Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween! Carving Jack-O'-Lanterns

Four stories about Halloween:

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The best part about Halloween is trick-or-treating. 

It's a night for little people to don an alter ego and swoop out the door into the night. Racing breathlessly down the dark and seemingly unfamiliar streets of the neighborhood, they thrill to the excitement of a world that seems mysterious if not downright scary. But the crowds of other kids, and the strange phenomenon that brings all the grown-ups to their doors with big bowls of candy, lend an atmosphere of friendliness and excitement and fun. It's a great night to be a kid.

If you are older than ten, trick-or-treating is still a good time. We grown-ups are the ones who stay home on this special night, as the young'uns own the darkness. Our responsibilities boil down to two main bits: 1) have lots of candy on hand, and 2) decorate the front doorstep to be festive and just a little bit spooky.

Buying the candy is easy. Just go to Target. 

I'd rather talk about decorating the front porch.

First, you are going to need jack-o'-lanterns. And jack-o'-lanterns start out as pumpkins. 

So go buy some pumpkins. More is better, but really, you can't go wrong with even just one. I usually buy mine at the grocery store, rather than an overpriced pumpkin farm, and if I wait till the day of Halloween to buy them, all the perfect ones are gone and the nice bumpy, irregular, spotty ones are left. 

Those are the best ones.

Pick one that warms your heart. Take him home and give him a nice warm bath. Then chop off his head.

Technically speaking, I suppose it's more accurate to say, make a hole in the top of his head. Potato, po-tah-toe.

Just be sure to make a series of small, straight cuts around the stem that eventually connect and allow for the top bit to come off, exposing the lovely pumpkin guts inside.

Go ahead and trim the guts off the top, or the lid, as I call it. Make it nice and smooth and pretty

Now we turn our attention to the inside of the pumpkin. Here's the deal: all those guts have got to come out. Get a big spoon, roll up your sleeves, and start scraping. 

While you're scraping, let me rant a little bit. 

Okay, here's the thing. People generally think of pumpkin carving as this warm and cozy, kid-friendly, relaxing holiday tradition. 

Well, I hate to shatter any illusions, but in my experience, this process is torture. Just this step of scraping out the guts is seriously difficult and annoying work, and anyone with any sense gets tired of it within the first five seconds. 

You know what that means: parents get to do the dirty work while the kids wave the sharp knives about and say, "Hurry, parent! You're taking too long and I want to get to the good part."

My blood pressure goes up several notches at the mere sight of pumpkin guts. 

Well, today, for probably the first time ever, I scraped my pumpkin all by myself. 

No one ditched me with the job of scraping their pumpkin.
No one brandished the knives.
No one pressured me to hurry.

I'm supposed to say that I missed the golden memories of years gone by, and shed a quiet tear of bittersweet loss.

Nope. Not in the least. I listened to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as I worked patiently and efficiently, and enjoyed the unusual calm. 

Once the guts are out, it's time to work on the face. First, orientation. One must consider how the pumpkin naturally prefers to sit, and situate the face on the proper side of the pumpkin to accommodate that posture. 

Next, features. I prefer a classic face, with triangular eyes and nose, and a gap-toothed smile. Predictable, I know. But also charming and nostalgic, at least to my eyes. 

When it comes to planning out the cuts, you can draw on the features with a pencil or marker. Or you can get fancy and use a preprinted pattern. I won't judge you if you do, but I prefer to cut mine free-form. 

I almost always go with a gap-toothed smile on my jack-o'-lanterns, and today I seemed to be channeling Mater as I carved out the teeth. I'll wait until after dark to show you the full effect of my creation, but trust me, he's a charmer.

In the meantime, remember those pumpkin guts? Hold on to them! I set mine aside in a big stainless steel bowl, and later we shall work magic with them. Stay tuned.

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Trick or treat! Can I offer you a few more stories about Halloween?

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