The week before Halloween was the week of the World Series--and, in case you've been under a pumpkin for the last month, I should add that it was the first time the Mets and the Yankees have ever faced each other in the World Series, the first Subway Series since 1956, and the Mets' first time in the World Series since 1986. We spent almost every evening watching the games on TV here, wishing we were in New York, where my repeated shouts at the TV (including "Go Benny!"; "Hit it, Bubba!"; "Not that one!" as Jay Peyton swung at any ball, no matter how far out of the strike zone it was; and "One more strike! One more strike!" to Leiter as he streaked through a bunch of Yankee batters) would have been appreciated instead of ignored by our neighbors.
So, we carved Mike, deciding to make him an open-mouthed, visible-eared pumpkin for once, and were very pleased with the results. We sat on the couch and gazed at Mike and the little tea lights inside of him, ensconced on our coffee table, and we were happy. We also toasted the pumpkin seeds (no need to bother letting them dry first; just clean them off well, spread out on a baking sheet with salt, pepper, and a little olive oil, and cook at 300 degrees for about an hour, checking and stirring every ten minutes), which proved to be inspirational nuggets for Robert the next day--he said he sat at his desk working on his program, and whenever he'd finish a part, he'd help himself to a roasted pumpkin seed from the little bowl next to him.
The sad ending to the saga of Mike is that though we enjoyed his candlelight the night we carved him and the next night, Thursday, when I got home from work on Friday I noticed Mike looked far worse than he had the day before. Somehow, just 48 hours after we carved him, he'd been overcome by a case of mold--so much so that his eye and nose openings were almost closed with the mold (close-up at right), and lifting his top off proved a problem, since the mold had sealed it shut. We tried to close our eyes to the fact that his demise was nigh, and left him, unlit, on our coffee table that evening. The next night, Saturday, we could ignore it no longer--Mike was dying. If you touched his shell, it squished in, as though any moment he would collapse entirely and ooze into an Oz-worthy puddle at our feet. We reluctantly disposed of his remains (including the tea lights inside).
I've read on the web the different things one can do to try to preserve a carved pumpkin, including a special Pumpkin Preserver spray which some people swear by, but we hadn't seen any of that around by us. Some people also advocate soaking the carved pumpkin in a sinkful of cold water each night, and others, putting vaseline on the cut surfaces just after they are carved. We don't know that any of those would have saved Mike, though, as in LA pumpkins sit outside in the sun for days before people bring them home, and then inside our apartment, it was warm and fairly humid these last few days. We think the climate doomed Mike from the start, and though we were sad not to have a jack-o-lantern for our party, we didn't have the heart to start from scratch again at this late date.
Here I interrupt myself to provide a brief obligatory explanation for our clueless friends who haven't seen the movie--first of all, go see it, it's excellent, not just as an action or comic-book movie. Second of all, the X-Men are humans, each with a genetic mutation that is both a blessing and a curse to them, which manifests itself at puberty.
Wolverine's special mutation is that he is a super-fast healer. Knowing that, the military abducted him and implanted adamantium (the sci-fi version of the strongest metal ever) around every bone in his body, making him nearly indestructable, and giving him six adamantium claws that can pop out from the back of his hands whenever he wants them to, as a weapon. Obviously, this breaks the skin and hurts Wolverine each time, but he is a fast healer, it is a weapon, and he uses his claws when he has to. Wolverine is a scruffy tough-guy, with no memory of who abducted him or of his life before the claws, and he is prone to wearing plaid shirts, sporting wolf-like sideburns & cowlicks, and smoking a stubby cigar.
Rogue's mutant power is that when she touches anyone, skin to skin, she can absorb some of their energy--in the case of other mutants, this means she can temporarily steal their powers, but with humans, she absorbs their life force, putting people into comas or even potentially killing them. This means that though in some ways she has the ultimate mutant power, she can never get close to anyone; she can never kiss or touch a person she loves. When she finds out her power, she is devestated, and runs away from home, wearing a dark green hooded cloak, to western Canada--where she meets up with Wolverine. Throughout the movie, she favors a scarf and wears long gloves so that she can interact with others without hurting them
Anyway, I wanted to streak my hair to approximate Rogue's white streak, which she gets near the end of the film from a traumatic experience which prematurely ages her, but I didn't think I could do it myself with a permanent dye, and all of the temporary hair-paints and colored hairsprays looked very cheezy. So I actually had my hair done the week before Halloween, and though it's not quite a white streak, it's about as pale a blonde as it was going to get. Everyone at work was more than a little startled by my hair, and I got many "Really? That's permanent?" comments and raised eyebrows, but I figure it's only hair--it'll grow out, and if I don't like the way it looks I can dye it back, dye my whole head of hair something else (Robert suggests Scully Red--as in, "Her hair was a little too red, you know?"), or cut the streaked parts off to make bangs. Either way, I can decide in a month or two, but for now it's great.
Now, you might be wondering why Rogue and Wolverine, if we wanted to dress up as a male/female X-Men pair. Well, Scott and Jean--both in the cartoon series and in the movie, and I'm betting in the comic books as well--are two of the drippiest characters I've ever watched or read about, so there was no way we were going to go as either of them. Wolverine is simply undeniably cool--in the movie he certainly puts Scott in his place, and his attraction to Jean is nothing lasting (as I'm certain we'll see in the sequels) but just a phase he's going through. The real dynamic in the movie is between Wolverine and Rogue--yes, there's an age-difference of fifteen years or so between them there, but Rogue has a crush on him thoughout, he feels very tender toward her and protective of her, and at the end we are left with the distinct impression that, in the sequels (there will be two, I read--2002, and 2004), Wolverine will return on his motorcycle--er, I mean scooter (sorry, Robert)--and Rogue will be all grown up and waiting for him. Plus, Robert drives a scooter too, and Rogue was always my favorite female character in the TV series, with Gambit (absent from the movie) and Wolverine tied for my favorite male characters. In the movie, as well, Rogue and Wolverine are absolutely at the center of the plot--Magneto's plan to mutate the genes of the dignitaries at Ellis Island rests on using Rogue to power the machine, but for most of the movie the X-Men don't realize that, and presume he is searching for Wolverine. Rogue spends the end of the movie trapped in the top of the Statue of Liberty in Magneto's machine, and it is Wolverine, ultimately, who rescues her before the machine kills her.
Here are our costumes, then, in several different views. Note the claws, the cigar (Wolverine, in the pose with the cigar, is snickering in a very un-Wolverine-y way, but then, everyone has moments of weakness), the cloak, and of course, the streak. We did what we could for Robert's hair and beard.
Ryan had great decorations and a nice Halloween atmosphere at his party, which doesn't really come across in the photos because my flash is so good it eliminated all the spooky dimness to the event. Various friends of Brigitta and Ryan's in attendance came as a witch, a devil, a psycho welder guy, Austin Powers and the prefembot Vanessa, two characters from the movie Go, Superwoman, an angel, a nun, a chicken butcher (pictured above with Ryan), and Charlie and one of the Angels (look at all the not-lame people with costumes in these pictures, eh, Jason/Martin/Jesse?). We ran into a problem with most people not having seen the X-Men movie, and assuming that Robert was either The Fonz (sans claws) or Freddie Kruger. People who did know something about the X-Men tended to think that I was Storm (I don't know why--her entire head of hair is white), but we set them straight.
Robert and I repeated our costumes, though one of his claws came loose, I wasn't able to fix his hair as well as I did the night before, and by the end of the evening one string on my cape broke. Still, we all had a good time, and there were no major mishaps with the many candles around the room--you can see them in the picture below, as Wolverine and Injured Guy chat.
Our vegetarian menu follows. Though I like to cook and do try to make things that are vaguely Halloween- or fall-related, I do not go in for the making jello in the shape of eyeballs or cookies in the form of fingers or bleeding heart gelatin molds, etc., mainly because I've never seen recipes for these things that actually taste good (I mean, when was the last time I ate jello at all, never mind in the shape of eyeballs?), but also because I want people to enjoy the food (and some people are irretrievably grossed out by the eyeball/finger/bleeding heart/whatever shape the food takes), and also because, believe it or not, I have better things to do than individually paint the pupil and iris on each stupid little jello ball--you have to draw the line somewhere, and I find things like that too fussy to bother with.
Mushroom-Bell Pepper-Three Cheese Scary Strata
Frighteningly Spicy Asian-Flavored Pasta & Veggie Salad
Terrifying Tossed Salad
Spanekopita (Greek Sinister Spinach Pie)
Frightening Fall Caramel Apples
Oozing Orange and Black Pudding Brownie Puddles
Pumpkin-Topped, Black-Bottomed Individual Cheesecakes
Pumpkin-Shaped Scary Sugar Cookies
Terrifying Toffee Graham Bars
Cook's Notes: I don't recommend the strata--next time I'd try a different recipe for a similar thing. The pasta salad is excellent--I've made it, with modifications, before, and love the version I've iterated to. The tossed salad, with an Italian-y theme to it, turned out very good, though it was just thrown together--I used two parts Romaine to one part baby spinach, with shredded carrots, little dry sundried tomato bits, minced marinated artichoke hearts, sliced red onions, and Best Foods's Chardonnay Vinegar dressing. The spanekopita is my Aunt Pauline's recipe, except I don't bother sauteing the herbs and scallions as she does, and it's really very easy to make. I did add hazelnut syrup to the pudding topping of the Brownie Puddles and used homemade brownies for the base, to make them taste better, but I wouldn't recommend making the Brownie Puddles for anyone over age 10 again. Though some people did like them, they were way too gooey to eat, not to mention annoying to serve. The graham cracker bars were a kick to make--they're the boil sugar & butter, pour over graham crackers, top with chocoalte chips & nuts variety, which are obviously incredibly easy, but also really good as well, and they keep fresh and crisp in a container for at least a week. I'd take these over a candy bar anyday. The caramel apples I alternately drizzled with melted milk chocolate and dipped in chopped walnuts--quite possibly I was the only person at the party who actually likes caramel apples, but I love them, darn it, so I made them anyway. The walnuts are my favorite. The sugar cookies are Rose's (Rose Levy Beranbaum, that is), my favorite recipe; I liked kneading the food coloring directly into the dough, so I didn't have to frost them, but am not sure how to avoid having the black cookies look dusty from the flour you need to roll them out. The cheesecakes turned out really well--the recipe is my mother's, with a crushed Oreo-cookie bottom and part of the cheesecake batter set aside and mixed with canned pumpkin, nutmeg, and cinnamon for the topping. As for potions/beverages, we had sparkling cider and sodas, and a bottle of Vampire wine, from Transylvania, which Ryan brought along.