Pumpkin spice and all things nice

When one visits the USA at any point between August and Thanksgiving, it is compulsory to consume as many pumpkin products as is physically possible. During the 10 days that I was resident this autumn, I’d like to think that I more than did my part in the annual celebration of all things pumpkin.

Now, I am a pumpkin fan. I love a good savoury pumpkin – preferably roasted with chilli, or in soup form; pumpkin pie is hands down my favourite aspect of Matryoshka Haus’ annual Thanksgiving; last year’s discovery of this pumpkin loaf recipe has become a firm favourite amongst those for whom I bake; and I claim credit for innovating the coffee-free pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks (“grande steamed skimmed milk with two pumps of Pumpkin Spice” – yes, I am *that* person). For me, a trip to the East Coast in the fall was an ideal opportunity to avail myself of as much pumpkin as possible.

I’m aware that many would turn their noses up at such an escapade. The sort of people who crack jokes on Twitter about the stereotypical consumer of a PSL (who invented the acronym in the first place). The kind of person who thinks the gratuitous addition of pumpkin to everyday items is nothing short of a shameless marketing tactic… However, I turn up my nose at them!

Pumpkin Patch

My pumpkin odyssey began innocuously with a slice of pumpkin loaf accompanying my Starbucks order. It’s fine – probably not as good as the one I make at home – but when in Rome…

Pumpkin Cider at Harpoon

Then there was pumpkin cider, drunk in the brewery that produced it. To be honest, I’m not sure I could have identified the pumpkin had I not known about it, but nonetheless, a good cider on a chilly Vermont day was much appreciated. Plus, I’d just visited a genuine New England pumpkin patch.

Dunkin Donuts proved to be a purveyor of an exceedingly excellent pumpkin donut, with a pleasing orangey hue and a cracking glaze. There is no photographic evidence of this as it was eaten in a frenzied hunger on board a train back to New York.

A photo posted by Jackie (@jocose_jackie) on

If there’s one retailer that fully embraces the world of pumpkin, it’s Trader Joe’s. I ‘popped’ into its Brooklyn branch on a Sunday afternoon, which was a big mistake as seemingly every local resident had had an identical idea. I was confronted with a multitude of pumpkin options: pumpkin O’s cereal (like Cheerios); tortilla chips & salsa; panettone; yoghurt; various baking mixes; oh, and dog snacks. Yes, pumpkin dog snacks. There are over 40 items in Trader Joe’s 2015 pumpkin collection and I’m pleased to report that I only bought one of them – a jar of pumpkin spice! I was very tempted by the pumpkin spice cookie butter though…

Pumpkin Pop Tarts

My Target shopping expedition (no word of a lie, I had been making my Target shopping list for weeks beforehand – it was probably the most organised element of my whole holiday!) yielded pumpkin Pop Tarts. (Yes, I know that they’re ridiculously unhealthy and just plain awful, but I have a childish soft spot for them.)

Shake Shack pumpkin goodness

Shake Shack delivered autumn in a small tub, in the form of a slice of pumpkin pie, swirled with cream. So a dessert that bore no resemblance to the original dish, but tasted fabulous. (Note to self: this should not have been bought to consume on the subway home, it got messy.)

Incredibly, there was a pumpkin option that I searched for and did not find: a pumpkin cupcake. New York’s cupcake game has gone seriously downhill since I last visited in 2009 – although I did at least manage to find a chocolate one with swiss meringue frosting, a combo that remains top of my cupcake combo leader board.

Pumpkin M&Ms

Oh, and I rejected a third opportunity to sample pumpkin spice M&M’s, because quite frankly, they sound WRONG!

Just in case you thought my love of pumpkin might have dissipated since returning to the UK, let me share with you my favourite discovery on last week’s trip to Morrisons: Ben & Jerry’s Pumpkin Cheesecake ice cream. De-lish!

B&J Pumpkin

 

My sister used to comment that my travel journals (completed for every international trip I take) were merely chronicles of what I had eaten and when – and this blogpost would certainly meet such expectations. However, there’s also plenty of food I haven’t mentioned (the best apple pancakes I’ve ever consumed, for example) – and will go unmentioned, for there are much more interesting things to write about!

Falling in the South

As of yesterday (or rather, the day before yesterday as it’s currently 5am UK time…) I’m in Texas for 2 weeks of work, rest and play. It’s a little bit different to my last trip two years ago – fewer dips in rivers and drinking frozen cocktails and a bit more actual work. Plus, it’s ‘fall’ and the locals aren’t frequenting the rivers so much.

It’s bizarre being somewhere so hot in October – but it shouldn’t be.

Obviously, Texas in October was still going to be on the warm side. Today’s temperature was 88F (31C), dropping to around 60F in the evening. Yet, in Gap and Target the rails were full of lovely winter coats, jumpers and cardigans. As three Brits rushed around Target, it was clear that we were the only ones exclaiming over chunky knitwear and woolly hats. I picked up three pairs of over the knee cosy socks – from a choice of about 12 – and pondered who on earth they thought would buy any of this stuff?

According to one Texan friend the answer is no one, except those going on holiday somewhere cold. Although that doesn’t mean that they don’t dream about buying such items. As another Texan friend commented a few weeks ago: “It’s 90 degrees out, so naturally I’m dreaming about a new coat from Anthropologie.”

Then there’s all the ‘Fall’ merchandise: the accessories, decorations and abundance of pumpkins. All in the reds, browns and oranges of turning leaves – except the leaves aren’t turning here. Who needs a Pumpkin Spice Latte in weather that’s the equivalent of a London heatwave? 

Of course, it’s all perspective. As we landed in Atlanta [incidentally, do all you can to avoid changing flights there, it’s another circle of hell] the pilot informed us that “it’s a perfect fall day with a temperature of around 80 degrees”. A temperature of 27C in the UK would be a balmy, fabulous summers day to be spent in as little clothing as possible, probably drinking beer. While having my nails done this morning, a fellow customer commented on wanting a “fall colour” given that it was going to be “so cold” that evening.

A couple of weeks ago, while the UK was having a freakishly fabulous Indian Summer, it was easy to spot the tourists in London because they were the ones wearing hats and coats, while the locals kept their flip-flops in use for as long as possible. Temperature is all relative.

To be honest, I’m not complaining. I’ve got a bonus two weeks of summer and tomorrow morning I have the option of a Sunday morning outdoor swim.

Houston blue skiesBlue skies, palm trees & iced tea. Note: no one else is sitting outside. 

 

Autumn craft project #2

As promised at the weekend, here’s the second of my autumn art creations. The first project was only autumnal in the sense that I created it during the autumn. This one actually involves the fruit of the season…

Again, the inspiration is from Better Homes & Gardens, but this time I’ve tweaked the original idea quite a bit, it used circles in contrasting colours on a canvas, I instead decided to go for a bit of autumn inspiration…

Instead of circles, I used leaves. It was a bit of risk and had the potential to look like some 6 year old’s creation that would last about 2 weeks on even the most devoted mother’s fridge. A walk through Regent’s Park provided me with a variety of leaves, and I was ready to get going.

I painted a large canvas navy blue, using turquoise acrylic paint for the first layer of leaves and silver for some contrasting ones. Here’s how it went:

I guess it detracts from the yellow a little bit!

A few tips in case you’re trying it out:

Crispy leaves don’t print as well as ones that are a little bit ‘newer’, if you know what I mean. They tend to break up a bit, whereas newer ones take the paint better and are easier to peel off.

The underlying colour will need a couple of coats to cover the canvas effectively, but let it dry between coats. Similarly, allow time for each stage to dry before you move on. I did each stage on a different day. It’s hard when you’re so excited about a project – but control yourself.

It’s a great stress-relieving project. I got incredibly into it and enjoyed getting covered in paint day after day.

Autumnal Apple Cake

Tis the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, and therefore time for some baking involving the key autumnal ingredients of apples and cinnamon.

I’ve had a Waitrose recipe card for Dorset Apple Cake in my handbag for ages (in fact, checking the card, it says May – procrastination & my overly large handbag strikes again) and today I finally got around to baking it.

The Waitrose recipe provided the basis, but I modified it a bit. (Whenever I tell my Mum that I’ve ‘modified’ a recipe, she fears that I’ll have done something stupid like subsitute Marmite for baking powder…she has just cause to, but I’ve learnt from past mistakes.)

– I used cinnamon instead of mixed spice, partly because I love cinnamon, but mainly because I didn’t have any mixed spice in my cupboard.
– Instead of dredging it with sugar after it came out of the oven, I sprinkled the top of the cake with soft brown sugar & cinnamon before putting it in.

It smells yummy whilst baking and looked pretty good once out of the oven – oh, and it tasted pretty good too. Perfect autumn Saturday comfort food.

Incidentally, in some weird telepathic Mother-Daughter thing, I rang my Mum whilst the cake was in the oven and discovered that she was peeling apples in preparation for making the exact same cake. Spooky!