Let’s dispense with the most important part first: I don’t think the guys in the picture look like the Klan. On the other hand, my head did go right there. I think they’re much cuter than that—their little curly points give them a Tim Burton quality. C’mon, only your waistline could find them demonic.
Oh well: modern life. If you’re a New Yorker you’ve probably lost count of the times you’ve seen people parading around town on Halloween (or any time, for that matter) and thought, “Oh, that’s just wrong!” So, why should I cook myself into a self-conscious stew over little blobs of egg white and sugar?
Confidentially, I find Halloween to be one of the trickiest times of the year to navigate. I was never one for dressing up; well into my twenties I was still wearing the same scratchy Yogi Bear costume my Mom bought me in Kindergarten. Oh, perhaps I exaggerate, but only to highlight that when it comes to Halloween costumes I feel totally devoid of creativity or desire. (Although, I have always thought it would be fun to dress as a matador. I like the hat. Um, is there a shrink within the sound of my voice?)
Only my friends who have kids dress up. The rest of us run home and eat our “just in case” candy. You know: the candy you buy knowing full well that you won’t get any Trick or Treaters, but buy just in case you do.
You would think that on Halloween someone like me would have all sorts of appropriately themed goodies on hand, but I resist the temptation of making anything pumpkin, orange and black, or blood red. I feel intimidated by the kitsch, for the truth is, kitsch requires a deft hand. Far from being predictable, Halloween kitsch knows no rules, and can be successful (or dreadful) when overdone, underdone, or somewhere in the middle. The recipe for Halloween is a tricky balance of humor, ghoulishness, and sugar. Look at the picture above. I think I got two out of three, and as the old expression goes, that aint bad.
In past years I’ve made cupcakes with orange frosting, Jack O’Lantern cookies (which were very cute), and other things, but I can never seem to step out of the shadow of the star of the day: that great big bag of tiny candy bars. I can’t make a better Kit Kat bar then our friends at Nestlé.
So where do my little meringue ghosts fit in? I consider them edible decoration—part of what Sandra Lee would call a “tablescape.” Scoff at Ms. Lee if you must, (and she is likely scoffing all the way to the bank), but she has a point. Yes, you can toss the bag of Kit Kats into a bowl. But then what? Sandra Lee would have the interns rig a black light, the better to make her “glow in the dark” cupcake frosting shimmer against the dry ice mist that the little fan hidden behind the table will swirl “just so”.
I don’t have a starving intern, so I made a very simple meringue (no cooking of the sugar is required), stuck little black dragees on them to look like eyes, and baked them until they were crunchy on the outside and still a bit gooey on the inside. Simple, but fun. They make a great souvenir, and the little “Boo!” banner can also be used to identify the food on a buffet table, or act as a place card for a sit down dinner. Place cards? Really? Yeah, why not. It’s a special day, and even your kids might get a kick out of them at your regular family meal.
If I am gun shy about Halloween kitsch, then I will happily practice the dark art of whimsy instead. (Ms. Lee and I are just very different people with the same goal. I’m okay with that and I’ll bet she is too.)
In a bit of timely irony, I became convinced while making the meringue ghosts this past weekend that my kitchen is again haunted. Yes, again. I was told when I moved in that the former occupant was a retired Nun. (I swear I am not making this up.) Evidently in her later years she became a bit of a recluse and pack rat, and when she died all of the stuff she had hoarded was tossed and a “to the studs” renovation was required. I get the feeling that she is mad and taking it out on me—in the kitchen. (Just ask any parochial school graduate about crossing a Nun.) Food would burn and things would fall off the counter when I was across the room. One day I heard an odd creaking noise and discovered that one of the cabinets was falling off the wall.
Shortly after I moved in a friend gave me a sage smudge stick—basically a bundle of dried sage leaves artfully lashed together. I had never heard of one before and had no idea what to do with it. I was told to light it so that it smokes, and that the smoke would drive away any bad spirits. Heck, I must have “he’ll try anything” stamped on my forehead. But try it, I did.
I can totally understand how this would drive away bad spirits. The dense smoke the thing gave off almost drove me away, but I persisted, frantically waving the smoking thing in every corner as instructed (supposedly bad spirits retreat into the corners), and then standing there, burning bush in hand, I wondered, “How the heck do I put this thing out?” (I snubbed it out in the sink.) It seemed to work for a while. Things stopped falling off the counter on their own. Peace reigned.
Then last week all heck broke loose. A can fell off a shelf and directly onto my foot. (It didn’t hurt. Much.) The first batch of meringue ghosts browned in the oven like they had gone down to Puerto Rico for a little beach time. (They’re supposed to stay white.) And the kicker, the thing that convinced me that something was awry? While making the second batch, my piping bag burst open at the seams. I thought those things were supposed to last forever. I was wrong.
Or was I haunted?
Click here for the recipe for Meringue Ghosts.
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