Pumpkin carving and trick or treating

When I walked into the kitchen this morning, I could swear that I could smell baby poo.  It was driving me crazy.  Then I realised – it’s the pumpkins.  They have a very distinctive smell which is almost exactly like baby poo.  Thankfully, baby poo is not dreadful in the way that adult poo is so I found that I could cope with the carving.

I made a template of a bat then drew it onto the pumpkin. Bit fiddly but hey, look! It's a BAT!
I made a template of a bat then drew it onto the pumpkin. Bit fiddly but hey, look! It’s a BAT!
I was really pleased with this.
I was really pleased with this. They weren’t all done by me

I have realised that the reason I’ve always found pumpkin carving such hard, bloody work is that (1) I didn’t have an ice cream scoop to get the innards out and (2) my knife was never sharp enough.  Fix both of these and it is a reasonably easy job.

Now, on to trick or treating.  I was never allowed to do this when I was little because my Mum said it was begging.  And done the English way – give us sweets (or money) or we egg your house – it is sort of unpleasant.  HOWEVER, my friend M, who has lived in the US and now lives in St John’s Wood (which is a very American area, it has the American School and everything) has explained the American style of trick and treating.  You only knock on doors with a LIT pumpkin outside.  Once the occupants want to go to bed or have run out of sweets, they blow the candle in the pumpkin out.  This seems far more civilised than having gangs of teenagers in hoodies turn up when you are completely unprepared.

This evening, we left our pumpkins lit outside and I hung the sweetie wreath on the door (it doesn’t look much like a wreath but never mind).

Pumpkins lit
Pumpkins lit
It's sort of a wreath
It’s sort of a wreath

Then we went out.  I had loaded the kids’ buckets with sweets already so we could hand out some to passersby if no houses had any lit pumpkins outside (it’s probably a bit weird but it shares the Halloween love) but in the end, there were three houses with lit pumpkins (plus a hotel who also gave the kids some sweets) so it wasn’t a wasted journey.  We gave the people who gave us sweets some of the sweets that we had brought out with us – my son really liked this but I have a feeling that it isn’t part of Halloween etiquette.  One lady had completely gone to town and had scary music, decorations all over her house and a broom that danced in the middle of her living room.

The broom danced!
The broom danced!

By the time we got home, the kids were exhausted and so was I.  It’s only 8:20pm but it feels like 11pm – is it too early to go to bed?

Gingerbread biscuits

This afternoon, I had a go at making gingerbread using the recipe from Celebrate (which I will stop going on about soon.  But seriously, it is a good book).

Ingredients for gingerbread
Ingredients for gingerbread

You need (I’ve rounded to the nearest sensible unit in oz):

  • 350g (12.5 oz) plain flour;
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda;
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of ground ginger;
  • large pinch of mixed spice;
  • 130g (4.5 oz) butter;
  • 100g (3.5 oz) dark muscovado sugar; and
  • 6 tablespoons golden syrup.

Bung the first four of these in the mixing bowl.  It says to sift the flour – I didn’t because I am lazy and never see the point of doing this.  I also got this bit slightly wrong – mixed up the mixed spice and ginger and added two heaped teaspoons of mixed spice.  I then added the two heaped teaspoons of ginger and it didn’t seem to be a problem – possibly spicier than some people like it but that is fine with me.

I then melted the last three ingredients in a pan together over a very low heat.  Once it was nicely mixed in, I poured the melted stuff over the dry stuff, mixing to make a dough.  Now, I originally used my dough hook because, well, it is a dough.  But this didn’t work so I switched to the cake batter thing which did.

Mine looked like this - a bit crumbly but it was okay
Mine looked like this – a bit crumbly but it was okay

I know it is really obvious but wash your pan up as soon as you’ve got the dough mixed.  Getting dried sugar off a pan is no pleasure whatsoever.  If you can, run boiling or very hot water into the pan immediately then wash it up really soon afterwards.

Then you cover the dough in clingfilm and pt it in the fridge for half an hour.

My dough in the fridge
My dough in the fridge

When it is ready, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll to a thickness of about half a centimetre.  You can then cut out biscuits from the dough (the recipe said to dip the biscuit cutters in flour first but I didn’t).  I didn’t have any star-shaped biscuit cutters (I will get some) so I used these instead:

My biscuit cutters
My biscuit cutters

I put the cut out biscuits on a couple of baking sheets lined with baking parchment and then put them in the baking oven in my AGA.  I wasn’t convinced the oven was totally up to temperature (it varies throughout the day) so I put them as high up in the oven as I could get them.  In a normal oven, preheat to 170 C (340 F) or gas 3.

The recipe said to bake for 12-14 minutes – I left them for 14 but if you know your oven’s up to temperature, 12 may do.  If you don’t make gingerbread, you may think that they aren’t done enough when you first get them up.  They firm up as they cool and in fact mine were softish but definitely done.

The result
The result

They are pretty nice gingerbread biscuits and my children liked them a lot.  I haven’t bothered icing them but the recipe suggests doing glace icing and decorating with some little sugar balls.  This would probably be nice for Christmas.

Carisbrooke castle

This morning, we went to Carisbrooke castle.  This is a really nice spot to visit with children – no matter what the time of year, there is something to do or see.  Today, they had an event on called “Spooky Castle” with a couple of actors who told the children some ghost stories from around the IoW.  Beforehand, we climbed the gatehouse where the children had fun dressing up in pretend armour and playing with a model of a crossbow.

Atmospheric spot for Halloween
Atmospheric spot for Halloween
There are a lot of places to climb
There are a lot of places to climb
Spooky Castle!
Spooky Castle!

After Spooky Castle, we had a wander around the castle.  They have an old bowling green that was used by Charles I when he was imprisoned at the castle and a load of old cannons for the children to climb on.  It is very wet underfoot so I was glad that I had remembered to bring a spare pair of my daughter’s leggings.

We also went round the battlements – I didn’t take any photos as I had to make sure that my not-very-sensible daughter didn’t climb them and fall to her doom.  At one point I really shouted at her (she lay on one of the bridges) which I don’t think helped.

The children also had fun running round Princess Beatrice’s garden and saying hello to all the other children.

Princess Beatrice's garden
Princess Beatrice’s garden

Other things to do are watching the donkey demonstration, visiting the museum, checking out where Charles I used to sleep (humiliatingly, my daughter once set off the alarms there) and visiting the tearoom.

Stained-glass bats

This afternoon, my son and I had a go at making stained-glass bats.  This is another thing I read about in Celebrate and is nice and simple.  You basically cut shapes out of coloured card circles and cover those shapes with tissue paper.

This sort of thing
This sort of thing

My son drew around a dinner plate then cut it out – it ended up being a nice way of getting him used to using scissors.  I then cut out the shape in the middle, got my son to glue around the shape and put coloured tissue paper over the shape on top of the glue. Pippa Middleton made a stained-glass effect using lots of different coloured tissue paper but we found that one piece was okay too.

Here you go
Here you go

Now, I’d bought the art stuff last weekend and probably went a bit overboard.  I’d overestimated my children’s attention span for this sort of thing.  However, we may make a few more (when the kids are interested again).

Perhaps we can use some of this at Christmas
Perhaps we can use some of this at Christmas

Tomorrow, we also have some pumpkin carving to do.

My job for tomorrow
My job for tomorrow!

Making a Halloween wreath

Today, I had a go at making a Halloween wreath – I got the idea from Pippa Middleton’s Celebrate, which loads of people were completely vicious about when it came out but is actually a lovely book.  I think they mustn’t have read it.  It has great photos and lots of ideas – most of which I won’t try but like to imagine I will.  Like most cookbooks, really.

String, sellotape, gardening wire, sweets in wrappers and Celebrate
String, sellotape, gardening wire, sweets in wrappers and Celebrate

Now, to make a Halloween wreath, you need gardening wire, fishing thread and a load of wrapped sweets.  I ended up using nearly four 225g bags of sweets for around one metre of gardening wire.  One thing she doesn’t mention is that you need pliers to cut the gardening wire – thankfully I had some in the toolbox.

You need these
You need these

Now, I didn’t have any fishing thread, mainly because Ocado don’t sell it but also because I really have no other use for it.  So I started off using string to knot together the sweets but got into an awful mess.

This is much harder than it looks
This is much harder than it looks

So then I gave up using string and switched to sellotape.  This is far less picturesque but is something that I am good at using.  It took quite a long time to get all the sweets onto the wreath.  I had suggested that my son help me but he said that he was happy for me to do it myself because he was “busy playing Temple Run 2 on the iPad, Mummy”.

This looks great lying flat
This looks great lying flat

Halfway through, my son came to see me and took an interest.  This gave me a warm feeling because you know – crafts! So good for children! However, it turned out that my husband had told him that he had to take a break from Temple Run 2 until I had finished my project.  So he had a vested interest in me finishing quickly.

My daughter also came and took an interest but got rather cross when I said that she wasn’t allowed to eat it until Halloween.  It’s this sort of thing that is the reason I don’t do crafty things – that and really not being very good at them.

Unfortunately, although the wreath looks nice lying flat, it rather loses its shape when you try to hang it up like a wreath.  I think perhaps I need to use more heavy duty gardening wire.

Not quite what I was thinking of
Not quite what I was thinking of

Perhaps this will have to be a table centrepiece – I’ll see what it looks like with a pumpkin in the middle.

This is what it was supposed to look like
This is what it was supposed to look like

My husband suggested that next year I use a wire template for a Christmas wreath and fishing thread.  I may or may not bother doing this again next Halloween.

Sea watching at the Waterfront and the best wellies I’ve ever owned

This morning, after swimming, we had a lovely, rainy walk to the Waterfront for hot chocolate and scones.  This is a nice little place which I hope has benefitted from the new path between Totland Bay and Colwell Bay opening.  The food is pretty nice (and the scones are really super fresh)  but really what we go for at this time of year is the view.

What a view!
What a view!

The kids found it very exciting to watch the waves crashing over the sea wall, right outside the Waterfront.  I was rather glad that we were the only ones there as they were sort of loud and shrieky.  I totally recommend this place on a blustery day.

Walking to and from the Waterfront, I was very glad of my wellies.  These are posh Le Chameau wellies that my mother in law bought me for Christmas one year and I love them.

My posh wellies
My posh wellies

Even when I am really quite thin, I have thick calves and find normal wellies quite hard to get on.  Not these though, they fit me perfectly and have a lovely warm lining.  Apparently, the Duchess of Cambridge wears these so even when I am, frankly, dressed like a scruffbag, I still feel stylish whenever I have them on.

Splinters

Last night we were having a most enjoyable chat about splinters.  My sister in law occasionally has the job of removing them from her kids, which she does with a needle.  Her kids don’t like this much.

Now, I am quite lucky in that I haven’t had to do this yet.  Considering that, until very recently, I had to wedge my daughter’s head between my legs just to cut her fingernails, I don’t really think I would be very good at removing splinters.

Ah!  There is another solution! said another friend staying, who is a doctor and once had to help remove a splinter from a man’s leg under general anaesthetic.  It was longer and thicker than a pencil and he’d got it doing some form of Army training exercise.  Ugh.

Apparently, this is what we all need – Magnesium Sulphate paste!  It is really very cheap so I think I will probably buy some just in case either of my kids get a splinter.  After all, there is no chance whatsoever that they will let me near them with a needle.