Halloween and Ham and Cheese Muffins
Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. Decades before Home Depot was selling giant, inflatable skulls, I was crafting realistic scary monsters out of my dad’s old flannel shirts and work pants and lighting up their makeshift heads with mom’s Christmas window candles. All year long I fantasized of being someone else, someone who didn’t live in a rundown house with parents who argued endlessly. Halloween was living that dream if only for one day. And it was the only time I wasn’t embarrassed of where I lived. Our dilapidated, faded green house sat perched on a steep hill surrounded by a moat of giant pines twice as tall as the house. They guarded the house like sentries, daring anyone to enter, and few did.
Our house was a fright all year long, but I could embrace it for one month of the year. As Halloween approached I’d begin drafting my plans for converting our gracious front porch into a scare fest. It took me three or four days–two of which were days I was supposed to be in school–from start to haunted finish. The results beat most anything you’ll find today: hand-painted tombstones, flying furry bats, dead bodies wrapped in sheets drenched with red paint swinging from mom’s plant hooks in the porch ceiling. Dad helped me build a wooden coffin for one of my monsters. When the strobe light was on you could convince yourself that the monster was moving. I blasted scary music from my boombox–a collection of recorded screams and music from my favorite horror films, Halloween and The Exorcist. Neighbors a block a way could hear Jamie Lee Curtis screaming as she ran from Michael Myers.
I never outgrew my love for Halloween. Instead, I married a man that would come to enjoy Halloween as much as I do. Our first Halloween together we threw a big party at Greg’s apartment and, along with Greg’s sister Laurie, dressed up like members of the band KISS. (Laurie was Gene Simmons complete with the biologically mystifying tongue. I was Ace Frehley. And a shirtless Greg was Paul Stanley.) Those costumes took me a week to make. I even made one for Peter Criss, the fourth band member of Kiss, and stuffed it with old newspapers just like I did the monsters on my porch as a kid. We laid Peter across Greg’s bed as if he’d been killed in a bloody battle. Two years later, in 2001, Greg and I were married on the Saturday before Halloween and treated our guests to a costume reception. That was our last big Halloween bash, but each year we still enjoy dressing up and giving the kids–and some adults too–a little scare. (That’s Greg in the picture below wielding the plastic sword.)
Halloween is a holiday with no obligations or expectations. There’s no pressure to buy the perfect gift or send a holiday card and no argument about how you’ll divide the holiday with your families that are 400 miles apart. Eating candy is allowed and encouraged. You can let your imagination soar, don a mask, a cape, or a wig and be someone else for the night. Your life and responsibilities will be waiting for you the next day just as mine were today even as I picked the black polish from my nails and got back to being me.
Ham and Cheese Muffins
Adapted from Heidi Swanson’s recipe for Cottage Cheese Muffins at 101cookbooks.com. Not a fan of ham? Make them with chicken or turkey instead. Or follow Heidi’s lead and skip the meat in favor of sun-dried tomatoes. These super-moist, savory muffins have a texture somewhere between a sponge cake and a quiche. They’re delicious piping hot fresh from the oven. They also freeze well. Make a batch; eat a few now and freeze some for later. They make the perfect breakfast for families on the go.
1/3 cup white whole wheat flour (or your favorite gluten-free multi-purpose flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup plain cottage cheese
3 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
1 cup almond meal or finely ground almonds
4 oz. ham, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup water
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives, plus more for finishing
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line it with paper baking cups.
- Whisk together flour and baking powder.
- In a large bowl combine the remaining ingredients. Stir in the flour.
- Evenly divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling each about 3/4 full. Scatter a few chives on top.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and firm to touch. Serve hot or at room temperature
Makes 12 muffins.