Is it just me or has Halloween, or at least as I once knew it, become a watered down and not particularly scary version of its former self? All Hallowed Eve used to raise the hair on small children’s forearms with bone chilling stories of ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night. In Halifax bonfires blazed at the ends of cul-de-sacs, pumpkins winked in kitchen windows, and, as day gave way to night, the streets came alive with all manner of witches, cowboys, fairies, and the lot. Spiders dangled from gossamer webs spun across doorsteps and our plastic pumpkins and burlap bags were filled with ribbon tied bags of homemade cookies and caramel apples, many of which were consumed before they made their way home. Often we were invited to come in out of the cold to bob for apples or to enjoy a tummy warming cup of hot mulled cider flavored with cinnamon sticks. It was a magic time, where our unfettered minds conjured up the unimaginable in each shadowed bush or moonlit backyard. Fear spurred bands of merrymakers to quicken their pace past darkened alley ways and unlit paths promising to offer a myriad of hiding places for ghoulish creatures of the night waiting to devour the overly curious in the blink of an evil eye. It was glorious.
Last year we had only a smattering of trick or treaters, despite my attempt to draw them in with flameless candles flickering in Halloween luminaries, decorated pumpkins, and ghostly noises hovering in the entryway. I miss seeing the excited faces and squeals when an adult opens the door dressed as a big pink bunny or an angel with diaphanous wings (that would be me) to deposit a handful of goodies in their bags. Particularly the more diminutive of the group, as they are the ones whose imaginations are the freshest and most willing to believe even the unbelievable. I must admit I’m far less enthusiastic about the older kids who show up dressed as hobos displaying actual beard stubble instead of boot black on their faces holding a Raley’s bag and asking for a beer or or a spare cigarette. There comes a time to pass the baton to those coming up behind you.
I have come to accept that one lone protester dressed as Raggedy Ann carrying a sign saying “Bring Back the Real Halloween” is not going to change much, so I hold the caramel apples and popcorn balls in the storage locker of my mind and move forward.
Yesterday I watched a program where the discussion centered around Canadian (must she be Canadian??) self-published writer, Pamela McColl. It seems she has published a new version of the iconic poem celebrating the true joy of the holiday season “the night before Christmas” in which she has Santa kicking his pipe habit for good and becoming a non-smoker. Really? According to her statement Santa has shooed the monkey off his back and there’s no looking back. There’s an old Southern expression of which I’m very fond, “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke”. Words to live by.
What’s next? How about putting Mr. and Mrs. Claus on a diet? One has to admit they’re rather a corpulent couple. Perhaps hot chocolate seas with marshmallow boats need to be replaced by pomegranate juice smoothies and non-fat yogurt? Once Santa achieves his desired weight loss we could rewrite the picture books to show Santa at the gym in a workout suit, having left Mrs. Claus still struggling to give up the cookies, for a younger, slimmer version in a tankini sucking down a Red Rain energy shot. How about having him arrested for exploiting little people, or animal cruelty for not having Rudolph’s nose attended to by an ear, nose and throat man?
Some things, in my mind at least, are too precious to rethink, too dear to be retouched. There are so few years to cherish the joy of watching your little ones wake up to find that the jolly old North Pole elf has left presents to open under the tree. As a child being tucked in on the night before Christmas and listening as I drifted off for the sound of sleigh bells on the roof and the clatter of hooves was such a wonderful time. Why muck that up too! I wonder if an adult elf carrying a sign would carry any weight?? If I thought so, I believe I’d just do it.
In a world where tradition has faded quietly into the history books and the new and shiny more revered, I still need to hold on to the things I find dear and comforting and for me it’s children knocking on the door begging for treats on Halloween, the intoxicating smell of turkey wafting from the kitchen on Thanksgiving, and a fat and jolly Santa Claus with his overstuffed bag full of toys squeezing down the chimney with his pipe tucked in his back pocket.
It’s been been almost two years since I’ve smoked, and though cigarette smoke has lost its allure, I still enjoy the smell of a pipe from time to time. Perhaps it reminds me of growing up with my paternal grandfather. He would come home at night, put on his red velvet smoking jacket, clean his pipe and fill it with fragrant tobacco from a leather pouch. Once settled in his chair by the hearth, with a fire crackling and hot chocolate in a china cup, I would sit by his feet to hear a story from his day. I can remember the smells, sounds, and tastes of those evenings and the sweet smell of tobacco as it rose in puffs from the ball of his pipe.
Perhaps we need to lighten up a bit and enjoy life more. I’m sure that because the old gentlemen in red indulges in a cookie or two or a draw on his pipe does not mean that reading Twas the Night Before Christmas will contribute significantly to rearing a generation rife with pipe smoking adults knocking off their local bakeries for a fix of sugar cookies.
2 small heads of cauliflower, washed and separated into florets
1/2 lb. hot bulk Italian sausage
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 slices of. of pancetta, chopped
2 Tbsp. of olive oil
1 Tbsp. of butter
2 14 1/2 oz. cans of diced tomatoes
1/4 cup of tomato paste
1/2 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. dried basil
2 quarts of chicken broth
1 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup freshly cut parsley
1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 lb. ditalini pasta
In skillet crumble and brown Italian sausage until fully cooked. Drain and set aside.In large stockpot or Dutch oven sauté the onions, carrots, garlic and pancetta, in oive oil and butter for 10 mins. Add the cauliflower florets, cooked Italian sausage, tomatoes, tomato paste, nutmeg, red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, basil and broth.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hr. Add parsley flakes and season with salt and pepper (note pancetta is salty by nature so taste as you go).
Cook pasta according to pkg. directions. Place the pasta in a bowl and top with soup. Serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Serves 6-8.