Monday, October 24, 2011

Happy Halloween from Romathor (who also hates candy corn)!


Happy Halloween from our little Viking Warrior*!  
There will be much devouring of sweet things and much crashing in a sugar-induced coma afterwards.
Life will be as it should be. :)

So, I'm doing my Halloween post a little early this year mostly because I couldn't wait to share Roman's costume but also because, let's face it, nobody cares about Halloween the day after :)
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Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and also one that I have not been able to celebrate properly for years due to our non-American residence.  Let me tell you, Trick-or-Treating in the balmy Abu Dhabi weather had its perks but it definitely had its shortcomings - for one, Halloween was postponed until the first weekend in November last year due to the death of a Sheikh.  Not my cup of Arabic coffee.  

But it's not just the candy and dressing up that I love.  I love the whole run-up to Halloween with the candy-stashing, the decorating, the pumpkin carving (and of course pumpkin seed roasting!) and generally obsessing over autumnal and spooky things, something in short supply in the Middle East.  Here in New England, though, it really looks and feels spooky at this time of year with crunchy leaves, howling winds, and rustling woods everywhere you look, so it makes Roman's real "conscious" experience of the holiday all the more special.

I have to admit, though, that these days I'm not so involved in what used to be my very favorite part of Halloween: dressing up.  At least, not for myself.  I had so much fun choosing Roman's costume this year and I loved being able to make it myself too now that I have a sewing machine.  Growing up my mom always made our costumes and though I have to admit that sometimes I wished we could go to the store and buy the nice pre-made ones, looking back I see that our costumes were always that much cooler because they were unique.  I get it now and fully intend to inflict the same reality on my children.  I mean, I've had some pretty crazy costumes in my day (A Geisha, Uncle Fester and The London Eye(ball), for example) and I am proud to say that none of them were slinky, sexy or flaunty, and that, in fact, the weird ones weren't imposed on me by an over-imaginative mother - they were entirely my choice and sometimes to my own detriment (yes, someone called me a Condom when I dressed up as Uncle Fester and yes that did scar me). 

Understanding "costumes" and Halloween has been a real epiphany. :)
For the first time this year Roman really gets Halloween.  He is as much if not more of a devotee as me.  Every store we go into the request is loud and clear: "Can we go see the Halloween stuff?"  And then he makes me try on 20 different masks, push the buttons on all the dancing vampires / ghosts / witches and points out all the different kinds and colors of trick-or-treating pumpkins.  The clerks LOVE me.  It's actually really cute but after about the 30th time I started lying and saying that the masks were sleeping because too many people tried them on and they were tired.  So sue me.  The kid is obsessed!  Besides, I don't want him having some freaky preoccupation with the morbid.  On the other hand, I think it has been a serious epiphany for Roman to understand what it means to "dress up" or pretend to be something else.  I think next year will be really cool because I have a feeling he'll have a very definite opinion on what he wants to dress up as, whereas this year the Viking was allowed because he just didn't get it yet.

But sentimental discoveries aside, let's get to the point of Halloween: everyone likes Halloween because of the candy.  No matter how many silly commercials or kids' shows try to tout the idea of "healthy" Halloween snacks, it's just utter BS.  Nobody eats apples on Halloween.  Nobody wants nuts in their bag.  And nobody actually eats the "home-baked oatmeal pumpkin cookies."  I mean, come on, that's just bad!  

So not all Halloween candy is created equal.  We know this.  

And actually just recently Matt and I had a serious discussion regarding a traditional Halloween candy that we find utterly puzzling: Candy Corn.  He doesn't like candy corn.  I HATE candy corn.  Even Roman won't eat it!  In fact, between the two of us, we couldn't think of a single person who actually does like it.  We have started to wonder if it's just one of those old-timey things that people gave out and ate on Halloewen because they didn't have Snickers bars around back then.  Interestingly, the Nick Jr. Moose seems to agree.

Candy Corn nightmares aside, over the many years of relentlessly stalking down every single light-on-pumpkin-out-ghoulish-creature-in-the-corner-house in the neighborhood, I've become a connoisseur of Halloween candy - the good, the bad and the downright ugly.  What makes you smile, what makes you cry, and what makes it worth shoving the little fairy next to you to the ground ninja-style to get into that plastic cauldron first?  Here they are in Top 5 form.

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Brenda's Top 5 Halloween Treats
Because I have no qualms about taking down the little fairy princess if I have to.

5. The Holy Trinity of Halloween Mini-Candy Bars: Snickers, Three Musketeers, and Almond Joy (Milky Way?)
You know you're in a home of generosity when you see these pricey little guys in the treat bowl.  Unless a 1 or 2 piece minimum has been established by your patron, dig in brotha' because chances are the guy next door will have something nasty like Dots or unmarked orange and black taffy things on his plate.  Milky Way is kind of an honorable mention. I prefer Almond Joy but I know that's probably not the norm.

4. BlowPops or Tootsie Pops
I mean the full-size ones and I would take BlowPops over Tootsie any day but would settle for either over DumDums.  Admittedly, I love DumDums (especially the thrill of the mystery DumDum) but you just cannot pass up that sugary bubble gum interior (or the chance to mimick the ridiculous owl who asks how many licks it takes to get to the center :)).

3. SweeTARTS or Smarties
I am a sour-candy fiend.  I could eat sour stuff all day long but on Halloween my choices are limited in that department.  Almost nobody gives out Warheads or Nerds these days (though those are high on the longer list of awesome Halloween candy), so the next best thing, and  all nostalgically-packaged-to-boot are SweeTARTS and Smarties.  I LOVE the crinkly wrapping.  I love that you get to eat them one little coinlet at a time in both cases.  I love that they are sweet but sour.  Ah, I just love them.

2. Hershey's Miniatures
Back in the day I was quick with the eye and the hand in getting the Mr. Goodbar before all the other kids in my trick-or-treating group.  It was a fight for survival.  The Goodbar, the Krackel, or the Dark Chocolate.  Always good, and kept well in the closet stash for the next few months leading up to Christmas.  Besides, am I alone in believing these are literally the perfect size piece of chocolate?  Not too much that you feel like a pig.  Small enough to justify more than one.  Halloween candy in Platonic form, really.

1. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups - The Big Ones.
Nothing sets the Halloweener's heart a-racing like the sight of that bright Orange wrapper.  We all know what it is - the big single-serving Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.  A veritable Holy Grail of candy - something so utterly decadent and wonderful (unless you have peanut allergies) that you almost want to eat it before you get home so you don't have to split the difference with your kid sister (sorry Caaa).  Sure, we all like the little ones wrapped in their golden foil, usually half-smushed by the time you get home, but you really feel like you did your parents proud when you get The Big One.  The combo of peanuts and chocolate is the perfect, sticky, messy Halloween indulgence and my favorite treat of all. :) 

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Happy Trick-or-Treating and Many a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup to You All!
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* For Roman's costume this year I used a grey jogging suit from Wal-Mart as a basis and then sewed the brown vest and boot covers you see from furiously fuzzy remainders I found at Joann's.  I used his rain boots as a pattern for making the boots which have no bottom and a long felt section at the top which folds into the top of the boot, keeping it in place.  Roman has been wearing the boots around the house and in public for well over a month, so I think they are a hit and am considering making other variations including green monster feet :)

Yeti Feet.
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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Autumnal Cravings Indulged: Home-picked Dutch Apple Pie with Bacony Crumble

Apple picking is one of those things.  It's one of those things that is so basic and seems so unquestionably part of Fall that surely everyone must have done it at some point.  But I never had.  Despite knowing Johnny Appleseed's song by heart, and despite having eaten a Granny Smith in my lunch every day for the better part of my childhood, I had never picked an apple from a tree, really, until a few weeks ago.  That wrong had to be righted (word?!).  Luckily here in New England - it's the thing to do in the fall (pick apples? right wrongs? both.).  So when Roman's school put together a little child-parent apple-picking outing to a local family-run Cumberland Farm - Orchard Hill Farm -, we all jumped at the chance.

old-timey apple sorter
The farm itself was quaint as can be, with a little farm house full of freshly baked apple cider donuts, several varieties of other apple baked goods, souvenirs, old-timey toys and fresh apple cider.  They had an old fashioned apple sorter, pumpkins for sale, and bags to collect apples in for relatively cheap prices.  They also offered a fun hayride through the orchard pulled by a beautifully restored 1951 John Deere tractor.  The tour guide was one of their sons; he was hilarious with his monotone delivery of the orchard-history-apple-guide spiel and odd joke. 
keeping the doctor away
We all thoroughly enjoyed it, but especially Roman, who after 5 minutes of picking went straight into apple-devouring mode.  He would take one bite, drop the apple and run to the next tree, despite our efforts to stop him.  In the end he ate 3 whole apples on his own: "That should keep the doctor away for at least 3 days" said another parent. :)

The orchard boasted several types of apples: Granny Smith, Mcintosh, Cortland, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious and more.  I made sure to get a variety with a heavy emphasis on the Granny Smiths and Cortlands which make awesome pies.  And speaking of awesome apple pies, I made the best ever apple pie with our bountiful harvest, and here is the recipe along with some pictures of Roman's antics.

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Dutch Apple Pie with Bacony Crumble

Serves 6-8

I have now fully jumped on the bacon-in-dessert train.   And after this dessert, I am actually honking the horn and shoveling the coal too.  :)  There is bacon only in the special crumble that typically goes on top of a Dutch Apple Pie (as opposed to the double-crust American one), so you can easily omit it without sacrificing any flavor, but I say go for it.  If Decadence is your game, this apple pie is your new Game. 

I combined two recipes to make my pie adding bits and pieces of my own as I went along, so I owe them a mention: Dutch Apple Pie and Bacon Apple Pie.  I am also now toying with the idea of somehow involving cheddar cheese in the crumble - reminiscent of my cheesey apple cobbler.  Ah, how I love to combine savory and sweet!

1 homemade or pre-made crust for 9" pie pan:  

Apple Filling
(I always eyeball the spices so go with what you like)
4-5 cups of apples, chopped and peeled (half Granny Smith, half Mcintosh)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground black pepper (semi-coarsely ground)
fruits of our labor
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of ground giner
pinch of allspice
1 ground clove (a small pinch)
1/4 salt 
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
3 tbsp butter

6 strips applewood-smoked bacon (or whatever you have on hand), fried until crisp then chopped into small pieces
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup light brown sugar
Pinch of finely ground black pepper
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into ¼-inch cubes

1. Preheat oven to 375F.  Roll out the crust into a 12-inch circle and loosely place on pie dish allowing a 1/2-inch overhang all around and trimming as necessary.  Crimp the edges decoratively.  Poke holes in the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork then place foil over it folding the edges over the edge of the crust for protection.  Then put baking beads or a smaller glass pie dish on top of the foil and bake the crust in lower part of the oven for about 20 minutes or until it looks light and dry in color.  Increase the temperature to 425F.
Note: you may have to bake it less time.  Keep an eye on it as you don't want the crust to brown or it will burn when you bake it with the filling and crumble.

2. Make the filling by combining all the ingredients except the cream and butter in a large bowl, tossing until well covered.  Then melt the butter in a saucepan and when the foaming has subsided, add the apples.  Cook covered for 10-15 minutes until tender and a caramel sauce starts to form.  Add the cream and bring to a boil uncovered and simmer until the sauce is reduced to a caramely thickness.  The granny smith apples will hold their shape while the mcintoshes will start to break down a little.  Remove from heat and set aside, allowing to cool.

3. Make the crumble by combining the flower and sugar in a bowl.  Next add the butter and use fingers or a pastry cutter to cut the two together until pea-sized crumbs form throughout.  Next add the chopped, cooled bacon to the mix, evenly combining.

4.  Pour the semi-cool apple mixture into the crust and spread out evenly.  Put the crumble mixture on top and bake at 425F for 10-20 minutes or until the topping and crust are golden brown.  If your crust starts to brown too much, use foil to cover the pie edges and continue baking.

Enjoy!  Pickers can be choosers :)

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