Halloween was a little hollow in 1979

More and more frequently, I’ll recall a warm childhood memory and as I’m regarding now in my parental mind’s eye, I can’t help but stop and think, “What the hell?”

We didn’t grow up in a bad area of town. On the contrary–it was a nice suburban Michigan home in a subdivision filled with large sprawling yards and growing families. It was a particularly good neighborhood to Trick-Or-Treat in because there was always a porch light on at every house, and easy-to-navigate streets.

I remember going out with my Dad and sister and we’d hit as many houses as possible in our unknown costumes buried under a parka since October in Michigan meant it was 3 degrees outside. My Mom would stay at home passing out the candy and when we returned we’d dump out our pillowcases filled with sugar treasures, and the mad sorting would begin.

Or should I say, my mother would begin the 3 day long inspection process and clinical drug trials.

You must put into context that the idyllic neighborhood I described was set in the late seventies which is when and where all urban legends were born. I have no idea if there was any concrete evidence or actual events to support the extraordinary means my mother would go through to make sure our candy wasn’t tainted, but I imagine some fuzzy-screened news anchor with a wide tie informing the good citizens of Oakland County that Charles Manson was on the loose in the Hershey factory inserting razor blades and Tylenol laced with cyanide into fun size Snickers bars.

Even before one M got stuffed into my mouth, she’d immediately start the torture.

All apples (yeah, that lady lived in my hood, too) were tossed into the trash. “Hello, ever hear of Snow White?” Popcorn balls or anything homemade? “I’m not sure if it’s poisoned but you don’t know what kind of kitchen that came from. You could get trichinosis.”

All loose candy was pitched. Anything in a wrapper that was torn, wrinkled or compromised in any way was an immediate discard. And all Milky Ways were automatically confiscated, but I think it was just because she liked those.

We were then allowed to choose one piece of candy from our bags, but only after Mom chopped it up like a sushi chef to make sure there was nothing hidden inside or any powdery residue on the blade of the cleaver.

After the intense visual inspection and biopsy, you’d think you were in the clear, but you were obviously not aware of the cornucopia of dangers lurking in a Bit o’ Honey in 1979. No, then all of the level 1 cleared candy was bundled back up into the pillowcase with the firm declaration, “You can have this back in a few days after your Uncle has had a chance to X-ray it.”

Yes. X-Ray.

This was an annual ritual that I thought was just our curse having an uncle as a radiologist, but one year we had to take it to the local McDonald’s for a mobile screening so this must have been a widespread concern in our zip code. I guess irradiation was deemed less dangerous than the possible lockjaw we’d get from biting down on a rusty nail.

By the time the candy would come back well into November, it lost much of its appeal. Still wearing its hospital bracelet and reeking of antiseptic, the bag sat on the kitchen table looking a little lighter and glowing unnaturally. I couldn’t help but lose my confectionary appetite a little.

And again, looking back at it through my parental mind’s eye, maybe it was all by design.

Trick on my Treats after all.

©2012 Tracey Henry

Fall recipe wrap-up

To wrap-up November, Thanksgiving and autumn celebrations in general, here are some promised links to two recipes I served at Fakesgiving–my favorite holiday.

Here is the corn pudding recipe I served–I doubled it and baked it twice as long and it was perfect.

And that delicious cider punch? Not only good for Halloween, but seriously a sophisticated cocktail all season long.

Cider punch--Not just for Halloween anymore.
Cider punch–Not just for Halloween anymore.

Scarecrow Salad

A couple of decades ago for a “Halloween-Themed Meal,” I’d have put out a bowl of Frankenberry and called it a night.

Four children and the invention of the Internet later, I feel an unnatural urge to theme everything we eat in October into some sort of spooky, ghoulish or otherwise macabrely-crafted fare.

Today I came up with this Scarecrow Salad. It’s a deconstructed, then constructed again, updated Oriental cabbage salad with edamame.

And a cry for help.

This deconstructed Oriental slaw will only scare away Halloween hunger. (And attract bad jokes.)
This deconstructed Oriental slaw will only scare away Halloween hunger. (And attract bad jokes.)

Scarecrow Salad

1/2 head of green cabbage, chopped (2 whole leaves reserved)
1/2 head of purple cabbage, chopped (2 whole leaves reserved)
3 scallions, 2 chopped, 1 cut into 3 equal pieces
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
2 T. sesame seeds, toasted
2/3 c. shelled edamame, thawed
2/3 c. Chinese noodles

Dressing:
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 oil seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 c. oil
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

Assemble the scarecrow on a large plater first. With the chopped green cabbage, form two “legs,” then use the purple cabbage to form the chest and arms. Place a small mound of the almonds for the head, while the 3 scallion pieces forms the hat.

Lay trimmed pieces of the whole cabbage leaves over the body and limbs accordingly to give it a cohesive look. Place a small amount of Chinese noodles at the feet and hands, an edamame for the buttons and features for the face.

This only uses a fraction of the ingredients–all of the rest should be placed into a large bowl.

Whisk the dressing ingredients together, and pour over the salad in the bowl. Toss to coat, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, but preferably 2-4. (Cover the scarecrow platter with plastic wrap and refrigerate as well.)

Serve the dressed salad along side of the scarecrow, or, after your guests have been adequately amused, explain that a tornado has blown through and Mr. Scarecrow was blown back into the bowl. He may not have a brain, but you have a stomach so all’s fair in Oz.

©2013 Tracey Henry

White Turkey Chili

There’s only a week until Halloween and we have a lot to do, people. There are copious amounts of food-coloring, meat-sculpturing, vegetable-carving and other compound verbs that you never thought would be part of your late October repertoire.

Let’s get started, shall we?

I’m always on the look out for a good white chili recipe, but I haven’t found one that takes all of the elements I like into one bowl.

So I came up with this one.

It’s a true slow-cooker recipe–not one of those fake ones that makes you prepare 9/10 of the ingredients on the stovetop before putting into the crock pot. I hate those. Why bother unless you really love doing dishes.

Because this is made with ground turkey rather than beef, I think it’s well-suited to be put in the crock-pot raw. The only explanations I can find for browning first is for depth of flavor and to drain off the fat. With lean turkey, there isn’t much fat to drain off, so have at it. It will be cooked thoroughly after 8 hours.

Also, this uses dried beans rather than canned which allows the bean to hold up and still have a nice texture.

Enjoy responsibly.

Scare up a pot of this on Halloween night or anytime you need a little comfort.
Scare up a pot of this on Halloween night or anytime you need a little comfort.

White Turkey Chili

1 package lean ground turkey (it’s a little over a pound)
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 package of dried white navy beans or other white bean
1 10 oz can of Rotel tomatoes, drained
2 cups frozen corn
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 t. pepper

32 oz carton of chicken broth
1 12 oz bottle of beer

1/2 cup heavy cream

Shredded cheese, sour cream, and/or chopped scallions for toppings

1.) Put the ground turkey on the bottom of a heating slowly and break up slightly. Add next 11 ingredients and gently combine.

2.) Cook covered (duh) for either 8 hours on low or 6 hours on high. If it gets dry at any point, don’t be afraid to add more broth, beer or water.

3.) With 30 minutes left to go in the cooking time, add the heavy cream and continue cooking.

4.) Serve with your favorite chili toppings, but be aware of hitchhiking ghosts.

©2013 Tracey Henry