My favorite time of year is upon us. Starting off with Halloween, we begin weeks of holidays, gatherings of friends and family and excuses to have parties and entertain with thematic food.
I always kick off my obsession with all things thematic with being a totally “extra” mom on Halloween. It started innocently enough. I took the time, when my kids were younger, to peel grapes and tell my children that they were alien eyeballs. The kids loved sticking their hands in the bowl of grapes and astonishingly loved eating them too. Now that my kids are older, I find myself moving on from the cute oranges decorated like pumpkins, bananas that are meant to look like ghosts and cheese and pretzel broomsticks while entering the realm of truly grotesque and scary.
Yes, Halloween gives me the excuse to totally amp up my menu to showcase silly and most-of-the-time grossly themed foods for our family dinner. In fact, in addition to scouring Pinterest for ideas, I often receive unsolicited emails from friends and family with some frightful recipes to cook because people know I’ll actually make them.
I would say that while many foods render themselves transformable, meatloaf is my medium of choice. That’s right, I’m somewhat of a virtuoso of ground meat sculpture. Halloween is the day that creations like “feetloaf” (better known as meat-feet in my house), meatloaf zombies or bleeding meatloaf brains debut on my table. The kids delve into their favorite food with abandon and are always excited to see what form their meatloaf takes.
Biscuit dough and bread from refrigerated tubes is another marvel. Simply wrap it around something. Voila! Mummy hot dogs! Mummy cheesesticks! Mummy pizza!
Green food coloring turns anything toxic or alien. Add it to macaroni and cheese or turn your spaghetti noodles green for a worm-like presentation. You can make anything look like it is seeping slime or alien blood. The kids love it.
Other foods I’ve served over the years have balanced the line of cute to downright gruesome. I’ve served carcasses of ribs surrounding intestinal sausages, complete with a skull covered in ham to replicate rotting flesh. My kids have eaten oozing pizza skulls, fingers (hot dogs) in buns and various other body parts served with gravy and bread.
Desserts have mimicked worms, spiders and pumpkins and this year I’m trying cinnamon bun intestines. I have made a Jell-O mold in the shape of a brain and a heart and sometimes just lumps of green oozing gelatin plopped on a plate that has various fake insects crawling out of it. I’ve served stuffed roaches (stuffed dates) that no one attempted to eat (too realistic I think), deviled egg eyeballs and a sweet cream cheese dip molded into the shape of a rat. I have found that red velvet cake makes a wonderful gory inside to various human organ cakes. No one seems to mind biting into a red velvet cake shaped like a severed leg.
My goal is clear – to somehow gross out my kids but get them to eat the very thing I’m nauseating them with before they go on a marathon trick-or-treat romp through the neighborhood. They need that nutritional fortitude to get through as many houses as possible because momma needs her Snickers bar, since they only get two hours to gather as much candy as possible. Goals people, goals.
When my kids return home, I do allow them to eat as much candy as humanly possible in the first night, so hopefully they’ve filled up on enough zombie-vomit (aka guacamole) or spider covered pizza (the spiders are cut up olives, don’t worry) so that they don’t eat the nation’s average of 3.4 pounds of candy on that one night. Yes, isn’t that scarier than my food creations?
I have so much fun cooking on Halloween and tempting my family with over-the-top concoctions. This is a case of creating a monster because in my quest to achieve memories for my children they have now reached a point where these things are expected. So I really can’t quit. Instead I have to up the “ick” factor every year. I’m not begrudging the job, but I have put myself in this quandary.
So if you’re looking to put yourself in the same predicament, may I suggest red Jell-O salad eaten out of the top of a skull, a cherry filled “hand” pie or a sausage-head charcuterie board? I promise you, it’s a lot of fun and who said we can’t play with our food?
Lisa Sweet writes about food for the Leavenworth Times.