkin bead onto the headpin. Thread on two more seed beads, then make a loop above them.
Put your pumpkins together
Attach the complete pumpkin to the end of one length of chain.
Put each leaf bead onto a jump ring. I actually made my jump rings from cut-off lengths of the headpin as I couldn’t find any.
My natural cynicism makes me unreasonably grumpy about most holidays, but I do quite like Halloween. In particular, I like to dress up and have a reason to eat and drink to excess.
I also relish any excuse to try out a new craft, so I was very excited to try out a friend’s rather snazzy pumpkin carving tools. I started out by looking for inspiration on Google images and settled on Boo from Mario as my design. I started out by sketching it onto the pumpkin using dry wipe marker.
This gave me an outline to trace using a Stanley knife. Next was the fun part, using a tool I called ‘the gouger’ to dig out the sections where I wanted light to come through. You have to be careful if you have a complex design because it’s very easy to accidentally remove bits you’re not intending. Technical language: you have to be aware of the positive and negative space (this is also important in papercraft).