Halloween was always a big deal growing up. It is my brother’s birthday and everyone in our small world seemed to be celebrating. On Halloween you are not only allowed to wear your princess dress out in public, but you are encouraged jazz it up even more. All that meant usually was more hot pink lipstick and blue eyeshadow. I remember begging my mom to wear a gold, sparkly, frufru tutu fairy outfit for weeks after the holiday was over. Every Halloween thereafter, she would warn me “Now Tricia, this is a special outfit for Halloween, not for everyday.” I think I finally got the hint in Jr. High. And then there is the candy. Candy! It’s everywhere, being thrown at you (or in your little plastic pumpkin bucket) from every house with a light on. People are running through the streets laughing, talking, running, and playing. Seriously, the best. day. ever.
The prep and pomp that comes from getting ready for All Hallow’s Eve was just as thrilling. It always involved spreading large amounts of newspaper on the kitchen floor, Dad getting down on the ground to start scooping out pumpkin guts while Danny and I drew squeamish faces with thick, black sharpies on their slick surfaces. Then there was the talk and preparation of costumes, stocking up on mini candy bars, planning a haunted house in the garage for Danny’s friends, and cake making (always Funfetti cake with Funfetti icing). My brother, even at the age of three or four, had a huge personality. That kid knew what he wanted and when he wanted it. Some may have called him difficult, but others just high energy with his own agenda. He used to wear these little red footie pajamas that zipped up the front (we both did, but somehow he seemed to be in his all the time). One year we simply attached a little red tail to them and gave him some devil ears just so he could keep wearing his little red footie pj’s, even on Halloween. The nickname stuck and he would be our little red devil for the rest of his childhood.
As an adult, I still get gushy over Halloween. It’s a time marker, signaling the official leap into deep Autumn with the first hints of Winter in the cool, crisp air. The time changes. Days are so much shorter. The dark hours are long and listless yet comfortingly silent. They encourage day-dreaming of the best kind because of the circumstances. This is just as good, the adult version if you will, of the prep and pomp of getting ready for Halloween. I’ll even bake a cake when I want to, just because it feels right. Andrew and I also go and pick our own pumpkins. This is our third year running, our first experience doing it was actually one of our first dates.
Pumpkin picking can be a totally hilarious and wonderful mayhem. Last weekend it was gorgeous–you could not have asked for a more perfect fall day to go to a farm, pick pumpkins and drink hot apple cider. Crisp and clear, it was straight out of a story book. Everyone else thought so too, so we got stuck in some traffic (traffic!? in the country??) on our way there. We chose to veer off the beaten path and try another farm and it turns out it is the same farm we went to our first year. We scoured the pumpkin patches, ate freshly grilled corn on the cob and did, in fact, drink some of the best hot apple cider we both agreed we’d ever had. Meanwhile there were 30 minute waits in line just to buy some corn or a sausage, happy kids and families were running around trying not to loose each other, harried grandmothers were anxiously trying to save entire tables, and the teenagers serving the food looked like they’ve done this in their sleep.
With pumpkin on the mind, I remembered an intriguing recipe out of the Moosewood Cookbook of Desserts called spiced pumpkin squares. Backing up a bit, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies are Andrew’s top most favorite dessert. Ever. He rarely requests anything for me to make him (which boggles my mind a bit–if I were him, I’d be making me lists of my favorite foods!), except for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. Each fall, I’ll make 2-4 batches, which is kind of a lot of cookies for two people to have around. But trust me, we make do. Knowing what I know about Andrew’s love of pumpkin and dark chocolate, I decided to try my hand at a new take on the brownie. These little squares are satisfyingly dense–unlike the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies that I can’t help but want a little more from as they can be a bit cakey. They melt, ooze, and defy all chocolate cravings while cocooning you in a spicy-autumn-inducing-stupor. I didn’t realize there was such a thing, but there is. And it’s glorious.
Pumpkin Brownies, by Tricia Martin