There was my Dazzle Me Barbie wedged into a too-small pumpkin stagecoach, replete with a flocked mouse footman.
And there was the hand-me-down plastic palomino horse, lashed to my freshly-carved pumpkin carriage with kitchen string and more foil, that formed the harness and leads.
As far as I was concerned, I was certain to win.
Certain, even when two other Cinderellas-in-gourds showed up, alongside a Bert and Ernie duo featuring one oblong pumpkin and one round, and an entire overflow table crammed with traditional jack-o-lanterns, all of them surrounding a pumpkin volcano spewing red science experiment all over itself.
Certain until a sixth-grader, who’d used fancy pumpkin saws and store-bought stencils, instead of Magic Markered cut-out lines and their mother’s discarded kitchen knives, began to set up their entry.
I think the winning pumpkin might have been a scary cat. Or a dog or a duck or a toothy nod to Bram Stoker. It might have been a three-dimensional representation of Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 Self Portrait with missing ear.
I don’t remember. All I know for certain is that Cinderella’s remains came home with me three days later, stinking of mouldering pumpkin, poorly sealed up in a dripping plastic bag.
That was then.
These days, for the above and other reasons, I’d rather cook a pumpkin than carve it.
But then, I loved Halloween, and no “Certificate of Participation” could ever be enough to dampen my spirit.
Then, whenever it came to be this time of year, when frost was on the ground, and pumpkins in the fields, my attention always turned to two things: Jack-o-lanterns to flicker in our front window, and how best to translate my costume through a winter parka.
It’s been a long time since I carved a pumpkin. A longer time since I borrowed a friend’s cousin’s too-large prima ballerina costume (including a pair of impossible-to-trick-or-treat-in satin point slippers and pink tulle tutu).
And although I’m no longer inspired to costume myself, or even spike and paint my hair into punk rock attitude, I find that my October 31st enthusiasm is alive and well. Or it’s undead, depending on whether it’s zombie night, and we’re catching up on episodes of The Walking Dead between answering the door with hermetically-sealed, peanut-free, store-bought candy.
For children (and forgot-to-grow-up-grown-ups) we know, however, and because giving away food we make is one of our favourite things to do year round, we have something a little more personal popping up in the kitchen.
To be honest, I hate popcorn. I think it smells like feet.
However, because I’m very nearly alone in my loathing, and the other half of the people who live in this house don’t mind picking kernels out of their dental work, I don’t so much take exception to the once-a-year smell of salty-toe-snacks.
At the very least, a tray of Creepy Crawly Popcorn Clusters smells a whole lot better than a gloopy mess of decomposing pumpkin cadaver, and a Barbie doll that never did quite recover from being caught in her carriage after it turned back into a gourd.
Creepy Crawly Popcorn Clusters
2 Tbs butter, plus more for shaping
1 bag (10 ounces) miniature marshmallows
15 melting caramels
16 cups popcorn (from 2/3 cup kernels)
2 Skor bars, chopped
1 cup candy corn
2 cups gummy worms
Place popcorn in a very large bowl.
In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add marshmallows and, stirring constantly, cook until melted; 5 to 6 minutes. Meanwhile, melt caramels in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Add to and combine thoroughly with marshmallow mixture. Remove from heat and pour over popcorn, folding together with a large, stiff rubber spatula to coat. Fold in candy, leaving Skor bits until last to keep from melting.
Working quickly, lightly coat hands with butter and gently shape popcorn mixture into 16 balls. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and let cool until set, about 10 minutes. Wrap baking sheet tightly with plastic wrap or store popcorn clusters in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.