Simple Steps for a Spooky Halloween Feast

Simple, Spooky, Halloween Feast It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Pumpkins for roasting, blood cocktails for toasting and headstones aglow in the yard. You can keep your jingle bells and turkey dinners, give me banshees and the undead any day. Halloween is my thing. The Samhain celebration in our house always starts with a ghoulish feast – no goulash involved. Hosting a ghostly get-together can be scary simple. Here are a few of my go-to tips for creating a terrifyingly terrific table.   

Tip #1: Hit the Dollar Stores

I love to peruse those pop-up Halloween shops and warehouses, but I rarely buy there. For the most part they’re just totally over priced. Many of the things you’ll find there can be reproduced with thrifty finds from the Dollar Store or even a thrift shop. Save your money for the big scares.

Tip #2: Raid the Good China

That silver service Gran left ya – the one that’s been gathering tarnish (or patina, if you’re fancy) will lend a great vintage-creepy vibe to your tablescape. Using mismatch serving dishes, old candle holders and turning a glass bowl upside down to replace a cloche are free and up the freaky factor. Mix and match some of the cool paper goods you can find at Target with your fancy chargers or good china. These are all easy and CHEAP tricks for creating that scary-chic setting.

Tip #3: A Dish by Any Other Name

 Castelvetrano Olives are a salty Sicilian treat found on many a fancy charcuterie plate. Put them in a brass bowl perched atop a pair of claw hands and their nearly-neon hue makes them instant, “Eye of Newt.” Mashed potatoes and meatloaf, peeled grapes, jelly donuts with dripping raspberry jam, sun-dried tomatoes and cheese baked in puff pastry, pomegranate punch with a splash of lime grenadine, all sound simply delish. Yes? Call them Roasted Brains, Stuffed Intestines, Nosferatu Choux  and Blood Bath Bubbly, and you have devilishly deviant deliciousness.  

Tip #4: Raid the Craft and Supply Stores

Pass by the Halloween displays at the craft store, or only shop them if you have that 40% off coupon, but still go. There are some great finds in the floral, fabric, and jewelery-supply sections. Feathers and Spanish Moss, tulle in All Hallows Eve hues, and baubles like vintage-style keys, cameo charms and crystals of all colors lend a chill to the air of your tablescape. Cheap skulls of all shapes, sizes, and colors carry the theme throughout too.

spooky tablescape on the cheapOn-line science and industrial supply stores are a veritable wonderland of macabre just waiting to happen. Beakers, flasks, and test tubes… OH MY! A Boston Round bottle with a handwritten, “poison label” does great double duty as a prop in Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory. I picked up a 12 pack of test tubes for less than five bucks.  Fill them with dipping sauces. and give them grotesque labels and you’ve got a party. 

Here are a couple of simple recipes to take your spine-chilling soiree over the top.

meatloaf brains a tasty halloween meat treat

Ingredients:
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 egg
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp Trader Joe’s Season-All
2 tbsp onion (minced)
Your Favorite Mashed Potatoes
1/2 cup tomato puree
2 pastry bags

Prep Time:

Cook Time:
Serves: 6

Directions:
Mix meats with garlic, season-all, onion, egg and bread crumbs. Form into 12 balls about the size of your palm. Roll on a parchment covered surface to get an oblong shape. Press two together firmly, six sets in total. Place on a lined baking sheet in a 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until cooked through. In the mean time prepare mashed potatoes. Be sure they are not too loose.

Allow potatoes to cool until cool enough to handle. Fill a pastry bag with potatoes. Pipe onto meatloaf “brains” in a zigzag pattern. Fill second pastry bag with tomato puree. Pipe onto potato layer inside of the grooves, nooks and crannies. 

Note: Barbecue sauce and steak sauce make tasty substitutions for tomato puree. 

Puff Pastry Cheese and Sundried Tomato - Tasty Intestines

Ingredients:
1 package frozen puff pastry sheets (thawed, but kept chilled)
2 cups shredded Italian cheese blend
1 package cream cheese (room temperature)
1 tbsp dried Italian herbs
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
3-4 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil (oil drained and patted off)
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with a tablespoon of water)
 

Prep Time: 15

Cook Time: 15
Serves: 6-8

Directions:
In a medium mixing bowl combine cheeses, herbs and seasonings. Dice tomatoes and add to cheese mixture. Set aside.

Roll out sheet of puff pastry on a loured surface till it is a rough circle approximately 10 inches in diameter. It does not need to be a perfect circle, in fact the less perfect the better.
Spread cheese and tomato mixture 1/2 inch in from one side of the pastry dough. Fold over the edge of the dough until it covers most of the cheese mixture. Working from right to left, roll the dough over itself forming a cigar shaped roll. Coil onto a lined baking sheet in roughly the shape of an intestine (yeah, I know it sounds nasty but it tastes good.) Brush the top with egg wash. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly. Serve with a sharp knife for hacking into… YUCKY YUMMY!

Baltimore Comic-Con: Where Real Nerds Keep Artists in the Spotlight

Baltimore Comic Con

Sure,  you know who Stan Lee is. You watch the Big Bang Theory (almost as religiously as I do) and can spot Stan’s cameo in every incarnation of a Marvel hero movie to hit the silver screen. Maybe you even know who Matt Murdock is.

If you also happen to know who Bill Everett was, then you’d have felt right at home at Baltimore Comic-Con.

Baltimore Comic-Con honors the heart of the comic book culture in a way that seems to be fading under the glare of the lights and mainstream media coverage at the larger “cons.” Which made it the perfect first con for our kids. 

Watching my nine year old in the ballroom of the Baltimore Convention Center as he sat mesmerized, listening to Joel Hodgson recount the materials he used to build Tom Servo (a Leggs egg and a gumball machine, by the way) was priceless. The kid loves MST3K. Um, who doesn’t?

 Upon walking into the lobby and seeing a group of cosplayers dressed in awesome Attack on Titan garb, my fifteen year old daughter squealed, “Yes! My people!Dr. Who Comic illustrator Kelly Yates Baltimore Comic ConTotal win.

For this parent of daughters, the prodigious amount of Girl Power on display at this convention was reason enough to go back next year. From a fierce female Thor and her pal Miss America, to Marguerite Bennett, author of several story-lines in the DC Universe including: Batgirl, Lobo and Lois Lane, to the budding talent of Kate Allen who creates, writes and illustrates her own comics and graphic novels, the level of estrogen-laden awesome was immense and powerful.

Of course there were the typical conference staples: baubles, gadgets, gear, merch, on-site appraisals, and a phenomenal cosplay costume contest. Truly something for everyone – even things you never knew you wanted, but suddenly had to have!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for an event where I can cozy up to Patrick Stewart (make it so – yes, please) or Benedict CumberDragon, but the community that begot huge conventions of Nerdom – like International Comic-Con San Diego (which was still relatively easy to get tickets to when I went back in back in ’94) – began at the roots.  With the art, the artists, the storytellers.

The expo hall was packed with artists from nearly every fandom you can name. Daughters one and two are major Whovians. You think you know Dr. Who…?  Not like they do! Getting to meet and enjoy a photo op with Kelley Yates was an epic moment.  Taking home one of his Dr. Who illustrations -signed- was their own personal nirvana. Maryland’s own Frank Cho (Mighty Avengers, Hulk – Marvel Comics) did an unbelievable demo in which he created a veritable masterpiece for the live audience.  Seeing the passion in the artists and getting a glimpse of how they bring a world to life illuminated my children with the reality of possibility…and that was the meat of the experience.  The rest was great, but garnish.

Meeting illustrators and creators of original graphic novels, artists who’ve expanded universes that began decades ago…to me, THIS is the living, breathing heart of any Comic-Con. Keep the marquee names on the red carpet, let Bruckheimer promote his next movie on the talk-show circuit. Keep the “cons” about the artists, the creative cosplay of die hard fans, the amazing and world-changing creativity of the true nerds. 

My advice?  Plan your trip.  Start designing your costume.  Save your pennies for must have merch, sure…but know who created the fantasy world you like to visit.  Follow the artists, and make a point to see them in action, in the flesh.  Next year – go to Baltimore Comic-Con!

Baltimore Comic Con Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom 

 

 

NFL, Cocktails & a $300 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway

Changing leaves are great. Pumpkin spice lattes are awesome. Sending the kids back to school is … sanity saving.  The best thing about fall though is the return of NFL FOOTBALL! From the minute that the first fantasy draft books hit the news stand I start to hope again. Rivers‘ is going to stay healthy and on target. Mathews has at least one more season of greatness in him. We might actually have both a D and an offense this year. Hope springs anew with the first Sunday of the NFL season, the Superbowl is within reach. GO CHARGERS!  When it comes to game day though, I do enjoy a little bit of liquid faith in my team. Craft beers? I’m all about that. However, since 2014 is going to be OUR year, I thought I’d kick it off with a little celebratory cocktail. (also helpful for those inevitable crap calls from the Ref) I spent some time with my Mixology playbook, reached out to a team of experts on the interwebs and came up with two original recipes that pair perfectly with optimism and chicken wings! Cherry Bomb (to the End Zone)

Cherry Bomb (to the end zone)
Serves 1
Dark Cherry and Pomegranate Frozen Awesome, featuring PAMA pomegranate liqueur, black cherry rum, cherries.
Write a review
Print
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
10 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 oz Cruzan Black Cherry Rum
  2. 1 oz PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur
  3. 1 oz Cherry Juice
  4. splash of Grenadine
  5. 1/4 cup Cherries (frozen)
  6. Ice
Instructions
  1. Place ice in blender (recommend 4-6 cubes). Add liquid ingredients, top with frozen cherries. Blend until smooth.
Notes
  1. Garnish with a frozen cherry skewer. A sprig of lavender adds an aromatic touch and brings out the tart sweetness of the pomegranate. To make a larger batch, simply adjust ingredients to serving size, keeping the number of frozen cherries to 1 cup or less to avoid changing the texture.
Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom http://chickennuggetsofwisdom.com/
  For those that like a little pig with their pigskin, we concocted an sweet, salty, aromatic option – because you’ve got to have options in your game plan. I’m a fan of a pass-option, and frankly since Ladainian left and took our kickass, two-back-run-game with him, it really is our best option. All American Apple Back Cocktail

All American Apple Back
Serves 2
What's more American that apple pie? Bacon! This cocktail pairs sweet and salty with an aromatic hit on the back end.
Write a review
Print
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
10 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 4 oz Dr. McGillicuddy's Applie Pie
  2. 2 oz Bourbon
  3. 1 oz Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey
  4. 1/2 cup Tart Apple Sauce
  5. 1/4 cup Maple Simple Syrup
  6. 1 cup Martinelli's Sparking Apple Cider
  7. 2 slices Cooked Thick Cut Bacon
  8. 1 tsp Mulling Spices
  9. 1/4 tsp Fleur de Sel
  10. 1 Green Apple
  11. Ice
Instructions
  1. Place one cup of ice into a cocktail shaker. Add in liquids, and mulling spices. Shake rigorously. Rim highball glass with fleur de sel. Strain over mix over ice into highball glass. Garnish with bacon and green apple slice.
Notes
  1. A sage leaf makes a nice aromatic addition as a garnish.
Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom http://chickennuggetsofwisdom.com/
Do you have faith in a winning season for your team? Okay, maybe you’re not quite as delusional optimistic as I am… but YOU could still win. In fact I’m hoping you do… just not on the field against my Chargers. My sisterhood of traveling bloggers, Alpha Blogga Blogga Sisters has put together a great giveaway to get your season started off with a shot at that End Zone… YOU could win a $300 Amazon Gift Card, baby! Our sisterhood made of awesome is not only hosting this giveaway, the also have TONS of ideas to help you kick off your NFL season, from food to cocktails to love-of-the-game kvetching. PLUS endless EASY options for entering to win. See details below, and GOOD LUCK! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here are some other great ideas, inspiration and gridiron chat from my ABB Sisterhood

 



The International Spy Museum: Cloaks, Daggers and 007

International Spy Museum  

Across the street from the Old Patent Building in Washington, D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood sits a building that looks rather unassuming. Don’t let the brick façade fool you into thinking that there is just another museum inside. You’d fall prey to a well-crafted cover. This is the International Spy Museum, and you’ve never seen anything like it.

The mission we chose to accept:

  • Establish Cover Identities.
  • Infiltrate operations at 800 F St NW, Washington, DC, United States – 20004: International Spy Museum.
  • Test family travel compatibility.
  • Get out alive.

There may have been more to it, but the message self-destructed in two minutes.

When you enter this exhibition of espionage it is rather apparent that you aren’t at the Smithsonian any more. Check your identity at the door and get ready to enter, “Spy School.”

An elevator whisks you into an antechamber where the lights dim and a panoramic screen alights with a history of the importance and impact of spy-craft throughout the ages. As the lights come back up you’re escorted into a room where you’ll choose and memorize your Cover ID, an important step in your mission.

Offical Letter from the Canadian Ambassador and signed screen play from Argo

Our kids loved this! Okay, so did I. (could you tell?)

The International Spy Museum is the only public museum in the US solely dedicated to the spy-craft, history, and contemporary role of espionage. Open since July 2002 and in development since 1996, the museum features the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display – many have never been seen by the public. (Yes, that lipstick pistol is REAL!) These artifacts – from a 1777 letter by George Washington authorizing a New York spy network (ahem, fans of Turn) to a 1980s coat with a camera concealed in a button – really do serve to “uncover” the real-life impact of espionage.

This really is an immersion experience, how “deep” you go into your cover is up to you.

Once you choose your cover you move on to the next area where a lesson in the tools of the trade awaits. The kids got really into the interactive portion; climbing through air ducts, searching for listening devices, learning the lingo. My husband and I – both big fans of the show “The Assets,” as well as movies like “Argo” – were drawn to the video screens where the actual players in these real-life dramas tell their own stories. The irony of the kids pulling us away from the TV was not lost on me.

Other exhibits we found both intriguing and educational in our journey into the hidden world of intrigue include:

The Secret History of History - This series of galleries chronicles the history of spying from biblical times to the early 20th century. There is even a reconnaissance pigeon display. Leave it to the French to play fowl.

Spies Among Us - These exhibits, films, and videos examine espionage through World War II, showcasing real-life spy stories. I’m sort of a romantic when it comes to this period in history. Sitting in a mock bunker and listening to encoded radio messages sent by the French Resistance and trying decode them was almost like being in a time machine.

Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains – This was my favorite! It takes you from the 60’s and Dr. NO all the way to Skyfall. Ian Flemming’s typewriter, Bond movie posters in nearly every language , and hello… Duran Duran music! More than just geekery for nerds like me, the exhibit shows the evolution of how the pop culture vision of the “Bad Guy,” has been influenced by the changing times, and fears. This area is also the most fun for kiddos. I won’t give anything away but let’s say I got startled by something here and the kids are still laughing at me. When a museum becomes part of family lore, you know it had to be good.

I’ll admit to having been a bit disturbed by the final exhibit, The 21st Century. Until that point most of our visit dealt with the historical past, it felt a bit fantasy – like a place you were just visiting. When you get to this final stop you’re made to really think about here-and-now issues; weapons of mass destruction, cyber warfare. Those hit close to home. Framed against all I’d already seen, I couldn’t help but think, “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.”  

Luckily the last stop on your visit is the gift shop. Nothing like exercising the credit card to make you forget cyber crime… doh! Actually this is the perfect ending. The shop is packed with books written about and by spies, fun trinkets, toys the kids “had” to have and even some of my favorite British treats. I’d hoped for Sean Connery, but happily settled on taking home some chocolate dipped Digestives biscuits.

Family Travel fun at the Interantional Spy Museum

International Spy Museum 411

Address:

800 F St NW, Washington, DC 20004 – Phone: (202) 654-0950

Parking:

The museum is partnered with this nifty service called Parking Panda. You can purchase a guaranteed parking space in advance of your visit for as little as $16 depending upon when you go. That is pretty darn cheap for DC! There are several public garages nearby as well as some (very hard to get) metered spots on the street. 

Nearest Metro Station:

Gallery Place/Chinatown stop.

Hours of Operation:

Open Daily 10:00 am – 6:00 pm (Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas day)

Admission:

$21.95, Adults (ages 12-64) $14.95, ages 12+

$15.95, Seniors (65+), Military & Law Enforcement

$14.95, Children (ages 7-11)

FREE, Children (ages 6 and under)

SPY Combinations:

$27.95, Operation Spy + General Admission

$27.95, Spy in the City + General Admission

$39.95, Spy in the City + Operation Spy + General Admission

$24.95, Operation Spy + Spy in the City

My International Spy Museum Tips

  • Take the Metro!
  • Buy your tickets in advance, the lines can get long
  • Plan on a minimum of three hours
  • Push buttons, turn knobs, look closely there is more to see than you’ll notice at first glance
  • If there is a long line for an activity station, come back later. Groups tend to dwindle and if you miss something you’re really missing out
  • I highly recommend purchasing the full combo ticket for your first visit

 

(Lead Photo Courtesy of the International Spy Museum)

 

 

I have four kids and an opinion.