I’ve always been a bit of a devil.
When I was a child I loved to pretend. Maybe it was because of my overactive imagination or maybe it was because the thought of being somebody else was so much more appealing than the awkward (and yet precocious) child, teenager and adult I’d become. Dressing up was a game I forced everyone around me – even my older brother – to play and my dressing up box was filled with flouncy party dresses and ribbons, an old lace wedding dress my mother had given me (whom it belonged to I had no idea), and various toys and accessories, including a Chanel handbag which, had I kept it, would be worth a lot of money now, I’m sure.
Of course, dressing up wasn’t just for fun, it was also about competition: you had to be the best looking child with the best costume. The time of year that this was most obvious? Halloween of course.
Photo credit: David Mason.
The lead up to Trick-Or-Treating was a long one. After slaving for hours over a handmade costume or shortening a store-bought one, my mother would prop me up on the counter next to the sink, pull out her old stage make-up case – a three-tiered box filled with every imaginable shade of red lipstick, rouge, powder, oil and water-based bases and paints – and proceed to transform me. I remember sitting there in a white vest and underwear, shivering on the cold formica counter as she plastered my face with a damp sponge covered in some colour. I’d scrunch up my nose at the smell of oil and chemicals, trying to turn away from her hands and receive the curt reprimand: “sit still, you’ll crack the base.”
Shuffling on that counter, feeling my bottom grow numb I’d check my reflection in the mirrored cabinet behind me when she turned away to reach back into the make-up case, swiftly turning back again and pretending I’d been in the same position that entire time. Shuffle too much and she’d eventually set her sponges and brushes down, sighing, “if you won’t sit still then I’m not going to do your make-up for you any more.”
“No, muuuuum, pleeaaaase!”
“Fine. Sit still, then.”
After that I’d hold my breath, trying not to move a muscle as she finished her work. Fifteen or so minutes later she’d finally be done with her last itchy dusting of setting powder and there I’d be, completely transformed into some ghoulish miniature creature. I’d slip into my (usually itchy polyester) costume, grab my pumpkin-shaped Trick-Or-Treating pot and off my brother, mother and I would go into the night to harass our neighbours.
The Christian family across the road who didn’t approve of our heathen ways, our fake cobwebs draped across the door, lit pumpkin on the doorstep or our inflatable skeleton hanging on the porch (his name was Cyril) would reluctantly give us a piece of fruit, too guilty to dump the bucket of water they had ready at the top bedroom window above us. “They just looked too adorable,” they’d sigh to my mother, signalling to the boys to hold off on their attack.
Photo credit: David Mason.
My first Halloween that I can remember, my mother dressed me in a black bin bag and put a hat on my head and instantly I was a mini witch. I took one step outside the door, saw the neighbours’ children with their scary masks and distorted voices and burst into tears. They tore their masks off and tried to reassure me but it was too late, Halloween had been ruined for me and I was taken home again and put to bed.
Thankfully, after that time, Halloween became a treat. My two best costumes were the year that I made myself into a headless ghost carrying my head under my arm – a costume that received so much praise from strangers that my older brother, who usually had the scariest and best costumes, was sorely put out and sulked the entire evening – and the year that my mother made me into an Egyptian Mummy by wrapping me in cloth bandages from head to foot, sewing a fake eyeball to my head so that it dangled from a string and planting an Alien chestburster prosthetic in my chest, held in with the bandages.
As I walked down the street, arms held out in front of me and moaning quietly under my breath, the skater boys who frequented our road stopped dead in their tracks, pulled their masks off and stared at me with a loud, “woaaaah…” I blushed bright red under my bandages and increased the volume of my deathly moaning, staggering off down the road as they watched me, my mother laughing quietly to herself as she followed a safe distance behind.
Photo credit: David Mason.
These days Halloween is a much more sober affair. I haven’t dressed up since my Mummy costume – I was just too old for it by that point – and doing the “sexy Halloween” thing was never appealing. This year we’re making an all pumpkin menu, to be enjoyed quietly at home and then having a “house family” pumpkin carving session, because if there’s anything I love it’s to carve a good pumpkin (and I am very good at it).
When I was out picking up my pumpkins for said carving session, I happened across a mini pumpkin, just big enough for two and, inspired by my dear friend Linda’s Instagrammed photo of fondue made in a pumpkin, I decided that it was exactly what I needed to get me in the pumpkin mood.
We shared this fundue with a juicy fried steak (cut into cubes), steamed broccoli and cauliflower florets, fresh French bread (cut into cubes), fried mushrooms and a fresh yellow pepper (all cubed, what did you think? Strips? Pah). Even better? The pre-roasted pumpkin “bowl” was warming, garlicky and delicious, falling away from its skin and dipped into its cheesy innards, plus using our food as a vessel negated having to clean up congealed cheese – never a fun task.
So if you aren’t much of a Halloween person but you love pumpkins and cheese (and c’mon, who doesn’t love the two?!) then consider putting a little fundue into your life (I apologise, that’s the second time I’ve used that pun but it’s just too good not to use it as many times as you can. Fundue). If nothing else it’ll warm you up and knock you swiftly into cheese coma land. It’s basically Winter now anyway, right? You need this.
GRUYERE & EMMENTAL FONDUE, BAKED IN A PUMPKIN
Recipe adapted from Streaming Gourmet‘s version and inspired by Salty Seattle.
1 small pumpkin, top removed, insides cleaned and discarded (feel free to keep and roast the pumpkin seeds to top salads, soups or bread!)
1-2 tbsps olive oil (to brush inside of cleaned pumpkin)
1 clove garlic, crushed and chopped into a few pieces (not too small)
170 g Gruyere cheese, grated
170 g Emmental cheese, grated
115 ml dry sherry
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsps cornflour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to about 180 degrees C. Brush the insides of the prepared pumpkin with the olive oil, throw in the garlic cloves and pop the top on. Place in a tin and bake for 25-30 mins.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the cheeses and cornflour, tossing well with your hands to make sure they’re coated well.
3. In a medium pan over a medium heat add the sherry and lemon juice. Increase the heat until the liquid is almost boiling then reduce the heat to low and add a small handful of cheese at a time, stirring gently. Don’t add more cheese until the first batch has melted – it’ll clump away from the liquid at the beginning but persevere and it’ll eventually have a smooth, even consistency. Keep stirring to make sure the cheese has all melted but beware of over-stirring or it’ll become stringy.
4. When the cheese has reached its optimum consistency, pour it into the hot pumpkin, sprinkle over the nutmeg, salt and freshly ground black pepper, then pop it back into the oven for 10-15 mins – the cheese will develop a lovely browned crust on the top.
5. During this time you can prepare your accompanying ingredients – go for whatever you like: crudites, beef, bread, apples, cook off anything raw (such as the beef, but if you’re a cannibal and want to eat it raw feel free). Cubes are easy to skewer with a fork (or fondue fork if you’re fancy) but don’t let my need for regimented order deter you from cutting everything into strips or even star shapes if you so wish.
6. Serve the fondue hot from the oven with your accompaniments of choice and enjoy the cheesy pumpkin-y goodness.
Until next time, have a wonderful Halloween. Peace and love.
PS: This is one of the pumpkins I carved a few years ago – I told you I was good at this stuff…