Carsten Lawson gets ready for Halloween.
Carsten Lawson gets ready for Halloween.
Monday, October 24, 2011

According to Good Housekeeping magazine, the most popular Halloween costumes for kids this year include Disney princesses, superheroes like Batman, Spiderman and Captain American, Star Wars characters, Smurfs, ninja warriors, and fairies. I can remember a time when costumes were a bit simpler.

As a child, I often had a Halloween-themed birthday party since my birthday is October 18th. In 1982, when I was in second grade, I invited my friends for a costume party at my house on Terrace Drive. We paraded around the neighborhood in our getups with noisemakers.

Back then, there were three kinds of costumes. The store-bought variety which consisted of a slip-on suit made of very thin material that tied around your neck and a flimsy mask. I hated those masks held up by a skinny elastic strap. They were sweaty and uncomfortable, plus it was hard to see out of them. You had to be very careful while wearing store-bought costumes for fear it might rip.

If you were lucky, your mom or grandma would sew a costume for you. I was fortunate my mom, Ann Wilson, is very talented on her sewing machine. I remember wearing a fuzzy rabbit costume one year.

If you were desperate you resorted to a homemade costume. These were thrown together at the last minute. Your choices were a witch (witch hat, a black garbage bag for a dress and a broom), ghost (old white sheet with holes cut out for eyes), or a hobo (flannel shirt, old jeans, dirty face, and a pouch tied to a stick).

For my party, my mom planned plenty of treats and games. I can still remember the “spooky” game she set up in our dark basement. She passed around bowls of food while telling us scary stories. Under a sheet we felt “eyeballs” (peeled grapes), “brains” (cubed jello), and “guts” (cold spaghetti).

These days Halloween is similar, but not quite the same. I recall being let loose for two to three hours to run around town with my friends. All we had were safety in numbers and an old pillowcase for our loot. Every child was sure to stop at the home of the late Bill and Lois Farner to get a box of Cracker Jacks with a prize inside. Other sought-after goodies were candy, pennies, apples, and homemade treats. When I got home, I would dump out all my candy onto the table and sort them into piles, likes and dislikes. All of that fun lasted only one night and I looked forward to it all year long.

Our son, Kellan, who will be four in January, gets to experience fall fun to the max. This year he will go trick-or-treating three times. On Saturday we went to Night Eyes at Blank Park Zoo, this coming weekend we will go to The Great Pumpkin Party (an amazing free event for children at Valley Church in West Des Moines, the church of my friend, Julie (Paup) Knudsen, 1993 CHS grad), and Beggars’ Night on Sunday. I will be more than happy to dress him up three times as Chief Kellan. My mom got him a firefighter costume that looks like the real thing. It even came with a hose that really sprays. Carsten, 10 months, is wearing his brother’s hand-me-down puppy dog costume and it looks just as adorable on him as it did on Kellan three year ago.

Apple Crisp

Last fall, when I was pregnant with Carsten, I craved apples. I even put in a special request for my mom to bring me a Pokey’s caramel apple. Apple crisp also sounded good to me, so I asked my friends on Facebook for a simple recipe for apple crisp. My friend, Paula (Maiden) Moriarty, a 1992 Carroll High School graduate, sent me this recipe. It is one she found online, but she tweaked it just a little. She says the secret is to sprinkle each layer of apples with extra cinnamon-sugar.
12 medium tart cooking apples, sliced
2¼ cups packed brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1½ oats
1 cup butter, softened
1¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1¼ teaspoons sugar
extra cinnamon-sugar mixture (to use between apple layers)
ice cream, if desired

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease bottom and sides of 13 x 9-inch pan with cooking spray.  

Spread apples in pan, sprinkling apples with cinnamon-sugar as they are layered. In a medium bowl, mix together remaining ingredients, except ice cream, until well mixed and sprinkle over apples.

Bake about 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown and apples are tender when pierced with a fork. Serve warm with ice cream.

Spider Cookies

Kids love to help bake and spider cookies are easy and fun to make. Each cookie has eight licorice legs, but thin pretzel sticks could also be used. The recipe calls for peanut butter cookies, but any kind of cookie dough can be used.
1 pouch Betty Crocker peanut butter cookie mix
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon water
1 egg
36 Rolo candies
black or red string licorice
1/3 cup (72) miniature baking M&Ms
small tube of black decorating gel
Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, stir cookie mix, oil, water and egg until dough forms. Shape dough into 36 (1-in) balls. On ungreased cookie sheets, place 2 inches apart. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Immediately press 1 Rolo in center of each cookie. Cool 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks.

Cut licorice into 8 (2-inch) pieces for each spider (this should be done ahead of time). Attach legs by sticking into sides of Rolo (4 on each side). Use M&Ms for eyes and black gel to make pupils in eyes (optional). Let gel dry before packing cookies.

Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Icing

Pumpkin tastes good all year round, but especially in the fall. These bars are ideal for treat day at work or a Halloween party. They are even good enough for the Thanksgiving table, if you have guests that don’t love pumpkin pie. The recipe is courtesy of Paula Deen. The cream cheese icing contains 1 stick of butter, which according to her cooking, is most likely considered “light.”
4 eggs
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
15 oz can pumpkin
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 oz package cream cheese, softened
½ cup butter or margarine, softened
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use an electric mixer at medium speed and combine eggs, sugar, oil and pumpkin until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth. Spread the batter into a greased 13 x 10 in baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting. Cut into bars.

To make the icing: Combine the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and mix at low speed until combined. Stir in the vanilla and mix again. Spread on cooled pumpkin bars.
Makes 48 small bars or 24 larger bars