Hello, Pumpkin! (And Tomatoes, and Basil….and Corn…..)
Like any venture in farming or gardening, my garden this year had its successes and failures.
My eggplant plants never made it past seedlings, their leaves turned into lace work by pests.
My cucumbers suffered the same fate, not before offering a few vegetables to pick.
But, there are some vegetables that made it through.
Many people think of October as time for picking pumpkins, but don’t tell that to these two fine specimens:
As I picked them out of my garden, a fellow gardener in a neighboring plot said: Wow, look at that pumpkin! Isn’t it EARLY for pumpkins?
Maybe. Maybe these orange orbs are a bit early to the party, but don’t tell them that, you’ll hurt their feelings.
Then, there are the tomatoes:
Now, I have some mozzarella in my working refrigerator, and some basil in my garden. I’m off to get another loaf of bread so I can make another sandwich.
What are your favorite recipes this time of year? Send them my way and you can guest post on my blog.
I melted my kid’s Halloween Candy
Anyone who thinks that they are up for the Most Evil Mom of the Year Award, they can just go home now.
I melted one of my children’s Halloween candy, the candy they trick-or-treated for in one of the coldest, wettest, and snowiest Halloweens in recent Rochester memory.
Yes, an adjustment one must make when you are Transplantednorth is to allow for the possibility that it may snow for Halloween.
My brave son made not one, not two, but three trick-or-treating runs this Halloween to collect the mother lode of chocolate, lollipops and other chewy, sticky treats. The numb toes and frozen fingers were completely worth it.
And then, I had to go melt it all.
It is partially his fault. If I didn’t hear him sneak candy at 6:15 a.m., if I didn’t hear the thudthud of the cabinets in the kitchen, if he would have had the discipline of self-control and not found every hiding place I ever imagined over the last 10 years of post-Halloween parenting, the candy would have gone unliquified.
And how do I know my kids sneak candy from their Halloween stash early in the morning? The incriminating Kit-Kat wrappers left between the sofa cushions and NOT buried deep in the garbage can give them away every time. If you are going to sneak candy, do it right.
Perhaps it is in my upbringing that I feel compelled to hide the Halloween candy. After all, I am the daughter of a dental hygeienist. Before the day when all Halloween treats must be pre-wrapped and store-bought, my family made bag after bag of buttered popcorn to give for Halloween, because mom thought this would be a more nutritious, less sugary treat for All Hallow’s Eve.
My brother and I eagerly headed out the door for the real stuff.
And after trick-or-treating, my brother and I, like any kids, dumped all the candy all over the first available indoor floor surface to assess the booty. After we gleefully eyed our treasure, mom would swoop in, eliminating anything that might stick to our teeth and cause tooth decay.
Sugar Daddies? We could keep a few. Taffy and caramels? Out of the question, they were removed from our collection and immediately discarded.
The rest of the candy was hidden at an undisclosed time after we went to bed. As hard as my brother and I tried to find the stash, my mom devised a hiding place system that was more complex than that of Sadaam Hussein’s during the invasion of Iraq.
At my mom’s office, children visiting the dentist during month of October would be lectured in my mom’s dental chair about the evils of sticky sweets that cause plaque, cavities and tooth decay.
But upstairs, in the staff lounge, far away from the X-ray machines and the drill and the spit sink, it was like Sodom and Gomorrah meets Candyland. All rules preached downstairs were broken, and there were bowls of candy everywhere!
So, in a desperate attempt to hide the candy and protect my son’s mouth, soon to be fitted with braces, from all that sugar, I found a new hiding place: The warming drawer of my Kenmore oven.
No one knows about the warming drawer. I barely even realize I have a warming drawer until I cook a big holiday meal.
And, as I placed the bag into this hiding place, I told myself “Just PLEASE remember to take out the candy from here before you use the oven!”
I guess should have told myself this after I had my first cup of coffee that morning. Last night, I roasted chicken for dinner, at 400 for one hour.
It’s a good thing chocolate refreezes.
The Bats in My Belfry: Part I
Since this is the Season of the Witch and all things creepy, it’s time to share a scary, true story with a very educational ending. This story is about bats … and the Batman.
I love our old house. We live in a 1920’s English Tudor with all the old-world English Tudor charm. This charm includes leaded glass windows that are beautiful yet leak in the cold Rochester winter drafts, and copper plumbing that offers enough water pressure to either take a shower OR run the washing machine, but not both at the same time.
It also features a walk-up, half-finished attic, with its own bedroom/bathroom suite and a claw foot tub in the bathroom. This is where all our guests spend the night.
I greatly respect and appreciate bats. I love that the average bat can consume 1,000 mosquitos per night, and how they use sonar to get around, and I love the children’s story Stellaluna.
I even worry about how white-nose syndrome is decimating bat populations in northeast. On October 28, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service posted new white-nose syndrome decontamination protocols and supporting documentation for cavers.
I want bats to have disease-free homes and be fruitful and multiply, just as long as their home is outside my home.
This is the part where things get scary.
One Saturday night, my husband and I were doing what we do on most Saturday nights: we were lying in bed watching Saturday Night Live. As you can see we do not get out much and that is why I blog for excitement.
We were nearly dozing off between the opening monologue and the musical guest when we thought we saw something fly by our bedroom door.
“Did you see that?”
“Wha….” my husband was nearly asleep…
“Um, did we close Charlie’s cage before we went to bed?” I asked, hopefully.
At the time, our daughter had a sweet green parakeet named Charlie. I desperately convinced myself that it was Charlie that just flew down the hall. Charlie got out, yup.
Please let that winged thing be Charlie.
We went to our daughter’s bedroom. Charlie the parakeet was safe in his cage, door closed. But something was still flying in the hall. Something with a wingspan far larger than your average parakeet.
We could now safely say we had a bat in our house.
I ran screaming into the bathroom in our bedroom. My brave husband threw a towel over his head and went to pursue the winged rodent with our bed sheet.
Then, like that, it disappeared.
The only thing worse than having a bat in your house is knowing there is a bat in your house but not knowing where it is.
With towels over our heads, my husband and I crept down to the kitchen to get the telephone book to search for someone, anyone, to help us. We dialed the town animal control hotline only to learn their hours were from 10-4 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The outgoing message said to call 911 in an animal-related emergency.
Was this an emergency? SURE! There could be a rabid bat attacking us at any moment!
So my fingers shakily punched 911 and I alerted the local police that I had three sleeping children, including a 7-month-infant, and a bat was loose in my house.
In minutes, the police were at our door. Remember, this is Brighton, and not Staten Island, where years earlier I waited 45 minutes for police to arrive after calling about girls trying to break into my house to beat me up with a very different bat.
The friendly policeman came and humoured us by shining a flashlight all around the kids’ bedrooms and our living room, but found no bat.
“He probably found somewhere to hide. Bats are really shy and wherever he is, he will stay there till morning,” he reassured us.
This left me no comfort, and I scanned the Yellow Pages for more help after he left. By this time it was around 12:45 a.m.
Then, I found him. An ad for the Batman. From our bedroom, I called the number, figuring I would leave a message and someone would call me in the morning. Instead, to my surprise, I heard a low mysterious voice after a few rings.
“Um, are you — the Bat Man?”
“Yes, I am the Bat Man, how can I help you?”
I immediately apologized for calling at such a late hour, only to be answered with the Batman’s strange response.
“No need for apologies. This is usually the time when the calls come.”
Okaaayy. I told him the situation, and then he told me that this could wait until morning, that bats were very shy, want nothing to do with humans, and he would be by in the morning.
Oh, but one more thing, he said. There was a good possibility that if we found one bat, chances are there were not one – but a colony of bats in our attic.
With that the Batman bid me goodnight.
Nighty night and sleep tight. Stay tuned for the conculsion of this bat tale.
What’s a Nice Jewish Girl to do about Halloween?
My birthday falls in late October. I will not disclose my age, and those of you who know me know what that number is. Unless a birthday is one that ends in a 0 or a 5, birthdays at this stage of life are no big deal.
But think back to when you were a kid. Those were the days when one counted down the days to their birthday party. And if you were lucky enough to be born on the cusp of the Scorpio sign, birthday parties were all about Halloween. Late October babies have a built-in costumed, candy-corn flavored theme that is perfectly gift wrapped with a giant fake spiderweb and grooves to the music of a Monster Mash soundtrack.
Each year, even up through high school, I celebrated my birthday with a costume party. On my seventh or eighth birthday, my grandmother transformed herself into a gypsy storyteller to the delight of all my costumed friends. My parents and grandparents even staged special effects, complete with a charmed stuffed snake to rise out of a wicker basket with the help of an invisible fishing wire.
All through childhood, my mother and grandmother were the master costume makers. My mom said that when she was growing up in her Bensonhurst, Brooklyn apartment, my grandmother would dress up as a witch and concoct costumes for every kid in the building.
And when it was my turn to dress up, mom and grandma could make me into anything I wanted because they both knew their way around a sewing machine. Pity my own children this time of year. I cook, I bake, I garden, I teach, I read Torah, but I cannot even decently hem a pair of pants.
I wanted to be a sunflower one year: mom made me a sunflower. And then scarecrow, and Indian Princess, and even a hairdryer. And my final Halloween birthday party, I made a really convincing Boy George.
Halloween birthday parties, trick-or-treating and getting candy went on happily and innocently until the seventh grade. That year, Halloween fell out on a Tuesday which was afternoon Hebrew School.
Hebrew School started at 4:30 and let out around 6 p.m. Through Chumash (bible) lessons, you could feel the tension in the class start to bubble like a witch’s cauldron: we were missing out on prime trick-or-treating time! We realized that by the time we got home, scarfed down some dinner and put on our costumes, maybe we could collect half a pillowcase worth of candy if we were lucky. But we had a plan.
“Rabbi,” one of our classmates sweetly inquired, “Can we get out of Hebrew School early today so we can go trick-or-treating?”
“Yeladim!” He shouted, saying the Hebrew word for children. “Jewish children should not celebrate Halloween. It is NOT a Jewish Holiday! If you want to dress up and have fun, we can do that later in the year, on Purim.”
In unison, the entire class gasped in disbelief. Up till this point, we were all completely unaware that Halloween could have other meanings besides dressing up, running around the neighborhood and getting candy. And, in the streets of Staten Island, we didn’t exactly live in a part of the world where Purim, a costume-filled Jewish holiday in the spring, was universally celebrated.
We were not deterred that night, or any year after, from our right as American kids to trick-or-treat. Okay, Halloween is not a Jewish holiday. In fact, I knew even back then that Halloween must have some Christian implications, because all the parochial school kids I knew in my neighborhood had off Nov. 1 for All Saint’s Day.
Halloween must be okay because my grandmother, the most Jewish lady I knew, still loved Halloween. One year, my grandparents went to Greenwich Village to see the famous Halloween parade. My grandmother had a blast and made friends with everyone, including “all the nice young men dressed up in the most elaborate costumes” who offered her a chair along the parade route.
My Yiddishe grandma, the one who made gifilte fish from scratch and sang me Jewish songs, found delight in hanging out in the Village with the drag queens on Halloween!
I always wanted to go into the Village for Halloween, but it wasn’t until my grandparents raved about it did I got the nerve to go to one of the best places in the country to celebrate on Oct. 31.
I spent two Halloweens in the Village in my 20’s, although I didn’t wear a costume. Then, out in San Francisco’s Castro district, I dressed as Mona Lisa in a frame and my beloved dressed as the Mad Hatter. People sang “Mona Lisa” to me. A few people even got the Elton John reference and sang a few bars of that song with us. The streets got crowded, and my frame did get entangled with other costumes, but it was all in good fun.
Those were some of the most memorable nights of my life. More than the candy, as young adult I saw Halloween as a time when people can express themselves and become someone else for just one night. Halloween costumes break down barriers between strangers. But beneath the costumes and candy, the darker messages that lurk below are just plain not Jewish.
I still love Halloween and my heart is tied to the Halloween memories of my childhood. But Halloween has shifted lower on my priority list.
After a month of putting energies into the Jewish fall holidays I mentioned in a recent blog post, I have little desire to turn my front lawn into a graveyard or put together a costume with a hot glue gun.
But we still carve our pumpkin. And I still let my kids go trick-or-treating. But they well understand and love that come spring, we will be busy making hamantashen cookies and baskets of food for friends and neighbors for the Jewish holiday of Purim. In that way, they learn that Purim, when you walk around the neighborhood giving treats, is in essence the exact opposite of Halloween’s tradition of going around the neighborhood begging for treats.
Am I sending my Jewish children mixed messages? Maybe. Will I someday, because of Jewish observance, let go of Halloween go altogether? Perhaps.
But in the meantime, it’s still fun to walk the neighborhood’s darkened streets, check out the glow in the dark decorations, and maybe get a little scared.
A Most Peculiar Pumpkin
“I want to grow pumpkins this summer!” said my youngest son.
And so we did. Inside, in the spring, we started a pumpkin seed, which would in the summer turn into Toby’s pumpkin patch.
Knowing that from this seed would grow an incredibly long, invasive vine, I gave this vine carte blanche and let it take over one quarter of my tiny garden plot. And the vine grew, and wandered. Huge pumpkin blossoms bloomed, bees visited them and rested inside. But none of these blossoms turned into pumpkins.
Except this one:
This pumpkin will never become a jack-o-lantern. I would hack through the plastic fencing to free the pumpkin as it grew, but I think the pumpkin took care of that. It may become a pumpkin pie, but it might be too tough and stringy. So, I guess, the only thing our only pumpkin of the year will give us is a good laugh.