Hello, October. I’ve been waiting patiently for you. After spending the coldest twelve months of my life in Northern California, looking mostly like the Michelin Man for half the year, wrapped in layers of clothes that began with thermals and ended with a black, down-filled, zip-up vest and topped with a wool scarf wrapped around my neck, the radiating heat of summer felt especially intense here in the old Pueblo.
We desert dwellers count down the days of interminable September anticipating the more lenient-minded October. Although we understand that the first half of October will likely be hot, autumn will begin to reveal itself slowly with a hint of crisp air – perhaps at dusk with the setting of the sun or riding in on the heels of Aurora, the goddess of the dawning morning.
With the transition from summer to fall, the feeling arises within me to celebrate, to give thanks for the Harvest moon, my friends and family – some kind of gathering to ignite the holiday season. This year, an early Sunday dinner will fit the bill with Roasted Turkey Roulade, Herb and Cornbread Stuffing, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Mushroom Gravy, and Cranberry-Orange Sauce. My friends are throwing an Oktoberfest party and the month will close with my second favorite holiday, Halloween.
For four years my friend, Michelle and I (The Two Michelle’s) threw four consecutive Halloween costume and food extravaganzas. We both love to bring people together and what better way to do that then to jointly give a party? Our skills complement each other and planning the event can be just as much fun as experiencing it.
With her background in the theater and love for thematic elements, Michelle particularly adores set-decoration and took great care converting her party-perfect house, patios and tables into a Halloween emporium. Everywhere the eyes roamed, there was seasonal fun to be appreciated. A feathered owl resting on the hanging pot rack, a scarecrow reclining in a chair, ghosts hanging on doors seemingly floating on a breeze, candelabras holding black candles, shiny metal skeletons dangling from the bathroom ceiling, copper jack o’lanterns glowing in the dark, crows perched on a bare branched tree, just to name a few. Adults and kids alike marveled at the decorations.
For my part, I put my graphic arts skills to use creating themed invitations. Music has always been my thing. I have spent countless hours assembling soundtracks to correlate with each themed party to create a fun vibe and to encourage spontaneous dancing throughout the night. Of course, I love all aspects of cooking and the holidays afford me the opportunity to bake to my heart’s content. With each Halloween party, I made sure that the desert buffet was bountiful and tasty, baking for weeks in advance.
Michelle and I would collaborate on the menu and we’d each be in charge of specific items. When entertaining a large crowd, I often request that guests bring an appetizer to share leaving me to focus on the main dish and sides, both hot and cold, ensuring that the menu is balanced. Michelle’s husband, a dedicated carnivore, likes to get in on the action with his smoker, grill and bread oven – all built by him. Divide and conquer is the operating principal when entertaining a large crowd.
Old Fashioned Pumpkin Pie
This pumpkin pie is a combination of our Grandma Elsie's batter and Libby's recipe that is printed on every can of pumpkin puree. To make pumpkin puree from scratch you would peel, cube, cook and mash small pumpkins that are labeled "sweet". This one of the few occasions where we honestly like using canned puree better than fresh based on taste, texture and ease of use. You may choose to substitute one rounded tablespoon pumpkin pie spice for the cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg, however the taste will be slightly different. Do not freeze a pumpkin pie, as this will cause the crust to separate from the filling.
I like to garnish the pies with piped Cream Cheese Frosting flavored with Amaretto liqueur and cinnamon-sugar dusted Pie Crust Cookies made from the leftover dough. In the photo above, Linda pre-cut the pie and decorated each serving with whipped cream and a little slice of candied ginger. Cookies placed in the center add seasonal fun.
As part of a dessert buffet, the pies are gorgeous displayed with Apple Crostatas or All American Apple Pies and Pecan Tassies. Homemade marshmallows or meringue cookies are a fun addition as well as brownies for the die-hard chocolate crowd.
2 unbaked deep-dish All Butter Pie Crust shells
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar, or 3/4 cup granulated and 3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsps ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
6 large eggs
29 ounces (about 3-1/2 cups) Libby's 100% Pure Pumpkin Puree
2 tsps pure vanilla extract
24 fl. oz. evaporated milk or half-and-half, or a combination of the two
1. Arrange two oven racks so one sits in the middle or lower third of the oven and the other on the top shelf or upper third. Place a large cookie sheet on the top rack. The cookie sheet will act as a shield for the pies as they bake to prevent the crust and surface of pie from over-browning. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Mix sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg in a small bowl. Beat eggs in a large bowl. Stir in pumpkin, vanilla extract and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk or half-and-half. Pour evenly into both pie shells.
3. Place pies side by side in the oven. Bake for 60-65 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Rotate pies after 30 minutes for even baking. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. If you wish, decorate rim of pies with piped cream cheese frosting and pie crust cookies. Serve with whipped cream. Yield: 2 pies
"Magic things are fond of deceptions." — Tom Robbins (Jitterbug Perfume)