Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Report '07

Where to begin?

I stayed in Brookline for Halloween this year. I couldn't go spend a wild Halloween in Salem with our friends John and Nichole because Fay needs her medications on schedule. I couldn't bring her along with me due to her tendency to make puddles.

Halloween is truly scary in Salem - the place is packed with hordes of Halloween fanatics to the point where if I had a kid to possibly lose there's no way I'd take it there. I don't mean that I think someone would take my child with evil intent. It's just that there are so many people there going in different directions that I could see a kid just getting swept away - like in a flood. The sheer number of people is terrifying. Plus some of the celebrants are really intense and truly wish to become the vampire or barbarian warrior they are dressed as. Of course some of them are just drunk. For an adult it's exhilaratingly alarming. For a kid it's probably just unfathomable.

Then there's the supernatural spook factor if you're into that kind of thing.

Halloween in my neighborhood is a big deal for the trick or treaters. Our house is on a fairly busy main road where the front yards are small and can't sustain a full-on graveyard with reanimating zombies and vats of dry ice or animatronic pirate ships. The neighbors on our street tend to just have something like four or five jack o' lanterns plus fake cobwebs all over everything and a few fake bats hanging on the porch. Just around the corner though it's a different world. Many of the houses on the side streets do elaborate displays. I have heard about this but not seen much of it myself. How could I go looking around when there are hundreds of kids coming to the door looking for candy? I think they truck extra kids in from other neighborhoods.

I have to say though that my display this year was especially pathetic. I'm going to have to invest in good decorations next year (or better - this year on sale) All I had was my lone jack o' lantern. I could hear parties of kids going right by my house to greener pastures (or should I say, blacker wastelands? It is Halloween after all) It may also be that my house and yard are naturally spooky. Pete and I aren't around enough to do as much upkeep as many of the other (normal) neighbors.

The garden's unruly. In fact I designed it to take after a neglected churchyard. I knew I'd neglect it so I tried to give it structure with trimmed box woods - four cones defining a rectangle and two globe shapes flanking the entry point. Then I filled in with perennials you can kind of let go and they still look pretty: peonies, roses, ornamental grass, clematis. However I also put in a wisteria vine (which should be a whole other post) and some mint (for Cuban Mint Juleps) Those two have taken over so the garden looks more crazy neglected than romantic neglected. I also put in a rose arch that has tilted over the years. I keep meaning to right it but I haven't yet.

Fake cobwebs are one thing, actual dereliction is another.

So Fay and I manned the candy basket. The best costume of the night? In my opinion it was the Leonard P. Zakim Bridge. Runner up was the iPhone. There was also a very good table with spaghetti dinner on it. Not as many Hogwarts students as I expected this year.

Then there was the pair of six-foot teenagers, one dressed as a king with a sign that said "Burger" around his neck the other dressed as a hot dog. They looked really tired. The "Burger" king was limping. I hope it was a prank-related injury. The king said, patting his friend on the shoulder, "This is my wiener. I like to touch him a lot." They were my crudest trick or treaters.

This was my worst year for a costume ever. Even worse than the times that I had to do inventory at the Gap until two AM and afterward go to parties as a "Spooky Gap Employee." I did no costume this year. I think the only other time I went without a costume was in seventh grade when I was "too old." Naturally in eighth grade I was back to costumes. This year I left all my wigs in Vermont along with the costume bag. I tried to think up some way to put together some things that I had on hand but I couldn't fathom a costume that didn't involve a wig. I'm losing my touch.

I got a lot of compliments on my candy though. I'm proud of my candy distribution. I consider myself an expert. I concentrate on the major chocolates: Milky Way, Snickers, Three Musketeers, Reeses Peanut butter Cups, Almond Joy and Nestle Crunch. Then you have to satisfy the Fruitists: Starburst, Skittles, Nerds if you can find them. This year I found gummy fangs which were a big hit. I was also told that I was the only one with Starburst. Everyone else had Reeses and Butterfingers. This was said disparagingly.

I also got some compliments on the jack o' lantern. That was nice. I'm always doing my jack o' lantern at the last minute. One kid asked me how I got the zig-zag effect at the top. I was shocked. I thought everybody knew how to do that.

It's funny, I love everything about Halloween: the identity changing costumes, the fright factor, the candy, the jack o' lanterns. But somehow I'm never prepared. Oh well. Maybe next year.

Finally, after things had calmed down Fay and I went to see some friends from the dog park on another street. Fay walked all the way in her wheelchair. It was almost like a normal, pre-disease walk. She was really excited to see everyone and explore their apartment. And then she weed on their bedroom floor. Nuts! They were really nice about it. It's a good thing they're dog people.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Adventures in Pie Making

I made this apple pie a few days ago with the apples from the trees on our property.

Our apple trees are almost all entirely neglected. We had two of them pruned by an expert but those apples are so tasty that the animals get them first. The apples for this pie came mostly from a long, straggly tree near the crossroads of Mill Hill Road, Meeting House Lane and Route 35. It looks like a volunteer but it produces beautiful, tart, firm pie apples.

This year when Pete and I harvested the apples there was a big, yellow backhoe parked on our land in the brush right beside the tree. I felt lucky that they hadn't parked on the tree itself. I guess the phone company was supposed to be working on the lines nearby but they must have been on a lunch break. We found this out from the guy in our town who's in charge of the local infrastructure. He's the guy who does an amazing job of keeping the roads clear in the winter and drivable in mud season. He had come around to chew the crew out for something or other but he was disappointed because they weren't there.

He seemed concerned that we might be irate about having a strange backhoe parked in our brush. I know he was happy he came by when he did so he could make sure we knew it wasn't his. Since it wasn't parked on my favorite apple tree I wasn't irate. Pete found it a convenient step stool for reaching the higher apples.

The recipe for this pie came from Patty Pinner's Sweety Pies: An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations, with Pie. I made "My Grandmother's Hand Made Apple Pie." That's Patty Pinner's grandmother. I don't know that either of my grandmothers ever made a pie in their lives. My maternal grandmother's repertoire consisted of broiled lamb chops, baked potatoes and sliced apples. Oh yes, and ham, cream cheese and cornichon pinwheels. I believe she was also able to scoop cottage cheese from a container. I never ever saw my father's mother in any kitchen that I can recall.

The fat in the recipe for the crust is shortening plus a little bit of heavy cream. In years past I've been a butter crust person. At least half the fat would be butter. I have to say that the shortening based crust was just as good as a butter crust as far as I can remember. It was also easier to make than I'd remembered and handling the shortening made my hands feel much smoother.

To help with handling the dough and getting it into the pie plate in one piece, I rolled it out between two sheets of cling wrap. Good system. Also, before you put the top crust on over the filling you're supposed to dot the filling with two tablespoons of butter. I just took my stick of butter out of the freezer, marked off two tablespoons on the stick and grated it off over the filling with the cheese grater. Take that butter dots! I'm going to do that with all my butter dots from now on.

We picked more apples than would fit in that pie so next on my apple agenda is a tarte tatin. I'm going to use pre-made puff pastry though. Cheater!

Thinking of my paternal grandmother makes me want a Manhattan. She had one every evening. She was a pilot and also used to shoot rattlesnakes with a revolver. You'd never know it to look at her though. I only saw her at family events in nice, tasteful, brocade or knit skirt suits and carrying a pocketbook. I definitely remember seeing her enjoying her nightly Manhattan.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Am I Writing About Baseball?

I have to say that going to a World Series game was very exciting. Don't kill me but I'm not a huge baseball fan - no, I don't think the ticket was wasted on me. An experience is an experience.

I'm happy to report that the National Anthem was not sung by Carly Simon or Steven Tyler or by any of the New Kids on the Block. They had John Williams write and conduct his own arrangement and it was played by the Boston Pops.

The most viscerally exciting part for me came next: the flyover by the Vermont Air National Guard. Four F-16s. LOUD, core-shaking, exhilarating, frightening. It gave me the kind of deep, dark thrill that I've been relishing so lately. You know, enjoyment of something it's wrong to enjoy? How could I think that flying a war plane is SUCH A COOL JOB!!!???? It was so cool.

Then whoever was left of the '67 Sox came out with Carl Yazstremski to throw out the first pitch. Good to see Yaz.

The game itself was easy to watch for a Boston fan. Everyone knows the Sox won 13 to 1. The first few plays were mayhem for the fans. By the fourth inning it seemed like everyone was taking it like an ordinary baseball game. By the sixth inning I felt sorry for the Rockies. Pete and I left early in the eighth inning to avoid getting stuck in a sea of jubilant yahoos. It takes a lot for a Red Sox fan to feel confident enough that they're not going to lose that it's okay to leave the game early. I took a moment at my favorite spot in the ballpark, right where you first come out into the stands, and said goodbye to my World Series experience.

Yeah, it kind of rained but it was a beautiful night. If you have a large pile of extra money and a chance at some tickets, you might want to try going to a World Series game.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Go Sox!

Pete and I are going to game one of the World Series tonight. I hope it's not a rain-out!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ordinary Day in Vermont

A couple of photos of some wet grass seed heads outside my door. It rained last night in VT for the first time in weeks. The wet seed heads are lavender colored in real life too.

I downloaded the new Radiohead album today: "In Rainbows." I've listened to it three times so far and I really like it. It's outrageously beautiful.

Also, I made a butternut squash polenta from a recipe I got from the Washington Post. Usually I'd bake the squash first to make the puree but this time I nuked it. It came out perfectly cooked. That butternut squash was so sweet just plain, I couldn't believe it. I'll be making that again soon.

I find that lately I've been using way too much salt and eating too much sugar. What's that about? Not too much for me, but more than experts would approve of.

Whoops! A certain aroma just reminded me that I'm also toasting the squash seeds in the toaster oven. I didn't burn them - phew - they're just done. But I did over salt them! You know, if I made the extra puree into soup I could use the toasted seeds as a tasty garnish.

Other aspects of my ordinary day in VT: I finished reading The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman, worked in my studio, did my Yourself!Fitness XBox workout, ate a (frigging) salad and got the dog to chase a tennis ball in the house while in her wheelchair. Eventful! Productive! How ordinary is that really?