Pumpkin Pleasures

Just over a week ago, I walked to work and smelt wet leaves for the first time; along with cinnamon and cedar, that is the real scent of autumn for me.

The leaves seem to have fallen from the trees almost overnight, and there were at first lofty piles of them which would get caught in the breeze and scatter about, but now are damp and stuck flat to the pavement.

The days seem to be passing so quickly, that we seem to have moved from the first stirrings of autumn to the sudden crisp cool days of deep autumn almost overnight. We went to see the new Bond film on Friday night, and when we came out of the cinema it was late, and cold, and the moon was dazzlingly beautiful and bright. It had seemed to burn a hole in the clouds almost, and lit our way home.

As we walked home, with the wind nipping my nose, I was thinking of pumpkins, because we had two days of entertaining this weekend, and pumpkins were the order of the day. Yesterday we had Carl’s sisters and their partners to visit, and today was our annual Pumpkin Carving Brunch Club.

One of Carl’s sisters lives in London and eats in a lot of lovely restaurants, so I wanted to make things extra special. I thought about things and decided to go for several courses of tiny portions rather than my usual serve-yourself-buffet-style cooking. I made my signature hot mulled apple punch which I keep warm in the slow cooker, and serve in teacups with a jug of rum or brandy so people can spike their own drinks to their own taste. I like that it is communal and the drinkers and non-drinkers can share the same drink.

I made a pumpkin dip (roasted pumpkin blended with cream cheese and a pinch of dried chillies) with celery, carrots and seeded crackers to scoop it up with, and then roasted a camembert to go alongside. When people had settled, had a drink and a little graze on the nibbles, I served the first course, which was pumpkin soup served in teacups with a little swirl of cream in the top. Next followed rolling pin ravioli (so called because you don’t use a pasta maker) stuffed with roast pumpkin. I served 3 little cushions of ravioli tossed in a little butter, pine nuts, crispy bacon, sage, spinach and sprinkled with a little cheese. Next came overnight slow-cooked lamb stew with dumplings. I found tiny casserole dishes, slightly bigger than a ramekin, to serve it in. I nestled a single dumpling atop the stew with baby chantenay carrots on the side. After that came Nigella’s hazelnut and chocolate cheesecake, but rather than making a large one and serving it in slices, I made them in little glass ramekins. They are beautiful, but very, very rich. Definitely one to serve with a cup of tea on the side! I had planned to make marzipan acorns to serve with coffee at the end, but I realised too late I did not have any green food colouring. Instead, I served mini doughnuts! I had seen in the Lakeland catalogue that they had a little silicone tray to make them in, and that you could bake them in the oven, so I decided that they would be the perfect thing to try making.

I am pleased to report that they were a total success! Although the recipe on the Lakeland website said that the mixture would make 8, it made 16! I tossed half in caster sugar and the other half in cinnamon sugar, and they all got eaten within minutes! They were very quick and easy to make and I can’t recommend the tray enough!

It was really good to catch up with the family again and we spent a happy day talking, although there was a lot of washing up to do afterwards! Today has been pumpkin carving brunch club, and I got a head start on the catering by making twice as much pumpkin soup as I needed yesterday, so served that as a first course again today. I made pumpkin macaroni cheese for the main course, and blended ciabatta, dried sage, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds and cheese to sprinkle over the top before it was baked. I served a big dish of sausages alongside, and another dish of bitter green leaf salad, with my favourite beetroot and balsamic vinegar dressing on the side. I was really pleased with the macaroni cheese, as I concocted the recipe myself. My dessert was an ‘impossible vegan pumpkin pie’ which turned out much better than I hoped.

My guests today are some of my favourite people in the world, and it was a pleasure to have them with me for the afternoon. One brought delicious pumpkin and chocolate brownies, and the lovely Annastasia came bearing the most amazing mini cupcakes which looked like they would bite back! Each cupcake had a strawberry jam mouth and macademia nut teeth, and looked scary but tasted delicious.

Inspired by apple day at the farm a few weekends ago, we had our first apple peeling competition – Annastasia is the reigning Miss Apple Peel 2012, but I shall be practising ready for next year! I used a lino cutting tool to carve my pumpkin this year – while it is really effective I think I need more practise to perfect controlling it.

And so we come to Sunday evening. What a difference a week makes…I remember last Sunday I did not feel so happy at all. But this morning, I needed to pick up a few last minute ingredients, and strode out into the cold, the leaves scuttling about my feet, the air cool in my lungs, and just felt happy. It is a good feeling, and I hope that it lasts for me and that all of you feel happy yourselves.

The extra hour in bed last night was much appreciated, but it means I am feeling very sleepy now, but want to finish off catching up with Strictly Come Dancing on the iplayer before bedtime. I wonder if I will have time to knit up a tiny pumpkin before Halloween on Wednesday?

I think that tonight will be a hot-water-bottle kind of night, and tomorrow will be a scarf and gloves kind of morning. Wherever you are, I hope you are wrapped up warm and had a lovely weekend,
Love Mimi xxx

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