The First Halloween

img_3489Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. I loved it as a kid. I had this GIANT plastic pumpkin about a foot and a half tall that would get filled ¾ full with candy. I didn’t mess with those tiny little 6 inch round plastic Jack-o’-lanterns, trick or treating is serious business. You need to have the right tools.

Now as an adult, I just enjoy the spirit of giving joy to the neighbors, as they share their creative costumes with me. So, Halloween has always been a big deal for me. We’ve hosted our family and friends for over 10 years. When we moved to this neighborhood, I intended to keep the tradition going. Thankfully, my new neighbors warned me, “Make sure you buy LOTS of candy.” To which I responded, “Hmph, are you talking to me? (insert eye roll here) I ALWAYS buy lots of candy,” and they responded, “No, I mean LOTS and LOTS of candy.” There was a sense of warning in their voice.  So I said, “like how much???” This is when they filled me in on the details, and I went directly to the internet and had half the candy in California delivered to my doorstep.

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No joke- they’re full of Candy!

How to be Neighborly: On Halloween, keep the lights on.

Halloween begins as soon as the sun sets, and a small but steady stream of neighbors drop by with the younger trick or treaters. About one hour later is when the action really starts. Hoards. Droves. Herds. Masses… of spidermen, witches, warlocks, teenage mutant ninja turtles, princesses, supermen, ladybugs, clowns, ballerinas, and the like, descend on the neighborhood with their plastic pumpkins, backpacks and pillowcases ready to be filled. A courteous line forms all the way down the driveway, and creatures of all kinds file in, orderly, smiling, waiting. One by one, they arrive at the door, hopeful, smiling. “Trick or treat!” they exclaim with joy. There’s no tricks, only treats. Off they go to the next house that has an equally long line. This goes on for about 2 hours, or until the candy runs out. About 1,500 kids served and counting.

Thank goodness for the internet…. and my neighborly warning!  Look for the November wrap up on Halloween 2016 in an upcoming post!  I hope it’s a good year!

Here’s a pumpkin soup recipe that will keep you warm as you dish out the sweets…

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Smoked Pumpkin Soup

This soup is great because it’s super easy, delicious, and basically fat free.

  • 1 onion, dicedimg_4275
  • 1 tsp hot smoked paprika (*)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 29 oz can pumpkin puree (unsweetened)
  • 2 c chicken broth (or veggie if making vegetarian)

In a pot, place 4 tablespoons water, diced onion, paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Combine and sweat the onions in the spices over medium low heat for 3-5 minutes.  Don’t let them brown.  Put the onions in a blender, and then add the remaining ingredients.  Puree until smooth.  Return the soup to the pot and heat for another 5 minutes.  You can make this ahead and reheat when ready to serve.

(*) If you want it spicy, then double the paprika.

 

Sweet & Salty

img_4170Our neighbors to the south of us are a quiet couple with two young kids and a puppy. We never hear a peep from their babies, and their dog makes the funniest howling noises when she gets lonely (or wants food, I presume). I feel for her, she’s been bested by the babies. Our dog, and their dog, chat through the fence every once in a while. 

Every Christmas, I take them a little homemade treat. This year was persimmon bourbon bread. One random week in February they returned the favor and brought over some homemade caramels. They came to the door carrying their oldest daughter, and proudly announced that they had been making homemade candy, and they had brought some over to share. Golden brown caramels were wrapped in little wax paper wrappers. I was so excited to taste them I could barely wait until after dinner.  They were soft and chewy. So fresh. But the best thing was when you got to the middle there was a little crunch of sea salt. So simple and so delicious. They were gone in no time, leaving me to howl with their puppy for more.
How to be Neighborly: A little salt can make things ever so sweet.

Homemade Caramels

  • img_41683 Tbsp water
  • ¼ c light corn syrup
  • 1 c sugar
  • ¼ tsp vanilla paste (or extract, if you can’t find paste)
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • ½ c heavy cream
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • Sea Salt for sprinkling

Prepare a small baking dish with parchment paper sprayed with oil.

In a heavy bottomed pot, combine water, corn syrup, sugar and vanilla. Stir to moisten the sugar, being careful not to get sugar on the sides of the pot. Heat the sugar mix over medium high heat for about 5 minutes, until it reaches 320 degrees, or the sides begin to turn amber brown. Don’t stir it!!!

While the sugar is boiling, melt the butter in the microwave, and add the cream and salt and heat for 30 seconds to warm the cream. When the sugar reaches 320 degrees, pour half the cream mixture into the pan. It will boil violently. Stir with a silicon spatula, being careful not to burn your hand in the steam. After about a minute, add the remaining cream and stir. Cook the mixture over medium high heat for an additional 3-5 minutes until it reaches 240 degrees. Pour into the parchment paper oiled dish. Sprinkle with Sea Salt.  Place in the refrigerator to cool (4 hours), or the freezer (1 hr). Cut into to squares and wrap in wax paper. Makes about 30 caramels.

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Improvising

What do you do when you have less than an hour to make a snack and be at a neighbor’s house for a small get together? Oh, and you haven’t been to the grocery store… you improvise. 
My well stocked pantry saved the day. I made a stuffed apricot, which was perfect for this hot day. Super simple, and quite the cupboard collaboration.

Pecan Stuffed Apricotsimg_4149

  • 25 dried apricots
  • Queso Fresco, cut into ¼ inch thin slices
  • 25 pecans
  • Sea salt
  • Olive oil, preferably rosemary oil
  • Pomegranate molasses (*)
  • Rosemary, for garnish

Cut a slit down the side of each apricot and pull apart to create a pocket. Stuff with a slice of cheese and a pecan. Put the apricots into a serving dish and sprinkle with rosemary leaves. Drizzle lightly with Olive Oil and then pomegranate molasses. Sprinkle with sea salt.

(*) Available at Middle Eastern stores.  Balsamic syrup would also work as a substitute.

The World on a Plate

img_4141Ok, maybe not the world, but India for sure.  While visiting the Taj Mahal, we learned about one of the local arts which is quite prevalent at the Taj Mahal- the art of inlaid marble.  The marble is etched, and then semi-precious stones are cut and inlaid into the marble.  The whole thing is then polished for a smooth surface.  While most well known for table tops, I found a plate that I just couldn’t live without, so I brought a little piece of India home with me. Continue reading

To Agra and Back

img_0347On day 2 of my Indian adventure, we were instructed to meet at 6:30am in the hotel lobby.  They sent us on our way with a box lunch, from which I nibbled only a small portion of the pastries.  I was still too scared to attempt the sandwich with meat and fruit.  I secretly hoped someone would steal my apple and provide it to someone in need.  No such luck.  TIP: If you don’t plan to stay in the nicest hotels where food is always available, bring some granola bars and snacks from home. Continue reading