More of a trick than a treat

I love Halloween – and it isn’t to do with adult costume parties, or the explosion in yard décor we’ve all seen in the last ten years. I don’t dress my dogs up in costume either. (Though all Mishka really needs is a set of devil horns to express her personality properly.)

Growing up in the ‘70s trick or treating was a long distance, endurance sport;  you didn’t just stick to the houses in your neighborhood, where your parents knew everyone. And I actually knew kids who threw eggs at, or tipied the houses where the lights were off and no one appeared to be home. This was long before the phrase zero tolerance became a part of daily life.

As an adult, I’ve always given out my favorite candy, (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Snickers, Skor bars, – no raisin boxes or stale Tootsie Rolls, at my house.) I like to dish it out by the handful, to reward the brave few who still ring doorbells and hope for the kindness of strangers.

So, the question comes up, what to do this year? Empirically, I am not opposed to the occasional peanut butter cup – processed and laden with high fructose corn syrup though it may be. But since kids get way too much of that stuff anyway, and I do have a problem with the system that produces and markets all those candies in excess, I needed to find an alternative.

When I was a kid, people could still give out homemade treats. Cookies, fudge, popcorn balls and even the occasional caramel apple, were all things I loved to find in my own Halloween stash. But those days are gone, and sensible parents would toss any one of these delicacies of unknown origin straight into the trash.

So in spite of my festive porch ghoul, I’ve come to terms with the fact that mine will be the lamest house on the block this year. I’m giving out organic lollypops, and organic bunny-shaped fruit snacks. And feeling like a hypocrite as well; these candies are made from better ingredients, but I’m sure their carbon footprint isn’t much different from the candy kids actually want. But I can’t stand the idea of turning off the lights and hiding in the basement on Sunday night.

Should any kids I actually know drop by, I’m giving them popcorn balls –I chose this recipe to try out – for both its lack of corn syrup and more relaxed approach than most candy recipes. I’ve been on a popcorn kick for the past couple of weeks – if you’ve never tried just popping it in a pan on the top of the stove, I highly recommend it, and this caramel really is easy and delicious. Increase the amount of salt, and don’t add the vanilla till the very end, when you take the pot off the heat.

The whole process took about 15 minutes. I wouldn’t let a kid make caramel – soft crack stage  is a dangerously hot 270°F; I spent my college summers making caramel over a propane stove in a huge copper pot, and I still have the scars. The syrup is boiling hot, and it sticks to your flesh – seriously.  Don’t worry too much about this though – I was making gallons in those days, you are just making a couple cups, with a lot less potential for splash. Just use a pot with high sides. Kids can certainly help roll the balls, once the caramel cools just a little. If any excess caramel hardens in the pan, just add water, boil, and pour it out immediately.

Happy Halloween!

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