A Few Favourites: October

The clocks have turned back and we’ve shared our sweets with the trick or treaters. I have actually really enjoyed October this time round. Usually autumnal celebrations are reserved for Bonfire Night so Halloween passes me by, as do the beautiful autumnal colours as I spend my days wrapped up in city life.

But this time I have made a real effort to enjoy the changing season and celebrate Halloween. And I’m so glad I did, it’s been a great month. We started in Amsterdam for Tiarnan’s marathon, exploring the canals and the cafes, I’ve made the flat a cosy haven for the ever darkening evenings and we celebrated Halloween by picking pumpkins and baking sugary, spooky treats.

But before we welcome November and the skies fill with fireworks, here are some of the things I have been loving this month.

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*Pluk, Amsterdam: I have written an entire post on Pluk so I promise not to bore you, but spending the weekend in Amsterdam was a real treat this month. It’s a place that I’ve had half-heartedly on my ‘to visit’ list for far too long, but the lure of other European cities has always been stronger. After a quick Google search I stumbled across Pluk and set my heart on visiting, so it was the first thing we did on Saturday morning. It’s unlike anywhere else I have ever found – a gorgeous café attached to an interiors, gifts and stationary shop. If only they were here in London…

*Orange Grove candle, by The White Company: It has started to get so dark so early in the evenings now the clocks have gone back. Hugely depressing – but I’m trying to look past the darkness and instead use it as an excuse to enjoy cosy evenings at home. Home cooked dinners, good TV and plenty of candles has been the way of October and that’s set to continue for the foreseeable. I’ve bought more candles than I’d care to admit this month, but my favourite has to be Orange Grove by The White Company. I love the look of their pillar candles and even though I love all citrus scents, this one just feels so autumnal.

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*A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman: October has been a bit of a poor month on the reading front. Everything has just been distinctly average. Fortunately there was one exception though – A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman was brilliant. I picked this up when I had half an hour to kill and ended up in Waterstones. It is about a grumpy old man called Ove, as he struggles through daily life suffering ridiculous situations and idiotic people. It is funny and moving in equal measure and after I turned the final page my commute felt a little bleaker without Ove for company.

*Halloween: This is the first year that I have taken Halloween even slightly seriously and it has absolutely exploded over here in the UK. I went to my first ever fright night, which was hugely fun if slightly terrifying. And while I used to do pick your own strawberries when I was little, I had never even seen a pumpkin field before this month. But we got went down to one on the back of a tractor and returned with a pumpkin harvest fit for homemade soup. It’s been a great month, but now it’s time for fireworks, early Christmas preparations and much shorter days…

Halloween Chocolate Bark

If pumpkin picking is one way to do Halloween without the scares, then getting creative in the kitchen is the other. And baking is always more fun when you have a theme to follow.

This Halloween chocolate bark is unbelievably simple. It requires absolutely minimal skill, effort, ingredients, equipment and time. I really mean it. You could make this bark now and it will be ready for tonight’s scary movie session.

You just need a lot of chocolate and as many toppings as you wish. I went a bit crazy in the Halloween aisle of Waitrose and ended up with skeleton faces, tiny bats, chocolate stars (big and small), mini ghouls, crunchy bronze glitter and fudge chunks amongst other things. But the choices are endless, and you don’t need as many decorations as I have. I also used milk, dark and white chocolate (because why not?) but again, do whatever you prefer. I would recommend at least two chocolates though, as the bark will look prettier and the combinations taste great.

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Simply melt the chocolate in separate bowls. Line a baking tray with parchment and pour your base chocolate onto it. Spread out using a spoon into a neat rectangle. If you are using a second chocolate, drizzle over the top. Don’t spread the second layer as the chocolates will mix together into one big mess.

Then decorate! Go crazy and put as much as you want on top, the spookier the  better. You can also drizzle leftover melted chocolate on top, which is what I did with one of my slabs.

Then put in the fridge/freezer (depending on how imminent the scary movie session is) until the slabs have completely hardened. Remove and break into shards.

And that’s it! I’ll be spending tonight watching The Nightmare Before Christmas (for the first time!) with plenty of chocolate bark while listening out for the trick or treaters… Happy Halloween everyone!

Pick Your Own Pumpkins

Halloween has never been my thing. I don’t like things jumping out at me. I don’t like creepy clowns, lunatics escaped from the asylum, vampires in their coffins or skeletons fresh from the grave. Cats are the tamest (literally) part of the whole thing and I don’t like them either (I’m very allergic).

But I love anything festive, all year round. Waiting for midnight on New Years Eve, hunting out chocolate eggs at Easter, watching fireworks fill the sky on Bonfire Night and the complete delight that is Christmas, I love them all. So I can’t skip Halloween, but it needs to be adapted. Which brings me to this Sunday’s blog post – pumpkin picking. Entirely Halloween and not remotely scary.

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Every Halloween, Secretts throw open their farm gates for Pumpkin Week. The Pick Your Own farm becomes dedicated to pumpkins and for just £1 you can jump on a tractor down to the pumpkin fields. You ramble around the field for as long as you wish, selecting the biggest, smallest, prettiest or most misshapen pumpkin you can find, before seeing which hole it fits through (each hole is a price), paying what you owe and then hopping back in the tractor to the farm.

In the run up to Halloween weekend I did my fair share of research into pick your own pumpkins, and the distinction between pumpkin field and pumpkin patch is not one to be overlooked. At pumpkin patches the pumpkins have already been picked, and are then displayed so you can pick the prettiest to take home. Pumpkin fields are the real deal, leaving you to roam around in the mud carrying as many pumpkins as you can manage. There aren’t many farms that let you lose in their pumpkins fields, but Secretts is one of them and it is definitely the only way to do it.

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Back at base, Secretts have all kinds of pumpkin treats to greet you (think tiny gourds with warm pumpkin soup inside). Or you can venture into the farm shop where they have an enormous selection of home grown fruit and veg, freshly baked breads and cakes, preserves and sauces, chocolate and confectionary, a delicatessen stocked by the in house butcher and a cheese counter with an impressive listing of over 300 cheeses. If you couldn’t find what you were after in the pick your own fields, you’ll definitely find it in the farm shop and you can rest assured that it’ll be just as fresh.

There are also cafes onsite for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. Having worked up an appetite in the pumpkin fields, we opted for Eliza’s Teashop and warmed up over baked potatoes and homemade quiche. The perfect setting for the post-picking discussion of what exactly to do with the pumpkins (pie, soup or lantern?)

We took our pumpkins home and Tiarnan’s mum kindly whipped up a pumpkin soup, which we will be lunching on all week. Who says that Halloween needs to be scary to be fun? Certainly not me.

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How to Spend… October

Is it just me, or does everyone seem obsessed by autumn? My social media feeds have been playing fancy dress in anything red, orange or yellow and I’ve seen more pumpkin pictures than I could have ever fathomed, accompanied by an endless stream of excitement for the change in season.

Now, I am not autumn’s answer to Scrooge. I bought a teeny, tiny pumpkin entirely for decorative purposes this weekend (yes, I know it was a completely bonkers purchase and no, I do not care). But all that excitement in September felt like the world was furiously over-egging the pudding. It was definitely still summer in September. My legs were without tights and my face was with sunglasses. We hit over 30C. Records were broken.

But now it’s October (and I appreciate that I am no authority on this), autumn is actually here. I’ve bought a coat. I can see my breath in the mornings. I’ve remembered why I love jumpers, and my electric blanket, and chai lattes. So from kicking your way through piles of leaves to scaring yourself silly on the 31st to starting the silent panic of how on earth you are going to fund Christmas… Happy October everyone!

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*Invest in an enormous scarf: October is a really awkward time of year. First thing in the morning you are a frostbitten, sorry soul. By lunchtime you are a hot, flustered mess furiously ditching the layers. The solution is a blanket scarf – possibly the world’s greatest invention. You look cool and you are essentially wearing a blanket. So you can plod along to the station all swaddled up like a baby in the morning and, when the sun puts in an appearance, you can hide it away in your bag. And it will cooperate with this in a way that no coat ever will. Zara do the best, biggest, softest scarfs, but the H&M ones are also amazing and not quite such a hit to the bank balance.

*Stay in and cook: It’s getting cold outside and we have to be sensible and start thinking about the monstrosity that is Christmas spending. I gave up cooking for a year (it became a “boy job”) but I am back on that bandwagon and really loving it. In the summer it is far too hot to be slaving away over the oven. But now it’s getting cold, that’s the only place I want to be (as it’s not acceptable to spend all evening, every evening, in bed). Find some fun new recipes and spend your time cooking rather than your money eating. Then eat in front of the TV. Bliss.

*Make your home a cosy, autumnal den: Other than new recipes, the thing I am obsessing over is interiors. In summer, who wants to be surrounded by blankets and candles and fairy lights? But now it’s autumn, who doesn’t?! We’ve just moved into a new place and the bare whiteness of it was depressing me. So, seeing as I can’t nail anything into the walls, move anything around or spend much money, I’ve been finding other ways to make it cosy and homely. The aforementioned tiny pumpkin is one of my exciting autumnal touches. And  I’ve bought a crazy number of candles (you can never have too many), fairy lights and new bedding – which was from ASDA and it is so soft and was so cheap! I’ve also got some fake plants because I cannot be trusted to look after anything living. The ones from Oliver Bonas are cheap, realistic and (being fake) don’t require any maternal attention.

*Go pumpkin picking: Pumpkin picking seems to have suddenly become a thing here in the UK. And it makes sense. We harp on about picking strawberries in the summer, so why not pumpkins in autumn? Lots of the Pick Your Own farms are now offering pumpkins and squashes and there couldn’t be a more autumnal activity. Admittedly, picking and shifting pumpkins is slightly more back-breaking than strawberries, but cart them home and cook up an American pumpkin pie. Or just carve a ridiculous face out of it.