In the not so distant past, Halloween was a pretty big deal around our house.
Sure, there was the candy, and the trick or treating, and the obligatory last-minute homemade costume, but for me, the big part was dinner.
Our family was always big on Halloween — mostly, I suspect, because of my ex-husband’s love of decorating. I mean, it’s one thing to decorate for Christmas, but he started decorating in September for Halloween. There were lights in the bushes, cob webs everywhere, a huge inflatable Halloween snow globe complete with the grim reaper and inflatable tomb stones — he did not go small.
Every year, the house got more and more elaborate. His thinking was if we decorated it, more trick or treaters would come, where he’d be able to jump out and scare them and then give them candy.
And, while he was in the front yard making the house look like the set of “Nightmare on Elm Street,” I was carving the first pumpkin — there would be usually three or four — and preparing the seeds for snacks later on.
Every year, we’d roast pumpkin seeds and then I’d figure out what we were going to have for Halloween dinner. Cause, you know, it’s Halloween, you can’t just throw a pizza on the table and dash out the door, right?
I’d scour the grocery store check-out aisles for those little Halloween themed cookbooks and start figuring out what we’d make.
Hot dog mummies, potato graveyard, pumpkin vomit guacamole, dragon’s egg deviled eggs or shrunken apple heads hot apple cider, it was always something. And, it had to be something icky and weird and bordering on gross.
When you’ve got two boys, you head toward “gross” on a regular basis, even when you’re not cooking.
I think my favorite was feet loaf.
Feet loaf is a giant meat loaf, shaped like a foot, with ketchup for blood and onion pieces sticking out of the stump for a bone. For kids, it was the coolest thing ever. Personally, I thought it was pretty cool too. It really looked like a monster foot with blood oozing out of it.
For Halloween that year — I think the boys were 12 and 10 — dinner was feet loaf and roasted garlic mashed potatoes. I asked my oldest son, Mason, if he remembered those days.
“Heck, yeah,” he said. “There was always something fun for dinner before trick-or-treating.”
I honestly didn’t think that he’d remember. I really thought that I was doing it all for myself and it was just another dinner to them. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised when he said he remembered.
He remembered all of it. Watching him wrap crescent roll dough around hot dogs recently took me back to the years when he would come into the kitchen and talk with me while I cooked.
We made mummy dogs, feet loaf and a bloody brains sugar cookie pop, it was like old times again. We were in the kitchen, making gross stuff and just hanging out together — the only thing missing was the pumpkin seeds, and the costumes, of course.
I used to underestimate how important the kooky things I did were to my boys. I figured they just didn’t notice the Christmas candy, or the homemade lunches, or the crazy Halloween dinners. Turns out, they did. And, it’s something they say was a special part of growing up.
That alone makes all the gory extra work worth it.
2 15-ounce can of chili (use a pretty thick one — not Skyline or hot dog chili)
2 or 3 potatoes, cut in planks with the skin on
1 12-ounce container of sour cream
2 cups of shredded cheese
4 green onions, sliced
1 small can of sliced black olives, chopped
Salt and pepper
Slice potatoes into planks about a 1/4 of an inch to a 1/2 inch thick. Cover with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Cut bottom third of the planks off to form tombstones.
In a medium-sized pot or in a microwave safe bowl, heat the chili. Spread on the bottom of an 11×7-inch baking pan. Place tombstone potatoes upright in the chili, sporadically on either side of the pan. Layer cheese on top of the chili. Place spoonfuls of sour cream around the potatoes to help hold them up, pressing the sour cream into the cheese and chili as needed for stability. Using the black olives, create a road through your “graveyard,” and use the green onions to create grass on and around the tombstones. Serves four.
1 pound ground beef
1 pound mild Italian sausage
1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ red onion, chopped (reserve other half)
¼ cup and 1 cup of ketchup
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
In a mixing bowl, beat eggs. Add ¼ cup of ketchup, milk, breadcrumbs and Worcestershire sauce to eggs and mix well.
In a skillet, heat the olive oil, then add onions and garlic, cooking until tender. Season with salt and pepper. Add onions, ground beef and sausage to egg mixture. Combine thoroughly. I use my hands.
After lightly greasing a 9×13-inch baking pan, start to form your meatloaf into a foot. The easiest way I’ve found is to use all but about a quarter of it to make the foot shape and then use a knife to make the toes. After you’ve shaped the foot part, take the remaining hamburger mixture and start to form the leg stump on top of it. Using the remaining onion, cut pieces into triangles to make toe nails, and use a good chunk of onion as bones where the foot is severed. Now, get your kids and let them pour the ketchup over the exposed leg part to make it into a bloody stump.
Bake in a 375 degree oven for about an hour, or until a thermometer in the meatloaf registers 160 degrees. Let rest for a few minutes after taking it out — mostly so the kids can look on in amazement and think about what awesome parents they have.