A Virtual Halloween

Halloween: the greatest time of the year. A day (or, in our household, long weekend[1]) dedicated to celebrating movies, board games, snacks, junk food, gourd art, alcohol, costumes, friends, and the paranormal[2]. For several years now, our personal traditions involved getting together with Tom, JK, Nat, and Adrian for the weekend. We'd catch up over pic'n'mix, eat too many nachos, watch a semi-scary film[3], and stay up late playing board game after board game whilst listening to Thriller on repeat[4]; then sleep for a while, go for a brief autumnal walk (with pic'n'mix and possibly to a pub), eat some leftovers, play a couple more board games, etc.

Of course, 2020 isn't going to be having any of that. Six people meeting up together in a confined space? Not a chance, particularly as the pandemic has seen two of our friends moving back home to work remotely without the cost of London rent (and now under various different lockdown regimes). So instead, we held a virtual board games evening using the quirky-but-surprisingly-great BoardGameArena platform. I even sprung for a month of premium membership (which we didn't even use, in the end 😂).

But that wasn't the start of Halloween. Oh no! Aside from the usual spooky treats that we began nibbling on a few weeks ago (particularly after our walk into central London trying to find interesting options), I wasn't about to let a pandemic prevent a full weekend of indulgences. Celebrations kicked off in earnest on Wednesday when I decorated the house, whilst Alison began preparing various gory desserts for a work competition[6]. That came to a head on Friday afternoon, with a post-work Witches Brew cocktail (prosecco, pomegranate liquor, blackberries, and "blood" icing around the rim), followed by a dinner of baked camembert, rolls, and breadsticks whilst watching Shaun of the Dead (probably the most "horror"-like movie I've watched in a while 😁). At the end of the film, we headed to the fridge to grab a slice of Al's brain-cake, a baked vanilla cheesecake covered in chopped walnuts in a bright red caramel sauce. It's a brilliant (and very tasty) Halloween dessert, even if it was a tad unsettling to look at after having just watched Dylan Morran be disembowelled by a pack of the ravenous undead...

Saturday morning started with pancake noodles (literally pancakes sliced up into tagliatelle-like strips) covered in pears, blackberries, and caramel sauce, before we collected a delivery of Crosstown Donuts, and then I set off on a pic'n'mix quest which took far longer than expected. Wilco's is about the only consistent option these days, but their Fulham store failed me by being almost entirely sold out, so I had to walk back to Putney (literally passing our flat on the way) where (luckily) they had a better stocked selection. In the meantime, Alison set up the various laptops we needed for the afternoon/evening of digital board games, which kicked off around 4pm as various people logged on.

I had been a little worried about virtual gaming, but I'd say it ended up as a resounding success. We played a wide range of games, including Uno/SoloNimmt, and Can't Catch Up, all whilst snacking and chatting away – and getting blow-by-blow updates from Julia on England's shambles of a public announcement about the return to full-scale lockdown for a month (yay!). Alison and I had planned a finger-food feast, with various chips, dips, biltong, and beers, to which Alison added her delicious honey-mustard sausages and a new favourite discovery: volcano potatoes (roast potatoes wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheese, so it explodes as molten yellow lava out of the top 🤤). Some of the others grabbed takeaway (very much in the spirit of Halloween in my books) or ate proper meals, which made a relaxed atmosphere of people ducking in and out as they wanted[5]. A fun evening and something we'll probably look to replicate in the coming weeks, now we're all trapped inside again. Plus, although it came to a close much earlier than previous years, we were both still knackered by the end of things 😁

And so we came to Sunday, with food hangovers not as bad as expected. That's a good thing, as we had plenty of leftovers from Halloween-proper (including most of the donuts) to just chip away at over the course of the day, including Alison's various other dessert treats (all delicious): adorable ghost meringues, pistachio lemon squishes, and almond torte (with tiny marzipan skulls/jack-o-lanterns from Fortnums). We spent most of the day chilling and snacking, but had one final blowout meal set up for the evening: baked burgers! It's a slightly weird (and new) recipe, where you cook up some mince and bacon, then place your buns into a baking tin, add cheese, pour the mince over, add more cheese, gherkins, bacon, and then the bun tops, before soaking the whole lot in a sticky bbq glaze, sprinkling on some sesame seeds, and sticking it in the oven to cook. You effectively carve it up around each bun and serve as a unit; we augmented with fresh red cabbage coleslaw and curly fries. The result was delicious! Definitely not something you can eat with your fingers, but handily one of the better at-home burger recipes I've come across and didn't take very long (particularly with two people on it).

Burgers were washed down with our second Cornetto film: Hot Fuzz (an absolute banger and rightful classic), plus some more braincake. Of course, we still had plenty of food (including two more burgers an a good ⅔ of the cheesecake 😂) left over, which meant Monday became an after-work finale as we nibbled down the last of the feast to The World's End, which held up much more than I'd expected – such a great trilogy of films! Of course, we've still got merinques, squishes, torte, dips, pic'n'mix, and many other treats to go, but a four-night Halloween is respectable enough 🎃

2020 Halloween Snack List

Like most years, we had a lot of fun trying the various "Halloween variant" snacks and seasonal fare put out, though it was much sparser than normal. As mentioned above, we even went on a walk a couple of weekends before Halloween into central London and back to try the various high-end food stores, but still had little success. Fortnam & Masons were excellent, but Harvey Nichols completely let us down and Harrods had one (one!) Halloween item, which wasn't even worth picking up. We also struggled to find our usual classics, though Waitrose ultimately came through with a decent selection of Mr. Kipling treats (and Iceland actually had a good selection, even if it was hidden online), but M&S easily had the best own-brand options out of the mainstream stores (much better than their attempts last year, too). Anyway, we still managed a decent haul, so here are some notes for next year:

  • Mr Kipling's Fiendish Fancies: these continue to be the Halloween classic that never disappoints. A fluffy, sweet, surprisingly subtle take on what is already a very enjoyable cake ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Mr Kipling's Toffee Whirls: more caramel than I remembered, but still not sure that shortbread is the right biscuit base ⭐⭐
  • McVitie's Funny Bones: chocolate cake bars, not bad at all ⭐⭐
  • McVitie's Sticky Toffee Cake: actually a full on cake (not cake bars) and really just a repackaged Golden Syrup Cake; tasty though ⭐⭐
  • Chocolate Orange Soreen: surprisingly really moreish, basically soreen with chocolate chips ⭐⭐⭐
  • Cabury's Bonfire Logs: still a really nice caramel-take on the standard bar ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • M&S Percy Pig muffin: delicious; really, really delicious ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • M&S Frankencollin the Caterpillar (minis): very nice design, cake is just standard caterpillar cake (so, great, but not special) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Crosstown Donuts New Release Box: our big treat and not strictly Halloween-themed, but very nicely made donuts that I didn't quite feel lived up to any of the descriptions of the three flavours:
    • Dark chocolate & pistachio: couldn't really taste the pistachio, though the donut was still quite nice ⭐⭐
    • Chocolate & honeycomb: vegan honeycomb is a poor substitute for the real thing and may as well not have been on here, whilst the chocolate ganache was great but totally overpowering! ⭐⭐
    • Blackberry & pear: very nice combination, possibly a bit too heavy on the blackberry so pear was lost a bit, but easily my favourite of the three ⭐⭐⭐
  • M&S Bubbly Boo!: a decent attempt at an Aero-like chocolate ghost, and well moulded. For the price, worthwhile ⭐⭐⭐

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