Wrestling w skeleton thoughts

The other day, I was feeling a little low. One of my children suggested I go out and buy myself a nice new skeleton. She was right; it would have cheered me up.

I love skeletons. Lots of people do, and why not? They grin so cheerfully, and they’re so accommodating: You can bend them and tote them around them and make them do whatever you want. This year I set up a skeleton climbing a ladder up the side of the house, and one lounging in a chair by the mailbox, waving to traffic. It’s amazing what you can make them do with zip ties.

The novelist Joyce Carol Oates made herself look a little silly on Twitter a few weeks ago, responding to a photo of a house similarly decorated for Halloween.  She tweeted, “(you can always recognize a place in which no one is feeling much or any grief for a lost loved one & death, dying, & everyone you love decomposing to bones is just a joke).”

Several people hooted in response, “No one tell her about Mexico!” Other readers with a longer memory pointed out that Oates had in fact written a story based on the death of an actual specific human being, and when the friends of the dead man complained at her callous co-opting of his personal life, she was dismissive.  And a few folks felt a moment of pity, pity for the poor old bat. Someone named “JustLuisa” said kindly, “My 5 am hot take is that people should be nice to Joyce Carol Oates about the skeleton thing. She’s a freakin’ octogenarian; why are we making fun of the old lady wrestling w skeleton thoughts.”

Why indeed. This year, when I hauled my plastic skeletons out of the attic, I had a bad time for a few minutes. They really weren’t funny, for a few minutes. What are you smiling about! Effing skeletons, what’s so funny? How many times had I pictured my own father and my own mother with their hollow eyes down in the ground, on their way to being just bones, of all things. You think you know these things, but it turns out you weren’t quite there yet. You believe in the resurrection of the body, but still. There is that time, under the ground. It’s a bad time. 

“Nobody tell her about Mexico,” some people said. I have heard about some cultures, in Mexico and elsewhere, that not only celebrate and remember the dead, and skelly it up with sugar cookies and masks and paper banners, but they actually go and dig them up. They wait three years, or seven years, and they dig the corpses up, clean them off, dress them, and have a little party.

I wonder what that does to the living, knowing this day is coming. You wouldn’t be able to just walk away in a straight line, after somebody dies. You couldn’t just progress neatly through the stages of grief, getting further and further away from their death as the date wanes into the past. You couldn’t just say goodbye and have that be the end of it.

That’s a joke, of course. You can’t do that anyway, with or without the corpse party. Even if you go full-on American, and pump your loved one full of preservatives, seal them up in airtight caskets that look like tiny little posh hotel rooms, and expect them to stay there forever, there are no straight lines away from death. There’s a lot of staggering and slumping and backtracking involved, believe me. Look at poor Joyce, 83 years old and still struggling with skeletons, and it’s not because she hasn’t had a chance to think about it.

Every so often, I have the urge to write about my dead parents. I always wonder if I’m doing it too often, and I always wonder if what I’m doing is remembering them, or exploiting them. Is it for them, or for me? I pray for them, of course, but the writing is for me, assuredly. But for what purpose? Why am I dragging them out of the attic again? You look at the calendar, you see it’s the season for memento mori again, so you dig the old folks up, brush them off, and get 800 words out of it. 

Not that my parents would mind. It doesn’t do them any harm. But I do try not to tote them around too much, or pose them in any ways that would be too foreign to who they were, as I knew them. Which is only as my parents, which is by no means all of who they were. And bones is not who they are now.

But still. I try not to make the zip ties too tight if I can help it, when I set them up for another pose. I can’t seem to help wrestling with skeletons every so often, but I try to be gentle. And I’m sure I’ll be back again, because there is not a straight line away from death. 

 

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. 

Ask a couple who’ve been married 24 years today

Who has four thumbs, has been married for almost a quarter of a century, and absolutely adores haunted houses?

I have no idea. Definitely not me and my husband. We have the thumb part covered, and it will be our 24th anniversary in a few weeks, but we’re ambivalent at best about haunted houses.

You may wonder then, why we’re currently packing our bags to spend a long anniversary weekend at something called “Screeemfest,” which takes place inside an amusement park, which we also don’t especially care for, and which features no fewer than five on-premises haunted houses. Yes, that’s Screeemfest with three “e’s,” just like in Eastern equine encephalitis. Eee!

The thinking, see, is that our expectations will be so incredibly low, there’s nowhere to go but up. We do like each other, and we definitely like getting away from our kids, I mean the workaday responsibilities of everyday life, I mean our kids; so, I don’t know, this is what we’re doing. Chances are good we’ll have a good time one way or another, and after 24 years, we’re just leaning into the fact that we got married in late October, that’s all.

This strikes me as a much safer strategy than what we’ve done for our anniversary in the past, which was to try and sneak away for a super ultra romantic absolutely perfect dream getaway — a perilous endeavor which included getting lost on the highway, and then the fireplace not lighting properly, being embarrassed because I didn’t know how to pronounce the name of the fancy cheese I wanted to order, being too tired for champagne, etc. etc. The heck with all of that. A romantic weekend is where you find it. Happy anniversary, BOO! Eee!

As a little present to myself, I asked my social media friends for help writing this post. I solicited questions for a couple who’ve been married more or less happily for almost a quarter of a century. Here’s what we came up with:

What’s the preferred term: “The marital act” or “The Obligations”?

Like so many things in a strong marriage, it’s mainly about making other people feel uncomfortable. But what long-married couples don’t want you to know is that their secret word for “sex” is actually inaudible. They’re probably saying it right now, and you don’t even know it. Boo!

Did you ever switch sides of the bed?

Several people asked some form of this apparently burning question, and one person volunteered the information that she once did switch sides, and her husband got up in the middle of the night in his sleep and peed in the closet. Just if you were wondering whether there are less romantic things than going to a haunted house for your anniversary. In our case, it doesn’t matter which side of the bed I’m on, because I never sleep. I used to be up with the baby all the time. Now I don’t have a baby, and all I do is put on my pajamas and spend all night getting up and getting some ibuprofen, all night long. It’s called aging gracefully, look it up.

What’s the stupidest, funniest thing you’ve seriously argued about in those 24 years?

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: Pxfuel 

 

Kids and scary stuff: where to draw the line?

This is the time of year when my kids start begging to visit those pop-up Halloween shops that appear in vacant store fronts. We let them go, but we use caution, because the aisle with silly wigs and spooky skeletons is right next to the aisle with ouija boards and pentagram necklaces. One minute you’re having fun, and the next minute you’re literally summoning spirits.

Like so much of parenting, dealing with issues like magic, occultism, and plain old spookiness is a balancing act; and like most balancing acts, there’s danger on both sides. 

My more conservative friends think I’m dangerously lenient. They believe that hanging fabric bats and telling ghost stories by the light of a jack-o’-lantern glorifies evil, and if we’re going to be that careless with our children’s souls, we might as well just sign over to Satan when they’re born.

My more progressive friends friends think my caution around magic and the occult is laughable. They reason that if a ouija board is made by the same company that makes Monopoly and Hungry, Hungry Hippos, how perilous could it possibly be? It’s just a game.

So here is what we tell our kids: There is nothing inherently dangerous about spookiness, at Halloween or any time. It’s psychologically healthy to explore our natural human fascination with death. When we tell ghost stories or watch scary movies, we turn our normal fear of darkness and the unknown into something manageable, even enjoyable. As Catholics, we don’t need to run and hide our faces from any encounter with death and darkness, because Jesus conquers death. 

But there is a line. Lighting a jack-o’-lantern isn’t going to summon demons, but that doesn’t mean demons don’t exist.

The Church forbids superstition and divination, and that includes trying to summon spirits of the dead, trying to tell the future, or any other practice that reveals, in the words of the catechism,”a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings … They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.”

The Church also forbids “[a]ll practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others,” even if it’s to help other people.  It’s not that God is afraid of losing his power to us; it’s that he knows how  how easily we can be hurt in spiritual warfare. 

So, if so much spiritual danger is truly out there, shouldn’t we lock our kids down completely to keep them safe? Avoid even the whiff of anything otherworldly, on the off-chance that it’s something harmful?

There are two dangers with this approach. One is that our children will become stunted and fearful, and won’t enjoy the wholesome riches of the imagination that God has given us for our enjoyment. 

The other is that our children will eventually see that no one ever got possessed by eating candy corn. From there, they may easily and logically go on to doubt other things we have taught them — things like the malice of Satan or the goodness of God. Teach kids that everything is dangerous, and they grow up to believe all caution is foolish, and all limits on their behavior is an offense against their right to be happy. And that’s the short path to misery.

So here’s a good rule: It’s not objectively wrong to pursue an emotional thrill, a shiver, a scare. It is objectively dangerous and sinful to engage in an activity that goes beyond a feeling, and is meant to actually make something happen in real life.

The caveat to this rule is that some things are designed to make something happen whether the participants believes in them or not. So if I have a seance with friends just as a goofy joke? I might actually be put in touch with something dangerous. If I rest my hand on a ouija board planchette, and I believe with all my heart that it’s just a stupid game? I’ve still opened a spiritual door, and something demonic could come through. Even if I don’t believe in it, and I’m just doing it for fun, if the thing itself is designed as an invitation for spiritual forces to come into my life, it should be shunned. The forces of evil are real, and they are not fussy. 

The other caveat is that some kids are susceptible to a slippery slope. Most kids can play Dungeons and Dragons, read stories about magic, watch scary or gory movies, or dress up as witches and monsters for Halloween, and their interest remains safely in the realm of fun and thrills. They know the difference between games and stories and fantasies, and reality. But some kids’ interest in the magic and the macabre goes from a fascination, to an obsession, to an entrapment with something objectively dangerous. This depends on the child in question, and should be managed on a case-by-case basis, with the advice of a sensible priest.  

And if your child is already involved in unsavory things, don’t despair. Ask a priest for help, and pray. Spiritual warfare is real, but it can be won, if we keep going to Jesus. 

***

This column was originally published in Parable magazine in 2020. Reprinted with permission.

Image by Petr Krotochvil (public domain)

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. 

 

Pumpkin quick bread or muffins

Makes 2 loaves or 18+ muffins

Ingredients

  • 15 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 cup fish sauce
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 minced onion
  • 1/2 head garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1.5 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.

Jump to Recipe

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!

Jump to Recipe

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.

Jump to Recipe

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.

Jump to Recipe

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+ tbsp 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.

 

 

What I’m watching, reading, and listening to: Over the Garden Wall, The Secret Sisters, and Joyce Cary

Oh, I have so much good stuff to recommend today. Here’s what I’ve been watching, reading, and listening to:

WATCHING
Over the Garden Wall (2014) 

If you’re looking for a spooky Halloween show for your whole family, this is the one. 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 (the whole thing is under two hours), 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 quickly become entangled in some terrifying otherworldly business. It’s loosely inspired by The Divine Comedy, but I wouldn’t push that too far. 

Here’s the first episode (11 minutes)

Some of the characters and situations are extremely creepy, so while we did let our five-year-old watch it, she has a very high tolerance for scary stuff, and many kids under the age of nine would probably 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.

***

READING
The Moonlight by Joyce Cary (1946)

It’s criminal that Joyce Cary isn’t in every list of great English language novelists. You may have seen the movie The Horse’s Mouth based on his novel of the same name, and that’s a vastly entertaining book about a dissolute old painter intoxicated by naked women and William Blake; but The Moonlight and Charley Is My Darling are deeper waters. 

Cary originally wrote The Moonlight (as in the “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven, and also as in . . . moonlight) because he was so incensed by Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata. I haven’t read Kreutzer in a long time but, although I adore Tolstoy in general, we all know he could be a little

y
i
k
e
s

about women and sex and ideal love, and I recall that Kreutzer is an extreme example of this tendency. The Moonlight deals with two generations of women living through social transformations of sexual mores, and the choices they make, the hardships they can’t escape, and what it does to their souls. That makes it sound tiresome, but it’s super dramatic, but also extraordinarily true to life, very tender and funny and sometimes shockingly, horribly familiar. 

Cary is one of those authors who understands human nature very deeply, and also loves his characters very deeply, even as they allow themselves to do stupid and monstrous things. The book would be a wonderful portrayal of the interior lives of women in any case, but the fact that the author is a man makes the book extraordinary. Love, suicide, pregnancy, art, sisterhood, beauty, sex, taxes, dead sheep: this novel has it all, and it’s so fluidly and engagingly written, and always with the element I admire most: clarity.  This is my current “pluck strangers by the sleeve and try to get them to read it” book.

I always feel like I choose the wrong excerpt and turn people off books I love, so I’ll just give you the opening page, and you see what you think.

If you’re thinking, “Oh, like Jane Austen,” you are mistaken. Maybe it’s like if someone took Jane Austen characters and gave them souls. I said what I said. 

The book is hard to find, so you’ll want to go third party seller on this one!

***


LISTENING TO

The Secret Sisters

What a find! My favorite radio station, WRSI, recently played “He’s Fine” and I had to go find out who the heck that was singing. It is two sisters from Alabama, Laura and Lydia Rogers, plying that magical sibling harmony and here to make you Feel Things. Here’s “He’s Fine,” which is currently Corrie’s favorite song:

Here’s one that really knocked my socks off: “Mississippi.” It carries such a weight of old-fashioned menace — man threatening doom on a young woman — but he gets a little backstory and interior life of his own. Men like this come from somewhere.

I can’t help it, I’m going to give you the whole lyrics. 

All my life
I ain’t never been a lucky man
Saw the back of my daddy’s hand
Lost your momma to the promised land 

In my time
I’d never had a thing that’s mine
Till they handed me a baby fine
My little girl 

There’re only two things I know
I get ugly when the whiskey flows
Wanted you to know I love you so
And I would kill before I let you go 

Taking off for Mississippi
Wearing someone else’s name
Brought you in this world and I
Can take you from it just the same 

If you leave for Mississippi
I will beat you at your game
Brought you in this world and I
Can take you from it just the same.
 
My dear one
Heard you’re whispering your plans to run
Off to marry some rich man’s son
I bet he’s never met a poor man’s gun
 
In the darkness you could not see
The drunken devil instructing me
Two bullets in a crimson sea
Now I’m certain that you’ll never be 

Taking off for Mississippi
Wearing someone else’s name
Brought you in this world and I
Can take you from it just the sameIf you leave for Mississippi
I will beat you at your game
Brought you in this world and I
Can take you from it just the same

Grief and sin
When the righteousness of you sets in
And the blood in my veins
begins to ramble on

Now I know we can
stand and judge the execution man
But we all have to make a trembling stand
before the sun

Maple tree
Can your branches carry me?
Before the war, before the wine
Before I stole what wasn’t mine
Can you bring my baby back to me?

 
Co-written by Faulkner, I guess. What a complex song, not only the lyrics but harmonically and structurally. Brilliant. This is a sequel to Iuka, which is from the young woman’s point of view, urging her lover to take the risk despite her father’s jealousy. (It doesn’t go well.)
 

I heard a clip of a concert where the sisters laughingly apologized for the fact that their lives were going so well now. They had sung a lot about betrayal and loneliness and grief, but then they got married and had babies, and now they sing happy songs, and who wants that?

I DO. Here is one that keeps going through my head: “Late Bloomer”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeWtjx4XAJk
 

It’s so unapologetically encouraging, very motherly, and I sure need that right now. 

And here’s one that was apparently in The Hunger Games, which I haven’t seen. Wonderful song: “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder”

Even their sad songs are full of comfort and promise: (to all the girls who cry)

I just love them, that’s all. 

Okay! What are you watching, reading, and listening to that you can recommend? 

***
Images: Joyce Cary from a 1950’s Penguin book cover, via Wikipedia, fair use
Screenshot from Over the Garden Wall ep. 1 and The Secret Sisters from Rattle My Bones

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.

Dora’s Terrifying Halloween Playlist!

Today, it’s my daughter Dora’s turn to be world famous in Poland! Here is her playlist of Halloween music, which certainly reflects her diverse upbringing. It certainly does.

WEREWOLF BAR MITZVAH from 30 Rock:

SPOOKY SCARY SKELETONS (Remix)
(Warning: I’ve never heard this before and it instantly gave me a headache. Argh!)

For reasons I can’t explain, I scrolled down to the comments on YouTube, and this caught my eye:

So you can see that robust discourse is alive and well in America today.

Next, a song I loathed the first time I heard it at age 10. It just pissed me off, and when I finally saw the movie, I was even madder. It ought to be taken out and shot. Yeah, yeah, Bill Murray made it watchable. Oh no, when else will we have a chance to see Bill Murray on fillum? Anyway, sorry, Dora. Here’s your song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cU4qbnNmxWA

Palate cleanser! WEREWOLVES OF LONDON by Warren Zevon

This one, I endorse. A great antidote, and it shows how a pop song can be catchy and repetitive without being maddening.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhSc8qVMjKM

Next! More werewolves with this timeless classic from MST3K, WHERE, O WEREWOLF

Okay, I have mixed feelings about Oingo Boingo, but if you had to be around for the 80’s, you could do worse:

Dora also included Weird Science, but I saw this movie in the theater, too, and I’m still angry over losing my three dollars. You can hear the song (which is, admittedly, the least intolerable part) here.

The inescapable and inexplicable MONSTER MASH by Bobby Pickett:

Then look what happened. The poor SOB found himself on TV again a few years later with THE MONSTER SWIM. But check it out:

“He always said that he had the best kind of celebrity that there is, since no one really recognized him and he was never really bothered but everyone knew the song,” says Nancy Joy Huus, Pickett’s daughter. Given up for adoption when she was a baby unbeknownst to Pickett, Huus and Pickett later reunited and enjoyed a close relationship preceding his death, with Huus being a fan of the track throughout her life without knowing it was her father who was singing. “When I found him, he was out-of-his-mind thrilled since he thought he was going to grow old alone. I still remember the night I told my kids that Grandpa is the ‘Monster Mash’ singer.”
Aw!
Next, the immortal Cash with GHOST RIDERS IN THE SKY
This video is immensely cheesy, but Corrie insisted this was the version we want:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_oXQVUzEoc
 

SCOOBY DOO THEME from 1969, because why not?

She includes SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE OF SEVEN NATION ARMY. Why? I dunno.

IT’S ALMOST HALLOWEEN by Panic! At the Disco. This is essentially a Wiggles song, but what are you gonna do.

Okay, M1 A1 by Gorillaz. Definitely an acquired taste. This song tests your patience, for sure, but I hear what she’s hearing.

Dora also included DRACULA, which apparently I’m too old for.

PSYCHO KILLER by The Talking Heads
This is, uhm, one of Corrie’s favorite songs.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kxu5dKqEmZMREMAINS OF THE DAY from Corpse Bride
Tim Burton, which I spell with a capital meh. Still, Danny Elfman. He knows what he’s doing.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zn-F6bWS240

Legitimately scary: SILVER by The Pixies

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1shKVh98-E

And finally,

DECOMPOSING PUMPKINS by Brainkrieg (via Homestar Runner)

Next up is my mom getting back from book club! So we’ll all need to get out of the way, so she can pull in.

And what’s on your essential listening list for Halloween?

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.