Friday, October 31, 2008


Booo! I love Halloween. This might have something to do with having a late-October birthday; for my whole life, I've associated black cats, pumpkins, skeletons, and autumn leaves with good things coming my way. Then there's that once-a-year smell of a freshly knifed-open jack o' lantern, sitting fat and orange on a kitchen table covered with newspaper, and the slippery squish of the seeds and pumpkin-guts between your fingers as you pull them out.

Kids come in handy here, if you happen to have any around; let those deft little hands go to work separating the seeds from their clingy, slimy web of strings. It's a satisfyingly messy and purposeful job, and will keep them involved but away from the initial big-knife job of carving the lid and hacking out the big, toothy grin.

Once the seeds are separated, give them a rinse in a colander and spread them out on a cookie sheet to dry. Rub them with a light vegetable oil, sprinkle with salt (and regular or smoked paprika, pure chile powder, or cayenne, depending on your tastes), and roast in the oven at 350 F, stirring occasionally, until dry and crunchy. I find these completely addictive, and a crucial coda to the whole pumpkin-carving process.

But, back to Halloween. Since the holiday falls on a Friday, you can really make the whole weekend into a spooky celebration, ending with Sunday's Day of the Dead events around town. And goddess knows, if there's one thing San Franciscans like better than getting naked in public, it's dressing up. Many, many drag virgins will be discovering what it feels like to balance 150 lbs+ on two 4-inch spikes the size of your thumb. Just as many others, especially those from the warmer climes of the South & East Bays, will be realizing that SF gets really, really cold at night, especially when you're wearing nothing but glasses, a spandex flag bikini and a "Miss Alaska" banner. Come midnight, you gonna wish you knew how to field-dress a moose, or at least turn a stuffed polar bear into a coat, PETA be damned.

So, what you wear tonight and tomorrow is up to you (me? Joan Holloway, girdle, gold pencil, and all) but you can start out the day in the right way. What do women want? If you were me last year, it was the Batula, a spatula in the shape of a bat, and an orange and black spiderweb apron. (Both gifts were that rare and fabulous thing, items I'd never considered but that instantly spoke to my deepest desires for world batulation. Plus, you can use the Batula to spank anyone that comes between you and your pancakes.)

This weekend, it's spider and skull-shaped pancakes for everyone in the house. And while the shapes may be spooky, the pancakes themselves are both wholesome and really tasty. You could use grated winter squash or pumpkin in these if you want to really stick to the theme, but carrots are easier. Enjoy!

Spooky Autumn Pancakes

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 tbsp wheat germ
2 tbsp rolled oats
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon or pumpkin/apple pie spice (a very handy combo of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice, sold already mixed)
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 tbsp vegetable oil, such as canola, or melted butter
1 tbsp maple syrup* or honey
1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 large raw carrot, grated
Butter for cooking pancakes

In a large bowl, sift or whisk dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, beat buttermilk, egg, oil, and maple syrup together. Stir (don't beat!) wet ingredients into dry, adding a couple tbsp of water if mixture seems too thick. (It should be fairly thick and pillowy--enough so you can spoon it out rather than pour it). Gently stir in nuts and carrots. Set aside.

Over medium heat, heat a wide skillet or griddle. When a drop of water will sizzle and skitter over the surface, add a slim pat of butter and swirl to coat the surface. Turn down the heat to medium-low and add batter. Flip once bubbles begin to form and pop and edges look glazed. Cook another minute or two until well-browned on bottom. Repeat as needed. Serve with warm maple syrup and butter. Boooo! Serves 3 to 4, more or less.

*Yankee that I am, I feel strongly that ONLY real maple syrup is worth eating. "Table syrup" is just corn syrup and artificial flavorings, and does nothing but skyrocket your blood sugar and make the whole kitchen stink like IHOP. Look for the deep, mellow Grade B syrup sold at Trader Joe's and in bulk at Rainbow Grocery.

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