Cajun Halloween

It’s a chilly Saturday on the San Francisco Peninsula, Halloween 2009, and also the end of daylight saving time. I just received an email from my friend Barb, up in Bend, which is a picture of an elderly native American gentleman and the following observation: When told the reason for daylight saving time the Old Indian said, “Only the government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom, and have a longer blanket.” I like this. Arizona doesn’t have daylight saving (other than the Navajo reservations), nor does Hawaii, Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands. But in California, it’s always a welcome treat in the Spring, and I suppose we gain an hour tonight so I’ll endure the next few months of it getting darker earlier in the evening. Life will surely go on … always does.

But tonight’s going to be a Cajun Halloween, of sorts. Small gathering, so far … my wife and myself, my sister Colleen and her husband John. A small but excellent gathering! My sister loves kids, adores her nieces and nephews, and is a firm suscriber to the Peter Pan principle of “Never allow yourself to feel older than seven.” So she arrived early in her Charlie Brown Great Pumpkin T-Shirt, prepared to dole out candy to the millions of kids that were surely going to visit our house in this very family-friendly neighborhood. She was thrilled when the first set of kids (great home made bug and rocket costumes) arrived a little after five, when it wasn’t even remotely dark yet. But hopes of a big crowd of trick or treaters faded quickly as the hours went by, and we ended up with four sets of two kids to the house. This means a couple things … first, my co-workers are going to have a huge amount of assorted candy to share tomorrow, and second … what’s happened with Halloween and all the kids? I’m obviously unsure if this is the trend elsewhere, but it was a little disappointing, to say the least.

Friends and avid readers know I grew up in Daly City, California. Now this was a few years ago of course, but Halloween was awesome! First, after the age of five, kids’ parents never joined them in their trick or treating rounds through this little suburb just south of San Francisco. We’d go out in groups of two-to-four, fill up our pillow cases with candy, go home and empty them out, and head out for another round or two of the same. I had candy for months! And at around 9:00 we’d all head down to the Westlake Shopping Center for the annual Halloween celebration in the parking lot that faced what was then known as Alemany Boulevard, and was renamed to John Daly Blvd a number of years ago. For those of us who grew up there, it will always be “Alemany.”

The parking lot that faced the afore-mentioned boulevard featured the likes of the Westlake Liquor Store which was owned by 49er legend Bob St. Clair, the Westlake Music Store, King Norman’s Toys, Johnson’s Enchiladas, a drug store, Georgette’s Beauty Salon (still there, as is Georgette), Vern’s Ice Cream, Compton’s Cafeteria (best custard anywhere), See’s Candies, and Walgreen’s. And on Halloween, this lot would be packed with kids, parents, and pets who would partake in the live music and free goodies. One thing that could be counted on every year was little tubs of “50-50” orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream, which would be given away for the asking. This was back in the days of Cho-cho’s and Sidewalk Sundaes being the most popular ice cream varietals, but the little tubs of 50-50’s were awesome. I’m sure I’m dating myself … how many of you remember Cho-cho’s? Just as I thought.

It was a safer time, for sure. These were also the days when I’d ride my bike ten or fifteen miles in several directions, with the only condition being “be home for dinner at 5:30.” It wasn’t unusual to spend a Saturday with a friend or two, riding into the City, all over Golden Gate Park, over to Larsen Pool for a swim (for a dime, as I recall), to the Zoo (which was free, back then), and back up Lake Merced Boulevard, across ALEMANY, and home to the Park Plaza Apartments. Just be home for dinner … and we always were.

So where were the kids last night? I’d like to think they were at parties or gatherings where they were having fun, and of course being safe … undoubtedly with parents in tow, as that’s how things are done these days. But I miss the notion that they can’t be out and about visiting the friendly neighbors in their home turf, amassing a collection of sweets that they’d take home and sample, sort, and squirrel away somewhere for the next several weeks. But last night, they were a no-show.

My sister and John did show though, and dinner turned out awesome. Colleen brought a Malbec from their recent trip to Argentina, and it was incredible with the jambalaya. I added a bottle of Zinfandel from Adelaida in Paso Robles for good measure. Also good.

Appetizers were kept simple because I had a feast preparing in the kitchen. Carr’s crackers, a brie, and a Kerrigold aged Irish cheddar were plenty. Colleen brought an awesome salad, which meant one less thing I had to prepare. I love doing salads, but I always like not having to prepare a course. Most cooks do. I’ve said this many times in this blog, but never be hesitant or intimidated bringing things to a meal at a chef’s house, or in fact inviting them over! Your food’s undoubtedly great, and we love being cooked for. All of us do!

I started the red velvet cupcakes early in the day, and made the frosting while the two dozen little gems were cooling on the cooktop. This is a fairly common recipe, and in fact if you Google it, the results are virtually identical. Mine came from my friend Siobhan, who owns the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Truckee. I’ll try to remember to post it on the website, and the jambalaya recipe is already out there. These turned out really good … I thought the frosting that consists of two cubes of butter, a pound of cream cheese, and four cups of powdered sugar needed just a bit more … so I sprinkled some Sharffen Berger mocha chocolate nibs on the top. Perfect.

The jambalaya took shape early in the afternoon, and was actually done before anyone arrived. Very easy to do a quick reheat, which is what I did just before I served it. The cornbread was served in the Lodge cast iron pan I baked it in, which seemed fitting.

After dinner, we got into the last of my Zin Alley Port, which of course is always served in my Port Pigs. Consistent crowd pleasers, both the Port and the Pigs. There’s just something to sucking your dessert wine out of a glass pig’s tail, I guess.

Great night, always a treat seeing my sister and her hubby, the food worked, and we gained an hour via the end of the afore-mentioned Daylight Saving, granting us an extra hour of sleep, which I currently need as I’m fighting a cold. But I’m still wondering where all the trick or treaters were last night. Perhaps there were ghosts and goblins out in the neighborhood, and we were the only ones safe???

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