Tuesday, October 26, 2010

En Masque this Halloween (a word history)

If you know me, I'm sure by now you've heard what my Halloween costume is shaping up to be. But, in case you don't, or haven't, well, I'm going to be an owl. And I'm pretty darn excited about it, especially having finished my skirt and feather headdress last night.

This time of year has to be my favorite and Halloween is a large part of that. I always make my costume (except for one year in college) and I, at least in recent years, always go a little overboard. For a Tinkerbell costume one year, I spent hours hand-sewing a skirt of green tulle, faux flowers and leaves, and sequins; I even made my own wings out of tulle.

This year, the idea was to be an owl, yes, but rather a fashionista too, so instead of being overly ambitious and making my outfit, I instead spent some time shopping around until I found the perfect top and skirt, which I then sewed feathers onto (pictures to come).

Anyhow, when I first started, I knew I wanted to wear a feather headband, or headdress, or crown of some sort, which I eventually found the inspiration for here: http://bit.ly/cww41z.

And I had the idea that I wanted to wear a mask. I've always wanted to wear a mask. In fact, I've also contemplated dressing as Marie Antoinette (from Sofia Coppella's movie) just in order to wear the one made of black tulle, that she wears for the Parisian masqued ball.

Crisis, though: I'm also terribly fond of wearing feather eyelashes, and had found the most perfect pair. Surely, these, combined with a masque, would obstruct my vision. So, I landed on the idea of painting one on, but not before I spent a considerable amount of time perusing the selection of carnivale and mardia gras masques at a local costume store, and researching types of masques.

The word mask, in English, goes back to the 1530's, derived from the French 'masque,' meaning 'covering to hide or guard the face,' which itself comes from the Italian 'maschera,' from the Latin, 'masca,' meaning 'mask, specter, nightmare.' The origin preceding is unclear, though it is possible to have derived from the Arabic 'maskhara,' meaning, 'buffoon,' from 'sakhira,' 'to ridicule.'

Another possibility would be via Provencial 'mascarar,' or Catalan 'mascarar,' or Old French 'mascurer,' 'to black (the face).' The Occitan 'mascara,' meaning 'to blacken or darken,' and used today to define a common beauty product which, among other things, darkens women's eyelashes, derived from mask - 'black' - which is held from a pre-I.E. language, and the Old Occitan 'masco,' meaning, 'witch.' Interesting. (I find the connection between mascara and masco, 'witch,' intriguing, though it could be a stretch connecting the two in any significant manner).

'Masque,' the French, eventually developed to mean also, 'a masquerade, masked ball,' from the M. Fr. 'masque.' It took on a special meaning, 'amateur theatrical performance,' in 1562, when such entertainments (originally performed in masks) became popular among Elizabethan nobility.

For example, there is this, from Shakespeare's, "Love's Labors Lost,":
"Revels, dances, masques, and merry hours / Forerun fair love, strewing her way with flowers."

These days, there are 19 different definitions of the noun 'mask,' not including medical uses. And, lest we forget ceremonial masks, and their long history prior to their uses in Carnivale, or Elizabethan masquerades, if you're in Kansas City, you might visit the Nelson-Atkins, and their African Art section in the Bloch wing, or, view a sarcophogus in the Egyptian exhibition.

But my focus today is on both the revelry, and the act of hiding, both essential to our modern Halloween tradition. 

These days, "masque," can mean:

1) a covering for all or part of the face, worn to conceal one's identity.

2) a grotesque or humorous false face worn at a carnival, masquerade, etc. Ex: Halloween mask

4) anything that disgueses or conceals; disguise; pretense. His politeness is a mask for his fundamentally malicious personality.


It's curious to me that one word can have such polar meanings and uses: the lighthearted revelry, deriving from a word meaning 'buffoon,' to the darker history of concealing oneself, with the connection to the supernatural. But that in itself, also, defines Halloween.

For example, even with Venetian masks, the "Bauta" mask  and disguese (La Bauta), "comprised of the typically shining white face mask ("larva" or "volto"), a black cape or veil of silk, a cloak or mantle, and a tri-corne hat" had a dual possible etymology (http://www.venetianmasksshop.com/history.htm).

It is thought possible that the word, La Bauta, is derived from the German verb, "behuten," that means "to protect (the wearer).

But it's other possibility is quite the opposite: it could also be deriven from the Veneto-Italian, "bau-bao," a "bogeyman" type used to scare children, by adults: "Se non stai bravo viene il babau e ti porta via." - "If you do not behave, the babau will take you away." (http://www.venetianmasksshop.com/history.htm).

Perhaps what it comes down to, is that in masking and disguising ourselves, whether with a physical "darkening," or a behavioral one, it is never clear a person's true self, or intentions. These masks are often even unententional, being something as simple as not acting yourself out of nerves, or, attempting to "put your best foot forward" by emulating a perception of desired behavior. They could be malicious. Or all in good fun. And Halloween has become an exaggeration of all this. Always wanted to be a ballerina, or a superhero, as a kid? Dress up like one for Halloween.

Just like fashion, masks have the ability to either help you dress for the person you want to be, or, dress as an extended expression of your true self. Two polar possibilities, for one complex word.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pumpkin Pie...with a twist!

My goodness, it feels like ages since I've baked a pie! Cherry pie on the 4th of July, I think, was the last, which is hard to believe. For awhile there, my goal was to try a new recipe each weekend; that clearly hasn't been happening though! Somebody needs to tell my friends to stop doing / wanting to do so many awesome and fun things so I'll have some down-pie-baking-time. Or...not.

So I finally stepped up and decided to take a friend's, yep, 25th birthday, as the perfect occasion to try a new pumpkin pie recipe. Different from the traditional recipe I've made for years, this recipe from Epicurious uses brown sugar in the filling, and a crumbly topping of chopped walnuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Mmm. Except, I'm "allergic" to nuts, and partial to topping my one-crust pies with crust cut-out designs, so I chose to try incorporating the blend of brown sugar and cinnamon in the bottom of the crust, adding a little flour to replace the thickness of the walnuts. I thought about adding brown sugar and cinnamon to the crust...perhaps next time! I also want to try this with a pie pumpkin, but this time, I used organic canned pumpkin.

I love adding cut-outs with the extra pie crust dough to the top of my single, or even double crust pies! With double crust, they serve to hide any inperfections in your crust-laying job (I'm still practicing this skill...), and I think they're pretty! The crimped heart cookie cutter is one passed down to me from my great-grandmother.

Here's the recipe, as originally printed:

Pumpkin Pie with Brown Sugar-Walnut Topping, from Epicurious.com

Yield: Makes 8 servings


1/2 Cup walnut pieces
1/4 Cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch of fine sea salt

1 Cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 Cup canned pure pumpkin
1 Cup heavy whipping cream

For topping:
Combine all ingredients. Using on/ off turns, blend to fine crumbs.
Note: If you're following my lead, and melting this into the crust, you can use probably about 1/4 of these ingredients. And if you don't use the walnuts, no need for a blender!

For crust (standard crust recipe):
Position oven rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 350 F. Transfer crust to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Fold edges under and crimp decoratively. Freeze crust 20 minutes.

Line crust with non-stick foil, and fill with dried beans or pie weights (I simply prick the crust all over with a fork). Bake until crust is set, about 20 minutes. Gently remove foil and beans. (At this point, add "topping" mixture, covering bottom of crust evenly). Return crust to oven and bake until partially cooked and golden brown around edges (and brown sugar blend is melted and bubbly).

Cool crust on rack. Maintain oven temperature.

For filling:
Whisk brown sugar, eggs, sea salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves in medium bowl. Add pumpkin and cream and whisk until well blended and smooth.

About to go in the oven!
Pour filling into crust. Bake pie until filling is firm, covering crust with foil collar if browning too quickly, about 30 minutes.

*Sprinkle topping evenly over top of pie.* Reduce oven temperature to 325 F. Continue to bake pie until filling is set and slightly puffed in center, about 15 minutes longer. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.

There ya have it! In all our celebratory excitement, and, given the fact that it was a weeknight, we never made it back to my friend's to polish this off, so I actually haven't tried this one yet! But my apartment still smelled amazing for an entire day and a half after I baked this, so that has to count for something, right? Bon appetit! Let pumpkin season commence.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A 25th Birthday Post - Celebrating Better Decisions!

No, not mine, not yet! This week wraps up (with a brief break until the next) what has been two weeks of lots of 25th celebrations, for lots of lovely, lovely girl friends, with each celebration perfection, in a champagne glass.

I've heard say that once you reach 25, you make better decisions; moments, become clearer; thoughts, more lucid. So there I was last night, dolled up amongst dolls, toasting to the next 75 years, avec un French 75, n'est pas - and lost in thought. One of those Lauren Bacall moments; eyes big, slow, batting cow lashes, you stare off, while champagne fizzes next to girlish giggles, and in a pop of mod colors, hazy revelry, scrumptious food, everything slows to a cinematic stop for the observer. As perfect as Marie Antoiniette.

Perhaps it's my own nearing of 25, perhaps, the moody, dishy bar, perhaps the thrice-mentioned champagne, but sitting squarely in the middle of all the fun I was enjoying, as I danced in my high-waisted sailor pants, was seriousness, unapologetic, though also, un-scornful. Twenty-five? It's a quarter-century.

Last week, a friend from college celebrated this milestone, and in honor of another friend's birthday that week, sent us an e-mail containing an article, from an elder to youth, advising on our age. She said, take this in bits and pieces, as you choose, or as a whole, but there's plenty of food for thought in here for us all, and I say the same:


To all my dear friends who are 25ish...enjoy.