Halloween is creeping up on us. Pumpkins are popping up on porches waiting to have their features chiseled into jack o’lanterns. Nights are decidedly cooler and eating slowly into the daylight. Fall in all it’s glory, is upon us. I really miss my little ones at this time of year and their little ones. When mine were small the sewing machine usually reamained on the kitchen table for weeks before the 31st. Next to it a pile of costumes half sewn, waited to be finished, tried on and gathered or let out if the need arose. Over the years I’ve created many a mouse, lion, scarecrow, robot, and numerous other alter egos for my pint sized candy mongers. Trick or treating was fun back in the day. Neighborhoods decked themselves out in cobwebs, ghosts, pea green witches and grimacing pumpkins. Garages were transformed into haunted houses, and sounds of creaking doors and clanking chains followed youngsters up candlelit walks perhaps to find Frankenstein or Minnie Mouse at the door waiting to fill their bags or pillow cases with candy apples or sticky popcorn balls.
Like so many things in our world, it’s not a safe practice scavenging for candy anymore. A caramel apple would most likely be tossed eliminating the possibility someone had laced it with something toxic or inserted a harmful object inside. No more home-baked cookies, or nut covered brownies. Even store-bought candies not in their original wrappers often end up in the trash bag.
Often in those years after my children had fleeced our own neighbors, we headed to my parents neighborhood to finish off the pillaging for the night. One Halloween in particular when they were quite small, my son was a gray mouse, and my daughter a diminutive ballerina. With my sons exaggerated whiskers, and goodie bag shaped like Swiss cheese, and my tiny little girl’s hot pink tutu, leotard and tights, they got the “Awwwww Award” for the evening, at least from their parents. My parents, being more well established and older, lived in a neighborhood reflecting this status. Larger homes, longer walkways, and a higher standard of treats. Once a gentlemen handed each of my two pirates a $5 as he had run out of candy. I made them return their ill-gotten gains, and just as happy they settled for a quarter and a Triscuit topped with a piece of ripe cheddar cheese.
At one house, they asked if I would wait at the end of the walkway while they approached the door by themselves. I had an uninterrupted view so shooed them on their way. Screaming in delight they ran up the walk, excitedly yelling “trick or treat” at the porch while ringing the doorbell. So little they looked to me silhouetted in the door frame. A tall woman dressed as a black cat bent down, shared a brief conversation with mouse and ballerina, and nodded. In the blink of an eye, both my children disappeared inside, door closing behind them. What? Hansel and Gretel suddenly popped into my mind. I raced up the stone steps nearly bursting through the large door without stopping to knock. Gathering myself, I knocked loudly. A man answered this time. Explaining quickly who I was and asked about the whereabouts of one mouse and a Pepto Bismol pink ballerina. Smiling he assured me they were fine and asked me in. Oh-oh. These two could be working on a family plan. Dark basements, chains, torture devices could lurk behind the facade of the lovely middle class home. Once inside I found my son sitting on an enormous tapestry footstool shoving cookies in his mouth, while at the same time loading several in his Swiss cheese bag for later. My ballerina, apparently, had asked to use the facilities and was doing just that in their guest bathroom. Sooooo, after introductions we were invited, and stayed, for a glass of mulled cider with a cinnamon stick for stirring. Such things don’t happen much anymore, I’d imagine, unless in neighborhoods where everyone is acquainted. Many parents opt for school or community functions. Safer. It was so much fun. A shame to lose that.
With my birthday falling on November 1st, a Halloween party was usually on the books for the adults in our circle as well. In my garage an entire area of the rafters stored boxes marked “Halloween”. In one dusty corner, a full-sized wooden casket stood next to the lawn mower. Once a year we dragged it out, whisked away the cobwebs, and lined it with plastic. On party nights it was filled with ice and transformed into the perfect cooler for an All Hallows Eve celebration. Charlie, a full-sized plastic skeleton, played the part of the dear departed, sitting at the end of the coffin wearing a cowboy hat and smoking a Marlboro light. You might have found any manner of horror in my Halloween boxes running the gambit from shrunken heads, skeletal hands, to full-sized witches. Usually we welcomed sixty-five or so people into our home. Guests arriving out of costume, as indicated on our invitations, would get a bucket of ice over their heads if they dared cross the threshold. All in good fun, of course. People when dressed as Abraham Lincoln or Elton John let down their guards for a while and mingled comfortably with strangers dressed as Goofy and The Cat in the Hat. All in all it’s my favorite kind of party. One of these days I’ll do it all again, but this year I’m going to a party instead and helping the hostess rather than being one myself.
A clever idea my daughter shared to spice up your Halloween punch. Take a plastic glove and fill it either with red punch or green liquid. Tie it securely at the open end. Hang it upside down in the freezer. Before putting your punch out, remove the glove and float the hand in the liquid.
In the spirit of fall colors I am posting this amazingly delicious potato recipe. These are truly the best. A bit of a project, but well worth the trouble.
Mashed Potato and Mashed Sweet Potato Casserole
1 large sweet potato, peeled and large cubed
4 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 Tbsp. butter, cut in small pieces
1/2 cup shredded Mexican style cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. chives
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Place each group of diced potatoes in large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil and cook about 15-20 mins. or until fork tender and cooked. Drain.
For sweet potatoes:
1 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup softened cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper
Mash potatoes and 1 Tbsp. butter with fork in large mixing bowl. Add cream cheese and sour cream. Beat on high speed with mixer until smooth and fluffy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
For russet potatoes:
1 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup softened cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
1/8 tsp. onion powder
1/8 tsp. garlic salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. chives
1/4-1/3 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Mash potatoes and 1 Tbsp. butter on bottom of large mixing bowl. Add cream cheese, sour cream, onion powder, garlic salt, and chives. Beat on high until potatoes are light and fluffy. Add milk. Whip again adding extra milk to achieve desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Spray 9 x 9″ pan with cooking spray. Spoon whipped sweet potatoes into bottom of pan spreading evenly to all sides.
Spoon whipped russet potatoes on top of sweet potatoes. Spread gently to all sides.
Dot with slices of butter. Place in oven and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and sprinkle with mixture of 1/2 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese and shredded Parmesan cheese. Top with 1 Tbsp. chives. Place back in oven and cook for 15 mins. more or until cheese is melted.