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.

Foodie Tuesday: Master the Tricks & Enjoy the Treats

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Life is crazy busy these days for the average Jane and Joe. Makes it all the more important to take care of ourselves and even, when we can, enjoy a little something special. When the holidays hit, not least of all that treat-centric spectacle we call Halloween, it’s good to fortify ourselves for every day of intense living with something that makes us happy to be in the midst of it. Here, a simple day-starter of a glass of sunshiny smoothie (juice-preserved apricots blended with whole milk yogurt, coconut water, honey and a dash of cardamom) and some roasted, salted almonds.

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An uncomplicated roasted chicken will suffice to get some tasty protein and warmth into the belly and the day. I roasted this beauty simply with salt, pepper and butter and a quartered lemon stuffed inside, but if you don’t have time to roast your own, you can always do as I happily do in those circumstances and grab a ready roasted bird at the grocery store. Anything that makes the day easier while keeping us well fueled through it is a good help.

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Any Halloween without plenty of orange is no Halloween at all. But pumpkins are far from the only orange wonders we can enjoy on the occasion, so I am happy to get my Vitamin H (for happiness) from other sources, too, and on this of all days, why not *sweet* orange-ness? Here, I made the carrots from my broth cookery into a not-just-for-babies mash just by adding ginger juice and maple syrup–another great autumnal invocation to the spirit of good taste.

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Put that roasted chicken and carrot mash together with some green vegetables and broth-cooked rice, and you have a filling, cheering meal that will keep you fit and friendly even through the longest Halloween wanderings of the neighborhood in search of chocolate.

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Unless you’re feeding a large number of people, you’ll have enough chicken left over for another meal, perhaps–as here–a sweet-and-spicy curry made of the cubed meat, ghee-sauteed vegetables, coconut milk and masala and served over fragrant Basmati rice cooked with cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves and garnished with toasted coconut flakes, pistachios and cashews and diced dried apricots or mangoes. Quick, economical and just as flavorful as the chicken was the first time around.

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My old standby of peach fluff for dessert can keep you from craving too much of that pan-handled candy at the end of a Halloween outing. It’s easy to make, using either soft ripe peaches or juice-canned ones pureed and blended with something nice and creamy and vanilla-tinged and sprinkled with cinnamon. Want it fat and sweet? Mix it with whipped cream (no, do *not* puree ME and mix me in!), or pour the puree over vanilla ice cream. A little sprightlier? Use yogurt or ricotta or mascarpone. Or skip the fluff and just revel in the juiciness of peaches. They’re orange, they’re fabulous, and they’re probably a tiny bit better for you than a two-pound bag of Kandy Korn poured straight down the gullet, though candy *is* dandy!

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And if your holiday happiness can use the enhancement of a bit of adult-beverage encouragement, there are plenty of wonderful cocktails out there full of orange-y joy. Me, I might choose a more *thematically* suited drink, like perhaps the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, which has a faintly orange tint too but even better, has the ability to refresh even the undead on a late, late Halloween night. Treat your boys and ghouls so kindly and they may even refrain from eating your brain.

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I’d like to squash you in a big holiday hug with some great traditional Halloween recipes, but really, who needs that when you can easily make treats of any sort with zombie-like gusto and not be sorry. So I hope we can all embrace whatever best satisfies our inner monsters without too much effort or expense, and spend more of our time and energies on just being happy little hobgoblins all!

I Don’t Mean to Scare You, But . . .

Even though Halloween itself has never been a huge event in my life, you may, just possibly, have noticed a rather dark tinge to my humor (if such a thing exists) that pervades the year regardless of its official celebrations. So I’m hardly above taking advantage of the approach of a publicly sanctioned excuse for some of my own cheap brand of funereal jocularity. I plan to shower you with gloomy silliness as the holiday nears, so if you’ve any fearful tendencies, pull up the covers and plug your ears.digital illustration from a photo + text

A Grackle
May cackle

Creeping down into October and its necromantic nights,
thrilling, chilling masqueraders revel in the season’s frights,
both imagined and uncanny, sweets in surfeit, pranks and scares,
work to raise each other’s hackles, catch out courage unawares–
And the bat and spider, ghostly visitors and ravens reign;
even crows can briefly boast the power to enchant the brain
with a Halloweenish horror, freeze the unsuspecting nape
the suggestible door-knocker turns to sky while dressed in crape–
All a-cower, cowards wander in the dim light of the moon,
hold hilarious their hauntings lest they all prove true too soon,
everyone immersed in darkness, celebrating cyclic fear
as the month and season trickle, bloodied, off to end the year–
All this rampant spookiness, however, leaves the Grackle cold:
black and iridescent bird, she perches, watches, and of old,
knows the crows‘ and ravens’ moment passes, quick as life, is gone,
and her rule o’er earthly foment, like her tail, goes on and on . . .