I knew about the twelve days of Christmas, of course. I'm counting down the days until I touch down, ever so briefly, on Seattle soil (15, 14, 13...). I even gave up coffee for the forty days of Lent. Once. New to me, though, are the thirty one days of Halloween.
I might be stretching the truth, just a little. It's possible I've been tripping over wizard hats and bad polyester pantsuits for forty days, maybe forty five. Either way, we've been living Halloween 14x7 for weeks now. No tombstones on the front lawn or ghoulish hands bursting up from the mums, thank goodness. Just costumes, all day, every day. And everywhere.
I guess I could have predicted it; Mr. Make Believe is made for Halloween. I know dress-up play is an entire genre (and industry). I know the simple prop of a top hat or tutu can transform a child, and a morning. I've been to plenty of homes, even those chock-a-block with boys, that have trunks spilling over with stetsons and space suits. But it's always been an impromptu affair around here, a tea towel-turned-cape kind of thing. Until now, that is.
I'm finding myself in new territory here. At the park, with Optimus Prime, for example. "Excuse me, Ultimate Autobot, but please watch your step. You didn't wear your wellies today." Or reminding the Power Ranger who pops down for breakfast that oatmeal is better with a spoonful of sugar and civility. "In polite society, we always remove our light-up visor-hoods at table." Or concluding that whomever came up with those flimsy foot covers that turn a pair of dirt brown Merrills into mighty morphin' super boots deserves a MacArthur.
There have been a few hiccups, a few philosophical quandaries along the way. "Can I be a Power Witch Pumpkin?" (You bet) "If Max is Mario, can I be Mario, too? Or do I have to be Luigi?" (Two Marios are twice as nice. He can be Mega and you can be Mini.) "Can I wear my costume to the park?" (Of course) "Again?" (Sure) "To bed?" (Even I have limits) "I'm Dracula! Vampires only drink blood for supper." (Minestrone's, um, also a liquid. Only better -- it has beans!)
And, truth be told, these get-ups have had their wrinkles. I'm kind of done turning ten teeny tiny inside-out glove fingers seam-side in again. And again and again and again. After Dr. Evil alarmed several innocent bystanders (and a few new friends) by meeting their greeting with a no-holds-barred growl, we began a dialogue on in character versus out of line. And that Wee Witch of the West, down there? He got the red light when he suggested, "Wait, witches are green, right? I shouldn't brush my teeth ever!"
But I know all too soon these role playing games will play out in pixels, not capes. Someday, not far enough away, he'll showcase his alter ego with an avatar instead of an old pair of overalls. So I tolerate it, encourage it, egg him on, even. And untangle those dratted gloves one more time.
(Zoë's gotten in on the action a little, here and there. She knows costumes are the currency of the realm, right now. And actually, she can pull off Power Ranger with more poise than you might expect from a pig-tailed, dimpled little dumpling. Still, I'm pretty sure the peanut butter cups Mamo sent airmail are her favorite part. You decide.)
In the end, we door-belled our new block as Mario and Luigi and one roly poly pumpkin. (Halloween has come and gone as of Thursday, over here. I wasn't kidding.) But really, the whole trick-or-treating bit seemed a little anti-climactic. The Kit-Kats won't last half as long as the superhero soap opera we've been privy to this month. I'm not sure what will happen once October, and Halloween, are behind us. Maybe the blush will be off. Maybe we'll stock up on cut-rate cloaks.
What I do know, for certain, is that I've held off on fall food for thirty one days, maybe more. Well, okay, so maybe I bought a gaggle of squash, brought home a few gorgeous turnips. But I didn't inhale; not yet, anyway. They're still waiting patiently in the garage, on standby. I've eked out one more month of August-in-October meals, trying to make the most of summer's last, knowing the ripe onslaught will be history here shortly. Good for me. And enough, already. I've got jack-o-lantern under my fingernails and seeds in my sleeves and a one-track stomach, grumbling "fall fall fall". It's time to bring on autumn eating. Which, for me anyway, translates directly as "bring on the caramelized apples with rosemary brown butter".
There's nothing of summer to sautéed apples. Gently seared until bronzed outside and tender-crisp within, these warm little wedges are sweet and tart and perfumed throughout with rosemary's savory spunk and nutty brown butter. Or, if it's Halloween, they're cooked too long and too slow while you try (and fail) to defend the merits of moustaches to two charming plumbers. They'll half-collapse in a heap (the apples now, the boys later), all crumbly at the edges and a little soft in parts. They'll look more like a pile of wet leaves than a dish dressed to impress. And it won't matter one bit. Not after the first bite.
Next time, I'll turn the heat high and the attention higher. Even if there's a robot practicing stiff knees and straight elbows right behind me, I'll wait to look. Though I may not wait another thirty one days for this forkful of fall.
[Updated to add: On any of the year's 364 other days, said apples look rather more like those below.]
Caramelized Apples with Rosemary Brown Butter
I first ran into this in Andreas Viestad's Kitchen of Light, an exquisite ode to Scandinavian cuisine (or maybe an unusually glamorous government gambit to refute Babette's Feast.) I sugar them up a bit, as I prefer tart granny smith's to his sweet golden delicious. Also, I like my rosemary chopped and fried into crisp little cracklings. If your children are squeamish about green leafy bits (Henry usually balks, but ate two servings last night), you can lay a few generous sprigs in the warming butter, remove the rosemary, then sauté the apples in the infused butter. All the flavor, none of the bits.
You could use any apple here that holds its shape in a hot pan -- ask your apple seller for recommendations. Just adjust the sugar accordingly, and spritz in the end with lemon if you choose an apple with no natural tartness.
4 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 8 wedges
3 Tablespoons butter
1-2 Tablesoons sugar, or to taste
Dash salt, to taste
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Lay butter in a large, heavy skillet, sprinkle with chopped rosemary, and heat over medium-high until foam settles and butter begins to brown. Add apples, sprinkle sugar and salt over all, and toss gently to coat apples in butter and seasonings. Let apples sit to develop a good crust, 4-5 minutes, or until caramelized on bottoms. Toss to turn apples over, and sear other side, 4-5 minutes, or until most edges are browned and apples are tender. Eat warm, preferably in the company of pumpkins and plumbers.