October 9, 2012

Taking Candy from Babies, Part I:
An October Public Service Announcement

( + Tuna Panini )

Imagine it's 1987.  An elementary-school cafeteria, the day after Halloween.  A swarming madhouse of glucose-addled children, gearing up for recess after a healthy meal of half a bologna sandwich and as many fun-sized Butterfingers as it takes to fill a Thundercats lunch box.  Gods and heroes are being made today.  Ryan Finnegan is telling the Homeric epic of how he grabbed an entire bowl of Sweet-Tarts off an unattended porch and ran.  Vanessa Simmons brought so many Chuckles that she can't finish them all - the entire 3rd-grade class is singing Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now" to compete for her leftovers.  Are you enjoying the nostalgia?  Good.  One of us should.

I myself have trouble enjoying Halloween because it always reminds me of the bleak hellscape of misery and despair that was my low-sugar childhood.  No Pop Rocks.  No Pop-Tarts.  No Ring Pops.  And definitely no pop.  It was a dark time, filled with lies and misdirection.  For years, my brother and I labored under the false impression that sliced dried pineapple was a "treat."  I didn't have my first Dorito until the age of 16.  And I still wake up sweating in the night with the taste of carob in my mouth.

But the greatest travesty of all was what happened on Halloween.  While other children lay on their living room floors as loving parents upended pillowcases of loot straight into their mouths, we were limited to one (1) piece of candy a day.  One.  Know what's even sadder than the thought of the poor woman who had to teach multiplication in the first hour after lunch in 1987?  It's tiny me, in black cat ears, wistfully licking the empty wrapper of a single Kit-Kat Bar.


At the rate of one piece of candy a day, Halloween loot was known to last in our house until nearly Christmas, when the still-considerable leftovers were, to our horror, thrown out - just because "they're probably stale by now."  I know, I know.  Don't even get me started.  The only plus to the whole thing was how well it prepared us for careers in accounting/espionage.  No one in the history of childhood has even deliberated more carefully on the relative merits of Snickers vs. Milky Way.  Vast grids of sweets were alphabetized.  Entire hierarchies were calculated to determine the relative worth of each candy (years too early to benefit from the groundbreaking research of Messrs. Ng and Cohen), to ensure that the most valuable treats had been eaten by the time the December Culling began.

And on that darkest day, the two of us would move on to Phase Two: Deception and Stealth.  The elaborate systems that we devised to hide sweets from The Authority were so widespread and complex, with fail-safes and hidey-holes and scapegoat stashes meant to be found, which would take the suspicion away from the larger, real stashes nearby...really, it's a wonder that neither of us was recruited by the CIA straight out of middle school.  It was only our lack of carpentry skills that kept us from turning the house into something out of The Addams Family, with every dripping candle sconce triggering the door to a secret passageway paneled with Baby Ruths and Swiss Cake Rolls.

All of this may explain my deeply conflicted feelings about Halloween today: on one hand, a pervasive joy over the idea of a holiday based entirely on the practice of walking up to strangers and demanding sugar of them.  And you know what happens?  They give it to you!  Genius.  On the other hand, I'm racked with bitterness every time I hand over one of my hard-earned, carefully-chosen mini Twixes to a tiny chunk whose chocolate-smeared face is a clear giveaway that this piece, just one of thousands, will never mean as much to him as it would have to me.  Damn you, tiny glutton.

I'm sure that there are more of us out there: damaged folks, forever deprived.  Victims of veganism.  Martyrs to macrobioticism.  Souls for whom the mere act of buying themselves a bag of fun-sizeds could never fill the emotional cavern left by years of underwhelming Halloweens.  Perhaps you have found, as I have, that a key to the joy of the holiday is not the candy itself, but the sense of unexpected luck.  A gift, freely given, precluding responsibility, calories and guilt.

Do not despair.  You, too, can have this joy.  I, your friendly neighborhood Bearfrau, have devised a plan by which you can finally experience the glee of the season by keeping that candy you've bought out of the hands of those chubby neighborhood sweet-suckers and right on your own kitchen counter - all without guilt, recrimination, or unfortunate prison time.  With my patented three-part system, to be unveiled here, this very Thursday, you can finally have the childhood of your dreams.

Stay tuned, courageous souls.  Help is on the way.

P.S. - do you have "I Think We're Alone Now" stuck in your head now?  Yeah, me too.

Tuna Panini
from Panini Express
by Daniel Leader and Lauren Chattman

You'd think that the logical thing for me to do here would be to give you a candy recipe.  But you'd be wrong.  You're going to have so much candy, loads and heaps and mountains of candy, that you're probably going to want to eat some starch and protein to cushion your stomach from the epic blow.  Hence, a sandwich.  This particular, heavenly sandwich is like the offspring of a questionable union between a tuna sandwich and a patty melt.  The capers and lemon juice cut through the richness of the mayo and melted Gruyere, and the rye bread gives a nice, deep, earthy flavor to anchor the whole shebang.  This has become one of my favorite cold-weather lunches.

Oil-Packed Solid White Tuna  [ 1  6-ounce can, drained ]
Mayonnaise  [ 1/3 cup ]
Scallions  [ 2, white parts only, finely chopped ]
Capers [ 2 tablespoons, rinsed and drained ]
Fresh Parsley  [ finely chopped, 1/4 cup ]
Fresh Lemon Juice  [ 1 tablespoon ]
Salt  [ to taste ]
Freshly-Ground Black Pepper  [ to taste ]
Rye Bread  [ 4 slices ]
Gruyere Cheese  [ thinly sliced, 4 ounces ]

1.    Heat a panini maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.
2.   Mix together Tuna, Mayonnaise, Scallions, Capers, Parsley and Lemon Juice.  Mash a bit to break up
3.   Season to taste with Salt and Pepper.
4.  To construct, divide Tuna Mixture between two Bread slices; top with Cheese and remaining Bread.  But
        you're smart.  You probably figured that out.
5.   Cook sandwiches in closed panini press until Cheese is melted and Bread is crisp.

Makes 2 sandwiches.

 [  (1.) Obviously, we don't all have panini makers.  I'm sure this would grill up nicely in a regular ol' pan.  (2.)  I also imagine that the whole thing would get deliciously golden if you were to butter your bread.  It's not necessary; I'm just saying.  ] 


  1. Just know... you were not alone. While all the other kids got to traverse blocks and blocks at Halloween, we were only allowed to visit the neighbors we knew. All 4 of them. :) The candy loot was scarce, needless to say. And... half of it my sister couldn't eat due to allergies.

    Your tuna melt looks and sounds amazing though... way better than Halloween candy! I'm going to make one tonight!

  2. Oh, that's painful! Hope you have better luck with the panini than you did with the candy. ;)