Halloweentown’s History Lesson

Watching Disney Channel during the Zoog era taught our tweenage selves some important lessons. We went to the moon in 1969. Lizzie and Gordo were destined. Blogs, even ones about Weird stuff, can help you find validation. The future will be filled with expressions like “zetus lapetus” and “lunarious.”

Most of us barely noticed the real lessons underneath the fun stories and brightly-colored wardrobes. Families matter, friends are important, believe in yourself, reach for the stars.

Halloweentown featured a happy world of friendly creatures, but all four movies carried the theme of acceptance. (Yes there were four – I know people like to forget about the last two.) Witches Marnie Piper and grandmother Aggie Cromwell often speak about uniting the worlds after centuries of judgment on both sides. The unexpected topic deepened a light holiday movie and pushed it into “Legendary DCOM” status.

It also reinforced the lesson that you should never replace the main character, one we previously learned in season three of So Weird. But anyway.

I never realized until recently that Halloweentown most likely paid tribute to the true origins of Halloween. The basic story: A thousand years ago, the  Celtic people created Samhain to celebrate the harvest. They also believed that spirits could mingle with the living as fall turned into winter. Christians arrived and, instead of outlawing Samhain, converted it into All Saints Day/All Hallows. Celtic people still celebrated the night before, aka, All Hallows Eve. Certain traditions carried over or were added by Christian influence.

It sounded familiar. Then I remembered.

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“The people who started your Halloween just imitated our traditions.”

Aggie told almost the same story in Halloweentown: A long time ago, the “Dark Times,” humans and creatures lived together. She says “humans feared us and wanted to destroy us,” so creatures were terrible to humans in return. Eventually creatures formed their own dimension where they could live in peace.

(Does it bother anyone else that Aggie tells this story in such an upbeat manner? She relates her town’s tormented history without expressing any emotion.)

Halloweentown events match up to the real story. The period where humans and creatures lived together could refer to Samhain, then when Christians outlawed the supernatural, they fled. Both the first and second movie stress that humans imitate creatures on Halloween, which is how trick-or-treating started. Those who celebrated placed food out for the spirits, then later on, people dressed like the spirits to “trick-or-treat.” Traditional costumes such as ghosts and witches are still popular to this day. In the series, creatures interpret this as humans mocking them. The timeline even fits because in the fourth movie it’s stated that Halloweentown will be a thousand years old.

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“Mortal see, mortal do.”

I love that a movie called “Halloweentown” acknowledged the real origins of Halloween. Thinking about it now, I wonder if that’s why Halloweentown 4 comes across as a pale imitation of the first three. (Aside from recasting Marnie.) While there’s mention of witches having power over other creatures, the movie lacks the real theme of uniting the two worlds. It doesn’t seem right that “New Marnie” is so quick to ditch her home world after working so hard to find acceptance there.

But that’s irrelevant ten years after the fourth movie (hurts, doesn’t it?). Despite how the series ended, Halloweentown continues to represent the holiday spirit every year.

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Baking Days 4 & 5: Chocolate and Coffee, Two of My Favorite Things

So far I’ve stuck to cupcakes that don’t include chocolate  – pumpkin, maple, plain vanilla. After making non-chocolate cupcakes a few weeks in a row, I finally changed up my recipe selection. I also decided on brownies. Since I still wanted to include coffee after my failed Pumpkin Spice Latte attempt, this recipe looked perfect. This time I was determined to taste coffee in every bite.

My process has become less interesting now that I’m more used to the act of baking. Good for me, bad for blog content. These days I can mostly mix up the correct ingredients and follow instructions without incident. Of course I still get flour all over the counter, but I don’t see that changing in the near future.

The result:

brownie1 FYI – the recipe said to line the pan with foil. I’d never done this for brownies before but why not?

I should call these “Hollywood celebrity” brownies because they were very thin and very rich. Also delicious, do not forget delicious. I don’t know what I expected coffee to taste like in a baked good. Did I think they’d embody my usual caramel latte from McDonald’s? (What? They’re cheaper than Starbucks and still good.) The coffee made the chocolate extremely rich while toning down the sweetness factor.

So far I’ve avoided icing, but this time I made the corresponding mocha glaze. Mixes together in five minutes. Extremely worth the effort, both for taste and presentation:

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They lasted about two days in my house.

The Nutella cupcakes I selected for my next baking day, coincidentally, also required coffee. I was excited to make a cupcake with actual Nutella in the batter. I mean…Nutella. Cupcake. How could this turn out bad? I imagined a gooey, super-chocolatey cake. The directions called for a stand mixer, but whatever, like anyone really needs a stand mixer. (Relax, it’s just a defense mechanism to make myself feel better about not having one.) As expected I wound up with Nutella on my arm and flour on the toaster. At least the cupcakes looked good:

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I thought they looked more like “normal cupcakes” than my last few attempts, which resembled muffins. I even got creative and added the glaze from the brownies. My mom suggested the candy corn since we had some. It went with the cute Halloween liners I found in the cabinet.

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Great presentation, but unfortunately these were a disappointment. They tasted chocolatey but also way too dry and crumbly. (Even though my mom and sister swear they liked the cupcakes.) The glaze didn’t add much moisture. It must have been something I did. I’m thinking a) I overmixed the batter, and b) I’m underestimating the importance of frosting.  It might be time for me to venture into the great wide world of confectioner’s sugar.

Filling the Void

(Or, Why We Don’t Write When We Finally Have Time to Write)

I never thought I’d be the type of person who hates being home all the time. When I had school, or work, or something to focus on, all I wanted was a couple days to stay in my pajamas and write. I never minded if some weekends turned out to be less full than others. The more time I had to myself, the better.

These days I have all the time in the world to stay in my pajamas and write. This drastic change in schedule alters my perception of what’s “work” and what’s “play.” Writing a novel and creating blog posts are now the things I should do, not the dreams that get me though the day. Focusing so much on hobbies then puts more pressure on producing an actual result. Without external motivation, or milestones achieved, it’s harder to delude myself into thinking my hobby will lead anywhere.

The absence of external stimuli creates another problem. Writing becomes much harder when thoughts calm. I think it’s why a blank page intimidates us. An average day provides us with menial tasks and responsibilities, so when we find something shiny to distract us (like a story idea), we grab onto it. That motivation is nowhere to be found when we finally get home and sit in front of our computers. Again, writing becomes the responsibility, not the distraction. We want to relax, and in that particular moment, small accomplishments like chores feel more satisfying than a few pages that probably won’t be any good anyway.

Hell, maybe this is just my version of “writer’s block,” aka “I don’t want to put real effort into my writing so I’m blaming the world.”

It’s partly because I’ve been writing for such a long time. I feel like I should have several stories published already, if not a novel. Once in a while I have to step back and remind myself there is no “deadline” in life, that everyone achieves at their own pace. A couple months ago I posted some of my original work to Scribophile. This might not seem like an accomplishment to anyone else, but it is for me because I never sought out constructive criticism like this before. Sure, I’d post on websites where I barely got readers, or send it to friends. Scribophile was the first place where I submitted my work for professional-quality criticism. All readers had good things to say but they also made me see that publication was a long way off, even further away than I’d thought.

But then, I suppose you could call that a milestone. It only took more than fifteen years to submit my writing for detailed feedback. Maybe I’ll submit to a publishing house in another fifteen years. I’m sure tons of writers are published for the first time in their 40s. How old was J.K. Rowling again?

This uncertain time in my life is messing me up. It looks like a chance to start over and finally start a career in writing, but in reality, it’s whatever I make of it. If I’m not ready, if things don’t work out, I have the rest of my life to try again. A writing practice happens without formal guidelines and restrictions, so I think sometimes our brains settle into a rut. We hold ourselves to outdated standards and forget to re-evaluate our goals. To use a smartphone analogy, it’s like we’re trying to operate a new phase in our lives without updating the software.

Going back to the blank page after a busy day, I think self-imposed timelines tie into  the “work vs. play” dilemma. It’s easy to fantasize about writing when we can’t actually sit down to write. When we do sit down in front of a computer to type up a masterpiece, we subconsciously pressure ourselves to write something good. We have limited time so we want to be productive when we do write. What we don’t realize is that, when we aim for perfection, we don’t write at all to avoid failure.

Maybe we should redirect this pressure. Maybe it’s time to view the blank page as a bigger failure than bad writing, that typing out crap is better than not typing at all. If we make an effort to write crap on a semi-regular basis, we might eventually produce non-crap on a regular basis. So for the moment I’m forgetting about publication, ignoring all my experience,  and aspiring to crap.

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Baking Day 3: Easy as Pumpkin Pie

I made these cupcakes last Thursday, but since I’m an expert procrastinator, I’m only getting around to this post now. Tomorrow’s “Baking Day #4” so I’d better write up #3 first.

This Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcake recipe won me over last week. I’m picky about selecting recipes since I’m well aware of my beginner status. First I make sure there aren’t too many ingredients, and that they’re all “normal” versions (like all-purpose flour instead of cake flour). Then I scan the directions so I know they’re quick/easy and don’t require equipment I don’t have (like a stand mixer). Given these requirements and my own taste preferences, it can take a while before I stumble across a winner. I went with this particular Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcake recipe because there’s only eight ingredients, and all I had to do was dump everything in a bowl.

I also chose the recipe because it’s fall and I wanted baked goods with pumpkin in them. Pumpkin Spice Latte flavoring was a natural leap from there. (Oddly enough, while I love both pumpkin and coffee, I am not a fan of the average PSL.)

Everything went smooth for the most part, though as usual, I can never follow all directions. The recipe says to brush the coffee on the cupcakes after they’ve cooled. This didn’t fit one of my aforementioned requirements because I don’t have a pastry brush. I made an exception though and added the coffee into the batter. I figured it’s better that way since if I did try to brush the coffee on, some cupcakes would be overflowing and some wouldn’t have any.

Here’s how they turned out. I loved the batter’s orange color:

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(Yes, courtesy of Instagram’s layout app. Formatting images on WordPress is annoying.)

These weren’t so successful. They tasted good as pumpkin cupcakes, and actually reminded me of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Loaf. The other two “spice” and “latte” flavors didn’t quite make it through. There was some spice, but I couldn’t detect any coffee at all. I blame myself for this since I strayed from the recipe on both counts. For one, the leftover pumpkin pie spice container in my cabinet didn’t have exactly what the recipe called for. And I’m sure the coffee flavor would be more prominent if I’d brushed the tops with it as instructed. Maybe next time I’ll add 2/3 cup of coffee to the batter instead.

They’re darn good pumpkin cupcakes though.

Continuing my coffee theme, I’m making mocha brownies tomorrow. To be continued!