I admit it. I’m an October junkie. I can’t get enough of it. October is the one month of the year when I come ALIVE!!!
There’s something about the way the wind changes direction and starts to sound and feel a little uneasy, especially around sunset and at night. Leaves start to change and fall, and they give a visual element to the wind. You can SEE the wind as it takes the leaves on a whirlwind tour down the street.
Pumpkins start appearing in the markets and in front yards. And you all know exactly how I feel about pumpkins! Every single thing about them is a miracle. They’re big and round and orange and seem ready to explode. They are the color of autumn. You can carve them into delightfully twisted, scary faces. The smell when you pop open a pumpkin’s freshly cut lid is intoxicating to me. And, of course, they are incredibly delicious. I use pumpkin in everything. All parts of the pumpkin, in fact, from the blossoms to the seeds.
It was autumn that inspired me to create the pumpkin carrot cake that eventually led to Gordon Ramsay calling it the “best thing ever created on MasterChef” and that shut Graham Elliot up for half a minute while he waited for his mouth to finish “org-sming.”
And then there are the October holidays. Halloween for most of us. That time when kids roam the streets in the suddenly chilly, early-dark air. They come to my house and find the windows boarded up, a falling-down fence made of rotten sticks, a yard filled to the BRIM with evil, grinning jack-o-lanterns….
Usually a creepy scarecrow with a rusty tin-can head, jagged eye and mouth holes ripped open, with blue flames belching out of its head.
Half of them end up too scared to actually walk up to the door. But that’s the point. Our holidays have become so commercial, and Halloween isn’t about candy, it’s about FEAR! In our overly-sensationalized age, with our horror movies and and the internet, kids rarely actually get SCARED on Halloween any more. I feel it’s my personal task to change that. I remember loving the fear on Halloween, scared that a monster was going to jump out of every bush.
For those kids brave enough to walk the sidewalk to the front door, they usually encounter a big black cauldron filled with the BEST candy on the block…Snickers and Butterfinger and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Fog swirls around the front door, and maybe…just maybe…they notice the stuffed creature propped up in the corner.
Sometimes the parents question whether or not that stuffed creature might be real, but the kids know better. It’s just a prop. With one strikingly realistic eye staring at them. But the eye doesn’t blink, so it can’t be real.
They reach for fistfuls of candy bars and AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I jump out and scare the living daylights out of them. Usually the parents scream louder than the kids, and most of the time, the kids bolt for the street and don’t come back. Occasionally I’ll get a couple that have to prove their masculinity and they’ll come back and poke at me with sticks or proclaim “I wasn’t scared, I was just pretending!”
Those are my favorite. I let them pass on to the next house, and while they’re busy getting candy, I sneak through the shadows to the bushes several houses down. As they approach that house, I jump out and scare them AGAIN. Then I swoop off into the shadows while they recover…and hide again in the bushes another few houses away.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
It’s GREAT fun, the parents always get such a kick out of it. And increasing numbers of kids show up each year and say, “Oh, I remember THIS house” as they approach the stuffed creature on the front porch. Somehow they always think I’ve taken a year off, because they are ALWAYS surprised and terrified. I love it.
Creative decorating is always a priority in the fall. One year we decorated a friend’s house and it was so outrageous the paper sent a photographer out. We had flown in swamp moss from southern Louisiana and draped the house and trees with it, boarded up the windows, hung pumpkins in the trees…then on Halloween night we actually hung ME in the tree! I rigged up a seat harness connected to an “invisible” black rope, so I was hanging comfortably by the waist, then we tied a white rope noose around my neck, I blacked out my eyes and tongue, and I just hung there swaying in the wind. The kids all thought I was a prop, but the parents would walk up, staring cautiously, wondering how we had made such a realistic dummy. Then, of course, I’d scream and scare the parents while the kids were getting candy at the front door.
Just as they would run back to their terrified parents, the creepy Pumpkin Man arose from the graveyard and chased them away to the next house! This is my friend Jacques, and we found a pumpkin large enough to hollow out and fit over his head. It was HEAVY, though, and I think his neck and shoulders were sore for a week afterward!
We usually have at least 20 jack-o-lanterns, and people always ask how we ended up with so many. On the Saturday before Halloween, I host a pumpkin carving party. I usually end up with a dozen friends over, and everyone carves at least two pumpkins while I ply them with baked pumpkin goodies and pumpkin beer.
The other holiday in October I love is El Dia de los Muertos, or “The Day of the Dead.” It’s a Latin American holiday that precedes the Catholic holiday All Soul’s Day, and it’s when families remember all those who have died. Generally they celebrate with a feast amongst the graves of their ancestors, with lots of candles, fireworks, and they give out candy-sugar skulls to the kids with their names written across the forehead.
For my annual Fall Dinner Party a few years ago, I themed the event and the menu for El Dia de los Muertos, and I made candy skulls for each of my friends. That was a mammoth task, it took me almost a month. But it was worth it! Click HERE to find out how to make them. I’ve done my Fall Dinner Party almost every year since 2001, and people come from all over the world to attend. Some years it’s so big I have to seat everyone outside.
This year I’ll be able to spend the 2 weeks before Halloween in the northeast, enjoying the fall colors and festivals there. This will be my second trip to Vermont, but my first time in Maine and New Brunswick. I’m very excited! Hoping to get lots of good photographs and enjoy meeting folks in the rural areas who still celebrate in an authentic way. If you live in New England or northeastern Canada, drop me a note and maybe we can meet on my trip!
HAPPY AUTUMN TO EVERYONE!!!