Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Birds

It is quickly becoming a Halloween tradition that Colin and I show our kids some of the classic "scary" movies from our childhoods. Two years ago we showed them Young Frankenstein, last year we decided they were old enough to watch Ghostbusters, and this year, in a hallmark of well thought out parenting moments, I decided to completely traumatize our children by showing them Hitchcock's The Birds. Below is a picture I took of Nick and Mina after the movie:

Before you judge me too harshly I just want to say that it is all Martha Stewarts fault. She sent me an email last week with the tantalizing title, "Spooky Fun Halloween Crafts" and so, of course, I took the bait. 

I mean, she is so darn clever with her snake wreathes (the eyeball is my touch):

...these adorable zombie pumpkins (we made ours into a zombie pumpkin scarecrow who is wandering through out our cemetery looking for, "Seeeeds..."): 

...but, most fatefully of all, her display of perched ravens

As we put up our decorations this year the kids were a little perplexed as to why black birds on the porch would be scary.

"You need to see The Birds to fully appreciate this decoration," I said. "The Birds is probably the scariest movie I've ever seen!"

At this point I should have thought, Scariest movie ever?!? Well, gee, that sounds like something I should not show my kids! But instead I was thinking, I wonder if the library has that movie?

And it did. So I borrowed it. And I showed it to my kids that night. And experienced one of the scariest moments of my rather sheltered life.

During the movie I cuddled with Nick and Mina at one end of the couch near our front door, which was open to let some cool air in. Through the open doorway, one of our cemetery ghosts kept drifting in and out of my field of view and every time it did it scared me (it looked like someone moving around our yard).

Toward the end of the movie I looked over at the door and realized I couldn't see the ghost, in fact, I couldn't see anything, like something...or someone...was standing at our door. No doubt my imagination run wild...right? 

I looked at Colin and my brother and said in a low, calm voice, "Someone is at our door." They both gave me an incredulous look, like I was just trying to freak them out, and turned back to the movie. 

That was until a deep voice from our dark porch said, "Sorry, I got the wrong address." 

Colin and my brother jumped up and gave each other a what the hell?-she's not crazy-there really is someone out there-what should we do? kind of look and I screamed. 

After my heart restarted, I explained to a lost pizza delivery guy that we were watching The Birds. He laughed and, before heading back to his car, apologized saying that he probably just made the movie way more scary. He really couldn't have done it better if he was trying to scare us but he could have left us a pizza by way of apology.

And so, to celebrate Hitchcock's brilliance and as a form of art therapy, the kids and I hand painted bird sugar cookies. The process was shockingly simple, amazingly fun, with nice results. We are definitely going to be doing this again.

Hand Painted Sugar Cookies

Royal Icing:
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons meringue powder
about 4 tablespoons water (more if needed) 
Whisk the powdered sugar and meringue powder. Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time until spreadable but thick.
24 baked and cooled sugar cookies (I used Martha Stewart's recipe and I've made it before but the cookies come out too dense. I like sugar cookies lighter so I'm not including the recipe.)

gel food dye, the color(s) of your choosing
approximately 1 teaspoon vodka (alcohol evaporates quicker than water preventing the icing from dissolving)

Ice the center of the sugar cookies. Let the icing harden for at least an hour, overnight is even better.

Place 1/4 teaspoon of gel food color and 4 or so drops of vodka into a small bowl. Mix together with a small paintbrush. If the mixture seems too thick too paint or if it begins to dry out while painting add another couple of drops of vodka.

Find a design you like, such as bird silhouettes, and paint the thinned gel onto the icing. 

Tip #1: Do not worry about your painting ability. Eat any cookie you are not please with.

Tip #2: Use a light hand when painting the cookies so as not to damage the icing. If the icing does get damaged, see Tip #1.

Tip #3: Eat the beautiful cookies too! Each cookie may be a work of art but they are still cookies. Don't be afraid to enjoy them!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Red or Green?

I had a conversation with some coworkers the other day, people who lived in New Mexico for some time and then moved away and then, obviously, moved back. They said the thing they missed most about New Mexico was the smell of roasting chili in the fall. This shouldn't surprise me too much as New Mexico is the only state with an official question: "Red or green?"

And everyone had stories of how far they would go to get their hands on the goods. People talked about hand delivering or mailing frozen baggies of roasted chili to loved ones in need. 

I've known people who have driven to New Mexico from neighboring states to buy fresh sacks of chili and then spent days in their backyards roasting chili pods over their barbecue to experience the smell along with the flavor.

I even overheard a woman on an airplane from back east somewhere telling her own tale of chili. She said that while having dinner at a restaurant once while visiting family members from New Mexico her relatives gave her some frozen bags of chili. She had never had chili before and was not a fan of spicy food but took the gift graciously. 

After the meal ended and her visiting family left, she was left sitting there with several bags of chili and no idea what to do with them. A person sitting next to her, a New Mexico transplant, saw what had happened and asked if he could have the chili. She gladly gave it to him and he was so grateful he paid for her meal. "I wasn't going to use them and he seemed so utterly desperate to get his hands on some real chili," she said to her companion (OK, I made that last quote up but the rest of the story is true).

Every fall when the chili roasters set up around town Colin and I take an inventory of our frozen chili reserves and decide if we need to restock. To be honest, it's a lot of work going to the store, buying chili, waiting while they roast it, taking it home, peeling, chopping, and bagging it and then spending the rest of the day with your hands burning (or worse, as I inevitably rub my eyes at some point during this process and spent the rest of the day half blind). 

Some years I'm tempted to say, "Let's bag it," (no pun intended) but when I hear stories about the lengths people will go to enjoy roasted chili I feel a responsibility--no, an obligation--to participate in this seasonal tradition (besides, it would be embarrassing to have someone over for pizza and not have a bowl of chili to serve with it).

It may be a lot of work we also make it a lot of fun. Our yearly ritual is to buy the chili and bring it home. While the chili sits we make breakfast burritos (and, of course, test out one or two of the pods). When the chili is ready we set out our biggest mixing bowls, put on some Paul Simon, and get peeling. In the evening, I have my folks over for some green chili stew and we critique the crop. Not only is it fun, but the house smells great for weeks and we have enough chili in the freezer to last us through the year.

And, on a completely different topic, below is a scene from the upcoming remake of ET: