Sunday, October 27, 2013

An (Almost) Gluten Free Halloween Party

We had our annual Halloween party this past weekend (can I call it annual even though we didn't do it last year?) and I failed to take more than three photos of my kids, the guests, or all the fun that was going on.  Perhaps that's a sign of a great party, but it doesn't make for a very interesting post.  So, instead this will have to be about my decorations and the party food.  Thrilling, right? 

I like Halloween decor but I am notoriously cheap and I have a hard time buying seasonal decorations because it gets used for such a short period of time.  I also don't like a lot of clutter or tchotchkes and I want all of the decor to look somewhat cohesive but not match.  Halloween is tough because most of the stuff out there is either cutesy (no thank you) or scary.  I am into the Nightmare-before-Christmas kind of kitsch, I think.  

You can't really tell here, but the lights hanging from the mantle are spiders.  I liked the colors (purple, green, and orange) and knew they would be a big hit with Lou.  My favorite guys are the pumpkin heads among the mantle photos.  

The dining room was set up as the craft room.  The china cabinet has pumpkin lights and there are skeletons hanging from the chandelier.

Target had a great selection of Halloween party stuff this year and there were these craft kits for something ridiculous like $5.  The projects were simple--such as make a fuzzy bat or a foam jack-o-latern, but the kids seemed to enjoy it and it wasn't very messy.  Win-win.

Target also had a ton of Halloween wall decals that were also super cheap.  The only bad thing is that they are not reusable, and so while I already got my money's worth, I may not be able to find them again next year and the last thing in the world I am going to do is hoard Halloween wall decals.

This one goes well with the spider web light.

"Turn Back Now" decals with scary birds.

My favorite by far are the bats that fly up the staircase.  I have been at a loss with what I want to do with this wall in general so it is usually just bare.  The bats were a huge hit with all of the kids.

This is a big, gross spider BVZ bought for Norah years ago at Walgreens.  I totally want to get rid of it but both kids are obsessed with it.  Louie sleeps with it sometimes.  You can also see the San Francisco prints I agonized over, ordered, and then framed....and then kind of gave up on the project before it got hung on the wall.  So, it's just kind of propped up in that nook for the indefinite future.

There are also random skulls and spiders throughout the hallways.

The house on the stairs.


Skull lumanarios.  They look great but Louie keeps stealing the LED tea lights that go in them.

We kept the outside pretty simple.  In previous years we have done a relatively scary set up.  I always enjoyed it thoroughly and I thought Norah did too, but in the past couple of years, she has gotten much more sensitive (ie, scared) of the Halloween decor.  She basically lost her ever loving mind when I pulled the scary lady head out of the box this year and not only demanded that she not be displayed but begged me to throw her away.  It was quite the production and involved real tears and actual terror.  I was bummed, but no decoration is worth her being scared like that.

There is just the metal wreath on the front door.

The ghosts in the front flower bed.

 And the tombstone and pumpkin on the front porch.  That's it.  Maybe next year.

Now that Norah is in school she has several new friends from her class and a few others from the bus that she wanted to invite and we have become friendly with some of the families in the neighborhood through school, so our guest list definitely expanded this year.  I think we had about 60 people, which was a little chaotic but a lot of fun.  Nothing got broken, no one got hurt, and Louie was the only kid that drank any wine.  (He actually did.  More on that later.)  

Kiki came to town for a long weekend and she and Bubby were the best helpers of all times.  Kiki assisted in the prep and execution of all the food and Bubby cleaned up after us.  Like we would make a huge mess, turn around, and she would have it cleaned up in 20 seconds.  It was awesome. 

I knew I wanted all of the party food to be gluten free because 1) I didn't want to contaminate my kitchen, 2) I wanted Norah and my BFF Sarah (who also has celiac) to be able to eat everything, and 3) I like a good challenge.  

I kept it pretty simple.  Megan and Trevor came over the night before and carved a pumpkin for the "Pumpkin Guts Guacamole" served with tortilla chips.  I priced it out and figured that it was cheaper to buy pre-made guacamole over the ridiculously overpriced avocados and although it pained me to serve the store bought stuff it worked out fine (and was GF).  It was a little spicy for the kids but the bowl was scraped clean by the end so I think everyone enjoyed it.

Next was "Evil Octopus Hummus."  Again, I went with pre-made hummus (Sabra makes a good one that is certified gluten free) and served with peppers, carrots, cucumbers, and more tortilla chips.

There were "Vampire Fangs" which were apple slices with peanut butter and marshmallow teeth.


The "Pizza Mummies" were my only gluten free fail.  I did not want to make my own dough and then do individual pizzas because I needed something much quicker and far more simple.  Gluten free English muffins were not an option because of cost and availability, so I used regular English muffins and then made a special set using GF pizza crust for Norah and Sarah. In the long run I really regretted using the regular muffins because they made a mess (I forgot how "dusty" English muffins are) and then I was paranoid about the contamination.  Thankfully it was contained pretty easily.  The mummies turned out great and got eaten quickly.

The treat part of the menu was my greater gluten free triumph.  I would like to be a walking advertisement for the GF flour Cup4Cup.  I hope someone from the company comes across this and figures out a way to get me a lifetime supply of this stuff in return for singing its praises.  It is literally a game changer for anyone who has to follow a GF diet.  It is an expensive substitute for wheat flour but it works with ANY recipe and it tastes awesome.  I use it for everything.  Norah is very cute.  She would make a great spokesperson for the company.  Just sayin'.

Anyway, my plan had been to make big, soft sugar cookies with green streaks and candy eyeballs.  But I waited until it was too late to buy ingredients and could not find anyone who still had candy eyeballs. I made a game time decision and just went with soft Reese's Pieces cookies and Peanut Butter Cup balls.  Both recipes came from the back of the candy package.  No substitutes, just the Cup4Cup (as a side note, most brands of vanilla and brown sugar are GF, but not all.  We use Domino sugar and McCormick vanilla).

We also made and decorated both chocolate and vanilla cupcakes.  A few owls, some graves, a monster or two, and lots of skulls.  Again, regular recipe with the Cup4Cup substitute.  Anyone out there want to give me an endorsement deal yet?  Look how cute these are!

I have made this party mix several times before and it is always a huge hit.  I actually refused to let myself try it this time because once you start eating it, there is a slippery slope that will likely end with diabetes.  It's that good.  And that sweet.  (You mix together rice chex, GF pretzels, peanuts, and air popped popcorn.  Then in a saucepan bring two sticks of butter, a cup of brown sugar, and a third cup of corn syrup to a boil.  Pour the caramel over the mixture and spread out in a jelly roll pan and bake for 30 minutes at 350--stirring every 10 minutes or so.  When it comes out of the oven, spread on parchment paper and sprinkle on m&m's.  Once cool break apart).  It's basically cracker jack on crack.

The spread. 

Norah was in charge of picking the costumes and we all went as characters from their show Jake and the Neverland Pirates.  Norah was insistent that her character Izzy could not possibly wear glasses, so she was spectacle free for the afternoon.  Louie was less enthused about his costume, not helped by the fact that we woke him up from his nap to put it on him.

He perked up a bit when he got his sword but was still out of sorts for the first half hour or so of the party.  Then he managed to take a pull of a glass of wine that got set down on a low table.  Clearly he has a palate for crisp whites because he would have gone back for more had I not grabbed it away and made him chug water.  It must have turned it around for him though, because he was a delight the rest of the party and had a fabulous time with the games and other kids.

I went as Mr. Smee and BVZ was the Tick Tock Croc. I basically wanted a character I could be wearing normal clothes and a hat and BVZ wore this frightening croc hat.  I hope someone got a photo of the four of us together, but I am not holding my breath.  Reid rounded us out as Captain Hook.  He was amazing.  That would in fact be an eyeliner mustache he is sporting. 

There were several games including pin the nose on the pumpkin and a skeleton bone scavenger hunt. But mostly the kids just ran wild and played and the grown ups talked and drank beer.  My kind of party.  I had grand ideas of having some kind of organized costume contest but it ended up being a little too hectic and chaotic for it to happen.  I had cute prizes (jars of candy), so I made myself the judge and awarded this cute family best costume as they were on their way out.


 (It's hard to tell from the photo, but Ben is actually an exterminator with a huge tarantula on his sleeve.  Very nice with a wife and kid dressed as insects).

It was a ton of fun.  I just hope someone will send me photos of it.


With a few exceptions, Norah and Lou have done a pretty good job of keeping themselves healthy over the years.  Sure, Lou still gets the occasional ear infection, but for the most part they seem to have relatively decent immune systems.  A few weeks ago I was at work and got a call that Louie was having a hard day and kept trying to sleep on the circle time rug, so they took him to the nurse and took his temperature.  It was 102 and so they called me to come and get him.  I was all the way downtown at my office (a good 25 minutes away even with no traffic), so I sent Bubby to rescue him. About five minutes later the school called me back and said something to the effect of, "he seems really sick and so we took his temp again and now it's 104.3.  We don't want to alarm you."  Thanks, folks.

Bubby picked him up and got some Motrin in him and then I met her at home.  Louie was really lethargic and out of it and even with medication I couldn't get his fever to come down more than about a degree so to the pediatrician we went.  He was thrilled.

He had no other symptoms and because the fever was so high and came on so quick they did a simple blood panel just to rule out anything serious (like meningitis).  We had to wait at the office for the results.  He was too sick even to eat the purple lollipop.

It only took about 15 minutes to get the results (obviously negative), but he was in bad shape.  We got the diagnosis of "it's just a virus" and off we went.

He was exhausted but too uncomfortable to sleep so we did a cool bath, cool washcloths, popsicles, and a lot of Thomas the Train in my bed on the ipad.

Norah was fine when she got home from school but by about three hours later she was hot and grouchy and by the middle of the night she was down too.

For the next four days Louie ran a crazy high fever.  It would come down a bit with medication but then creep right back up.  Norah ran hot as well, but not nearly as high.  I had to cancel a work trip and we pretty much quarantined ourselves.

Norah ended up missing two days of kindergarten, which was devastating to her.  I went to school and got all of her assignments, which softened the blow somewhat.  The first day of sick kids is kind of sweet.  They are cuddly and sleep a lot and want to be cuddled a lot.  Day 2 to 5 is pretty miserable. They are grumpy and don't sleep much, whine a lot and complain that the popsicles aren't the right flavor.  We were all really stir-crazy but they were contagious and acting like giant a-holes, so we were stuck at home.

Day 6 the fevers started to wane and were replaced with gross coughs and runny noses.  Lou's ears were obviously bothering him so we went back to the doctor and they both got antibiotics for secondary sinus infections and an ear infection for Louie.  Norah did not have school that Monday because it was a teacher in-service day, so at least it was already a day off.

She got cleared to go back to school on Tuesday (thank God), but Lou was still stuck with me because of the day care 24 hour without fever medication rule.  We had a nice day together that included him asking for underpants and then promptly peeing in them 15 seconds later.

We also ventured out of the house for a little Target popcorn and car shopping.

The day he got back to school there was a notice for a hand, foot, and mouth outbreak posted in his classroom but we seemed to escape that since he had been out for almost a week.  So, at least there's that.

I was out of town overnight for work last week and when I got back long after bedtime the next night, I found a Norah in my bed waiting for me because she "had a stomachache and needed to sleep with me."  BVZ high-tailed it upstairs to the spare bedroom and all was well until about 1:00 am when Norah woke me up out of a dead sleep and proceeded to barf all over herself, all over me, all over my bed, all over my bedroom rug, and all over the hallway tile.  Think 5 or 6 exorcist style barfs.  I don't know if it was residual sick from the previous week, some exposure to gluten, an upset stomach from the antibiotic, or just something unidentifiable.  Whatever the case may be it was gross.

It's a good thing they are cute.