Friday, October 31, 2014

On the Homefront: Black Cats Halloween Table

Even Dalmatian WitchiePoo isn't safe from a grinning black cat
looming behind her!

For better or worse, black cats are traditionally associated with Halloween.  Even the rather sweet black cats on my salad plates fall under this seasonal spell, and they are the inspiration for my holiday table.  Because the plates are accented with the color red, I get to use my favorite color (red) with my second favorite (orange) for the holiday color scheme, combined with the expected black plus a little white.  Throw in some slightly tarnished silver accents (completely intentional rather than due to neglect, I assure you), and the look is complete!

Once again my photos came out very dark (sigh!).
The black tablecloth and runner didn't help, but I may need
a better camera.  However, the gloomy look suits a Halloween
table, so I went with what I got!

Here is another shot with flash, but it only worked
from this angle.

Round red woven placemat from Kmart a few years ago; orange dinner plate from Publix last year;  Black Cat Dessert Plate and Coffee Mug from Wind & Weather; red napkin; stainless steel flatware; orange water glass from The Cupboard in Fort Collins years ago.

There are four different cat poses on the mug and plate sets.  Here are the other three:

A metal "fish bones" bowl holds shiny red apples,
to keep the (witch) doctor away of course!

A silver candelabra atop a silver tray, with four blood red
candles surrounding a central Halloween orange taper,
serves as the centerpiece.

A spooky cemetery scene is set on the spirit board tray I
won from the HGTV "Design Happens" blog site last year.
A menacing gnarly tree (a Halloween decoration I have had
for years) sits in one corner.  The headstones and jack-o-lanterns
are place holders (cards fit onto the top of the latter, and
an erasable marker pen is used on the former).  A giant owl
sits at the front of the tray, completely out of scale but
I am very fond of him!

For the menu, the Dalmatians on the scene are willing to eat anything, but the black cats insisted that cat-friendly fare be served!  To keep them happy, I am serving a tuna noodle casserole made from scratch (no cream soup shortcuts for these finicky felids).  The cider is probably only a people pleaser, but everyone should love the pumpkin crème brûlée (pumpkin for the pups and cream for the kitties, although I did have a cat who adored pumpkin muffins and of course the dogs would eagerly devour cream as well as pumpkin).

I absolutely love the prepackaged chopped salad kits in grocery stores now.  My current favorite is Dole's Sunflower Crunch Chopped Salad.  To make this mix more appropriate for Halloween, I simply added some roasted, salted pumpkin seeds (also available at most supermarkets).  You can use whatever prepackaged chopped salad you prefer, or make your own from scratch if you feel the overwhelming need to whack stuff with a knife.

Black Cats Halloween Menu:

Spooky Spiced Apple Cider*
Pumpkin Seed Crunch Chopped Salad

*Spooky Spiced Apple Cider

2 quarts apple cider
1/2 C. molasses
4 lemon slices, cut in half
12 whole cloves
2 (2-inch) cinnamon sticks
1/4 C. lemon juice

Bring the cider plus the next four ingredients to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Strain out the spices and stir in the lemon juice.  Serve garnished with more cinnamon sticks and lemon slices.  Makes 9 cups.

The candy on the table, in keeping with the cat theme, is a bowl full of black and orange Gummy Cats I found at Home Goods:

(Notice the subtle black spider web runner under the bowl.)

Fish heads for the cats, and leg bones for the
Dalmatians - everybody's happy!

One-Eyed Jack sits safely above the feline fray,
And watches the scene with undisguised dismay!

Have a "purr"fectly "pet"rifying Halloween, every"body"!

Foodie Fridays: Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

If you are looking for a special dessert to serve on Halloween, look no further!  Pumpkin Crème Brûlée has all the right fall flavors, not to mention perfect color from the pumpkin.  This lovely treat is so rich and satisfying, your youngsters may not even feel the need to roam the streets in search of candy (okay, so that may be an exaggeration)!

Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

1 1/2 C. heavy cream
1/2 C. whole milk
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
2 pinches nutmeg
1 pinch ginger
4 egg yolks
1/2 C. sugar
1/4 C. canned pumpkin purée
1/3 C. coarse or raw sugar (I used demerara sugar)

Heat the first five ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, just until the mixture comes to a boil.  Immediately turn off the heat and set the pan aside for 15 minutes to let the flavors infuse.  In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar.  Whisking constantly, gradually add the hot cream mixture.  Whisk in the pumpkin purée.  Pour the mixture into four ovenproof ramekins and arrange them in a water bath.  Bake on the middle oven rack at 300 degrees  for 30-40 minutes, until set but still soft in the center (the custards should jiggle a bit when you shake the pan; they will firm up some as they cool).  Remove the ramekins from the water bath and let cool for 15 minutes.  Tightly cover each one with plastic wrap (do not allow wrap to touch the custard surface).  Chill 2-24 hours.

When ready to serve, preheat the broiler to HIGH.  Unwrap the custards and completely cover the tops with as much coarse or raw sugar as will fit without spilling out.  Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and broil until the sugar is melted and well browned, about 1-2 minutes (do not burn!).  Let cool one minute before serving.  Serves 4.

"Bone" appétit!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Victorian Mourning Attire

From CNN

Just in time for Halloween, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute is currently displaying an exhibit called "Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire".  The display focuses on the years between 1815 and 1915, especially the Victorian Era (1837-1901), when the mourning industry was at its peak and the traditions and rituals of mourning rivaled those of weddings in Western society.  While relatively little was expected of men during mourning, women, particularly widows, had to adhere to a very rigid set of socially acceptable practices.  A widow's period of bereavement usually lasted about two and a half years*.  In fact, when Queen Victoria lost her beloved consort Prince Albert at the end of 1861, she donned mourning apparel for the rest of her life:

Queen Victoria in mourning dress for Prince Albert
(from Whistling Woods - Neeta Lulla School of Fashion)

Proper attire was essential.  Even the less wealthy felt obligated to purchase a completely new wardrobe just for this mourning time.  The color worn was always black, but the dress (plus accessories after the first year) could be as lavish as one could afford, and hence mourning dress became a display of economic and social status as well as grief.  By the early 20th century, the strict mourning standards began to lose popularity, especially with the onset of World War I when the prolonged seclusion of women during mourning became impractical.

The exhibition, featuring about 30 mourning ensembles, debuted on October 21st and will be on display at the Museum until February 1, 2015.  Even if you can't make it for Halloween, should you be in the area at a later date you may just want to head on over and take a look.

*This quote from the website CVLT Nation describes in detail just what was expected of a Victorian Era widow:

"During Victorian times, the type of mourning dress and the length of time one wore it was circumscribed by etiquette instead of sumptuary laws.  A widow wore mourning dress for 2 1/2 years.

Full mourning lasted a full year and consisted of clothing made of dull black fabrics without embellishment or jewelry.  A woman in full mourning wore a veil to cover her face when she left the house.  She avoided balls and frivolous events during that time.

After a year had passed, the widow added small trimmings and simple jewelry.  Later, that second year, the widow, now in 1/2 mourning, added some color.  Gray, mauve, and duller shades of purple and violet were suitable at that time."

Scary times indeed!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wish List Wednesday: Ominously Opulent Black Widow Halloween Outfit

Are you on your way to a gruesomely gala Halloween ball?  Victorian Trading Co. has all the apparel necessary to make a maliciously magnificent appearance as the ultimate Black Widow!  Start off with the Veronique Mermaid Gown ($518) shown above, vaguely reminiscent of the wickedly alluring attire worn by Morticia of "The Addams Family".

Carolyn Jones as
Morticia Addams
Anjelica Houston as
Morticia Addams
(from The Black Wardrobe)

The perfect footwear for this bewitching gown would be these Vampy Witch Shoes ($49.95):

Slip on a pair of lacy Glamorous Gloves ($12.95),

and the aptly named Black Widow Necklace ($59.95),

plus a gossamer Flourish Gothic Intrigue Mask ($29.95) to keep the other ball guests almost guessing as to your identity:

October is a chilly month, so you will need warm outerwear as you make your grand entrance to the ball.  If you were a proper widow, you would of course don an acceptable Widow's Mourning Cloak ($139.95) and Bonnet ($39.95):

However, for this one night you are a professional Black Widow, and acceptability is out of the question!  Go for this dramatic black Velvet Opera Coat ($249.95) instead, and you are guaranteed to capture the attention (and soon the heart) of your next victim:

Should you have one iota of pity in your ruthless Black Widow psyche, give your potential prey fair warning by pinning the Madame Lacemaker Spider Brooch ($19.95) to your coat's lapel:

Hapless victims, you have been warned -- the irresistibly evil Black Widow is on the prowl, and she is planning to attend a fancy dress Halloween Ball near you!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Terrifying Tuesdays: Jaws (1975)

From Rant Movies

My movie pick for Halloween this year is "Jaws" (1975), the Steven Speilberg blockbuster based on a Peter Benchley novel about that now iconic giant man-eating great white shark relentlessly terrorizing the residents of Amity Island and giving the characters of actors Roy ScheiderRichard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw a really bad boating experience.  Did you know that much of the movie was filmed on Martha's Vineyard (hence the reason I chose this film)?

From Vintage Everyday

The photo above shows the movie's mechanical shark (nicknamed "Bruce" by Speilberg and infamous for almost never working properly) in Katama Bay off of Martha's Vineyard (click on the photo link to see even more images).

There have actually been shark sightings in the area recently.  The sharks are following a bumper crop of seals, and were still in the Cape Cod area in mid-October.  As a precaution, beach-goers have been told to leave the water when sharks are seen.  A good idea, in my opinion, especially after two kayakers were attacked by a shark in September.  Luckily, the women were not hurt, but I do think they definitely needed a bigger boat!

To watch the full movie, just click here.

Gore Guide (0=none to 5=extreme): 3

Monday, October 27, 2014

Mysterious Mondays: Martha's Vineyard Mysteries by Cynthia Riggs

Martha's Vineyard is the setting for the mystery series by author Cynthia Riggs, a resident of the island herself.  The first novel, Deadly Nightshade, introduces us to Victoria Trumbull, the 92-year-old resident poet of West Tisbury with a newly discovered talent for solving murders.  This skill is put to good use in the next novel, The Cranefly Orchid Murders, as well, and on through the rest of the series to the most recent tenth novel, The Bee Balm Murders.  Each mystery is linked in some way to the titular plant species, with the added bonus of a look at life on Martha's Vineyard from the perspective of an author who is a 13th generation Islander.

Cynthia Riggs is herself quite a remarkable character, and could certainly hold her own as a book heroine.  The daughter of an author/poet mother (upon whom the character of Victoria Trumbull is based) and school principal/printmaker father, Riggs has a degree in geology, has written for the National Geographic and the Smithsonian, worked for the American Petroleum Industry, operated charter boats, taught at the Annapolis Sailing School, ran the Chesapeake Bay Ferry Boat Company, and was a rigger at the Martha's Vineyard Shipyard.  In her late 60s Cynthia Riggs earned a MFA in creative writing from Vermont College, and promptly began her current career as a mystery writer.  Riggs has declared that she will write 20 Martha's Vineyard mysteries and then retire, but I have a feeling that this declaration is not set in stone!  Look for the 11th in the series in early 2015, entitled Poison Ivy: A Martha's Vineyard Mystery.

Perhaps the most fascinating story about this unique woman is her fairytale wedding in 2013 at the age of 81, to a man ten years her senior whom she met over 60 years earlier when the two of them worked at a marine laboratory in San Diego.  Read the article here for the amazing details, including the special mystery code which led to their reunion.

Wedding bells for the happy couple!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Tuna Noodle Casserole from Scratch

While I have already posted a recipe for the classic 1950s Tuna Noodle Casserole using the ubiquitous-at-the-time canned cream of mushroom soup, I have been wanting to find an equally easy and even tastier version made from scratch that has the same comfort food appeal.  Tuna Noodle Casserole from Scratch from Allrecipes seems to be that recipe!  The ingredients are simple and easy to find (no exotic extra ingredients added), the preparation is straightforward and uncomplicated, and the taste is an enhanced version of the original.  This recipe may take a little longer to prepare, but when you have the time it is a much more satisfying substitute for the canned soup casserole -- the fresh mushrooms in particular make all the difference!

Tuna Noodle Casserole from Scratch

1/2 C. (8 T.) butter
8 oz. medium egg noodles, cooked and drained
1 small onion, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
8 oz. white or cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
1/4 C. flour
2 C. milk, preferably at room temperature
salt and pepper to taste
2 cans (5-6 oz. each) tuna, drained and flaked
1 C. frozen peas, thawed
4 T. panko or plain bread crumbs
1 C. shredded Cheddar cheese

Melt 1 1/2 T. butter in a skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the onion, celery, and garlic and cook for 5-8 minutes, or until tender.  Increase the heat to medium-high and stir in the mushrooms.  Cook for another 5-8 minutes until the mushrooms are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated.

Melt 4 T. butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour until smooth.  Gradually whisk in the milk, being careful to avoid lumps.  Continue cooking for 5 minutes until the sauce is smooth and slightly thickened.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in the tuna, peas, mushroom mixture, and cooked noodles.

Butter a medium baking dish with 1/2 T. butter and pour in the casserole mixture.  Microwave the remaining 2 T. butter in a small bowl until melted (at least 30 seconds on my microwave).  Mix in the panko and sprinkle over the casserole.  Top with the cheese.  Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes until bubbly and lightly browned.  Serves 6.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Thrills and Chills for Halloween

From xDesktopWallpapers

I am one of those people who loves a good supernatural scare -- as long as I am safely ensconced in my exceedingly non-supernatural home!  There is nothing more satisfying to me than a good spooky story (or two, or ten) on Halloween night, and I have recently discovered a number of excellent new sources for these tales.  Check them out:

Haunted Island by Holly Mascott Nadler

My recent interest in all things Martha's Vineyard, thanks to the location of HGTV's Dream Home 2015, led to the discovery of this book by the Vineyard's very own supernatural authority, "ghost lady" Holly Mascott Nadler.  New England has a reputation for haunted history, and apparently Martha's Vineyard is no exception.

Vineyard Supernatural: True Ghost Stories from America's Most Haunted Island by Holly Mascott Nadler

A second collection of supernatural stories compiled by the aforementioned author continues the recounting of the many otherworldly encounters on the island of Martha's Vineyard.

Great Radio Horror from Radio Spirits

This CD collection includes 21 eerie recordings from a variety of old-time radio shows with a supernatural theme.  I have just ordered this one and it should arrive in plenty of time for Halloween listening.

Dark Fantasy: Adventures in the Supernatural from Radio Spirits

I have owned this CD collection for a while now, but I never get tired of listening to the 20 frightening tales from the classic 1940s radio show "Dark Fantasy".  I keep hoping they will release a second collection with the remaining 11 episodes from this short-run series.

Crimes by Moonlight from Daedalus Books

This book contains a collection of nighttime crime stories with a supernatural twist, and would be a fantastic read for a haunting Halloween evening.

Haunted Hotels: Eerie Inns, Ghoulish Guests, and Creepy Caretakers from Daedalus Books

I have always wondered what it would be like to stay in a haunted dwelling (not that I have any interest in doing so, mind you!).  This book allows me to find out vicariously through the experiences of others, which is as close as I'd like to come.

If you too enjoy a frisson of fear on Halloween night, you may just want to get your hands on one or more of these collections of terrifying tales, just as I have!


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Lace Cobweb Shawl and Tarantula Bracelet

Scene from "The Old Dark House" (1932)
(from Horrorthon)

Whenever I think about what the ideal Halloween interior would look like, visions of dark, gloomy Victorian mansions tend to come to mind (if you've ever seen the movie "The Old Dark House" (1932), the eponymous abode is the sort of place I'm talking about).  Of course this also means that I consider old-fashioned Victorian attire to be fitting Halloween apparel, especially if they have a rather ominous appearance.  The Lace Cobweb Shawl ($39.95) from Victorian Trading Co., dark as a stormy night and crawling with spiders, would suit the horrific holiday perfectly:

Slip on the creepy crystal-encrusted Tarantula Bracelet ($29.95) and you are ready to make your debut as a sinister Spider Woman:

Enhance your character's appearance if you like with an arachnid-inspired manicure:

From Syl and Sam

As an added Halloween bonus, settle in and watch "The Old Dark House" for free on YouTube (a great old movie with equal parts humor and horror):

And afterwards, be sure to keep a wary eye out for things that go bump in the night!