Foodie Tuesday: To Quell Your Fears

I suppose it’s only natural that if one is expecting a visitation from anyone scary or spooky, one might require a good drink to calm the nerves. After all, one of the most predictable symptoms of fear and trepidation is a dry mouth and that tends to heighten the other signs of nervousness in turn. One can quickly devolve into a quivering heap of ghostly dust at the mere thought of being stalked by ghouls and goons. And of course, the arrival of  the Halloween crowd is a virtual guarantee that such terrors will appear on the doorstep.Photo: Keep Your Glassware Handy

So I recommend that you keep your shelves of glassware well lighted for the occasion, and have a dram or two of life-saving elixirs handy as well. The thirty-first is nearer than you think, and close on its heels, a horrible horde of wandering souls planning to maraud your home and demand a ransom from your candy-related treasury in exchange for safety from their pranks.

For the dedicated defender of the home barricades, it might be apropos to do up one’s home like that belonging to the landlady of Hänsel and Gretel‘s nightmares, the formidable cannibal who lured them in with the decorative delights of her gingerbread cottage. One could sit on the porch of such a candy-dandy place and leer meaningfully at passers-by over the lip of a neat little glass of Hexenblut. While that might be a counterintuitive choice for threatening them, it could also be seen as a warning that you’re so tough you slurp up your own wicked witchy sisters’ veins just as readily as any flimsy little trick-or-treaters’.Photo: Hexenblut

Me, I tend to be content to assuage my fears far more moderately and without putting up such a frightful front. I’m more inclined to turn off the front porch light and hole up in the back room to watch a nice double feature of, say, The Innocents and Gaslight or perhaps Bunny Lake is Missing and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, all while drinking a nice soothing glass of dry white wine or Scotch. The family label of “dry Riesling” from the Hungarian Count and Countess Károlyi’s estate that we visited this summer is not a bad choice for a light counterpoint to some delightfully creepy movies, or if I want something to warm my chilled heart better, I can opt for a short medicinal snifter of Bushmills 1608 or the Macallan 12 year old single malt.Photo: Karolyi Trocken

Naturally, there are times and places and people not requiring the nerve tonic of alcohol. In that case, there’s nothing more quenching and comforting than the old standby of spiced cider. Nothing warms the cockles of the heart better while simultaneously moistening the dry and gibbering lips of a scaredy cat like me than a nice steaming mug of that stuff. I like mine very well when I get some beautifully unfiltered apple cider (happily, I’ve some on hand right now) and mull it well with stick cinnamon, whole cloves, and pieces of ginger root, but this too can be made more festive if one wants to get a little more playful with it or, when necessary, make it a more potent potion for warding off baleful beasts and cryptozoological creeps. One could, for example, add some black peppercorns to the spice blend for a little more bite. (Take that, ye murky monsters!)

Still, there are so many delicious directions to go with a mulled cider it can be hard to choose: add sliced whole [seedless] oranges, especially of course beautiful blood oranges if you can get them in late October; melt in a dollop of dark molasses before adding the spices to create a little liquid gingerbread effect; serve simple hot cider with hard caramel lollipops as stirrers, if you’d like to drink a caramel apple; and of course, you could go for all-out reassurance and flavor the apple brew, instead of with spicy flavors, with dashes of rose-water and almond essence and a steeping quantity of green tea leaves for something much gentler to soothe your quaking spirits. For spirits will, one way or another, abound on this night.

Name that Malady!

Photo: Something in My Eye

Do I have Onchocerca volvulus, or is there just an eyelash stuck in my eye?

All Other Martyrdom is Naught before Mine

This harsh, persistent pain I have, O Doctor, tell me, please,
Can it be cured by some cheap salve, Or have I some disease
Beyond the scope of modern meds And pessaries and pills,
Like something Biblical in scope, One of those icky ills
You read about in magazines, See movies-of-the-week
About so frightful that you Realize that you’re a freak
To have such creepy plague, To be afflicted so, withal,
That even specialists will cringe And dash off down the hall
To hide behind their file Cabinets until you leave
Because they’re overwhelmed by the Bizarreness they perceive
Upon your person when they see Disturbingly displayed
Such malicious malady It makes them sore afraid.
What say, Sir Doctor? You detect My source of agony?
Who suffers worse than martyrs who Have papercuts, like me!

Photo: Open Wide!

Well, shut my mouth! Maybe that nasty odor wasn’t Trimethylaminuria, but don’t just give me the brush-off.

Haunted Youth

digital illustration from a photoThat House on Our Street

The doorway was a toothy maw, the casement was an eye,

and all the children crept in awe each time they must pass by,

regardless what they heard or saw; they knew that they would die

if anything at all should draw them in, no matter why,

For bogeys, fiends and ghastly ghouls inhabited the place,

entrapping and devouring fools, and set on them apace;

those children who had left their schools and homes without a trace

now lay decaying in deep pools as dark as outer space,

Dug in the basement deep below, a catacomb of holes

filled up with youth who’d tried to go into this cage of souls

and found, not fun adventures, no, but rather, evil moles

of spirit-kind hid here–and so, for them the town bell tolls;

Lost children wail twixt yonder walls at night while moonlight creeps,

and roam like mists down endless halls while all around them sleeps;

no knowing parent ever calls again; the mansion keeps

its secrets tight, and silence falls, far as the deepest deeps;

At least, the children’s fears said so; the legend kept in thrall

the children thereabouts, who’d go timidly past it all

at anxious speed along the row, lest they lose their recall

to safety. As grownups all know: life’s scary when you’re small!

Moth Mythos

Moths have a potent duality of effects on me: they attract and repel with just about equal force. On the one hand, there is their Victorian opulence of velvet wings and ostrich-feathered antennae and their widely looping sweeps of flight as if borne effortlessly on air currents themselves rather than lofting on and above them under power. They can look like jewels tossed into the air or, as hawk moths can sometimes do, trick the unwary watcher into thinking they’re bright, buzzing hummingbirds on the wing.

On the other hand, that sort of squishy, bloated, heavy softness of moths’ bodies and their voracious appetites for things I’d rather have kept to myself (dry goods in the pantry, tender leaves in the garden, and favorite fine woolens) fills me with nervousness that makes the revulsion they inspire in horror stories utterly plausible to me. I can’t help but remember the sweltering summer night when I was young and my family, having been out for a happy holiday evening, stopped at the local gas station to refill the bottomless tank of our giant station wagon; since it was so sweltering, we all piled out of the car to go into the tiny, grubby cashier’s hut where an electric fan was humming and, having an uneasy sense of something untoward behind me, I turned around to see a veritable dust storm of fat moths, attracted by the shop’s fluorescent lights, throwing themselves in spongy, flapping frenzy at the glaring glass until it was almost opaque with their wing-scale dust. Oh, yes, and the fabulously nasty short story ‘The Cocoon’ (John B. L. Goodwin) has never quite left my subconscious mind (awake or asleep) once I read it a few decades ago.

On top of all this, I married a guy who had once had a small moth fly into his ear, get caught and frantic, and instead of finding its way out, worked its creepy, fluttering way right down to beat against his eardrum until a doctor could eventually get the creature out of there. Enough said. I can still look, at times, with a certain dispassionate interest and think of moths as intriguing bits of scientific wonder and visual astonishment, and then I must quickly look away again and reassure myself that there’s not something truly wrong with them. I did at least decide to write a little bit to see if, in the incident of the attack on my husband’s ear, I could imagine the experience from the moth’s point of painting from a photo


I crawled the narrow halls in

Darkness ever deepening,

Thinking I might find some clear way through

But too tightly fitted in, too close,

No chance of going back or backing out,

No scent I could recognize to bring me

Back to the distant shore,

No vision, not a speck of spectral light to give

A guide around those curves crepuscular, those turns

Winding ever more toward claustrophobia, to where

The heat was growing more intense, the sound

Of a pulsing drum seeming to speak of waves, making

Me dream the ocean lay ahead—but behind me, in

The now impenetrable night, some Thing, a dragon

It seemed to me, began to drown the liquid lure

Of the drumbeat ahead with its own more frightful,

Louder noise, and then to scrabble wildly at me

With its terrifying claws, at which it seemed

The labyrinth must finally swallow me and

Draw me down into its fatal end—but then—

In a turn of events that was quite shockingly detached

From any turns my path had made

Thus far, the whole puzzling place tipped

Over on its side—there I lay, too fixed

In the halls’ constricting ways to turn and follow or

To roll, and the sea broke forth on me at last, a rush

Of saline waves tearing upon me, heaving me out

Of where I’d wedged, and in a cataract, sent me

Blasting right back through all the sightless turns

Of that preternatural dark, shot me with my sodden

Useless wings back into blazing day where I

Could lie, quivering faintly in my long-lost world,

Deciding whether it was time to die or time

To spread my fragile wings and see

If there was any life left in them.