Pumpkin Projects

This Halloween I was challenged to a pumpkin carving competition.

With the gauntlet thrown we each set about with uncompromising secrecy to create the ‘classiest pumpkin lantern’ and fashion ways to use all the entrails productively.

I turned to my secret weapon, the Pumpkin King of Bolton.

Marie's Florists Bolton

Marie’s Florists, Bolton

PUMPKIN KING

If you’ve walked down Wigan Road or Deane Church Lane recently you may have seen his work at Marie’s Florists (309 Wigan Rd, Bolton, BL3 5QX). If you haven’t been yet you really should check them out before they go all mushy. Seriously, look at his Alien Attack carving below… His work is amazing.

Mars Attack - Maries Florist Bolton - Manchester Meanders

See Mars Attack and 12 others by The Pumpkin King at Marie’s Florist in Bolton

I knew I could never compete with his awesome carving skills but it didn’t stop me asking for his lantern advice and for a photograph or two to intimidate the competition with.

As he’s such a great guy he wrote me an essay of carving instructions with hints, tips and photos from last year. I considered sharing these with you before Halloween, but knowing that at least one of my opponents reads this blog (you know who you are) I couldn’t risk them getting any ideas, such was the competitiveness between us. (There was a bottle of red wine at stake you know!).

I won’t reveal all his instructions but here are a few tips that made things easier:

PUMPKIN ADVICE

  1. Buy the pumpkins early. When they
    Competitors Guinness Pumpkin lantern - Manchester Meanders

    A happy Irish pumpkin submitted by one competitor

    appear in the shops they’ve already been off the vine for about a month and you don’t want to risk them going mouldy (or selling out). PK and I both bought ours from Asda for £1 each.

  2. Forget your kitchen knives. Invest in a craft knife plus either a saw blade (for cuts) or scalpel blade (for peels). Remember it’s a lot easier and safer if you use sharp blades. (I bought a £3 set from the Works in the Arndale Centre).
  3. If you’re lighting your masterpiece with a candle try coating the lid with a pinch of each of the following spices: ground cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice and nutmeg. It smells fantastic when the lantern is lit.
  4. To stop the carvings from drying out coat the flesh with Vaseline / petroleum jelly. It’s a messy job and the jury’s out on how effective it is but it’s worth a shot if it might make them last longer.
  5. Lastly, (and possibly most importantly) if you’re carving ‘cut though’ don’t push anything through until you’ve done the whole carving. Those little pieces stop it from distorting and damaging anything delicate whilst you work.

MY CARVINGSOwl pumpkin lantern by Sammy Dee Manchester Meanders

The first one I carved was this owl.

I was astonished at how well it worked out. I didn’t expect the spooky glow around the moon and branches, which was caused by the thickness of the remaining flesh. I had assumed the flesh would need to be thin to make it work so I’m glad I didn’t ‘finish’ carving it before viewing it with the lights off.

Witches Brew pumpkin lantern by Sammy Dee Manchester MeandersEYE OF NEWT

A few nights later I carved a witch making a newt brew. I hollowed and carved this design quite aggressively so it only took half the time of the owl lantern. I only needed to submit one pumpkin to the competition so in my mind it didn’t matter if it wasn’t neat. I could have done more with it but as it was an extra I hoped it wasn’t necessary.

TECHNIQUE

(In case you were wondering how I created the two tone effect it’s done by switching between the cut though and peel techniques. To make the face darker and spooky I peeled the pumpkin’s skin off rather than cutting all the way through).

PUMPKIN IN A PUMPKIN

Headless horseman pumpkin lantern by Sammy Dee Manchester MeandersFinally, getting a little bored with the project I roughly carved a headless horseman thowing his flaming pumpkin head.

I know I should have tidied the flesh up a little before taking the photograph but by this stage I was just glad it was coming to an end. I bought 4 pumpkins so I had to use them all. I hadn’t expected my first attempt to work so well.

I enjoyed the competition but it was a lot of hard work. It took me 5 hours to carve the owl; 2 and a 1/2 hours for the witch and finally 90 minutes for the horseman. That’s 9 hours of work excluding research and planning. I don’t know how the Pumpkin King has the patience to carve 13 (or more) lanterns each year.

Pumpkin Gingernut Parfait by Sammy Dee Manchester MeandersPRODUCTIVE ENTRAILS

Of course the carving was only part of the project: The rules stated that all of the entrails had to be used productively.

So for the next month we’ll be eating pumpkin soup, pumpkin curry, pumpkin pie, pumpkin chutney, roasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin gingersnap parfait (pictured).

PUMPKIN GIN

Brewing Pumpkin Gin / Pumpkin WineIn the unlikely event that we didn’t have enough pumpkin in our diets this autumn another friend suggested I make pumpkin gin. It all sounded simple enough: cut off the lid, remove the seeds, fill it with sugar, re-seal the lid with paraffin wax, leave it for 30 days then crack the pumpkin open and enjoy.

Two weeks have passed and I haven’t seen or heard a single bubble from the airlock. We’ve been advised to view the pumpkin gin bomb with extreme suspicion. The Pumpkin King says it’s waiting for me to turn my back on it before it detonates and coats my kitchen in yeasty smelling orange goo. I’ll let you know how it turns out…

And just so you know, I did win a bottle of wine 😉

Did you carve a pumpkin this year? How are you using the pumpkin flesh? Are you trying to make pumpkin gin or have you tried it in the past?

All comments are welcome 🙂

Guilty Pleasures

Have you answered this weeks Booking Through Thursday Meme?

It’s my question! I’m so pleased they liked my meme enough to use it. In fact, I’m positively delighted that they used it! (Which is why I’m urgently sharing my news with you now!)

My question is:

What book(s) have you read that you’re secretly ashamed to admit?

Some of you already know my answer… but for those of you who don’t here’s a re-blog…

Book Swap Guilt

I don’t read chick lit. I’ll read just about anything: fiction, history, thrillers, sci-fi, the occasional biography, anything, except chick lit.

The first time I noticed this particular book in the book swap area I sniggered, then shuddered. I wondered “Who would bring that in?” Personally I’d have donated it to charity shop rather than publically confess a penchant for romantic tosh. But that’s just me. I’m an action-flick kinda gal.

I pass the book swap pile daily and frequently skim the spines for new titles. This book has been there for several weeks now. No one has touched it. Even the spine is un-creased. (Perhaps its previous owner didn’t read it after all).

Each time I passed it I would inwardly shake my head and think “Urgh! No-one is going to take that. They’d be too embarrassed for a start”. Even the picture on the cover makes me cringe. Then yesterday, inexplicably without any warning, a little voice in my head said “Oh go on then”.

WHAT?!

Where did that come?!

I was mortified the idea had sprung from my own brain. I checked left and right to make sure no one had seen it reflected in my face. I walked away quickly and sat at my desk. Fingers on keys. Eyes on the screen. I told myself no. NO. I have never, ever, wanted to read anything by this author, popular as she is.

I have never, ever, wanted to read this particular book. I don’t want to read it. I don’t. I really honestly and truly don’t.

(Deep breath)

But I’m going to. I didn’t decide that right away. On my journey home last night I found myself thinking: If I do take it I can’t let anyone see me take it: I’ll need something to hide it in. Perhaps I should wait until the office is empty… But what if people see me acting suspiciously? They might think I’m stealing! What if I’m subjected to a handbag search? How could I not look guilty?

! ! !

Where were these thoughts coming from?

Again I checked around me in case someone was monitoring my facial expressions. I’d clearly lost my senses. What was wrong with me? Was I seriously considering taking and reading a book that makes me wince at the thought of it? I took a few deep breaths, considered it for a while then reasoned that I might as well.

It is right that I should feel embarrassed? It’s only a book for goodness sake! I don’t even know what the book is about. Do other people feel this shame about chick lit?

Is this normal?

I feel a need to conduct some experiments, to give me a reason, an excuse for reading it: Perhaps I should take it out in public areas, on a train or in a café, just to observe how other people react to it. Will they snigger? Will they judge me harshly on my dubious choice? Will they smile at me but ooze pity from their eyes? More to the point, could I bring myself to be seen with it in public?

As I sat in the canteen I wanted to air these questions: Share my dilemma and consider the responses. I couldn’t. Our book swap is anonymous. I don’t know who the donor is and I couldn’t risk making them feel uncomfortable if they overheard me. I’m grateful other people are willing to swap books. I really am. I certainly wouldn’t want to scare anyone off. So instead I’m sitting here quietly, biding my time.

Tonight, when the office lights dim and most people have gone home, into my pre-prepared black plastic carrier-bag I’m going to slip a pristine copy of a Jilly Cooper.

All comments (and mocking) most welcome. 🙂

A Day in Books

I began the day with Serial.

On my way to work I saw Annabel and walked by The Wasp Factory to avoid Demon Girl but I made sure to stop at The Secret Garden.

In the office, my boss said, We Need to Talk About Kevin and sent me to research The Haunting of Hill House.

At lunch with Madame Bovary I noticed A Friend Like Henry under Salem’s Lot then went back to my desk Forever Odd.

Later, on the journey home, I bought Blood, Sweat and Tea because I have Clones then settling down for the evening, I picked up The Diary of a Nobody and studied Tooth and Nail before saying goodnight to The Peppermint Pig.

Thank you to Lou from I Hug My Books for posting this meme on her blog after spotting it on Cornflower Books.

The idea is to complete the story using the titles of books you’ve read this year.

Unfortunately I can only remember as far back as Halloween and most of the titles I read at that time were creepy / weird / ghoulish – Not particularly appropriate three days before Christmas.

New Year resolution: Record the titles of books I’m reading 

I think I’ve just about managed to rein it in. Not too creepy? It was difficult not to duplicate what Lou wrote seeing as I’m in Lou’s book club and we’ve read several of the same books this year.

Please try the meme for yourself. If you don’t have your own blog feel free to publish your ‘Day in Books’ in the comments here.

All comments are welcome 🙂