This all began last night, the Saturday before Halloween. Basically, the night the city is celebrating. At least the grown-ups do. Except me. I made a big, beautiful chili (yes, chili can be beautiful), opened a lovely bottle of Zinfandel, built a fire, and watched What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. Sure, all my friends were dressed to the nines and out partying. My night was wonderful - just the way I like to celebrate.
It’s not that I’m a Halloween party pooper. Obviously I loved it as a kid. I would get dressed up, go Trick-or-Treating, eat too much candy - all that good stuff. I remember there were quite a few years, while my mom would help me get into my costume, the doorbell would ring suddenly; a little too early for the onslaught of Trick-or-Treaters. I knew who it was. I would race to the front door, swing it open wildly, to find The Secret Pumpkin: a beautifully illuminated and carved pumpkin, facing towards the door, looking squarely at me. Turns out my dad was behind the whole happening. The same man, mind you, who now celebrates Halloween by buying a bag of Snickers bars, turning out his lights, and sipping wine (or rum), while watching movies and eating said Snickers bars while costumed kids ring his doorbell to no avail.
These days I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and hardly eat any candy. I haven’t dressed up in a costume in well over a decade. I don’t really get
many any Trick-or-Treaters up in the hills (I imagine the walking would be tough on the little buggers). I love scary movies, though. Love them. In fact, Halloween is one of my all-time favorites. I’ve even been on the Dearly Departed Tour here in Los Angeles and am obsessed with Find-A-Death. So, I guess it’s kind of a mystery - me and my ambivalence towards Halloween.
And so tonight is the night: All Hallows Eve. Yes, Halloween is upon us, and I find myself in my cozies, listening to Tortoise, with the TV on the Cooking Channel (muted) with a head full of thoughts of food and cooking. I spent the early part of the day at the Farmers’ Market and then the swap meet. I bought my usual whole chicken at the former and six vintage cookbooks at the latter. My mom gave me a clay pot last year for Christmas that I have yet to use. So I figured I’d find some way to dig up an old recipe, like Coq Au Vin, and reinvent it using the clay pot. Then I realized I had to soak the pot in water overnight prior to using it for the first time. I also realized that the chicken needed to “marinate” in its herbs and whatnot overnight as well.
So I uncorked a bottle of Bordeaux and heated up the chili from the night before.
But I was restless. I really wanted to play around in the kitchen. So I dug around in the cupboards to find something to inspire me. I also wanted to find something that had been around for a while to exorcize my kitchen of.
I didn’t have enough to do any major pecanification and I had already conceded to chili again for dinner. So I rifled through the sweets-ish section of one of my new-old cookbooks and bumped into a pretty – and fairly simple – recipe for pecan shortbread. Now, I know I said I don’t have a sweet tooth… but hells bells, I do so love some buttery, rich, decadent shortbread.
And so, without even meaning to, I feel like I sort of did something Halloweeny. Upon this realization, I decided to submit. In the final stretch of making my shortbread I switched the music to Goblin. And while I ate my shortbread I turned on Halloween.
Makes 4 to 6 Bars
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup finely ground pecans (2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 300 degrees with a rack in the center. Butter a 5 x 9-inch loaf pan.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, about three minutes.
Add the flour, pecans, salt and vanilla; beat on low speed for five minutes.
Transfer the dough to the prepared pan, and spread evenly. Score the dough into bars, and prick the surface decoratively with a fork.
Bake until the shortbread looks dry, about an hour. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool. Turn the shortbread out of the pan, and cut along the scored lines.