Kbatz Kraft: Mini Coffin Tray

Have you ever hung a table picture frame and been so annoyed by the little stand in the back interfering against the wall that you’ve ripped it off? No? That’s just me?

I looked at these little picture backs with my cheap and spooky mind and thought, “Gee, they look like coffins!” But what could I do with them to show off their unusual shape? Some kind of cemetery diorama like the ones we used to make in school would be decorative but not necessarily useful. Would it be more efficient if this little cemetery was displayed openly on a serving tray? Kooky yet functional! Rather than cheap plastic or a Halloween themed platter that would be flimsy or too cutesy, I found a great old fashioned tray at Goodwill for $2. This chipped and worn cream with gold scroll work was going to become brown for that earthen look – the paint known as ‘nutmeg’ strikes again!

Obviously I could not repaint the entire intricate scroll design but went over some of the vine motifs on the corners in lime green paint for a creepy brier look. Of course, this lucked upon step was time consuming and took a few coats of both the green paint as well as the surrounding brown. I am not an artist, but I am a perfectionist, and some of the brush strokes are apparent if you take a closer look. After three or four coats, I could convince myself real creepy vines and cemetery dirt would have imperfections, however there are probably better stencils, brushes, and skills if you are intentionally going for an elaborate Halloween design. Although this paint doesn’t specifically say it glows in the dark, the lime is bright enough to do so – another fun bonus!

Despite already being dark, I painted the frame stands turned coffins black, hiding lingering sticker marks on the back while the brush strokes became fitting faux wood grain. I wanted a simple ‘R.I.P.’ in white to emphasis them as coffins, but the white paint picked up the marker tracings, leaving the phrase, well, peach. Maybe one could excuse it as a touch of Halloween orange, but I didn’t like it. When I started to go over the letter again with the brush I used for the black paint, I ended up with another ‘happy accident’ just like Bob Ross says. The darker dry brush picked up some of the surface texture – aging my peachy R.I.P. Like vintage erosion. Whew!

At last, my little coffin family was ready to go on the tray, staying upright with some basic glue and tape. After touching up the bottoms of the coffins with more black and covering the rest of the tape lines with my trusty nutmeg, I glued some green moss around the bases. This covered my imperfections and base support with a final spooky mound, and if you look closely, I used green glitter glue sticks in case any of the glue shows. Naturally, one should not put food directly on this kind of painted tray nor use it for a lot of grabby trick or treater hands. True artists would probably also use some sort of glossy sealant to protect their designs, but for me, a shiny top coat didn’t go with the graveyard mood.

Of course, one doesn’t have to make a three dimensional cemetery tray. Kids can spend a fun October weekend painting much simpler platters and gluing on an array of bugs, spiders, fake fingers, toy eyeballs, or anything that fits your Halloween theme. This idea works perfectly as a fun centerpiece whatever your inspiration and style, obnoxious picture backs or not.

Revisit more Kbatz Krafts including:

How to Make Stuffed Pumpkins

Spooky Spellbooks

Tea Stained Labels and Spooky Bottles

Creepy Cloches

It’s a Pumpkin Cat House

Kbatz Kraft: Yo-Ghost Candlesticks!

Does your family love those on the go and drinkable yogurts? Do you purchase bulk six or eight packs weekly only to rinse and toss the bottles in the recycling bin without a second thought to your penchant for horror décor?

One day the label was partially peeling off my drinkable yogurt, so I pulled it off all the way, as you do. Suddenly, it wasn’t a convenient snack but a blank white slate. I saved it for some more spooky bottle projects – painting it ye olde and putting a creepy label on it as seen in my Spooky Bottles and Tea Stained Labels fun last Halloween.

However, after using pre-cut foam letters on this year’s Cardboard Tombstones, there were a lot of filler pieces left over – the inside of the O, triangles within the A, pop-outs from Ps, Bs, and Rs. Rather than seeing these little black stickers as trash, my horror brain saw the inner O as an open, gasping mouth. Eureka, these little throwaway pieces could be the faces for a ghostly white yogurt bottle. Immediately I chugged down some more yogurt just to save the bottles, sticking the letter bits on the plain white surface. Varying the eye shapes and the angles of the O mouths looked cute, but trying some other shapes for the mouths didn’t look right and it was nice to leave them matching in some way. What then was I to do with a bottle that looks like a ghost? I don’t have any white décor, and even painted the Dollar Store battery candles from a stark white to a more aged, cream color…

Since they are marketed as a purely Halloween item, I buy up all the battery candles once they arrive at the Dollar Store in the fall. I told the checkout lady I used them all year and all over my house – which I guess might be strange if I was stocking up on the ones that have the red blood drips on them. The plain white ones, however, come in a removable black base and are perfect for sitting in the window sill as well as candelabras or sconces where drafts or smoke detectors are impractical for real candles. Putting the candles inside the ghost bottles didn’t work, nor did sitting them on top with the cap removed, but putting the black base on top of the cap fit perfectly!

Now, I had a use for my ghost bottles as ghost candlesticks! Lo, though they still seemed incomplete. A candle stuck on top of a bottle, big deal. I thought I could wrap some twine around the base to create something rustic just like the Halloween décor you see in the store. Ironically, wrapping the connection in plain old Dollar Store twine was one of the most difficult and time consuming tasks in all of my Kbatz Krafts. Rather than gluing one end to wrap wrap and then glue the other end, the curved base forced me to glue as I went, wrap more than one area numerous times for full coverage, and cut or glue pieces in extra layers. I’m pleased with the result, but what I expected to take an hour took an entire evening, a lot of glue sticks, and somehow a bit of back pain.

Cute and rustic aren’t really my style, however, I had the materials to make something fun and went where the spooky appeal took me. It’s tough for Horror Addicts to find some of the décor we like, and if then only around Halloween. By necessity we should look at generic objects in a potentially unique way. These yogurt bottles could be painted orange with pumpkin faces used as a fall vase or green for monsters with fun objects on top. Kids can learn about recycling by saving their own bottles for a personalized craft – so long as adults handle the tedious twine gluing!

Revisit more Kbatz Krafts including:

How to Make Stuffed Pumpkins

Spooky Spellbooks

Tea Stained Labels and Spooky Bottles

Creepy Cloches

It’s a Pumpkin Cat House

From the Vault: Morbid Meals, Irish Wake Cake

One of the traditions of attending an Irish wake is to take something to feed and comfort the family during their grief. Even if the family doesn’t practice “sitting up with the dead“, a potluck gathering often is held to remember the deceased. One such dish is an Irish Wake Cake.

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EXAMINATION
This recipe is adapted from another one of my odd cookbooks, DEATH WARMED OVER, by Lisa Rogak. It is an interesting collection of recipes and customs surrounding feasts for funerals and for the dead themselves from 75 different cultures and religions. As a taphophile, I am fascinated by the many various practices of mourning the dead. Sharing food is just one way to ease the burden of those survive the loss of loved ones. Another interesting fact, pointed out in this book, is that most people eat a lot more food at funerals than they do at weddings.
So rather than talk about catering, instead, we return to a simple wake and the idea of bringing a dish over to visit, reminisce, and share a life and a meal together. This “Irish Wake Cake” is a fine variation of an Irish cream cheese pound cake. It is is simple, rich, and delicious.
ANALYSIS
Serves: 10
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3 oz cream cheese
1 3/4 cups cake flour, sifted (roughly 6 oz by weight)
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1 cup dried currants or raisins
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp lemon juice

Apparatus
Electric mixer with mixing bowl
9 inch loaf pan
Small bowl
Cooling rack
Procedure
  1. Preheat your oven to 325 F degrees.
  2. In the mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla together.
  3. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the cream cheese, mixing until thoroughly combined.
  4. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, mixing until thoroughly combined.
  5. Gradually add buttermilk and mix until you have a smooth batter with no lumps, then fold in the currants.
  6. Pour the batter into a greased 9-inch loaf pan.
  7. Place the pan on the center rack in your oven and bake for about 1 hour 20-25 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean for a test.
  8. Remove to a cooling rack and let the cake cool down for 15 minutes.
  9. In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice, then drizzle that icing over the cake while it is still warm. Let the cake cool down however before serving it.
  10. Slice the cake and serve with a dollop of clotted cream or whipped cream.
DISSECTION
There is a lot of dairy and fat, but substitutions will probably not work as well. You may be able to use margarine instead of butter and soy milk instead of buttermilk. There’s even vegan “cream cheese”. The ratios for everything might need a little tweak here and there if you go that route.
If you can’t find cake flour, you could use all-purpose flour. The difference is that cake flour is milled to be finer and it also has less gluten, which means your cake will be light and fluffy, instead of dense like bread. If you are going the gluten-free route, use a 2:1 mix of flour to starch (like 4 oz superfine rice flour and 2 oz tapioca starch).
I did have trouble finding currants but I didn’t want to use raisins. Instead, I found these incredible blueberry-infused dried cranberries. Those were very tasty and worked well with the tangy, lemony glaze.
I discovered that other recipes for Irish pound cake use Irish cream liqueur instead of the buttermilk, also instead of the lemon juice for the icing. Depending on who you are baking the cake for, that might be a welcome change to the recipe.
POST-MORTEM
This recipe came together so fast, I didn’t really have time to take photos of the steps. That’s how easy it is to make this cake. The hardest part was waiting for it to bake.
I served it with a little homemade whipped cream. Clotted cream would have been better, but that stuff takes forever to make.
This cake is so good, trust me, you will be finding reasons to bake it. People die all the time, after all. Good food is a beautiful way to honor the dead and celebrate life.

Morbid Meals – Barren Baker’s Cornbread Honeycomb Muffins

EXAMINATION

Once upon a time it was hard to be a baker. Bread being so vital to the common diet, for rich and poor alike, laws were passed to make sure that bakers did not cheat their customers with light loaves or unhealthy fillers. To make sure that their customers were happy, often times it was better to make sure that an order was filled that was over weight rather than under. Thus, many bakers started giving away an extra cookie or muffin with an order of a dozen. Thus, a baker’s dozen is 13. Normally one might consider 13 to be unlucky, but now it has probably spared a lot of bakers from harsh penalties like having their hands chopped off.

Did you know, however, that if you don’t use a muffin tin, which often have either 6 or 12 cups, that you can bake better muffins in 13 paper-lined foil cups? It is true! Placing the cups on a baking sheet in a tight 4 x 5 x 4 pattern bakes the muffins more evenly and nets us exactly 13 muffins. I call these honeycomb muffins because they resemble the hex-pattern of honeycomb.

Note also as they cook, these muffins will push even closer together and the resulting muffins will take on a more hexagonal shape rather than round. If you want perfectly round muffins, you might need to double-up the cups, or if you have mason jar rings, you can set the cups in the rings to help them retain their shape.

If you find, however, that you’ve actually been cursed like the baker from Into The Woods, here’s a recipe that might do the trick to get on a witch’s good side.

ANALYSIS

Yield: 13 muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 cup / 160g cornmeal (yellow as, well, corn)
  • 1 cup / 120g all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup / 120g granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp / 10g baking powder
  • 1 tsp / 7g salt
  • 1 cup whole milk (from a cow as white as milk)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup honey (as pure as gold)
  • 1/2 stick (2 oz) butter, melted

Apparatus

  • Large mixing bowl
  • Medium mixing bowl
  • Spoon and whisk
  • Foil and paper muffin cups
  • Baking sheet

Procedure

  1. Preheat your oven to 400°F/200°C.
  2. In a large bowl, mix your dry ingredients together and incorporate well.
  3. In the other bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients.
  4. Add the wet to the dry and then stir to mix well into a thick batter.
  5. Place foil muffin cups with paper cups inside them on a baking sheet in a tight 4 x 5 x 4 pattern.
  6. Divide the batter into the 13 cups and bake for about 15 to 17  minutes, until the tops are golden brown.

DISSECTION

If you want to make a gluten-free version, feel free to use your preferred GF flour mix, but be sure to measure by weight (120g). Note for example the difference between the flour and sugar. They both weigh the same, yet it only takes ½ cup of sugar to reach 120g vs. a full cup of AP flour to weigh the same.

These are delightfully sweet without being too sweet. If you would prefer even sweeter, I recommend adding stevia. Adding more sugar or honey will change the consistency of the batter. Stevia powder however enhances the sugar already in the recipe but very little goes a long way.

POST-MORTEM

Serve these with a fresh batch of magic kidney beans (red as blood) and rice.

Morbid Meals – Genie in a Bottle

EXAMINATION

Cursed objects come in all shapes, sizes, and purpose. The first cursed object I could think of, that wasn’t related to the TV show Friday the 13th, was the lamp or bottle that trapped a genie inside.

While we have Aladdin and the cursed lamp from One Thousand and One Nights to thank for being the source of this legend, the idea of a “genie in a bottle” hails primarily from Barbara Eden’s TV sitcom I Dream of Jeannie... which in turn was inspired by a 1964 movie starring Barbara Eden called The Brass Bottle.

As for bottles with spirits trapped inside, I naturally decided a cocktail was in order. I’ll admit that a certain cartoon genie inspired the color.

ANALYSIS

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 oz blue curaçao
  • 1 oz spiced gold rum (or light/silver, not dark)
  • 1/2 oz Arak (or absinthe or ouzo)
  • 1 oz sweet and sour mix
  • 3 oz pineapple juice
  • ice

Apparatus

  • Cocktail shaker and jigger
  • Hurricane glass

Procedure

  1. Into a drink shaker, add all ingredients including ice, cover and shake.
  2. Pour into a hurricane glass, or a bottle for fun.

DISSECTION

Arak is an Arabian alcohol produced in the Levant region, which does not adhere to the Muslim avoidance of liquor. It is made with aniseed and it louches becoming cloudy when mixed with water, hence my suggestion to substitute ouzo or absinthe if you cannot acquire the Arak. Plus absinthe adds to the color, especially if you can find a blue absinthe.

POST-MORTEM

After a few of these, you too will believe there is infinite cosmic power in an itty-bitty living space. Just be careful what you wish for.

Morbid Meals – Three Witches’ Stew

EXAMINATION

There are many superstitious actors who will tell you about various curses of the theatre. Like how they can’t wish each other good luck, but rather “break a leg”.

The most famous, however, may be to not say the name of The Scottish Play. This is brought most humorously to light on an episode of Blackadder The Third.

To honor the Three Witches, all items in this stew come in threes. We’ll be making this in our magic cauldron (called a pressure cooker).

ANALYSIS

Servings: 9 serving bowls

Ingredients

3 Tbsp of oil

Three meats
1.5 lbs bone-in mutton/lamb shank
1.5 lbs bone-in beef/veal shank
1.5 lbs gammon joint or ham hocks

Three seasonings
1 Tbsp kosher or sea salt
1 Tbsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp smoked paprika

Three aromatics
3 leeks (or 1 onion), chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced (or 1 Tbsp minced garlic, or 1 tsp garlic powder)
1/3 cup of all-purpose flour

Three herbs
3 bay leaves, fresh or dried
6 sprigs of oregano  (or 1/2 tsp of ground oregano)
9 sprigs of thyme (or 1 tsp dried thyme, or 3/4 tsp of ground thyme)

Three brews for the stew
9 oz Scottish ale (like Kilt Lifter)
6 oz Oat stout
3 oz Triple Malt Scotch whisky

Three leafy greens
1 bunch of kale
2 scallions, chopped
3 ribs of celery, chopped

Three roots
3 wee neeps (turnips or small rutabagas, or 3 parsnips), chopped
6 carrots, chopped
9 young tatties (waxy or fingerling potatoes)

Three pints of water

Apparatus

  • Pressure cooker, 7-quart

Procedure

  1. Chop all of the veggies first and set aside in the groups listed above.
  2. Pour 3 Tbsp of oil with a high smoke point (like corn or peanut, or even ghee or  clarified butter; canola is the lowest smoke-point oil you should use) into the pressure cooker. Turn heat to high.
  3. Cut the lamb and beef into large chunks (save the bones) and season with salt, pepper, and paprika.
  4. When the oil begins to shimmer, brown the lamb and beef on all sides. Remove and set aside.
  5. Reduce heat to medium. Saute the leeks/onion and garlic for about 1 minute. Add the flour and stir to combine.
  6. Deglaze with the ale. Then add the stout and scotch.
  7. Place the bones into the cooker first, then add the meat back, and then the rest of the ingredients. Top with 3 pints of water, or as much as you need to just fill under the Max Fill line.
  8. Return the heat to high. Close and lock the lid. Cook on high until pressure valve whistles or rattles, then turn heat down to low and cook for about 33 minutes under pressure.
  9. Remove the bones, bay leaves, and herb sprigs. Meat should be tender and the veggies supple. Ladle into bowls and allow to cool before serving.

DISSECTION

We are using about 1.5 pounds of bone-in meat each because we want the bones for the stock. Once cooked, we’ll have about 3 pounds of meat.

If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can use a large crock pot and cook on high for 333 minutes, or about 5 1/2 hours. It is much harder to make what is essentially the stock this way, however.

POST-MORTEM

Definitely serve with whisky or ale or stout. Can’t decide? How about a whisky barrel-aged ale?  Or a Half and a half?

Morbid Meals – Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya-Ya

EXAMINATION

A wise man named Penn Jillette once said, “Everybody got a gris-gris.Gris-gris (pronounced gree-gree) is a French term from voodoo for the medicine pouch that vodouisants wear around their neck. What Penn was saying, however, is that we all have something that we cling to, whether it be something tangible to bring us good luck (or ward off bad luck), a belief, a superstition, even a firmly and long-held conviction that centers us or even defines us. That something, according to Penn, is the one thing we should scrutinize first and foremost in our lives and try to change about ourselves, hard as it may be.

For me I think it is fair to say that my gris-gris is food. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Dan,” I hear you say, ”we all need food.” Yes, which is why we should scrutinize it. I fear that so many folks walk through life just throwing anything bite-sized (or super-sized) down their gullet without thinking about it.

It is one of the reasons why I started Morbid Meals. We must eat to live, which means something else must die. We don’t like to think about that, though. We’ve pre-packaged, homogenized, and mass marketed products so that we don’t have to think about where our food came from. That nicely fits a model of consumption not sustenance.

Now I’m not saying we should all jump on the latest food fad of dietary detritus. That too is a gris-gris; putting your faith in what somebody else says is good for you, bad for you, will help you lose weight, etc. The corollary to my mantra is that we are all going to die no matter what we eat. Some food will kill us faster than others, but an acceptance of moderation is really what I’m advocating here. Everything in moderation including moderation.

You’ve likely noticed this at play in my recipes here before. Many of them offer alternatives for those with dietary restrictions, suggestions for alterations, never requiring you follow these recipes to the letter. I’ve also presented my share of crazy creations that would be fun to try at least once, and then you can go back to eating healthy or whatever. Live a little while you can. Food is life, food is love.

So, I’ll step off my soapbox and say that if you need a gris-gris, why not try a little bit ah Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya-Ya, hey now. Doctor’s orders. Dr. John, the Night Tripper, that is.

Now before y’all freak out, this recipe makes a lot of gumbo. It is meant to be shared with a large family. (The loas might like a bowl, too.) We also love having leftovers. Gumbo gets even better when you put it up and eat it the next day. Feel free to divide in half if you prefer. It also takes a long time to cook, like almost 3 hours. Gumbo is not fast food. It is completely worth the effort.

ANALYSIS

Servings: 12 to 16

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs. whole chicken, or 4 lbs. bone-in chicken thighs
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 3 medium yellow onions, chopped, divided
  • 4 ribs celery, chopped, divided
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 8 whole okra, sliced (about 1/2 cup) (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp creole seasoning
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 to 4 quarts water
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced (or 1 Tbsp minced garlic, or 1 tsp garlic powder)
  • 1 lb andouille sausage, chopped
  • 1/2 lb tasso ham (cajun ham), chopped
  • Cooked rice (1/2 cup per serving)
  • Louisiana hot sauce, to taste when serving

Apparatus

  • Pressure cooker, 7 quart
  • Large, heavy stock pot or Dutch oven
  • whisk

Procedure

Mise en place (everything in its place)

  1. Chop all of the veggies. Do this first. You’ll thank me later. Divide the onions into half portions (one for the stock and one for the gumbo). Divide the celery in half as well. Set aside.

Make the chicken stock

  1. Into your pressure cooker, add the carrots and the first portions of onions and celery, along with the salt, seasoning, and bay leaves.
  2. Cut up your chicken and arrange all of it, including the bones, fat and skin, giblets, gizzards, etc., into the pressure cooker on top of the veggies.
  3. Pour in the water, but make sure NOT to go above the “maximum fill” line.
  4. Cover with the lid and lock it down. On the stove top, turn the heat to high and bring up to pressure. When you hear the pressure release whistle, reduce the heat to low, for a steady low hiss. Cook for 30 minutes.
  5. Release the pressure and open the cooker carefully.
  6. Strain the stock into a container to cool. Reserve 3 quarts of stock for the gumbo. (If you have more, save it to cook the rice.) Separate the chicken meat from the bones and set aside.

Make the roux

  1. In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over high heat until it begins to shimmer before it reaches its smoke point.
  2. Reduce your heat to medium and carefully whisk in your flour in small batches, which should immediately begin to sizzle. Whisk constantly for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the roux turns a deep brown color, like milk chocolate.
  3. Lower the heat to medium-low and stir in the remaining onions, celery, and bell peppers. Stir occasionally for another 10 minutes, or until the roux thickens and turns a glossy dark brown color, like dark chocolate.

Bring it all together

  1. Into the pot with your roux, still at medium low, add your okra (if using), garlic, and chopped andouille sausage. Stir occasionally and cook until all of the vegetables are soft, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Add your reserved 3 quarts of stock and stir until the roux is well combined with the stock. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours. Stir occasionally to keep everything well combined.
  3. Now you can add the cooked chicken and the chopped tasso ham to the gumbo and cook for an additional 15 minutes.
  4. Turn off your heat and let your gumbo cool down for at least 5 minutes. This stuff is very hot.
  5. Serve with steamed rice. If you like, add hot sauce to your taste.

DISSECTION

Let’s address the okra first. I love okra, especially fried, but most folks I know can’t stand how gummy it is. That’s what makes it gumbo, though, in my humble opinion. In fact”gumbo” means okra. It does tend to be optional in a chicken and sausage gumbo. It is more common in a seafood gumbo. Okra adds an earthy flavor and extra thickness, for even though we are adding a lot of roux, a dark roux doesn’t thicken gumbo very much. (A light roux will thicken more but has less flavor.) Don’t use “okra season” as a reason to skip it either. You can probably find frozen okra out of season.

If you can’t find tasso ham, you can substitute with smoked ham or regular smoked sausage.

Can you make the stock without a pressure cooker? Sure, but it will need to simmer for at least two hours.

POST-MORTEM

Save your hot sauce until the end. Again, trust me on this. I know cajun and creole foods can be spicy but not everyone can handle it. Also, we’re using andouille sausage and creole seasoning, where various brands have different levels of heat. This is why I suggest adding the hot sauce at the end to your own personal taste in your own bowl. Once you make it often enough and you use brands you are familiar with, feel free to spice things up.

One of my favorite stories about Marie Laveau was that she often made large batches of gumbo and would give bowls of it to condemned prisoners in New Orleans, as well as feeding it to the sick and poor. I don’t know how true this story is, or the tales that mention a few other medicinal herbs which might have made their way into the gumbo, but I do know the power of a good bowl of gumbo and rice to make everything all right with the world.