What’s for supper? Vol. 351: In which I finally get my head examined

Happy Friday! Gevalt, what a week. Today, in just a little bit, I am going to a REAL NEUROLOGIST. I am very excited. And we had a busy little week, full of candy and screaming! Here’s what we ate this week: 

SATURDAY
Tacos for kids, Indian food for adults

Saturday was the last installment in our rolling 26th anniversary celebration. Damien and I took the kayaks out on the Ashuelot River down by one of the covered bridges. We paddled upstream as far as we could until an uprooted tree blocked the way, and then we floated gently back down again among the yellow leaves.

We took a little detour into — I don’t know what you’d call it, the equivalent of a cul-de-sac for a river. It was SO QUIET in there, and the buggies were jumping around on top of the water because no one would bother them, and a giant blue heron lifted off and flapped away. By the time we got back where we started, it was getting chilly and a little dark, and it really was time to go, but we didn’t want to leave quite yet, so we paddled under the covered bridge. I howled a little bit, because of the acoustics, and then as soon as we popped out the other side, I SAW AN EAGLE. I’ve never seen one before. Absolutely unmistakable. What a wonderful trip. 

 

We stopped off home to change out of our damp clothes, and make sure the kids tore themselves away from that new Mario whatnot to get some tacos started, and we went to Royal Spice in Troy. We got an appetizer of assorted vegetable thingies, and then Damien got lamb saag and I got lamb biryani. Very, very fine. 

I also had a laugh because the waitress (who was very nice) asked us if we wanted “Naan? Nyaaaayn? Bread?” We had all three, thank you very much. Also papadum. 

SUNDAY
Grilled ham and cheese, tomato bacon bisque

Sunday the plan was grilled ham and cheese, but it was so gray and drizzly, and there was this stray pound of bacon in the fridge, so I got the idea of tomato bisque in my head, and couldn’t get it out even after I looked up the recipe and discovered I was missing, like, five ingredients. 

Jump to Recipe

Not that it’s a complicated recipe, but it does have more than bacon and a can of tomatoes in it. But I realized if I had to run to the store, that would be an excuse to go pick up Clara and bring her to the house for pumpkin carving. So that was nice. 

And dinner was very nice indeed! Perfect for a chilly, rainy day. 

I also realized it really was getting cold, and this was a trend that wasn’t likely to reverse itself soon, so if I was gonna pick some mint for the winter, then today was probably the day. So that’s what I did. 

I still haven’t fixed my food processor, so I made do with the Ninja blender, and blended it up as best I could with a little olive oil. My best wasn’t very good, and I lost a little enthusiasm for the project at this point, and then squunched the kind of uneven results into an ice cube tray, 

and lost at least another 20% of enthusiasm when I saw what I had done. I dunno. I just wrapped it up and chucked it in the freezer, and next time I want some mint for a marinade or something, let’s see if I remember it’s in there. 

I also have these ghost peppers in my garden. I don’t know what to do with them. 

Why did I grow them? I don’t know. 

I spent the rest of the evening putting the next-to-last last touches on the Halloween costumes. And I remembered to take the pizza dough out of the freezer!

MONDAY
Under-over pizza

My pride at remembering to defrost the pizza evaporated when I realized I had forgotten that the oven was still broken. So I did what any red-blooded American would do (?): I broiled the pizzas until the top was bubbly, and then put them on the stovetop, carefully rotating them over the hot burner, in an attempt to firm up the underside of the crust. 

It . . . didn’t completely not work. 

Good effort, edible pizza. And anyway, we had Halloween costumes to finish.

TUESDAY
Hot dogs, popcorn

Tuesday was, of course, Halloween, so we had our traditional quickie meal, at a table graciously decorated appropriately for the day:

and then we were off trick or treating! Here’s some photos from the evening: 

 

A successful night, and boy am I old and tired. Got home, lit the jack-o’- lanterns just to see them lit (nobody comes to our house because we don’t have sidewalks), and put on Army of Darkness, which I slept through. 

I had just snuggled in under the covers of my bed when I suddenly remembered I was planning bo ssam the next day. And that means getting the meat going the night before. SO I DID.  Hero! I’m a dinner hero. 

WEDNESDAY
Bo ssam, rice, kiwi

Wednesday was All Saint’s Day and we let the kids stay home from school because, not because of the saints at all, we were just tired. So tired! And there was a real hard frost. The nerve.  We made it to the noon Mass with just a little screaming.

Wednesday I did remember the oven situations and was prepared to make the bo ssam in the Instant Pot and finish it up under the broiler, but Damien, who is the other hero around here, fixed the oven in the morning. I was so excited about it being fixed that I put the pork in right away, so it was done cooking at like 4 PM. So then I moved it to the slow cooker (not the Instant Pot, because I needed that to make rice) so it would stay warm but not dry out, and then back to the oven about ten minutes before supper with the little finishing glaze of brown sugar, sea salt, and cider vinegar that gives it that opulent caramelized crust. I use the My Korean Kitchen recipe, but I just do the salt and pepper overnight part, and then the brown sugar glaze part at the end. Very basic and easy, big return. 

Everybody likes bo ssam! We had lettuce to wrap up the rice and shreds of meat it, and I added some sweet chili sauce to mine, which was tasty. 

I also cut up a bunch of kiwis because I like to have something cool and juicy with this meal, because the meat is so outrageously salty. 

 

A very fine meal. 

THURSDAY
Shakshuka (eggs in purgatory), soul cakes, pomegranates, pumpkin seeds

Thursday was All Soul’s Day and I must have my little joke and serve eggs in purgatory, which is basically shakshuka, and soul cakes. 

In the morning, I dropped off all the kids and spotted a ton of free fencing on the side of the road, but got a text from Moe that his battery was dead. So I started stuffing fencing into the car as fast as I could, sincerely wishing I had remembered to take the Dalek out of the back. A crusty old Yankee stopped to help, and we fit all but two rolls of fencing. I explained that I have a little duck problem , and that’s my story. He understood. The Dalek goes in front. I drive into town, locate Moe’s car, annnd discover my jumper cables are missing a clamp. So we decide to drive to Harbor Freight, but first we have to put the Dalek into Moe’s car so there’s room in my car for Moe.
 
I can’t just go into the store myself because I am wearing bright pink pajamas.
 
So he buys the cables, I Google instructions, we fearfully hook it up, wait five minutes, and it works! Moe goes off, I go home with the alarm
going off the whole time because the back door is slightly open, and unload the fence, which I’m 80% sure is terrible fence and useless, and all is well. I may need a tetanus shot from getting poked with fence wires. I forgot the Dalek.
 
I sat there for a few minutes on the couch trying to figure out if I was an idiot or not. Then I just had some coffee and wrote two essays and made some dough. 
 
Here’s the recipe:
Jump to Recipe
 

made the shakshuka sauce and moved it into the slow cooker

(here’s the recipe:)

Jump to Recipe

and prepped a bunch of pumpkin seeds, and then it was time to go again, and I had to stop at Walmart, and then I went to the school, and GUESS WHAT? 

There was still some free fence on the side of the road! And there was no Dalek in my car anymore, due to me having forgotten. So this time, there was plenty of room. Sort of. 

So then we got home, and the kids cut out the soul cakes. This year we did skulls, ghosts, and angels. There’s some silly little theological allegory there but we’ll just skip it

I added some detail with this weird dried fruit I had in the cabinet, that I got on clearance at the International Market a while back, and then I sifted some powdered sugar over them when they came out of the oven. 

The fruit is called Tutti Frutti Mix, which implies in not one but two ways that there are two or three kinds of fruit in there. Right? “Tutti” and “Mix,” not to mention that “Frutti” is surely plural. 

It turns out it’s just papaya! 

It tasted fine, and the texture was pleasant. I was expecting a kind of gummy consistency, like those red and green cherries that go in one of those yucky fruitcakes, but it was chewy with a little edge, almost nutty. So there you go. I have a lot more of it (IT WAS ON SALE).

So first I made the pumpkin seeds

and I remembered to save a few dozen out to dry, rather than roasting them, so we can plant some nice big pumpkins in the spring. (I just tossed them with olive oil and sprinkled them with kosher salt and spread them in two shallow pans in a 350 oven, stirring them up every twenty minutes or so, for maybe forty minutes or an hour.)

When those were done, I baked the soul cakes, and when those were almost done, I started poaching the eggs in the shakshuka sauce

You’re supposed to have parmesan or feta, and parsley, for the top; but I didn’t have either. It was a nice sauce, though, with plenty of vegetables, and rather spicy. 

I cut up the pomegranates I’d been withholding all week

and we had ourselves a weird little meal for All Soul’s Day

And that’s my story!

FRIDAY
Shrimp lo mein

If I make it home alive. 

Tomato bisque with bacon

Calories 6 kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 lb bacon (peppered bacon is good)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 56 oz can of whole tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 46 oz tomato juice
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • salt and pepper
  • crispy fried onions (optional garnish)

Instructions

  1. Fry the bacon until crisp. Remove from pan, chop it up, and drain out all but a a few teaspoons of grease.

  2. Add the diced onion and minced garlic to the grease and sauté until soft.

  3. Add tomatoes (including juices), bay leaves, rosemary, and tomato juice, and simmer for 20 minutes. Save some rosemary for a garnish if you like.

  4. With a slotted spoon, fish out the bay leaf, the tomatoes, and most of the rosemary, leaving some rosemary leaves in. Discard most of the rosemary and bay leaf. Put the rest of the rosemary and the tomatoes in a food processor with the 8 oz of cream cheese until it's as smooth as you want it.

  5. Return pureed tomato mixture to pot. Salt and pepper to taste.

  6. Heat through. Add chopped bacon right before serving, or add to individual servings; and top with crispy fried onions if you like. Garnish with more rosemary if you're a fancy man. 

 

Soul cakes

Servings 18 flat cakes the size of large biscuits

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, chilled
  • 3-3/4 cup sifted flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp allspice (can sub cloves)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp cider vinegar (can sub white vinegar)
  • 4-6 Tbsp milk
  • powdered sugar to sprinkle on top

optional:

  • raisins, currants, nuts, candied citrus peels, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350

  2. Put the flour in a large bowl. Grate the chilled butter on a vegetable grater and incorporate it lightly into the flour.

  3. Stir in the sugar and spices until evenly distributed.

  4. In a smaller bowl, beat together the eggs, vinegar and milk. Stir this into the flour mixture until it forms a stiff dough.

  5. Knead for several minutes until smooth and roll out to 1/4 thick.

  6. Grease a baking pan. Cut the dough into rounds (or other shapes if you like) and lay them on the pan, leaving a bit of room in between (they puff up a bit, but not a lot). If you're adding raisins or other toppings, poke them into the top of the cakes, in a cross shape if you like. Prick cakes with fork.

  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes until very lightly browned on top.

  8. Sprinkle with powdered sugar while they are warm

 

Eggs in purgatory

Ingredients

  • 1 lb spicy loose Italian sausage
  • 30 oz diced tomatoes
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 8 eggs
  • parmesan cheese

optional:

  • 1 thinly sliced onion
  • 2 thinly sliced bell peppers
  • dash chili oil
  • 3 Tbsp tomato paste, if you like it firmer
  • coarsely chopped parsley for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a wide, shallow pan, brown up the sausage and garlic (and pepper flakes if using).

  2. If you're using onions or peppers, add them and cook until slightly soft.

  3. Add the diced tomatoes with juice. Cover and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes. Add the tomato paste if you want it firmer.

  4. Make eight shallow indentations in the sauce and carefully break an egg into each one.

  5. Cover the pan loosely and let it poach for six or seven minutes, until the egg whites are cooked and the yolks are as solid as you want them to be.

  6. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese toward the end, and serve immediately in scoops or wedges. Garnish with parsley if you like.

 

basic lo mein

Ingredients

for the sauce

  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 5 tsp sesame oil
  • 5 tsp sugar

for the rest

  • 32 oz uncooked noodles
  • sesame oil for cooking
  • add-ins (vegetables sliced thin or chopped small, shrimp, chicken, etc.)
  • 2/3 cup rice vinegar (or mirin, which will make it sweeter)

Instructions

  1. Mix together the sauce ingredients and set aside.

  2. Boil the noodles until slightly underdone. Drain and set aside.

  3. Heat up a pan, add some sesame oil for cooking, and quickly cook your vegetables or whatever add-ins you have chosen.

  4. Add the mirin to the pan and deglaze it.

  5. Add the cooked noodles in, and stir to combine. Add the sauce and stir to combine.

What’s for supper? Vol. 349: Take that, Fürst-Pückler

Happy Friday!  Today I am knee-deep in Dalekanium. This week, we had our big anniversary party (our anniversary is Oct. 25, but we had a party on the 15th), and now I’m buckling the heck down with Halloween costumes. First I managed to get incredibly sick for 24 hours, but I’m working my way past that now and made some progress on Dalek Sec:

This may look primitive to you, but I think my budget is roughly the same as what the BBC had to work with in 1963, so it’s fine. 

This is for Corrie. Last year, she was Duck from Sarah and Duck, and Benny was Sarah. 

Benny is a little fed up with being civil and well-behaved, and this year she’s going as Classic Green Goblin. More on that later!

So this week, we kinda front-loaded all the good food, and then I collapsed like a bunch of broccoli. We did not, however, have any broccoli. I just don’t like it very much, except one time when I was litle, my father took us to to a Japanese restaurant in New York City, and I didn’t know what to get, so they picked a tempura dish for me, and there was a single piece of each thing. I shall never forget that tempura broccoli.

Here’s what we did have: 

SATURDAY
Aldi pizza

Saturday I was busy cracking the whip, forcing my poor beleaguered children to do foolish things like sweep the hallway and clean under the couch cushions even though the guests might not even look under the couch cushions. 

On Saturday I made two kinds of ice cream, the panna cotta, and the suppli.

I was planning pistachio ice cream, and I followed this recipe, which is a copy cat Ben and Jerry’s recipe. I only made one teeny error: I uh bought cashews instead of pistachios. In my defense, “cashew” has an “sh” in it, and “pistachio” has a “ch.” I honestly think that was what confused me. It doesn’t take much, on a good day, but on Saturday I had a migraine and I was more than half zombie. (Did I tell you I finally got a referral to a neurologist??)

My original plan, you see, was Neapolitan ice cream, which is supposed to be pistachio, vanilla, and strawberry, to kinda get the colors of the Italian flag, although AKSHULLY: “The first recorded recipe was created by head chef of the royal Prussian household Louis Ferdinand Jungius in 1839, who dedicated the recipe to Fürst Pückler. To this day, the German name for Neapolitan ice cream is Fürst-Pückler-Eis.”

Soo, I forged ahead with cashews. Take that, Fürst-Pückler. I added some almond extract and, at the last minute, threw in some white chocolate chips. 

The other ice cream I made on Saturday was chocolate, and I just followed the Ben and Jerry’s recipe from their Ice Cream book

Jump to Recipe

They actually have three chocolate ice cream recipes. This one uses both  unsweetened baker’s chocolate and cocoa powder. 

Then I made the panna cotta, and I made my second dopey move. I used this vanilla bean recipe, which I had made last time and it turned out so nice. So I infuse the cream, I make the special vanilla-rubbed sugar, I slowly bring the cream to the right temperature, I bloom the gelatin, I chill the cream, I’m going along, I’m going along, and I’m tasting it from time to time as one does, and every time I taste it, I think to myself, “Wow, it’s not very sweet, is it?” And every time, my entire response to this is, ” . . . . huh.” So I clear out the fridge and pour the panna cotta into styrofoam cups in muffin tins and close the door and feel very acccomplished, because that’s done . . . 

. . . and then I see the bowl of sugar, still sitting there. That’s why it wasn’t very sweet! Light dawns on blockhead. I was in quite a panic, because I didn’t know what could be done; but a Facebook friend clued me in that you can re-heat gelatin, as long as you do it gradually. So I put the sugar into the pot, added one or two of the cups of cream mixture and made a little slurry and heated that a tiny bit, and then slowly added and very slowly heated and stirred the rest of the cream back in, until the sugar was dissolved. Then I put it back in the cups and back in the fridge. Whew. 

Then the suppli!

Suppli, also sometimes called arancini, are breaded, deep-fried balls of risotto with a center of melted mozzarella. We ate them just about every day in Rome for lunch, where you could get them for 1,000 Lire (about a dollar) in 1995, which is when I spent a semester in Rome (Damien’s class was a couple years after mine). 

It’s a time-consuming recipe, but eminently worth it.

Jump to Recipe

I sprang for arborio rice, which I don’t always do, and the risotto came out so mild and creamy, I could weep. I let it chill, added egg, and then formed it into balls with little cubes of fresh mozzarella inside, then rolled them in panko crumbs. They sort of slumped because the risotto was so creamy; but I chilled them overnight and by the time it was time to fry them, they held together nicely. 

Then that was enough for one night. 

SUNDAY
Antipasto platters, suppli, fettuccine and ragu, bread, ice cream, panna cotta with berries

Sunday Damien made the ragù using this amazing Deadspin recipe. It was heavy on the veal this time, and it was superb, as always. 

I started the other two kinds of ice cream in the morning: The cherry vanilla (just vanilla ice cream with maraschino cherries thrown in, plus some almond extract and a little of the syrup from the cherries), and the grape sorbet. I had frozen some grape mash from when we processed all those millions of Concord grapes and all week I have been trying to think of a joke for this picture, but I got nothing

Feel free, like if you want to show it to your doctor or something, I don’t know. 

Anyway I managed to make the grape sorbet and the cherry ice cream without incident, and stowed them in the freezer to firm up for evening. Then the only thing I had to still make was the bread. Easy! I can make bread!

Jump to Recipe

I decided four loaves would probably be enough, so I made a big batch of dough, and, because it was a little chilly in the kitchen, I turned on the oven for a few minutes, then turned it off and put the dough in there to rise. 

Then I forgot I had done so. 

Then

I asked Damien

to preheat the oven for me,

so I could bake the bread. 

AND THAT IS NOT HOW YOU MAKE BREAD. I realized ten minutes into it what I had done, and it was definitely too late. The only good thing I could think was that this was the third idiotic thing I had done (first the cashew pistachio ice cream, then the sugarless panna cotta, and now the half-baked bowl of dough), and three is the magic number, so surely I was done being stupid! 

I had a tiny little bit of stupidity left in me, though, so I thought, “Well, as long as I have this dough, it couldn’t hurt to try baking it and see what happens.” So I clawed out the part that was still dough-like and made it into balls and baked it like rolls. 

When I say “like” rolls, I mean . . . well . . . 

In my defense, that’s about what I expected. And I did throw them away! Didn’t even feed them to the ducks. 

By this time, it was starting to smell pretty great in the house because of the ragù, and it was time to sit down and have some fun making antipasto trays. I don’t even know what-all I got. Just this and that, some cured meats and olives and fresh and pickled vegetables and various cheeses. 

and breadsticks, and a bunch of grapes and clementines

and I made a bunch of bruschetta out of store-bought bread, and all the kids came and brought more bread just for eating, and they brought flowers, too.

The suppli fried up REAL nice (I think I ended up with about 30) 

Our friends Sarah, Tiffany, and Theresa came and we all got to just sit around and eat and talk and laugh and it was so nice. 

Oh, and the panna cotta turned out fine! Everyone liked it. I meant to macerate the berries, but I forgot, so I just threw them on top, and it was great. 

So, happy almost anniversary to us. I wish I had gotten more pictures!

As long as I’m going on and on and on, I might as well tell you about my patio chairs. I got them FREE on the side of the road, and then I found cushions at Walmart on clearance, and don’t they look nice?

Whew. 

 

MONDAY
Leftover pasta and ragu

Monday, naturally, we had tons of leftover food, so I bought some more pasta on the way home and we had ragù again, which no one was mad about, believe me. It’s so good. 

TUESDAY
Aldi pizza again

Tuesday was when I had to admit I wasn’t just tired after the party, I was really sick. I dropped Corrie off at school and realized I wasn’t in any shape to drive home, so I parked in the school lot and fell asleep in the car for forty minutes, then crept home and slept most of the next 24 hours. Damien got pizza and managed everything else.

WEDNESDAY
Rotisserie chicken, salad, and leftover antipasto

Wednesday I felt half human, so I just napped a bit and then picked up some rotisserie chickens and cut them up, and pulled the rest of the leftover antipasto elements out of the fridge

and I had a nice little girl dinner 

Do you see how thick they cut the prosciutto, though? I forgot about this. I wasn’t watching, and they cut it like ham! I was so annoyed. I had been planning to make some kind of prosciutto-wrapped fruit slices for the party, but when I opened the package, it was impossible. Oh well. Pickled vegetables make everything better. 

THURSDAY
Burgers and chips

Thursday I was like, oops, the person who is me has still not gone shopping this week; so I got some hamburger meat, and we had burgers. 

Look at me, I had sugar snap peas instead of chips. I’m kind of furious at how slowly I’m losing weight, but it is coming off. Slowly. (Don’t ask me how I can eat panna cotta and prosciutto and still be furious about how slowly I’m losing weight. I just can, okay?) 

FRIDAY
I have no idea. Noooooo idea. I don’t even know what food is. I should have saved those rolls. 

I would seriously rather eat those than come up with something new for nine people to eat. Take that, Fürst-Pückler.

Oh, you know what? I never said, but the cashew white chocolate ice cream was really good. I may make it on purpose sometime.

 

Suppli (or Arancini)

Breaded, deep fried balls of risotto with a center of melted mozzarella. 
Make the risotto first and leave time to refrigerate the suppli before deep frying. 

Ingredients

  • 12 cups chicken stock
  • 8 + 8 Tbs butter
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 4 cups raw rice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese

To make suppli out of the risotto:

  • risotto
  • 1 beaten egg FOR EACH CUP OF RISOTTO
  • bread crumbs or panko bread crumbs
  • plenty of oil for frying
  • mozzarella in one-inch cubes (I use about a pound of cheese per 24 suppli)

Instructions

  1. Makes enough risotto for 24+ suppli the size of goose eggs.


    Set chicken stock to simmer in a pot.

    In a large pan, melt 8 Tbs. of the butter, and cook onions slowly until soft but not brown.

    Stir in raw rice and cook 7-8 minutes or more, stirring, until the grains glisten and are opaque.

    Pour in the wine and boil until wine is absorbed.

    Add 4 cups of simmering stock and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until the liquid is almost absorbed.

    Add 4 more cups of stock and cook until absorbed.

    If the rice is not tender by this point, keep adding cups of stock until it is tender. You really want the rice to expand and become creamy.

    When rice is done, gently stir in the other 8 Tbs of butter and the grated cheese with a fork.

  2. This risotto is wonderful to eat on its own, but if you want to make suppli out of it, read on!

  3. TO MAKE THE SUPPLI:

    Beat the eggs and gently mix them into the risotto.


    Scoop up about 1/4 cup risotto mixture. Press a cube of mozzarella. Top with another 1/4 cup scoop of risotto. Roll and form an egg shape with your hands.


    Roll and coat each risotto ball in bread crumbs and lay in pan to refrigerate. 


    Chill for at least an hour to make the balls hold together when you fry them.


    Put enough oil in pan to submerge the suppli. Heat slowly until it's bubbling nicely, but not so hot that it's smoking. It's the right temperature when little bubbles form on a wooden spoon submerged in the oil. 


    Preheat the oven if you are making a large batch, and put a paper-lined pan in the oven.


    Carefully lower suppli into the oil. Don't crowd them! Just do a few at a time. Let them fry for a few minutes and gently dislodge them from the bottom. Turn once if necessary. They should be golden brown all over. 


    Carefully remove the suppli from the oil with a slotted spoon and eat immediately, or keep them warm in the oven. 

 

Jerry's Chocolate Ice Cream

This is the more textured chocolate ice cream from the Ben and Jerry's ice cream recipe book. It has a rich, dusky chocolate flavor and texture. Makes 2 quarts. This recipe requires some chill time before you put the cream mixture into the machine.

Ingredients

  • 4 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 3 cups milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups heavy or whipping cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Melt the unsweetened chocolate. I used a double boiler, but you can use a microwave if you're careful. Whisk in the cocoa and continue heating until it's smooth. It's okay if it's clumpy. Continue heating and whisk in the milk gradually until it's all blended together. Remove from heat and let cool.

  2. In another bowl, whisk, the eggs until light and fluffy. Gradually whisk in the sugar and continue whisking until completely blended. Add in the cream and vanilla and continue whisking until blended.

  3. Add the chocolate mixture into the cream mixture and stir to blend. Cover and refrigerate for about three hours, or until it is cold.

  4. Use the cold mixture in your ice cream machine. I used my Cuisinart and let it churn for thirty minutes, then let it cure overnight.

French bread

Makes four long loaves. You can make the dough in one batch in a standard-sized standing mixer bowl if you are careful!

I have a hard time getting the water temperature right for yeast. One thing to know is if your water is too cool, the yeast will proof eventually; it will just take longer. So if you're nervous, err on the side of coolness.

Ingredients

  • 4-1/2 cups warm water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp active dry yeast
  • 5 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup olive or canola oil
  • 10-12 cups flour
  • butter for greasing the pan (can also use parchment paper) and for running over the hot bread (optional)
  • corn meal for sprinkling on pan (optional)

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, put the warm water, and mix in the sugar and yeast until dissolved. Let stand at least five minutes until it foams a bit. If the water is too cool, it's okay; it will just take longer.

  2. Fit on the dough hook and add the salt, oil, and six of the cups of flour. Add the flour gradually, so it doesn't spurt all over the place. Mix and low and then medium speed. Gradually add more flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is smooth and comes away from the side of the bowl as you mix. It should be tender but not sticky.

  3. Lightly grease a bowl and put the dough ball in it. Cover with a damp towel or lightly cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for about an hour, until it's about double in size.

  4. Flour a working surface. Divide the dough into four balls. Taking one at a time, roll, pat, and/or stretch it out until it's a rough rectangle about 9x13" (a little bigger than a piece of looseleaf paper).

  5. Roll the long side of the dough up into a long cylinder and pinch the seam shut, and pinch the ends, so it stays rolled up. It doesn't have to be super tight, but you don't want a ton of air trapped in it.

  6. Butter some large pans. Sprinkle them with cornmeal if you like. You can also line them with parchment paper. Lay the loaves on the pans.

  7. Cover them with damp cloths or plastic wrap again and set to rise in a warm place again, until they come close to double in size. Preheat the oven to 375.

  8. Give each loaf several deep, diagonal slashes with a sharp knife. This will allow the loaves to rise without exploding. Put the pans in the oven and throw some ice cubes in the bottom of the oven, or spray some water in with a mister, and close the oven quickly, to give the bread a nice crust.

  9. Bake 25 minutes or more until the crust is golden. One pan may need to bake a few minutes longer.

  10. Run some butter over the crust of the hot bread if you like, to make it shiny and even yummier.

What were you for Halloween?

Finally October, and that means no one can stop me from talking about Halloween costumes!

This year, my wish is finally coming true: Benny is going to be Sarah from Sarah & Duck for Halloween, and Corrie is going to be Duck. Rarely have costumes been matched so well to personalities. I had to sweeten the deal by promising to be Yarn Lady, and I don’t really see that that’s especially apt, but the kids think it’s pretty funny. 

Halloween costumes have certainly changed from my youth. When I was growing up, most of the class turned up in those brittle, blurry plastic masks with tiny nostril holes and eyes and a slitty mouth, and you would clothe yourself in a slithery plastic smock with a picture of yourself on the chest, and that was magical enough.

In my family, though, some combination of being poor and weird compelled us to make our own costumes. My mother absolutely hated this kind of project. She would suffer torments for us, die for us, but making Halloween costumes was a bridge too far; so we were mostly left to our own devices, with mixed results.

First grade: My older sister was an angel, and I was a devil. One of my teenage sisters sewed these costumes, which were pretty spectacular. I remember yards and yards of gold wiggly ric-rac, and my big sister spreading the white fabric for the angel costume out on the floor and saying in mock gruff tones, “Put yer neck right here” so she could measure it. I remember when it was my turn to lie on the devil-red fabric on the floor, and hearing and feeling the scissors slowly biting through the cloth, closer and closer to my head. The thrill! 

I totally should have won the class costume contest for my devil suit, but instead, Amy who was dressed like a nurse won, just because they thought she was cute. Inexcusable. But when we went trick-or-treating, somebody thought I was so cute, she gave me an entire full-sized bag of potato chips! Imagine walking home in the dark on your stubby little devil legs hauling an enormous bag of chips, all for yourself, based solely on your cuteness. Vindicated! That triumph has never been equalled to this day.

Second grade: We were ladybugs, my sister and I both. My mother got a library book possibly this one, by Frieda Gates

that told you how to make easy costumes out of “oak tag,” which is what my mother called what is now called “poster board.”  (My mother also called ground beef “chopmeat” and jeans “dungarees,” I assumed for the sole purpose of humiliating me in front of my friends.) Many of the costumes were two pieces of poster board connected with string to hang over your shoulders, like a sandwich board sign. The lady bug costume was red poster board with big black dots, and there must have been some kind of headpiece, or maybe just a black hat. Everyone was pleased and relieved that we could wear our winter jackets under the costumes without doing violence to the aesthetic, which was always a point of contention.  We could even integrate those fluorescent orange reflective dot stickers the fire station used to give out, to discourage cars from running little children down. 

Correction! The book we had was this one: Easy Costumes You Don’t Have to Sew by Goldie Chernoff

Here’s my sister as a tombstone, using the “two pieces of oaktag” method.

This style of costume also forces you to walk in a sedate, ladylike manner, or else it flaps something awful. 

This may have been the year my sister and I wandered out so late and so long, deciding to try for one more house and one more house, that we looked up and realized we were far, far past any neighborhood we recognized, next to some kind of strange tire junk yard with a broken down fence, and it was well and truly black sky dark out, not just dusk, and our hands were freezing cold and our bags were heavy and our legs were stiff and exhausted. Whether or not we made it back home, I don’t remember. 

Third grade: A tree. This was certainly my own idea, and it was not a good one. It took a very long time to trace all those separate maple leaves out of construction paper, draw the little veins on, and cut them out, but the really hard part was holding my arms up the whole time. Yes, I designed this costumes so that it only looked like a tree if I held my arms up in the air, treelike. If I ever rested my arms, I just looked like a wad of construction paper. Oaktag, if you will. I believe this is the year my sister was a gravestone, or possibly an ear of corn (which also flapped a lot).

I HAVE A PHOTO.

Still smiling;  hadn’t yet realized about the arms. 

Fourth grade: I don’t remember. I do recall I spent a lot of time drawing and painting pictures of people raking leaves, the leaves rendered with bits of sponge dipped in paint and dabbed delicately on the paper; and I spent an awful lot of time drawing skeletons. This lasted throughout the whole year and into the next. Just never got tired of drawing skeletons, and they are still often on my mind. I did enter a Halloween window painting contest; maybe that was fourth grade. Skeletons were a major part of it, as well as some bats. The purple paint from the clouds dripped down over the bats, and me and my friend Lori decided to pretend we had done it on purpose, because the bats were so spooky, even their blood was purple! And we won second place, but the Eagle Times reported that we had won third, and my mother didn’t let me call in a correction, which is total chopmeat. 

Wow, I just suddenly remembered that I had a Halloween party at my house instead of trick-or treating one year! That must have been fourth grade. My father, who was the librarian at the local state college, borrowed a skeleton from the science class, and we set that up in the doorway to greet people. We had an old, rather shabby victorian house, which helped to sell the whole vibe. We did the classic “dead man’s remains” party game, turning off the lights and passing around various foods, solemnly explaining which body parts they were. Peeled grapes for eyeballs, oiled spaghetti for brains, perhaps some Jell-o for some other organ. My father must have organized this. He used to be a children’s librarian, and he loved doing group activities with songs and games. He used to do this thing where you drew little bits of a map as you told a story, and when the story was done, it turned out you had been drawing a duck the whole time. For the Halloween party, I’m guessing he employed his 

Fifth grade: I was Sleeping Beauty. By this time, we had acquired some kind of princess dress made with maroon velveteen and brocade from a yard sale or something. It had ballooning, floral patterned sleeves with long ribbons at the shoulders, you could lace up your arms in a criss-cross pattern, very romantic. So I wore that and made a spinning wheel out of cardboard. I seem to remember a gold crown made out of . . . something uncrownlike, that hurt my scalp a lot. It couldn’t have been barbed wire, but that’s how I remember it. I do remember a freckled girl named Pam being picked up by her mom, staring at my dress with great envy, and savagely remarking, “Must be nice to have someone make homemade costumes for you!” and her mom looking sad. This essay, like all essays, seems to be about moms.

Sixth grade: A flower? I think I made a mask out of a paper plate with painted paper plate petals, and then made a center out of hot pink synthetic fur. This would have been about 1986, so it was pretty easy to get your hands on some synthetic hot pink fur. This was right about the age you were supposed to stop caring about dressing up for Halloween, so you had to start veering into ironic or upsetting or sexy if you wanted to wear a costume. I may have been an idiot in sixth grade, but even I could tell I wasn’t sexy, no matter how many jelly bracelets I managed to cram on my arms; and in my house, my mother scathingly referred to Madonna as “Madoona,” because she didn’t deserve to have the same name as the Blessed Mother; so there wasn’t any way I was going to get away with that kind of costume anyway) so I guess I went with upsetting. I remember sort of looming at people, and refusing to speak, and feeling that I must be an alien flower from some other galaxy. (Really I was just a regular flower.)

And then I don’t think I dressed up again until college, when we were supposed to wear costumes based on the things we were reading in Humanities. 

One year I was, sorry, Aristotle’s Incontinent Man, and that was when I found out how expensive adult diapers are (too expensive for a joke costume, it turns out). I guess I wore dark clothes with a sheet wrapped around my loins, and then I wore makeup to make my eyebrows look indecisive. When it was my turn to present my costume, I asked Maria for a cigarette, and then as soon as I lit it, I change my mind and stamped it out, which made Maria pretty mad. Ha ha, get it, because he’s incontinent. Boy, I miss smoking. 

And that is all I remember. If someone out there went to college with me and has photos of me in blackface or something, please have mercy and keep it to yourself! I’ve changed! I’m Yarn Lady now. 

 

Halloween roundup! Samhain, witch burning, pumpkin carving, werewolf movies, and SPOOKY MISC.

I’ve made my annual pilgrimage to Walmart to get more hot glue sticks while wearing embarrassing pajamas, so I guess I’m just about ready for Halloween. Last night I made progress on an Athena costume (helmet, spear, and aegis) for Corrie, and Clara saved the day by sewing a pirate skirt for Benny. I did my part by buying bootlaces that don’t perpetually untie themselves, and honestly, that may have saved Halloween, too. 

I’ve been saving up a few interesting bits of reading to share, more or less Halloween related:

Is Halloween ackshully pagan?

Samhain photo by Robin Canfield on Unsplash 

Short answer: No. Long answer: No, it’s Catholic, always has been, you absolute shoehorning no-history-knowing nits. So says Tim O’Neill of History for Atheists, and he has the goods. The idea that religious people stole Samhain or some other pre-christian tradition from pagans is popular but completely without historical merit. A longish and fascinating read from a guy who can’t be accused of having a religious agenda.

Sorta related: Who burned the witches? This is an older article by Salon co-founder Laura Miller published in 2005, challenging the idea that, when we say “witch burning,” we mean some concerted effort by the big bad church to quash rebellious wise women who knew too much about how to gather healing herbs and whatnot.

Photo by Evgeniy Kletsov on Unsplash 

Nobody really comes out looking especially awesome in the witch trial era, but it really seems to have been mostly a case of people being like people be, which is horrible enough in itself:

The mass of detail can be numbing, but what it reveals is important: not a sweeping, coordinated effort to exert control by a major historical player, but something more like what Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil.” Witch hunts were a collaboration between lower-level authorities and commonfolk succumbing to garden-variety pettiness, vindictiveness, superstition and hysteria. Seen that way, it’s a pattern that recurs over and over again in various forms throughout human history, whether or not an evil international church or a ruthless patriarchy is involved, in places as different as Seattle and Rwanda.

This is, in fact, more or less how it was taught to us in public school when I was growing up. I appreciate the attempt to bring some balance to the conversation, which, if anything, has gotten dumber since this article came out. And I wish people would be willing to consider this less conspiratorial, more mundane explanation more often for . . . everything. When we can explain everything bad with a conspiracy, that’s thrilling and satisfying, and lets us imagine that there are clear cut bad guys who aren’t us; but it’s far more likely that people everywhere are petty and vengeful and prone to letting their bad impulses get out of control. Nobody wants to hear it, because it means it’s something we’re all susceptible to. 
 
What else? Pumpkins! Just a few more days until we get our dining room table back. 
 
 
If I put the pumpkins outside now, they’ll be freezing cold when we bring them in to scoop them out. And I also haven’t super duper found spots for all the frost-damaged plants I brought in, yet. So this is how we live. At least the cookie is happy. Somewhere in there is a spool of wire I bought to make the snakes for Athena’s aegis, but I can’t find it, so I got more in my pajamas.
 
I finally got my anxious paws on those pumpkins yesterday, after searching no fewer than seven stores and coming up empty and getting more and more nervous about having to carve, like, cauliflowers for Halloween this year. I told the Home Depot lady that probably Covid made people sad, which made them want to decorate more, which made them buy extra pumpkins, and she said that sounded exactly right, but even I could tell it was stupid. In real life, I blame the Masons, or possibly the Jews. Anyway, now we have ten lovely fat pumpkins to carve. I got a Dremel for Christmas last year, and I’ve barely used it, so I think I will make something splendid this year.  Check out #11. Okay, realistically speaking, I will make a sloppy attempt at it, and my family will be really supportive and nice about it. I can live with this. 
 
 
And finally, a Halloween family watching suggestion, not a new one but a solid choice: Over the Garden Wall
 

I’m still amazed it got broadcast, because it’s so weird and beautiful and thoughtful. It’s an animated miniseries of 12 short episodes, and every one is gorgeous, creepy, funny, and strangely moving, with crazy, memorable music.

Two half-brothers find themselves lost in the woods on Halloween, and as they try to make their way home, they become entangled in some terrifying otherworldly business. It’s loosely inspired by The Divine Comedy, but I wouldn’t push that too far. 

Each episode is about 11 minutes, so you can watch the entire series in about two hours. We split it into two nights. Here’s the first episode, which is pretty representative:

It’s rated PG, but some of the characters and situations are extremely creepy, so while we did let our six-year-old watch it, she has a very high tolerance for scary stuff, and some kids under the age of eight or nine could find it too scary. (Here’s a specific list of creepy stuff.) There is a lot of very silly and hilarious stuff that fixes you right up when you get creeped out. No gore, graphic violence, or sex. There is a persistent melancholy tone, but all the relationships in the show get worked out very satisfactorily, and familial love is the true theme of the miniseries, and all is restored in the end. 

This show also contains one of the most realistic depictions of a goofy little boy we’ve ever seen. We’ve come to burgle your turts! Lots of quotes and songs have become part of our family culture.

Here’s a beast costume

a Wirt costume

and a Wirt and Greg cake:

The whole thing is crowded with allusions and suggestions and portents, and you can either pursue them or just enjoy them. It originally ran on Cartoon Network in 2014. It doesn’t appear to be streaming for free anywhere right now. We bought it to stream on Amazon.

We haven’t settled on a scary movie to watch on Halloween night. We’ve seen Young Frankenstein too recently. We’ve seen Army of Darkness a million times. I may push for renting Silver Bullet (1985), which is the only good werewolf movie ever made. FIGHT ME. Here’s where you can watch it (nowhere for free right now, that I can see.)
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1dClCykQys
 
And I guess that’s it. We have never managed to do anything for All Saint’s Day, but if you do, here’s my list of costumes that will do double duty, and work for saints and their spookier counterparts as well. I should update it to add Matt Swaim’s suggestion:
 

And if you’re really ahead of the game, here is my All Soul’s Day cheat sheet: A recipe for eggs in purgatory, a recipe for soul cakes, and a quick prayer for the dead. Donezo. 

What’s for supper, Vol. 230: In which I mise all over the place

Ho hum, what a dull week. At least we have food to talk about. Here’s what we had this week:

SATURDAY
Cheeseburgers and candy

Halloween! We had some kind of complicated plan with multiple cars and pick ups and drop offs before trick or treating, so Damien bought a sack of Wendy’s burgers and distributed them to anyone who would slow down long enough to eat one, and/or could bend their arms enough to reach their mouths with their costumes on. 

We had a really good costume year. Clara taught herself how to sew and made a dress and a cloak, and went as an autumn warrior elf or something. 

Elijah spent about 900 hours cutting, shaping, sanding, gluing, and painting bits of foam, and came out with this incredible Mandalorian costume

Lucy and Sophia had store-bought costumes and wigs, Tsuyu and Ochako, which they bought with money they earned by working, and Lucy made her boots out of foam

Irene was Grunkle Stan (I made the fez and she made the 8 ball cane)

Benny was a fairy princess dragon

and Corrie was Jim from Troll Hunters

And that was that! Only about half as many people as usual were giving out treats, but they made up for numbers with enthusiasm, ingenious candy delivery devices, and of course candy. 

SUNDAY
Pulled chicken sandwiches, coleslaw, french fries

Wanted to try something easy but different. This didn’t knock anyone’s socks off, but it was fine. I served it with red onions and little dill pickles.

I used this recipe that calls for grated onion, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, and bottled BBQ sauce, and it came out tasting exactly like I had just used bottled BBQ sauce. Next time I’ll either skip the extra ingredients and just do that, or else I’ll find a recipe that delivers more for the effort. It’s nice to have something else to do with chicken, anyway. 

MONDAY
Beef barley soup, pumpkin muffins (and soul cakes)

A snowy, blustery day, great for soup and muffins. Beef barley soup is popular with more than half the family, which is pretty good. My version has onions, carrots, mushrooms, tender beef, tomatoes, barley, and a rich beef broth with red wine, and plenty of pepper. 

Jump to Recipe

I made it in the Instant Pot, but this recipe easily adapts for stovetop. 

Poor Benny made her first batch of pumpkin muffins all by herself last week, and just as she was ready to pop them in the oven, the pan tipped over and it all flopped out on the floor. So she was especially glad to see these. 

Jump to Recipe

I think my baking soda may be a bit feeble, or maybe I just didn’t fill the tins high enough; but they turned out well enough, if not lofty and huge. 

I made a double recipe, which gave me enough for 24 muffins and a large loaf. For the loaf, I added dried cranberries and sunflower seeds. 

I had to leave the house while it was still baking, so it stayed in the oven a little too long and got too dry; but it was still pleasant and hearty. I’ll use this combination again, or maybe walnuts instead of sunflower seeds.

And it being All Souls Day, Clara made these lovely soul cakes, as I mentioned

Good smell day at the Fisher house. 

TUESDAY
Asian meatballs and rice

Election day. I wanted something I could prep ahead of time and serve without a lot of fuss, because Damien and I were both out after dinner covering election results. So I went with Asian meatballs, which is a foolproof recipe. 

Jump to Recipe

OR SO I THOUGHT.

My fellow Americans, these meatballs were horrendous.  I don’t know what happened. I was in such a rush and ended up eyeballing the spices, and, well, I guess I know what happened. They were so horribly salty and harsh and awful! Oh well. It’s a good recipe if you follow it. 

That’s hot sauce, not ketchup. And no, putting hot sauce on your painfully salty meatballs doesn’t make them better. After I took this picture, I tried adding duck sauce, which also, you’ll never guess, didn’t help. I don’t even know what is wrong with me. 

WEDNESDAY
Chicken burgers, chips, quinoa and kale

I made a big speech about how I bought a bag of steamable quinoa and kale because I happen to like it, and they are welcome to have some if they want, but no one has to eat it, and they can just eat their fake Pringles, and they just aren’t allowed to give me a hard time about my quinoa and kale. 

They did give me a hard time, though, the little creeps.

I happen to like quinoa and kale!  Leave me alone with my mountain of quinoa and kale! Love is love. In this house we believe you should leave your mother alone. 

THURSDAY
Banh mi

A long-promised meal. This really is the queen of all sandwiches. 

Jump to Recipe

I guess this was the only meal that really turned out this week. I didn’t want to mention it before, but the mushrooms in the beef barley soup were a little past their prime, and I tried to pretend it was fine, but the soup was really not that great. And to be honest, I should have cooked this banh mi pork right in the pan, rather than on a rack, because it was a little dry. 

But I did toast-and-not-burn the baguettes, and I pickled ever so many carrots,

Jump to Recipe

and there were cucumbers, plenty of cilantro, pickled jalapeños, and sriracha mayo, and it’s a dem fine sandwich. A dem fine sandwich. Worth the effort. 

It’s killing me that today is meatless Friday. We may even have some leftover rice, and I could be having a leftover banh mi bowl right now. I was talking it over with Lena and we agreed, we need more bowls of things in our life. Vote for me; I’ll get you a bowl of something. 

FRIDAY
Eggs migas with refried beans

I don’t even have to look; I can feel that we have 346 bags of tortillas in the house. The eggs are probably all frozen, but what the hell. We even have some refried beans, and that has made all the difference.

I guess I haven’t written up a migas recipe yet. Don’t tell anyone I said that, but it’s basically matzoh brei for Mexicans. You slice some tortillas thin and fry them until crisp, then add in some beaten eggs and scramble it together. You can add in other stuff while it cooks, but I like to cook it simply and then serve the extras as toppings and sides. 

And there it is. I’m projecting a win for everyone at dinnertime today.

Here’s the recipe cards for the week. Enjoy!

Coleslaw

Ingredients

  • 1 head cabbage, shredded
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 5 radishes, grated or sliced thin (optional)

Dressing

  • 1 cup mayo
  • 1 cup cider or white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Mix together shredded vegetables. 
    Mix dressing ingredients together and stir into cabbage mix. 

Soul cakes

Servings 18 flat cakes the size of large biscuits

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, chilled
  • 3-3/4 cup sifted flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp allspice (can sub cloves)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp cider vinegar (can sub white vinegar)
  • 4-6 Tbsp milk
  • powdered sugar to sprinkle on top

optional:

  • raisins, currants, nuts, candied citrus peels, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350

  2. Put the flour in a large bowl. Grate the chilled butter on a vegetable grater and incorporate it lightly into the flour.

  3. Stir in the sugar and spices until evenly distributed.

  4. In a smaller bowl, beat together the eggs, vinegar and milk. Stir this into the flour mixture until it forms a stiff dough.

  5. Knead for several minutes until smooth and roll out to 1/4 thick.

  6. Grease a baking pan. Cut the dough into rounds (or other shapes if you like) and lay them on the pan, leaving a bit of room in between (they puff up a bit, but not a lot). If you're adding raisins or other toppings, poke them into the top of the cakes, in a cross shape if you like. Prick cakes with fork.

  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes until very lightly browned on top.

  8. Sprinkle with powdered sugar while they are warm

Beef barley soup (Instant Pot or stovetop)

Makes about a gallon of lovely soup

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion or red onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 3-4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2-3 lbs beef, cubed
  • 16 oz mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
  • 6 cups beef bouillon
  • 1 cup merlot or other red wine
  • 29 oz canned diced tomatoes (fire roasted is nice) with juice
  • 1 cup uncooked barley
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a heavy pot. If using Instant Pot, choose "saute." Add the minced garlic, diced onion, and diced carrot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions and carrots are softened. 


  2. Add the cubes of beef and cook until slightly browned.

  3. Add the canned tomatoes with their juice, the beef broth, and the merlot, plus 3 cups of water. Stir and add the mushrooms and barley. 

  4. If cooking on stovetop, cover loosely and let simmer for several hours. If using Instant Pot, close top, close valve, and set to high pressure for 30 minutes. 

  5. Before serving, add pepper to taste. Salt if necessary. 

 

5 from 1 vote
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Pumpkin quick bread or muffins

Makes 2 loaves or 18+ muffins

Ingredients

  • 30 oz canned pumpkin puree
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup veg or canola oil
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 3.5 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • oats, wheat germ, turbinado sugar, chopped dates, almonds, raisins, etc. optional

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter two loaf pans or butter or line 18 muffin tins.

  2. In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients.

  3. In a separate bowl, mix together wet ingredients. Stir wet mixture into dry mixture and mix just to blend. 

  4. Optional: add toppings or stir-ins of your choice. 

  5. Spoon batter into pans or tins. Bake about 25 minutes for muffins, about 40 minutes for loaves. 

 

Vaguely Asian meatballs with dipping sauce

Very simple meatballs with a vaguely Korean flavor. These are mild enough that kids will eat them happily, but if you want to kick up the Korean taste, you can serve them with dipping sauces and pickled vegetables. Serve with rice.

Servings 30 large meatballs

Ingredients

  • 2.5 lbs ground beef
  • 1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed finely
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 head garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped (save out a bit for a garnish)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp ground white pepper

For dipping sauce:

  • mirin or rice vinegar
  • soy sauce

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425.

  2. Mix together the meat and all the meatball ingredients with your hands until they are well combined. Form large balls and lay them on a baking pan with a rim.

  3. Bake for about 15 minutes.

  4. Serve over rice with dipping sauce and a sprinkle of scallions.

 

Pork banh mi

Ingredients

  • 5-6 lbs Pork loin
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 minced onion
  • 1/2 head garlic, minced or crushed
  • 2 tsp pepper

Veggies and dressing

  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • vinegar
  • sugar
  • cilantro
  • mayonnaise
  • Sriracha sauce

Instructions

  1. Slice the raw pork as thinly as you can. 

  2. Mix together the fish sauce ingredients and add the meat slices. Seal in a ziplock bag to marinate, as it is horrendously stinky. Marinate several hours or overnight. 

  3. Grill the meat over coals or on a pan under a hot broiler. 

  4. Toast a sliced baguette or other crusty bread. 

 

quick-pickled carrots and/or cucumbers for banh mi, bibimbap, ramen, tacos, etc.

An easy way to add tons of bright flavor and crunch to a meal. We pickle carrots and cucumbers most often, but you can also use radishes, red onions, daikon, or any firm vegetable. 

Ingredients

  • 6-7 medium carrots, peeled
  • 1 lb mini cucumbers (or 1 lg cucumber)

For the brine (make double if pickling both carrots and cukes)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (other vinegars will also work; you'll just get a slightly different flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Mix brine ingredients together until salt and sugar are dissolved. 

  2. Slice or julienne the vegetables. The thinner they are, the more flavor they pick up, but the more quickly they will go soft, so decide how soon you are going to eat them and cut accordingly!

    Add them to the brine so they are submerged.

  3. Cover and let sit for a few hours or overnight or longer. Refrigerate if you're going to leave them overnight or longer.

What’s for supper? Vol. 229: Make-ahead meals and Halloween costumes!

Well, it’s snowing.

Our house sports Halloween decorations covered with snow every year, but usually that’s because it’s December and we’re lazy, and not because the sky has lost its damn mind.

But guess what? I knew last night that it was going to snow, so I took the boots and hats and mittens out before bedtime. Who has two thumbs and isn’t going to get a gentle reminder from the teachers that New England weather is unpredictable and children should be dressed appropriately for cold weather? 

 This asshole!

Also I finally broke down and visited the special respiratory clinic where everyone is dressed like an astronaut and I’m there in jeans and a cloth mask, and I have bronchitis again, or I guess still, and frankly just about everything I care about most in life is getting extremely wobbly. But at least we have food. And I’m doing another round of Prednisone, so we’ll see what gets cleaned around here, grr.

Here’s what we ate this week:

SATURDAY
Chicken quesadillas, guacamole

Our freezer situation is mostly terrible, and is full of frozen nightmares, frozen regrets, frozen negligence, and peas. BUT, it also had a bag of shredded chili lime chicken in it. So I nuked that and Damien made a bunch of quesadillas with it.

I also made a big batch of guacamole, and Damien mentioned how much he appreciates that I’m not one of those mayonnaise guacamole women. He’s right, I’m not.

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SUNDAY
Anniversary!

The kids made French toast casserole and orange juice, and Damien and I went out for the whole day for our 23rd anniversary, and had a lovely day. We had some errands up north, then went to a shooting range, and ended up with some Chinese dinner boxes, which we ate outside in the cold, for duty and humanity

Here’s a tip for all you young ladies: After 23 years of marriage, it never hurts to remind your husband you can handle a Glock. 

MONDAY
One-pan kielbasa, red potato, and cabbage dinner

A nice easy meal. You can do all the prep work ahead of time and throw it in the oven half an hour before dinner for a tasty meal, with dressing, even!

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Discs of kielbasa, discs or wedges of red potato, and rounds of cabbage roasted together, with a balsamic honey mustard dressing.

No one complained that I forgot the parsley. 

This is such a weirdly photogenic meal.

Isn’t it neat? I love it. 

TUESDAY
Grilled ham and cheese, Jerusalem salad

I prepped this ahead of time, too. I’ve been an absolute dinner machine this week. Here’s a “cooking for a crowd” tip: If I don’t have room in the fridge for a giant pan of prepped food, I lay a second pan over the top and distribute ice packs over it. Brilliant, or just bacteriogenic? Why not both?

I like sourdough best for grilled cheese, with a little skim of mayo on the outside of the bread, and fried in butter. I fry it just to toast up the outside, then I slide the sandwiches into a warm oven to make sure the cheese is melted. Then I serve up the whole panful of sandwiches all at once, rather than dishing them out as I make them. 

Jerusalem salad is tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, lemon juice and olive oil, and salt and pepper, and then parsley and/or mint. I discovered I only had yellow onions, and it made a much bigger difference than I expected. It just wasn’t that good, and hardly anyone ate it, and then I planned to have it for lunch all week, but the refrigerator froze it. Oh well.

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It’s really more of a refreshing warm-weather dish anyway, I guess. I was just tired of serving chips. 

WEDNESDAY
One-pan honey balsamic chicken thighs with roast vegetables

You’ll never guess: I prepped this ahead of time. I had a couple of pounds of brussels sprouts, a pound of baby-cut carrots, and a weird stubby little butternut squash. It would have been good with some red potato wedges, too, but as me old grandmither used to say, ye canna always hae the red potatoes. 

Just kidding. Me old grandmither used to say “Gay kaken ofn yahm,” as I recall.

So you make a little sauce and mix it up with the vegetables, spread them in a pan, nestle the chicken thighs in there, and season the whole thing, and roast it. That’s it.

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I also had some random broccoli, which I added in the last 12 minutes or so, so it wouldn’t get overcooked. The vegetables soak up the sauce and get slightly caramelized on the bottom, and it’s very cozy and good. 

The trick to peeling and cubing raw butternut squash is you cut off the ends and microwave it for three or four minutes. Then it’s much, much easier to peel and cut. And when you pull it out of the microwave, some of the juice has oozed out over in little glistening beads, and it’s just nice. 

I swear I have made this dinner a dozen times, and everyone thought it was fine or whatever. This time, everyone acted like it was a brilliant innovation the likes of which they’d never seen before, and they gobbled it up! I was astonished, and so pleased. 

THURSDAY
Hamburgers, chips, carrots and dip

Verily I made the hamburgers patties ahead of time. I normally skip chips, but I was discouraged at how fat I am, so I had chips, and cheese on my burger. You understand.

I’ve been plugging away at Halloween costumes all week, which is part of the reason I’ve been doing so many make-ahead meals: So we can eat early and have the evening free for some hot glue action. Some of the kids have been entirely making or buying their own costumes, and only need to be driven to Michael’s 46 times; but I did make a Grunkle Stan fez for Irene

some armor and a sword for Jim from Troll Hunters for Corrie (still needs some neatening up and finishing touches)

and a dragon fairy princess costume for Benny, and they all turned out well, especially the dragon. This is the only one I have a photo of yet, and she’s not wearing her rubber hands and you can’t see her tail, but it’s pretty rad.

It’s built off a baseball cap, so she can take it on and off fairly easily, and it doesn’t block her vision as much as a whole head mask would. 

The secret I discovered this year is EVA CRAFT FOAM. You can bend it, you can cut it, you can glue it with super glue or hot glue, you can etch it, you can crush it, you can score and fold it, you can make designs with hot glue and then spray paint over them. You can even sew it, if you glue some fabric on to reinforce it. You can hot glue or super glue just about anything to it. It’s light and flexible but rigid, and it comes in several different thicknesses. Just exactly what I’ve needed all these years. You can buy it by the roll or by the sheet, white or colored. 

I have also discovered you can make serviceable gems with hot glue, hardened, trimmed if necessary, and painted with nail polish. You can see some on Corrie’s sword:

I still have to trim off the excess glue, but she loves it. 

Also, the kids are having their school parties today, but since everything has to be store bought and pre-packaged this year, I excused my creative ass from getting involved.

FRIDAY
Shrimp lo mein

Last week’s veggie lo mein was such a success, we’re having it again, but with shrampies. Gonna leave the sauce exactly as is, because it was good!

Here’s what it continues to do outside right now:

It’s like even the clouds are trying to skip ahead to the end of 2020. 

Oh speaking of thinking ahead, Elisa from Door Number 9 jut came out with a most excellent new product: An all-in-one Advent  traditions box. It includes:

– 4 12-inch Advent Candle tapers
– Scriptural Advent Calendar
– Magnetic Jesse Tree *OR sticker Jesse Tree plus magnetic Nativity Scene
– 4 organza pouches filled with 3 chocolate coins each
– An activity putting “straw” into a “manger” for Baby Jesus (all these items included)
– Full color instruction cards for each item explaining the tradition’s origin and/or how to use the items 

And it all packs up in a reusable box for next year. I love products designed by moms. $59.99 with free shipping

Okay, here are the recipe cards:

 

White Lady From NH's Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 4 avocados
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 medium jalapeno, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped roughly
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 limes juiced
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 red onion, diced

Instructions

  1. Peel avocados. Mash two and dice two. 

  2. Mix together with rest of ingredients and add seasonings.

  3. Cover tightly, as it becomes discolored quickly. 

One pan honey garlic chicken thighs with fall veg

Adapted from Damn Delicious 

Ingredients

  • 18 chicken thighs
  • 2 lbs broccoli in spears
  • 4-5 lbs potatoes in wedges, skin on if you like
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed

sauce:

  • 1/3+ cup honey
  • 1/3+ cup brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp dijon or yellow mustard
  • 9 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • olive oil for drizzing

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Prepare the sauce. 

  2. In a large, greased sheet pan, spread the potatoes and squash. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. 

  3. Lay the chicken thighs on top of the potatoes and squash. Brush the sauce over the chicken skins. 

  4. Roast the chicken for thirty minutes or more until they are almost cooked.

  5. Add the broccoli, arranging it on top of the potatoes and in between the chicken. Return the pan to the oven and let it finish cooking another 10 -20 minutes so you don't die. The skins should be golden and the broccoli should be a little charred. 

 

One-pan kielbasa, cabbage, and red potato dinner with mustard sauce

This meal has all the fun and salt of a wiener cookout, but it's a tiny bit fancier, and you can legit eat it in the winter. 

Ingredients

  • 3-4 lbs kielbasa
  • 3-4 lbs red potatoes
  • 1-2 medium cabbages
  • (optional) parsley for garnish
  • salt and pepper and olive oil

mustard sauce (sorry, I make this different each time):

  • mustard
  • red wine if you like
  • honey
  • a little olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh garlic, crushed

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400. 

    Whisk together the mustard dressing ingredients and set aside. Chop parsley (optional).

    Cut the kielbasa into thick coins and the potatoes into thick coins or small wedges. Mix them up with olive oil, salt, and pepper and spread them in a shallow pan. 

    Cut the cabbage into "steaks." Push the kielbasa and potatoes aside to make room to lay the cabbage down. Brush the cabbage with more olive oil and sprinkle with more salt and pepper. It should be a single layer of food, and not too crowded, so it will brown well. 

    Roast for 20 minutes, then turn the food as well as you can and roast for another 15 minutes.  

    Serve hot with dressing and parsley for a garnish. 

 

basic lo mein

Ingredients

for the sauce

  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 5 tsp sesame oil
  • 5 tsp sugar

for the rest

  • 32 oz uncooked noodles
  • sesame oil for cooking
  • add-ins (vegetables sliced thin or chopped small, shrimp, chicken, etc.)
  • 2/3 cup rice vinegar (or mirin, which will make it sweeter)

Instructions

  1. Mix together the sauce ingredients and set aside.

  2. Boil the noodles until slightly underdone. Drain and set aside.

  3. Heat up a pan, add some sesame oil for cooking, and quickly cook your vegetables or whatever add-ins you have chosen.

  4. Add the mirin to the pan and deglaze it.

  5. Add the cooked noodles in, and stir to combine. Add the sauce and stir to combine.

 

 

Nothing looks pretty when it’s still becoming

What is our final project? Ah, that’s the tricky part. If I’m making a lobster costume or a vampire costume, I have a general idea of how it needs to look when it’s done. But when it’s our own selves we’re working on, there is less clarity, less certainty. We’re not in the process of making a costume or a disguise; we’re in the process of becoming who we are meant to be. If we have a clear picture in our heads of who we’re meant to be — or, even worse, if we think we’ve already become it — we’re probably wrong. Sorry!

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image of unfinished Godzilla costume courtesy of John Herreid

What’s for supper? Vol. 106: Thaint Thylvethter, pray for uth

Imagine an introduction here, won’t you? Here’s what we ate this week:

SATURDAY
Us old folks WENT AWAY TO THE OCEAN. It was, as I’ve mentioned, our 20th anniversary, and we had a quick getaway. It was wonderful.

 

As we pulled out of our driveway on Friday night, my husband apologized profusely and then asked me to read him a letter from the ACLU to the Board of Alderman protesting the unconstitutionality of a proposed ordinance to require candidates to disclose the names of donors who help pay legal fees for an individual suing the city. Then he dictated a news brief about it, and I typed it out and we edited together in the dark as we drove south. This will give you an idea of how hard it is to switch gears into leisure mode. But we did it!

And oh, did we eat a lot. For dinner, the bacon-wrapped scallops arrived at the table still sizzling heroically in the pan, and then I ordered a lovely crab roll with gruyere. Luckily, the band was loud enough to cover the sound of Siri telling me how to pronounce “gruyere” to the waiter. Damien had some kind of good steaky thing, and we had cocktails until our brains caught up with the idea that we were on vacation. The fireplace and jacuzzi didn’t hurt, either.

Next morning, we had brunch out on the terrace with the bay sparkling below on two sides, the seagulls coasting past, and the trees fluttering in a breeze that was just stiff enough to scare away all the other guests, who kept getting their sorority hair in their mouths. I had a bagel with smoked salmon, chive cream cheese, copious capers, and vegetables, and Damien had eggs benedict with lobster, and a bloody mary.

We spent a contented day just wandering around this sweet little town, looking at stuff they don’t have any of back home. A very happy day. We had a late lunch of some beer with a dozen raw oysters. I ordered a cajun seafood bisque and a “tower of garlic bread,”

and Damien had some kind of good steaky thing, and candied bacon, which arrived on some kind of ridiculous bacon gallows.

We even had dessert! I had some kind of pumpkin praline cheesecake affair, and Damien had some kind of cavalcade of chocolate thing.

 

We came home late bearing pizzas, and the kids had cleaned the house like we told them to, and no one was dead. Good deal.  They got salt water taffy.

***

SUNDAY
Cheese burgers and chips 

We had to scramble and get caught up from our leisurely Saturday. We still had pumpkins to carve and costumes to finish, and I had cleverly scheduled two dentist appointments on HALLOWEEN MORNING, and two more the next day! I feel like there was a sleepover in there, somewhere, too. We just pretty much swore off sleeping for the week, and I steadfastly ignored no fewer than six volunteer sign-up sheets for parties. Also one kid suddenly had to be Louis XVI for something completely unrelated to . . . anything, as far as I could tell.

***

MONDAY
Zuppa Toscana and beer bread

Blustery wind and rain all day, and we were one of the few areas that didn’t lose power, so I felt very smart for choosing this cozy meal.

For the soup: I squeezed the meat out of about two pounds of sweet Italian sausages and browned it up with lots of minced garlic and diced onions. Then I added eight cups of chicken broth, some red pepper flakes, and four large potatoes sliced in thin wedges with the skin, and simmered it for a while. Then I filled up the pot with chopped kale, covered it, and waited for it to magically shrink down where it belongs. Then I added a whole quart of half-and-half, and let it cook for the rest of the day.

You can add bacon, and you can thicken this soup up with a little flour if you like, but it’s splendid as is, and so simple.

I made this easy, excellent beer bread again, and it turned out great. I made two loaves, with a bottle of Corona and a can of some kind of summer ale, and it turned out sharp and sour, which I love. This is the breadiest quick bread I have ever found.

***

TUESDAY
Halloween!
Hot dogs and Doritos

Gobbled down quickly as we raced to get costumes on. Here’s the gang this year:

Moe was a hungry vampire:

who nevertheless needs to keep in touch with folks:

Clara was a cheerful vampire:

and Benny was a vampire queen:

with somewhat loose teeth.

Elijah was Dr. Eggman:

Sophia was a fall fairy:

Lucy was Squirrel Girl:

and Irene was Rey:

Corrie was Wonder Woman earlier in the day

but by the time it was evening, she had become a puppy:

This year, I splurged on those fancy individual fangs that stick to your actual canines, but boy, were they a lot of trouble. Benny had lost her second front tooth in the morning, and her mouth was too raw for adhesive, so I got fanged up myself.

They weren’t really uncomfortable, but I sounded unspookily like Sylvester the Cat.

***

WEDNESDAY
Deconstructed pork shish kebab

This is usually one of those “why is this so unreasonably delicious?” meals, but not this time. Either I skipped too many good ingredients in the marinade, or I didn’t let it marinate long enough, but there just wasn’t that much flavor. Or maybe I just have a cold and can’t taste anything. Oh well. In the past, I’ve used this spiedie marinade from the NYT, which is fabulous.

I cut up a bunch of boneless pork ribs into chunks, and mixed them up with chunks of green pepper, red onion, and mushrooms, and spread it all, with the marinade, in shallow pans in a 450 oven until they were cooked, then I charred the edges under the broiler for a second.

***

THURSDAY
All Soul’s Day: Eggs in purgatory and soul cakes

My little joke. Usually, liturgically-appropriate cooking is far, far beyond me. Everyone else is making Divine Mercy Sundaes and stocking up on smoked paprika so they can be sure their homage to St. Engratia is Portuguese enough, and we’re all, “Christ is risen! Pass the gefilte fish.” But this year, I was on top of it.

Eggs in purgatory is just eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce, similar to shakshuka, which I’ve made a few times. It’s supposed to be a good hangover brunch, I dunno. I looked over a few Eggs in Purgatory recipes and made a very simple version. I ended up making about twice as much as we needed, so I’ll give you a normal-sized version:

Brown up a pound of loose, spicy sausage meat in a wide, shallow pan (to make room for cooking the eggs later). Add about 30 oz. of diced tomatoes, several cloves of minced garlic, and about half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and let it simmer for a long time. (You can add all sorts of things: peppers, onions, chili oil, etc. and you can stir in some tomato paste if you want it firmer.) Make about eight shallow indentations and carefully drop an egg into each one. Cover the pan loosely and let it poach for six or seven minutes, until the egg whites are cooked and the yolks are as solid as you want them to be. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese toward the end.

Then scoop out individual portions to serve.

You could add hot sauce or parsley or scallions toward the end, too.

The soul cakes turned out nice, if a slightly odd side dish for this meal. They are not much to look at, but they have a pleasantly old-fashioned, cidery taste.

I used this very easy recipe so I wouldn’t have to fiddle with yeast, which always turns on me. I again used the trick of grating the chilled butter, which makes it very easy to incorporate into the flour. My family doesn’t like raisins, but raisins would go well with these.

***

FRIDAY
Pizza!

Thufferin’ thuccotash, I’m exhausted.

The Headless Bishop (and other Halloween costumes that work for All Saints Day)

We have a pretty good record of getting cast out of every Catholic community we stumble into. This is good news, because it means we never have to make costumes for All Saints Day (we do have fun making Halloween costumes, though).

But how about you? Did you suddenly realize that, in a fit of good Catholic momming, you promised to whip up costumes for both days? I’m here to save your bacon. These costumes are suitably edifying for any church-sponsored party, but edgy enough to earn you all the Mary Janes and Raisinets you can eat on October 31.

Your most obvious twofer choice is martyrs. Grab whatever weapon catches your fancy in the Halloween aisle, and you’re guaranteed to find some Catholic somewhere who was killed with it. We’re just that popular! Buy two tubes of blood, one for the gorefest and one for pious reenactments, and you’re set.

Hilarious on October 31
:

inspirational just a day later:

image

Everybody loves a good sight gag:

(instructional video here)

especially when it’s Biblically sound:

And finally, you can terrify the normals with this fantastic cephalophoric illusion:

(instructional video here)

Or, well, terrify the normals with something from the more obscure annals of martyologies.

(Not recommended: St. Agatha)

But there are non-bloody saints, too, and even some adorable sidekicks. You wear a ratty bathrobe and skip showering for a week or two, and you can pass as either a civic-minded individual tirelessly lobbying for societal and legal acceptance of an all-natural homeopathic remedies

(credit Todd Huffman via Flickr; Creative Commons)

or St. Francis, whatever

And who’s this tagging along behind you?

 

Awww, it’s da widdle wolf of Gubbio! Or a werewolf, take your pick.

Who doesn’t appreciate the time, effort, expense, and attention to detail that goes into a great mummy costume?

(Credit: Allen Lew via Flickr; Creative Commons)

Replace that sinister moan and lumbering gait with a fervent gleam in the eye and a pleasant, un-decompopsed scent, and you become, ovulously, Lazarus:

Here’s an idea which clearly marks you as one of those people who may be a little bit too enthusiastic about Halloween for someone your age:

(instructional video here)

But wait! With a few tweaks done in a sensitive and reverent way, you could easily be St. Christopher.

But don’t tell anyone it was my idea.

In closing, here is a joke I will keep telling until someone else thinks it’s funny. You can buy a Dobby mask, and BOOM, Curé of Ars.

What’s that you say? What are my kids going to be this year, if I’m so smart? I’ll give you a hint: So far I’ve sewed two furry leg warmers together, hemmed a black cloak, spray painted a few acorns gold, and bought some tulle that was on sale, and also kind of a lot of fake teeth. That’s right: We’re going, en masse, as the domestic church, and I just dare you to get in our way.

Homemade Halloween costume hacks for parents in a hurry

Halloween is almost here. How are the costumes coming?

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring it up. Please stop crying. Did you want me to call someone? You sure?

All right, I’ve been making costumes for kids for over twenty years. I don’t really know how to sew, and I don’t want to spend a ton of money, and my kids often pick costumes that no one sells. So DIY it is.

Here are a few ways to make them . . . not easy, exactly, but much less hard. The most useful things I’ve learned:

MAIN BODY:

Giant adult t-shirts can be turned into all kinds of things, and they are already hemmed. Always always always use existing hems whenever you can! Tuck the sleeves in (sew or glue them if you like), and a little kid can wear a T-shirt as a skirt, using the neck as a waist. This is how I found a brown skirt for Avatar Kyoshi: brown t-shirt, $1, done.

You can also turn a T-shirt into a cape, using the already-existing neckline. Just cut off the back and sleeves of the shirt and “hem” the rest with hot glue or duct tape. This is not razzle dazzle, but will please a young kid.

Here are Zita the Spacegirl and Robot Zita, made with Daddy’s undershirts and some black plastic garbage bags:

Black duct tape would have been miles better, but this was an emergency “Mama, I forgot to tell you we’re supposed to dress up tomorrow for Whatever Day” costume.

Even cheaper: If you can’t find a plain shirt in the right color, get a shirt with a logo and turn it inside out and just cut off the tag if it shows. Here’s Wish Bear wearing an inside-out sweatshirt that had a different pattern on the other side, because we couldn’t find a plain light aqua sweatshirt.

I glued on a felt belly and decorated it with puffy paint. I can’t explain what was going on with those ears, though. This is a classic example of overthinking and over-engineering. I should have just cut two little ear shapes out of felt and clipped them to her head using tiny hair clips, or attached pipe cleaners to a headband and covered them with card stock or fabric. Easy peasy. As it is, she resembles Head Trauma Bear (which, come to think of it, would explain a lot about Care Bears in general.

Sometimes a good old paper bag gives you the look you want. Not recommended for masks if you’re planning to be walking long distances in the dark. This Strong Strong costume was for “favorite character” day:

Paper bags can also be converted into vests pretty easily — just cut a front opening and a neck and arm holes, and decorate however you like. You can bash in the corners to make it look more like clothing. You can also just cut a head hole and cut the sides off completely and make a boxy poncho, making the base for all kinds of square costumes (robot, Lego piece, iPhone, etc.).

Bathrobes bathrobes bathrobes. These are always abundant at the thrift stores around here. Manga costumes were a big deal one year, and I discovered you can take some quick hand stitches to make them fit the kid, then add trim (I glued on fur for one, and used metallic duct tape for another), then complete the look with a sash and sweatpants.

If you need a basic flowy dress or robe, turn the bathrobe backwards and do whatever you want to the neckline — trim it and hem it with duct tape, disguise it with a scarf, or hide it with a collar made of cardboard and tin foil. Using an already-existing article of clothing is always light years ahead of starting from scratch, and you can often find robes in fancy, silky fabrics.

Backwards button-down adult shirts also make good tunics or basic dresses. You can add high or low belts to vary the look quite a bit.  Check out this nice little prince in my shirt and my husband’s belt:

You can also use duct tape to cinch sleeves in wherever you like, which changes the look quite a bit.

If you need puffy upper sleeves and tight lower sleeves, cut the end out of long socks and put them on the kid’s lower arms. Over that, put on an adult long-sleeved shirt, scooch the sleeve up to the elbow and cinch them in place with duct tape.

If they’re the same color, it will look like it’s one top with fancy sleeves. Remember: nobody needs to know what it looks like underneath!

A giant cloak hides a multitude of errors. One of the few sewing projects I can manage is this basic hooded cloak. I’ve made six or seven of these over the years, but I find that you need to make the hood about 50% larger than what the pattern calls for. It’s a pretty forgiving pattern overall. Here is my daughter wearing a store-bought dress and the hooded cloak she made herself, with almost no sewing experience:

One year, a kid wanted to be Ash from Army of Darkness, and we just used a big wool blanket draped strategically and held in place with a giant safety pin. We made a tinfoil dummy clasp to cover the pin.

Guess what? You can spray paint some clothing. Search for items that are the right shape and style at the thrift store, and paint them the right color. It’s easier then dyeing, and paint will stick to, for instance, shoes and vinyl. It will crack eventually, but it’s good for a night.

I’m a fan of bath towel ponchos for costumes of things (rather than people). They are warm, easy to get around in, and the kid can wear something neutral underneath. Find a bath towel in the right color, cut a horizontal slit halfway up for the head, “hem” it with duct tape, and decorate it however you want.  Keep it rectangular and it can be a slightly floppy Creeper:

You can paint towels, I should say, but it takes forever because they are, duh, absorbent. I still think this is a good costume, but it was pretty time-consuming, if not difficult. It may have been easier to hot glue felt squares to the towel, rather than painting.

Fleece is also handy for these over-the-head, free-form costumes. You can cut it into all kinds of shapes and you don’t need to hem it at all. You can be, for instance, a piece of pizza (but you may need to reinforce the shape with strips of corrugated cardboard). Fleece is a little pricey, so I don’t often buy it from the fabric store.

If you can do a tiny bit of sewing, here are some tips from Elisa Low, who does stuff like this every day for the costumes she makes. Elisa says:

With a seam ripper and some minor sewing skills it is easy to remove the top part of a collar on a men’s shirt (the part that folds over) so you are left with only the round part that stands up, like they had in the Old West.

Boy’s colonial knickers are easy to make from men’s or women’s pants. Just cut off the bottom part, cuff them, and attach a decorative button on the outer side of each cuff.

As far as fabric, remember that clothes are made of fabric! So instead of going to the fabric store, go to the thrift store and look at the XXL clothes. Large dresses, skirts, coats… these have lots of fabric for low prices and you can make things out of them. Also look in the curtains and bedding sections for good fabrics.

For pics of some of Elisa’s projects, check out her blog.

HEADPIECES, HELMETS, CROWNS, and ACCESSORIES:

Horns, ears, antlers, etc. need to be as light and well-anchored as possible. Whenever possible, start with a store-bought novelty headband and build off of that, rather than trying to attach something to a plain headband. I bought some cheap bunny ears, bent them down, cut a hole in the top, ran the sticks inside, and taped over the whole thing with duct tape, and once we find some black spray paint and put it together with a black face mask and hood, we’ll have some light, sturdy tree branch horns for the Beast from Over the Garden Wall.

You can also take a headband, build on whatever shape you need out of pipe cleaners, and cover it with fabric or card stock or felt, or simply find some stiff fabric, fold it in half, cut out a double ear shape with the bottom still attached, wrap it around the headband, and glue it together, as we did for Squirrel Girl here:

Pillowcases are awfully handy if you are making a medieval headpiece, a veil for a nun, a pharaoh costume, etc. They can also be folded lengthwise and used as sashes, if the kid is skinny enough; and they are fine as basic capes with a few safety pins.

Plastic milk jugs make great Greek or Roman or Medieval helmets for people with small heads. Find a picture of the helmet style you want, trace out the lines with a magic marker, and just snip away, using the jug handle side as the nosepiece. You can spray paint them any color you like. Here’s a Spartan helmet on Pinterest; here’s a knight’s helmet with visor. You could even make a Mickey Mouse headpiece this way by adding ears and spray painting the whole thing black.

Milk jugs turned the other way around (with the flat part in front, not the handle part) are also handy for the base of whole-head helmets (like for a Storm Trooper or a gas mask), as long as they’re for small heads. Pretty much anything that needs to fit over a small head can start with a milk jug.

If the kid’s face will be covered, let him wear the helmet plenty beforehand, so you can be sure it’s breathable enough and he can see well. Also, if you’re using glue or spray paint, let it air out for several days before the kid wears it! You don’t need him passing out from fumes.

You can also use milk jugs for bishops’ mitres. (The mitre is the hat. You’re thinking of “crosier” — that’s the staff thing he holds.) Just find a clear picture and trim away. Add paint, ribbon, etc. to make it look authentic.

Milk jugs can also, sigh, be used to make an elaborate papier mache chain saw hand. Here are directions, if you insist.

If the paint does not adhere they way you like, or if you want more texture, rough it up with sandpaper before painting.

A round bottle, like for a large bottle of juice, can be cut into a crown or circlet, if the kid’s head is small enough Spray paint it gold and add some gems or whatever you like.

Those blank white masks from Walmart can be adapted in any number of ways. To make this Ichigo Kurusaki Hollow Mask,

I added paper plates to the top to make the skull round, and covered the existing eyes, nose, and mouth holes with paper plates and tape, and then re-cut the eyes in a different shape. Then I spray painted everything white and added the details with red and black Sharpies. Adapting something that’s already designed to be worn is almost always easier than starting from scratch.

Here’s a last-minute costume that began with a plain white mask, plus various items raided from past Halloweens:

I dunno what it is, but it got attention.

For some excellent, customizable masks, you can pay a small sum to download templates for 3D masks from Wintercroft. Friends tell me they are time-consuming to put together, but they turn out just as described. Really neat designs.

Disposable pizza pans from the dollar store make good shields that don’t get too heavy, and they’re already metallic, yay. You can also decorate them with hot glue and then spray paint it, for a worked metal look. Use duct tape to make straps behind. You can also color directly on foil with Sharpies.

Use the bottoms of small juice or soda bottles for excellent medallions or for crowns, dress trim, etc. Just cut the bumpy bottom off, maybe smooth the edges with sandpaper, and spray paint it gold. Lots of things look amazing when you spray paint them gold or silver. Here’s a handsome little vampire with a soda bottle Count Dracula medallion (I made a slit for the ribbon before painting, and glued on a plastic gem after):

Foam meat trays work well for stiff but light accessories. You want the kid to look good, but also to be able to get around; so keep weight in mind. Foam meat trays (washed thoroughly, of course) are great because you can cut them into all kinds of detailed shapes, spray paint them, glue things to them, and so on, but they won’t drag the kid down. BUT, some adhesives will dissolve foam! So test it first.

Pipe cleaners make decent last-minute glasses, if not especially comfy ones:

General rule for accessories: Keep it light. I’ve made this mistake more times than I can count: I forget how heavy everything is going to be, and the kid is overwhelmed. In this Rainbow Dash costume, I made everything way too big, and it was unwearable:

The following tools are your greatest friends to put on details that can really make the costume:

Colored duct tape, either to make easy hems or to add details, or both.

Puffy paint.

Felt. 

Foam craft sheets. These come with our without an adhesive side.

Sharpies. Sharpies can color on any number of surfaces, including foil and plastic. Elisa Low reminds us that you can color plastic gems, too. Brand name markers are much more brilliant and adhere better than cheapo ones from the dollar store. (Beware the treacherous “Sharple,” for instance.)

And of course hot glue.

Speaking of glue: I always root for glue before sewing, but I’ve ruined more than one accessory by using the wrong kind of glue. Check the label to see what materials it will work on, and test it if you can! Some adhesives will dissolve certain materials; others simply won’t stick. Some take days and days to dry completely. There are soooo many kinds of glue available in the craft aisle, so take the time to make sure you’re getting the right one.

And don’t forget glue dots. These are moldable, and are sometimes the only thing that will work.

And sometimes you don’t need glue at all. For Hellboy here (who made his own right hand of doom),

I ended up making small holes in a bald cap and poking spray paint can tops through for the sawed-off horns. The tension held them in place. (I covered the can tops with crinkled duct tape to give them more texture before spray painting them.)

It’s okay if it looks ugly halfway through. I get overly fixated on making things look pretty at every step, but you can always attach things with as much duct tape as you need and then spray paint over the whole thing. Spray paint does not adhere very well to packing tape, though.

MAKEUP:

Keep makeup basic unless you have experience with it. Trying to cover someone’s entire face another color is harder than it sounds, and you often end up with a patchy, diseased effect. Here is a successful attempt at full-face makeup (well, half face) which I’m including just because I’m thrilled without how it turned out. But it took FOREVER. Forever forever forever. So don’t think, “I’ll just smear on some make up right before we go out.”

Instead, pick the main features and just stick with those. Here’s a less-successful attempt at makeup. The child specifically wanted just the lower half of her face to look like a furry cat, and I tried to comply:

She was actually happy with it, which is what matters; but every time I looked at her, I thought, “Burl Ives!”

Beards on babies: I can’t decide if this is brilliant or stupid, but I also used Nutella to make a Paul Bunyan beard for the baby. I didn’t want to put makeup on the baby’s tender skin, but Nutella felt nice and safe. She did eat most of it before anyone saw her, though.

GENERAL INSPIRATION:

If you’re just starting to figure out how to make the costume, Google “character X costume” rather than “character X.” Even better, Google “character X cosplay,” because those will show you homemade costumes, not store-bought. Other people will have solved a lot of problems for you already, and other people will have picked out which features are really necessary to make the costume look right. I tend to get bogged down in details, but you can get lots of details right and still completely miss the overall look you’re going for.

Any time you can persuade a kid to be a person rather than a licensed character, you’re going to get off easy. Here’s a costume my daughter put together in about three minutes:

The only down side is that everyone now knows we’re horrible parents who let our kids watch Die Hard.

You don’t have to be literal. Do mashups of two characters, or make a nod toward the character, rather than tracking down every last detail. A serviceable, if slightly off-fleek Terminator here:

We forgot to spray paint the gun, but the Austrian accent and the attitude put it across.

Other variations: I had my heart set on dressing the baby as Paul Bunyan (above) for some reason, but I couldn’t find a plaid flannel shirt in her size; but I did find a red and black checked poncho, and did not hear any complaints:

The same goes for lots of other costumes: a ballerina pony might be even cuter (and easier!) than a regular pony; and you can make a meticulously accurate costume from the neck up, and then just wear a plain sweatsuit or a dressy suit, and it will still hit home.

Attitude goes a long way to making a costume work. This Raven costume was really just an approximation, but the way my daughter spoke and carried herself was dead on:

THE FINAL WORD ON APPROACHING HOMEMADE COSTUMES:

There are really two major mistakes you can make with costume-making:

One is making a costume that looks great, but the kid can’t move in it. I once made a “rider-riding-a-horse” costume, with false legs and all. It was adorable and amazing, but completely non-functional. Two steps and the kid was in tears. So make sure it’s walkable; make sure the kid can see; make sure it’s an outfit, not a prison!

If the kid is old enough, he can consent to wearing a costume that is extremely uncomfortable. I wish I had a better picture, but we did the old “severed head on a platter on a formally-set table” costume one year

and it was fabulous. Exhausting to drag around and keep stable, but fabulous. He went around saying “Alms for the bodiless?” instead of “trick or treat” and he got a lot of candy. (Oh, look! Behind him, there’s Ash with his milk jug chain saw hand.)

The other terrible mistake you can make is trying to make the costume look the way you want it, rather than how the kid wants it. Do it their way, whenever possible.

I had wonderful plans for Nightmare Moon. The four-year-old, however, had plans which were wonderful to her, including make up design. So those were the ones we went with. She got lots of candy, too.

Same with Rey, here. I had some wonderful ideas for how to make it look more authentic, but she had her ideas, and it was her costume. She was a very happy girl.

And then sometimes the kid says she wants to be a Pink Mummy Ghost. What is this? We don’t know. We only hope that, by some miracle, the thing we come up with is the same as whatever it is that’s in her crazy head.

And my final bit of advice? Don’t feel like your honor as a DIYer is on the line. If there’s a shortcut to be had and you can spend the money, go ahead and spend the money. I realized that I could buy furry fabric and sew squirrel girl, above, a wonderful tail, or I could buy some readymade furry leg warmers (intended for what costume, I do not know), attach them together with safety pins, stuff them, and it was, what do you know, a wonderful tail.

And guess what? Here is a “Vampire Queen.” How much of this costume did I make by hand? NONE. A little face paint. She was delighted.

So if you need permission to give yourself a break, I hereby grant you permission.

Especially if you are making a costume for a toddler. The more time and effort you put into making a costume for a toddler, the less likely it is the little crumb will wear it. Here is a child who said repeatedly all through October that she wanted to be Wonder Woman, or possibly Dashi:

And that’s how that goes. Happy costuming! Please share your tips and hacks in the comments. And seriously, if you’ve ever come up with a good way of making a cat tail that curls up but doesn’t make people feel uncomfortable when they wear it or see it, let me know asap.