Category Archives: Halloween

Goodbye, Libby’s (At Least For Now)

This year, I carved my first pumpkin in a long, long time. The last pumpkin I carved was based on advice from Martha Stewart (or the like) when I was working at a credit union in Fairbanks. My office held a carving contest and my pumpkin was truly something to behold – I made a leaf pattern and cut out leaves around the pumpkin, carved veins in them, and then pushed the leaves partially back through the holes in the pumpkin so that when I lit it up, the leaves looked like they were floating around said pumpkin and glowed. But — story of my life — the pumpkin rotted and liquefied the night before judging and I lost.

I can’t say this year’s pumpkin was a triumphant return, but it was nice to feel festive again.

I *also* decided that for the first time ever, I would roast the seeds instead of tossing them out…and, boy, am I glad I did! It was sort of hard to find a recipe I liked…so I ended up just rinsing them, tossing them in olive oil, adding salt and roasting on a sheet pan at about 300 degrees for 45 minutes. They were perfect! My mother said it was really hard to get all the orange pumpkin gunk off of them, but I didn’t think it was actually that bad. And it turned out that T’s favorites were the ones that were a little darker because they were roasted with gunk on.

I also heard that you should consider boiling the seeds first…but I thought the roasted seeds were fine sans boiling.

Now my goal is to make a pie from an actual pumpkin. I’ve never done that before either. And even though my baking enthusiasm has dimmed considerably and may never be what it once was, I’d still like to try out real pie this year. Another friend had a taste test last year in which she made a pie from scratch and a pie from a can and asked guests to guess which was which. It seemed obvious to me — the pie made from real pumpkin was a darker color and sort of less pleasant to look at…although I don’t actually remember how they tasted (…which may actually be because I thought the canned pumpkin pie tasted better, but I am too ashamed to admit it).

But, as a general rule, I’ve been perfectly happy with Libby’s all my life. There – I said it. If that makes me Whiskey Tango, so be it.

So I’m not sure I’ll turn pie-from-an-actual-pumpkin into a holiday tradition for years to come. But, like seeing Mount Rushmore or going waterskiing, it seems like something I should do once in life.

And yet…the Web seems to be barren of useful pie-from-a-pumpkin resources. Could it be that the difference is negligible and so no one bothers?

Granted, my research was not as exhaustive as it perhaps could have been, but every pie recipe I saw on Epicurious.com (my favorite!) called for canned pumpkin. Ditto FoodNetwork.com.

And I’m surprised that given the annual food mag task of making old Thanksgiving news new again that they haven’t jumped all over this. I would think that Alton Brown of all people would have made a pumpkin pie from an actual pumpkin at least once — after all, I saw him harvest coconut using a power drill — but, alas, I cannot find a recipe from him either.

Thankfully, my go-to cookbook when the Internet fails — The Joy of Cooking — has perfect instructions. I will give it a shot soon (and maybe make a Libby’s pie, too, just for old times’ sake) and report back.

And…just a reminder: There are rumors of another canned pumpkin shortage this year…so if you don’t want to experiment with real pumpkins, make sure to pick up a can of Libby’s before the Thanksgiving rush!

Image via cardamom/Flickr

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Filed under Alaska, books, Food Network, Halloween, holidays, pie, pumpkins

St. Patrick’s Day with Mike Meyers, Judy Garland, Hal, Mal, Jill, Lance Romance, a Whole Lot of Tammies and One Single Barbie.

(…even though I’m not sure any of them are/were Irish…)

I feel like I’ve been in such a rut lately…and, like Austin Powers, my mojo is gone. But…to carry the analogy a bit further, I’ve been unable to find my Dr. Evil and somehow learn a powerful Dorothy-esque lesson that I never really lost it at all.

I still haven’t been baking much…even though a friend recently took me to Costco and I got 72 ounces of chocolate chips and could theoretically bake cookies for every last one of the 2,556,598 people who live in Brooklyn. And, sure, *that* would be one heck of a post…but…let’s be realistic.

Today is March 14…or 3.14…or Pi…which I suppose means I should be making pies. But I’m not. Cat-sitting, yes. Old-bill-shredding, yes. Laundry-doing, yes. Book-draft-tweaking, yes. Golden-Girls-watching, yes. But…pie-baking, no.

I just sort of accepted that maybe I’m not going to have anything to write about for awhile. And…I’ve been pitching stories — a girl’s gotta eat — and I was trying to think of some good ideas for St. Patrick’s Day and *that* got me thinking about the Sweet Potato Queens of Jackson, Mississippi and their yearly parade (or, rather, the yearly parade they march in…) and I realized the timing is perfect and I *do* actually have something to write about now.

For the uninitiated, the Sweet Potato Queens are a group of women in Jackson who dress up in spangly green outfits with pink fur and fringe and big red wigs with sparkly crowns and accentuated body parts. They march in Hal and Mal’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade every year and are led by Jill Conner Browne, who calls herself the “Boss Queen,” and has written numerous books on being a Queen that are both amusing and empowering…even though I sort of feel like if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. She’s a good writer — and has definitely found her niche — but I think (and I mean this in the nicest way possible as I really do think it’s a good example of someone who found a way to make a living doing something she loves…) it’s the same brand of fiery Southernisms packaged under different themes, like Love or Money or Divorce or Getting Older. Nothing wrong with it. Just…like I said, if you’ve read one, you pretty much know the gist. (Although…to be fair, I don’t think I’ve read anything after the Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner).

And yet…despite the repetition or whatever, I really like those ladies and part of me wishes I was en route to Jackson for next weekend’s parade.

I went to the parade one year while I was living there…but I only vaguely remember the very end in which Tiny Tim — the Grand Marshal that year — passed by on the back of a convertible with his ukulele. And…it sort of begs the question how I could possibly miss and/or not remember a brassy gang of Southern women in sequined outfits and giant boobs who go by “Tammy” while Lance Romance tickles the ivory and they dance on a float…but I have absolutely no recollection of them. It’s kind of sad. I guess I had different priorities circa 1994…

A few things I *do* remember about the Magnolia State:

  • The boiled (pronounced “bald”) peanuts sold on the side of the road by an old guy with a crusty nose. When my mother first saw his sign, she said, “P-Nuts? What’s that? Pine nuts?” and our real estate agent furrowed her brow and said, “No. Peanuts.”
  • The prisoners wore pants with big green and white stripes and served lunch at a barbecue festival called Red Hot in July…which was a little weird. I’ve never had a felon serve me food before. (I don’t think.)
  • I had my first pulled pork sandwich at Red Hot and Blue (which my parents tried to find again when passing through Jackson last year but it maybe doesn’t exist anymore?).
  • My dad’s coworkers called him, “Mr. Brian,” because they wanted to be respectful, but also friendly…
  • I was on the yearbook staff with the mayor’s son and I played basketball with the Secretary of Agriculture’s daughter…and we had a dress code that said we could only wear t-shirts from the school itself or from colleges…and every time someone walked into the gym in a Yale shirt, my basketball coach would scream and when that person looked around, confused, he’d say, “Well it said, ‘Yale,'” but he pronounced “yell,” and “Yale,” just about exactly the same…or if anyone walked in with a shirt from say, Brown, that wasn’t Brown, he LOVED saying, “That ain’t brown, that’s blue!” (or gray or white or whatever). He was born in California, but only lived there for a few months when he was an infant…and yet still felt we had some sort of bond because of it. “My mama said you could get green beans real cheap there,” he’d say. He was the first person I ever met who actually chewed tobacco and he would spit it into the back of his truck. And, for whatever reason, I can remember him talking about getting fire ants in the innards of his truck and watching them spit out at him when he turned on the AC.
  • Mississippi also introduced me to king cake and beignets (I’m not a big fan of either)…fried pickles (which I like better), a grocery store chain called Jitney Jungle…and the sweetest little four-year-old boy named Connor who used to live next door to me and who I used to babysit every Saturday night. He saw Free Willy and fell in love with orcas…and, 15 years later, I still have a drawing on my refrigerator that he made for me with the Ross Barnett Reservoir and his house and some boats and the warning, “No Killing Orcas.” It’s really scary to think that he’s 19 now…and the same age as Levi Johnston. He was just such a sweet little boy…and — spoiler alert — I’ve often thought that if I ever have a son, the name Connor will be at the top of my list.

These are just random memories from Mississippi…and don’t likely paint a very good picture. I haven’t been back since…1996? 1997? I imagine a lot has changed. But it’s what I remember. (And I say this even after catching a little bit of Wanda Sykes last night in which she interviewed Constance McMillen and said that Mississippi always has a knack for being on the wrong side of history…and…gotta admit she sorta had a point…)

Back to the Queens: I’m not really sure how Jill Conner Browne became the Boss Queen…but I’m glad she did. She’s definitely on the list of people I admire (…and whose career paths I wouldn’t mind following…) From what I’ve gathered in her books, it sounds like things haven’t always been easy for her — she’s divorced and was a single mother and it took her a long time to find the Cutest Boy in the World…so, I mean, I guess I see her as another example of how important it is to be tenacious and that things work out when they’re meant to be…even if it doesn’t always make sense when you’re in the thick of it. (Amen? [Seemed the appropriate way to end that paragraph…])

And, heck, I think this whole thing got started when she decided to declare herself a queen one day. Which sort of begs the question why I don’t just call myself the Queen of Something and get the ball rolling. But I can’t really think of anything that I’d like to be the Queen of — Artichokes? Endives? Soybeans? — nor do I really have a place to march…or anyone to play the piano for me as I do it. Although — one thing’s for sure: I’m pretty sure the Sweet Potato Queens got the boob thing right. I have a friend who went as Doralee from 9 to 5 for Halloween…and she told me that she learned that men do not care what your boobs are made of as long as they are huge. So…perhaps the lesson here is that I should get a boob job if I want a successful media career?

Or…I could always marry a pop star from the 70s?

Frank Bruni wrote a story recently about Katie Lee (formerly Joel)…and, gotta say, I envy this chick’s life. Basically everything I want to do (with the exception of my own cooking show and marrying Billy Joel), she’s either done or has in the works: the Chelsea-Handler-esque collection of short stories; the monthly entertaining column in Cosmo; the Good Morning America appearances…if I had accomplished any one of those things, I might be happy to rest on my laurels for all eternity. (It also sort of reminds me of those bumper stickers that say, “I want to be just like Barbie — that bitch has everything!” Except my bumper sticker would say, “I want to be just like Katie Lee…”? No. That can’t be right either…)

Or, you know, maybe I can just print my resume on a shirt…?

I’m not sure how we ended up here. It’s a long way from existential crises to Happy St. Patrick’s Day…but, believe it or not, that was my point. So. I’ll slam the brakes and throw this post in reverse and wrap things up with, “Don’t forget to wear green on Wednesday! And have a happy St. Patty’s Day…!”

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Filed under books, Brooklyn, chocolate, cookies, feminism, Halloween, holidays, Mississippi, pickles, pie, St. Patrick's Day

The Halloween Postmortem

I had kind of a hard time deciding what to do for Halloween this year. One friend was going to see Paranormal Activity…but I knew that was out. (Heath Ledger‘s turn as The Joker scared me more than I care to admit…so something that legitimately bills itself as a film that will scare the pants off of you is simply not something I can handle.)

And, you know, I wouldn’t be completely averse to staying at home and handing out candy to adorable trick-or-treaters…except that this is my fourth Halloween in this apartment and I’ve haven’t had any little ones knock on my  door on any of the previous Halloweens. (Although I think there were some trick-or-treaters in the early afternoon yesterday…but I wasn’t expecting them and didn’t have any candy [I mean, really — me in a house with a bag of mini Snickers? I wouldn’t be able to fit back through my freakishly small door…] and so I had to pretend I wasn’t home…which makes me very much a Grinch, doesn’t it?)

One of my classmates had told me about a party on the Upper West Side…but that’s SO FAR AWAY and I hate the Subway on Halloween pretty much more than anything else…and there was another party in Midtown, but I wasn’t actually sure if it was the best idea to show my face there. So, like I said, I didn’t know what to do.

Then, on Friday morning, I was walking to the train and knew the Bartender wouldn’t be at his bar because it was so early…and so I allowed myself to glance over at it…which is sort of a rare treat as I don’t normally give myself this luxury when there’s any chance he *could* be there…as seeing him — even from afar — still makes me sad. But, when I looked over, instead of just seeing the bar stools where I spent so many hours when we were first getting to know each other, I *also* saw a stupid sign in the window announcing their big Halloween bash that was going to include a — wait for it — “Sexy Costume Contest.” With prizes. And this just bugged me to no end. I mean, come on — a HUGE proportion of ladyhood already uses Halloween as an excuse to get tarted up…so it’s sort of one of those things that goes without saying, right? (And, okay, okay — fine. If it had said, “Sexy Costume Contest…with All Male Revue!” perhaps I wouldn’t have found it quite as objectionable…and maybe would have even been intrigued…and so perhaps this makes me a huge hypocrite. But, at the same time, women have been objectified since the dawn of time, so I really don’t see anything wrong with evening the score a bit now.)

And his boss is quite possibly the worst person ever — seriously. If I gave you the name of this place and you Googled it and saw the reviews on Yelp, you would know that lots and lots of people complain about him. I’m not just harboring a grudge…and so I am absolutely certain that this stupid contest was *his* idea and I am sure that every woman who works there was specifically told to dress slutty that night and might very well have a good lawsuit on her hands…and I am also sure that my sweet, funny Bartender was very excited about the whole thing…and I just had visions of him in a sea of boobs…and it, too, made me sad. (Although my friend K pointed out that it would be “a sea of trashy boobs,” to which I replied, “That’s right! Mine are waaay classy…” and I guess I can begrudgingly admit it’s a pretty good way to look at it.) It also conjured up a pretty funny cartoon visual with his face in the middle of a bunch of boobs…like diagrams of cells in a biology class, just less detailed. (I was tempted to actually draw it for you guys but felt maybe that would be taking things a *little* too far.)

And, I mean, whatever. Any chick who goes out on October 31 dressed as a French maid or a slutty nurse or a police officer in hot pants named “Sergeant Sexy” is basically the Anti-Lisa and if that is what the Bartender wants, then, well, he and I never ever had a chance. (I don’t actually think that Sergeant Sexy *is* what he wants…as, despite his best efforts to convince the world otherwise, he really has a lot of substance to him…but I also don’t understand why he “can’t.” So. Questions for the ages, I suppose.)

But the whole reason I am beating this (very dead) horse is to explain that I had some options and I knew I should do *something* as it would be infinitely better than staying at home and watching TBS in my pajamas with an ever-present visual of the Bartender’s cartoon face being squished by an avalanche of cartoon boobs. But I also, as noted, could not think of a fate worse than riding the Subway on Halloween…especially all the way to the Upper West Side.

But…when I vacillated, my friend convinced me I was being stupid and I agreed to go.

My friend was dressing as Balloon Boy (I provided the box! Thanks, Zappos!) and said I could join her group and dress as a news reporter or something, but…I didn’t want to jump on that bandwagon, so I spent some time thinking about what I could come up with that I already had around the house…and I decided on a pregnant Pam from The Office.

I actually had a lot of fun putting my costume together — getting one of the books from The Finer Things Club and making those post-its with smiley faces on them and printing out a brochure for Niagara Falls…– and, in the end, I’m glad I went to the party. One of the hosts was dressed as Julia Child and there was a lot of good Halloween-themed food. (Although most of the guys there didn’t really know who Julia Child was, which I thought was weird…but then my friend’s husband said he didn’t really know who she was either…just that she was some sort of cook. So. I guess Julia is a girl thing.)

And I found I actually really like being pretend pregnant. And I got a little self-righteous about it — like, there was a woman on the train who had her stuff spread out EVERYWHERE and we rode that way for a few stops and then I sort of gave her a dirty look and she finally asked me if I wanted to sit down and I (sort of) haughtily told her I was getting off at the next stop. And a man at the party with an actual pregnant wife asked me when I was due…so I feel like I was convincing. (One friend said later that she was disappointed I did not pretend to go into labor.)

There was a man there dressed as “Super Drunk,” as in, like, a superhero but drunkenness was his superpower…and I said he looked like one of our professors and my friend said it was the meanest thing I have ever said. Later, Super Drunk asked if I was really pregnant and when I said, “No,” he said we could go into another room and change that.

And…this guy dressed as Cookie Monster was giving me the hairy eyeball all night, so I finally — with some help from my friend — positioned myself in the living room with the guys watching the Yankees game so he had to talk to me. Totally nice guy — name’s Doug; works as a copywriter; was in a writers’ group with one of the actual pregnant ladies; dressed as Cookie Monster because his nephew really likes him…and there was a guy there who looked a lot like *another* classmate and *his* wife told Cookie Monster that it looked like he was playing with his balls when he took off his head and was holding it by the eyeballs at waist-level.

And so Cookie Monster and I eventually left together, but only walked half a block and he said, “Okay — bye!” and that was it. Didn’t even walk a pretend pregnant lady to the train OR ask for her number…although I guess that’s for the best as there won’t be any waiting by the phone now. A few people on the train back asked if I was really pregnant…I guess maybe because I’d be the worst mom-to-be ever if I was coming back at 2:00 in the morning after a night of partying with my unborn child. And then a group of guys boarded around 14th Street and said, “YOU LOOK LIKE PAM!” and I said, “I am!” and we bonded for a few stops.

And, you know, when I was getting ready last night, I had all these fantasies in my head about walking by the Bartender’s bar…and, you know, sometimes his boss is out front and sees me and sometimes we acknowledge each other and sometimes we don’t…and so I was dreaming up this scenario in which he saw me walk by pregnant and ran in and said to the Bartender, “Squeaks got knocked up!” and then the Bartender wouldn’t really be able to appreciate the sea of boobs as he’d spend the whole night wondering if it was his. But, no. That didn’t happen. I didn’t even make it past the bar. Instead, I thought I saw him smoking out front and freaked out and ran across the street. Like, RAN. So much for emotional maturity. And it didn’t even turn out to be him after all.

I didn’t really care when I was walking *home* though. That’s another thing…I wasn’t really pregnant, but…I felt weird about drinking. Part of it was that I was sort of in character — like with that lady who made me mad on the train because she didn’t get up to give me her seat — but part of it was also because I was afraid people would judge me. And all of these worries lasted 5 or 10 minutes, tops…so I’m sure it was liquid courage that helped me walk by, stomach out and head held high. So maybe he saw me then. Although, then again, I was REALLY pregnant. And he’s a smart guy. And he probably knows there’s no way I got *that* pregnant in eight weeks. So…so much for my revenge plot, I guess.

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Filed under books, Brooklyn, clothes, cookies, feminism, Halloween, holidays, parties

Thanks, Auntie Leslie.


I know it’s not October yet and that this is maybe like stores putting out stuff for Christmas before it’s even Thanksgiving…but I was compelled to make cornbread last night (in part because I had everything on hand) and I used Auntie Leslie’s Halloween spatula for the first time. (I also have a Valentine’s Day spatula from said aunt…but I’ve used that one before.)

I also finally burned the pie candle. I was previously reluctant because I don’t know where else I’ll ever find another one…but then I had a “Does it really make sense to just never use this?”-moment and I lit up. (Also a gift from AL.)

She said she’s going to get her pumpkins this week…which makes me think that maybe it’s time for *me* to think about putting out my fall decorations. Which makes me, what? 27 going on 45?

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Filed under blueberries, gadgets, Halloween, pie, pumpkins