Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dr. Looney and The Brain...

Whoever said Halloween is all about the kids hasn't seen it go down in my house. Sure, sure the kids have a blast and everyone's happy and sugared-up in the end...just how it's supposed to be...but the month that leads up to the "big night" consists of a complex series of parent/child negotiations all centered around the kids' costumes.

Carly consistently can't commit until the last minute but Will, like most little boys, is enamoured with all things involving some sort of store-bought, polyester cape, large molded headgear and, most importantly, one or more highly destructive weapons.

Sorry kids...none of this fits in with my completely ego-driven conviction that any costume coming out of my house must be an original...the product of my blood, sweat, tears and Singer Classic. What would Halloween be without that tireless EBay hunt for an official NASA logo patch or that last minute, late-night run for silver spray paint critical for transforming last year's rain boots into footwear suitable for space travel?

It was much easier when they were babies. Carly was the easiest, of course. After the bumblebee and clown, every year that followed was some form of princess: Medieval Princess, Fairy Princess, Snow Princess, Just a Princess-Princess, Mermaid Princess, and Ballerina that order, I think. For years, it was all about satin and glitter and tulle...I was in my zone.

With Willy, I got away with murder those first couple of years too. Year one, I made him the devil to Carly's angel (a prophecy still unfolding), followed by Baby Elvis (more satin and sequins...yes), then Cowboy, Astronaut and Mad Scientist (we'll come back to that) with a minor store bought Power Rangers slip in year-four. This year, I find myself battling the Evil Empire...all things Star Wars! The force just may be too great. He has his eye on some Stormtrooper-looking plastic get-up he spotted in a catalog but I think that Carly and I might have him convinced to go with Yoda (much more Zen don't you think?) and he is considering letting me make it...we'll see... could this obsessive notion of costume control have been planted in my brain? Perhaps it has something to do with the Flying Nun...

Yes, this is me in the upper left hand corner, Sister Bertrille, posing alongside my fellow Cayuga Playground preschoolers circa 1968. Could I have simply donned a plastic bunny mask and fire-retardant jumpsuit from Woolworth, just like my other classmates...sure...but where would the fun be for Mommy in that?

I was only four but I swear I can still picture my mother perched on the edge of our black Naugahyde sofa wrestling with the burlap, cardboard and starch that would become my official Daughters of Charity nun habit . She still talks about the less-than-nunly language she mumbled under her breath as she twisted and glued and pried that headpiece until it bowed to her submission.

Mind you, as the awestruck baby sister of an official parochial school second grader, the notion of posing as a nun...a flying one at that...was beyond my wildest dreams. As you can see by the photo below, I was generally less than amused that my older brother was allowed to go off to Catholic school every day without me. "Yah...dressing like a nun for Halloween...that'll show him who's more holy!"

Mom made him a My Favorite Martian costume that year by the way (complete with homemade boingy, glittery antennae and a silver lame spacesuit)...pretty cool for a 7-year old who carries a briefcase to school, don't you think?

So, what does all of this have to do with Dr. Looney? Well, last year, we again entered into much discussion around Will's costume and settled on a Mad Scientist. Most of the elements were borrowed or handed-down but we did have fun creating some quicky custom accessories like a freaky specimen beaker and a Dr. Looney name tag retrofitted from one I borrowed at the last minute from a nice guy working the counter at Comforts.

But you know what...I still didn't feel like I had suffered enough on this one so I thought I'd bake a cake, of course, for good measure. Here's the one I came up with (one befitting the maddest of scientists, I think): a brain with electrodes sticking out of it and some bloodshot eyeballs thrown in for good measure. Just in time for Halloween, I give this "recipe" to my friends...and I know who you are...who share this need to express our love through stuff we create with our hearts and our hands. Thanks Mom for all the years of costumes and cakes and for showing your love for us in a way we appreciated then but understand even more today.

Dr. Looney's Brain and Bloodshot Eyeballs
(this is really more instructions than a recipe...)

  • 1- 8" or 9" cake pan
  • 1- 8" or 9" stainless steel bowl to match
  • 2- boxes of cake mix plus whatever you need to make the mix...usually oil, eggs and water (I used one white and one chocolate)
  • white frosting...I used a combo of a couple of tubs of store-bought plus homemade buttercream frosting (recipe follows) Can't remember exactly how much...sorry!
  • Food coloring (black and red, note: the gel type available at Cake Art works best vs. liquid
  • red decorator's gel (available in a little white tube at the grocery store)
  • 2 wooden craft dowels
  • bendy wire
  • green gummy lifesavers
  • dark purple Skittles
Directions for the brain:

Prepare the cake mix as directed and bake one in the cake pan and one in the stainless steel bowl. Use the left over mix to make as many cupcakes as you can. Cool.
Tint one tub of frosting pink.
Generously frost top of round cake pan cake then top with bowl cake, flat side down! Carve the dome with a serrated knife into a brain shape that pleases you. Coat the entire now-brain-shaped dome with pink frosting and place on a foil-wrapped piece of round cardboard (the pink shows through the grey a little which creates a cool fleshy effect).
Make your homemade buttercream (or try the tub-stuff...not sure of results) and tint with black food coloring to make it look like grey matter. Put in piping bag with large hole tip or improvise with a Ziploc with the end snipped to create the proper opening. Pipe squiggly lines on both hemispheres of the brain. This was my first can probably do better by looking at diagrams of the brain on the Internet.

Now, wrap the bendy wire around the handle of a wooden spoon to make a coil then wrap the ends around the craft sticks as shown above to make your electrodes. Stick them into the brain then...voila...Dr. Looney is ready for his experiment!

Directions for the eyeballs:

Frost with white frosting. Place one green gummy lifesaver in the middle of the cupcake then insert the pupil (I think it was a dark purple Skittle that looked black-enough).
Use red gel icing to make the bloodshot eyes...that's it...easy huh?

Buttercream Frosting (the scariest part of the recipe...can you say hydrogenated?)

Cream with an electric mixer:
  • 1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Gradually add and beat in:

  • 4 cups sifted confectioners sugar
Add at medium speed unitl light and fluffy:

  • 2 Tbs milk

Friday, October 16, 2009

Something's Fishy

Something weird happened this summer.

As I lay prone in my beach chair overlooking the spectacular Tahoe shoreline, frosty beer in one hand, John and Kate, Brad and Angelina, Paris and her new BFF in the other, it seems that something resembling a child’s small inflatable beach ring slipped itself under my muumuu and permanently affixed itself to my thighs. Apparently,a summer full of de-licious has converted into a backside full of boot-i-licious...emphasis on the "booty", not the "licious."

It came without warning. It just doesn’t add up. You do the math…

Didn’t all of those limes I shoved down into my Corona Lights (yes, Lights!) count toward my 5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables? Weren't my regular three block power walks to and from Garwoods Happy Hour classified as aerobic workouts? Was it wrong to think that 18 holes of pee wee golf would cancel out the ritual pre-match pizzafests?

Well, after a couple of months of denial and back to school excuses, all it took were a couple of foggy mornings and some frost on the windshield to remind me that my days of pull-on stretchy shorts, baggy T’s and that “you-caught-me-on-my-way-to-the-gym” look are numbered. Soon they will give way to the need for regular visits back to the office and a slightly more pulled together least one that suggests that I regularly bathe.

I try to plug my ears and sing "la-la-la-la" really loud but I can still hear him...he's mocking me...that 500 pound blue gorilla standing in the middle of my room. He's pounding on my closet doors…my nemesis…his name is "jean." Like it or not, some one, way back when (clearly before the invention of my beloved Lycra), decided that blue jeans are a fashion staple and the ultimate in casual comfort. Says who? Well, like it or not, I must face my denim demon, re-expand my wardrobe, de-expand my derriere, and win the battle of the zipper now...before people actually realize that I don't even belong to a gym.

So, a few weeks ago, Charlie and I reconverted our "clothes tree" back into a working treadmill and began to substitute leafy greens for "Double Doubles with cheese" and non fat yogurt for our beloved Fairfax Scoop. It was OK for a while but after a week or so of broiled chicken breasts and steamed broccoli, I wanted to gag! "Enough!" I cried with indignation as I went running to my tattered recipe files vowing to find us something...anything...that had some flavor but wouldn't send us back to the dark side.

I found it...a crumpled magazine page I had saved from my days at Gourmet Magazine. I remembered it as the one that I used to parade around to my advertising clients to prove that we were a contemporary magazine...not stuck in the 1940's. "Yah," I thought, "this is the one...a fillet of snapper on a bed of steamed sweet potatoes, beautiful fresh veggies and this amazing soy ginger glaze...

Yikes...I forgot about all of the chopping...

and the peeling...

and the zesting...

and the sauteing....

Man...I forgot how many steps there were in this recipe...It's Tuesday night and it's 7 pm...we're starved!

But...those flavors! These are just some of the ingredients in this crazy, spicy, sweet glaze..

So here it is, over an hour later, but it was worth it...that shot of adrenaline to my flat-lined taste buds. The photo's not great (it's dark and I'm beat) but, trust me, it's beautiful and delicious. I think that the only thing that could make it better is dessert at Fairfax Scoop. I'll get a single...I promise.

Red Snapper With Spicy Soy Glaze
On Sauteed Vegetables And
Sweet Potatoes

For the glaze...

Mince and saute in heavy saucepan until soft:

  • 3 large shallots
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil

Add and simmer until reduced to about 3/4 cup (20 minutes... so make your fish now while it simmers):

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons apricot or plum jam
  • 1 Tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Stir in and keep warm:

  • 1 Tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest
For the fish...

Julienne (thinly slice) and put aside:
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 3/4 cup snow peas
  • 2 cups Napa cabbage
  • 1/4 cup red onion

Peel, slice (8-12 slices, 1/4 inch thick) and steam over boiling water until just tender (keep warm in pan):
  • 1-3/4 pound sweet potato
Saute quickly until browned in a non-stick, lightly oiled skillet then finish baking in a 275 oven:
  • 4- 4 ounce red snapper filliets

Let's put it all together now...

Take your julienned veggies and lightly saute or keep raw (your preference) then add:
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
Divide warm potato slices among four plates, top with warm or crispy cold veggies (your preference). Put one fillet on each plate then drizzle with warm glaze.

OK, it's really not as much work as it appears...just be organized and maybe make the glaze ahead for a weeknight meal. Enjoy!

Serves: 4

Adapted from Gourmet January 1998