Thursday, 29 October 2009

A gruesome display

I made this grim display on top of one of the front room cupboards. It's just out of sight as you enter the living room and walking round the corner to the dining room it really stops you in your tracks! I think it's going to attract a lot of attention on Saturday, each exhibit has it's own identification card, with details of the grisly occupant of each vessel. I gathered a collection of glass vases and jars and grouped them into a nice formation before I started thinking about what was to go in each, one of the larger ones is sitting on a footed glass dessert bowl to give it extra height. The acorn shaped glass dome at the front is the shade from a dismantled vintage light fitting.

Brains and ears and lungs - oh my.

Here's what horror is in each - along with it's not so gruesome everyday description. All the specimens are suspended in a solution made with a few granules of instant coffee and a couple of drops of milk for cloudiness. It's the suggestion of shapes that make the display work, so each item was carefully judged and coloured until the vagaries of outline and texture just remained.

UNDEAD BRAIN - A cauliflower. To get it into this narrow necked vase I had to carefully slice it in two, close to the base, push each piece in separately, and then join them again using cocktail sticks.
VAMPIRIC HEART - A fennel bulb. I found it looked more realistic with the green outer layer removed, so I shaved this off with a potato peeler. The bulb I bought had five sprouting shoots, but I chopped the middle one out to leave just four 'valves'.
LEFT LUNG OF A WAILING BANSHEE - An old sponge. If you have one that's getting to end of life for car washing, then that's perfect as it's likely to be more holey and withered. I shaped the sponge to get rid of any harsh corners or straight edges. The addition of a few strands of red embroidery thread poked here and there into the sponge gives the impression of tendrils of blood seeping through tissue.
SEVERED EAR - Quite literally a rubber ear. I was working on a Halloween magazine this summer, and this treasure was sent in for possible covermount ideas. We deemed it far too creepy, and it was rejected. I rescued it and had it in my drawer till Halloween, it is just perfect for this display!
UNIDENTIFIED SPECIMEN - This is possibly the simplest yet most effective. It's a worn out foam cloth (the kind you buy to wipe worktops) again rescued from the car washing bucket. The weird growth attached to it? Is the strange twisty thing that you might sometimes find in the centre of a red pepper, tied on with a strand of muslin that resembles bandage.
ENTRAILS - noodles, tagliatelle and spaghetti! Boiled briefly to soften, and that's it!
BOLETUS LUPINUS (wolf mushroom) - Mushrooms. I was hoping to find a nice fat toadstool in the woods to place under this sinister dome, but dark evenings left me running out of time.

The whole display was a lot of fun to assemble, even though it left me feeling a little like Sweeney Todd in the process, and the kitchen looking like a science project gone haywire.

Thanks to Neil, official photographer, and scariest costume winner,  for use of the last photograph: Left Lung of a Wailing Banshee and,  foreground, Unidentified Specimen.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The Corpse Bride's wedding trousseau

One week till Halloween and I am putting the finishing touches to my Corpse Bride accessories. The shoes have been an ongoing project, sitting patiently on newspaper on the dining room floor, for a couple of weeks. Here's a little round up on how they evolved. I bought a pair of pointy, witchy slingbacks on Ebay for 99p. I didn't much care what the colour or finish was, I just wanted something pointed and elegant and not too high, and these turned out to be just right, but in a navy grosgrain fabric. First step was to prime them with a white undercoat, then paint all over with a pale blue emulsion, I bought a sample pot from Homebase for this job. I then built up layers of blue, cream and a muddy brown so that there was some texture to the finish. Finally, I stuck some fabric and lace scraps on randomly and used a few dabs of a gold iridescent nail varnish here and there. I'm not intending to leave the house in them, but if I were, I'd paint the whole shoe at this point with a matte varnish so they stood up to the elements a little better than these might.

Top left: 99p shoes, reborn. Top right: watching paint dry. 
Middle: work in progress. Bottom: Cockroach toes.

The crowning glory however, are the cockroaches that adorn each toe. These started life as plain black plastic Halloween insects, again bought on Ebay at about 99p for six of the little devils (I bought centipedes, flies and spiders too!). I roughly painted each one with the same blue emulsion and while it was still wet rubbed it off so that the paint just stayed in the cracks and grooves. Then I painted it all over with a thin coat of the gold nail varnish. They look just like dirty burnished metal and I'm very pleased with how they turned out! Here are some flies that I've done in the same way. These are going on the bodice of my outfit so I did them slightly bluer.

And here are the finished shoes, and my tiara, constructed from twigs, dried hydrangea petals, plus an assortment of beads I had in my bead boxes just waiting for the occasion.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Meet Bernard

Bernard is grumpy little bat. I wonder what has upset him? After all, it is only a week till Halloween, when all the other little bats are having a whale of a time, being spooky and doing bat things. I think it might be his lack of flight that gets him down, both metaphorically and physically. His tubby little velvet body just wasn't built for swooping and whooshing, and his crinkled cotton wings have seen better days judging by the frayed little patches on them. 

Ah, I think I know what the trouble is. Here we see him perched on the bird table - he scrabbled all the way up there with his furry wool and wire feet after spotting something with his beady button eyes. But bat eyesight is not that great, as the old saying confirms, and what has he found? 

Mouldy old almonds left over from last Christmas! Now that's enough to make anyone frown. Better luck next time, Bernard!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Time for a lie down - the buffet reaches obsession point!

Some new finds for the Halloween buffet table today sparked a devilish little diagram of what vessel the food will go in and where. OK, a trifle obsessive, but I've always been fascinated by those arial photographs (usually apple varieties or wash day equipment) that are often in Martha Stewart Living. There is something about a labelled diagram that makes me want to read every caption, and the precise placement of items that evokes a calm sense of organisation (even if they don't evoke the actual organising).

So here we have it, I think it's Martha meets Madam Talbot (she of the vintage poison bottles) in style. I'd also like to think a little forethought will come in handy on October 31st when I'm frantically trying to get Toadstool Tarts out of the oven with my freshly blue-painted Corpse Bride hands, but who am I kidding, it will be fortunate enough if the 'Goblin's Toes' don't end up in one of the cat's bowls.

Here is the glassware that sparked this sudden urge to get organised. All at around £1 a piece, from my favourite local charity shop. The weirdest and most wonderful being an odd footed glass dish, complete with dangling silver spoon, that I thought would be perfect for the Sour Cream, er... Bat's breath.

Morticia was mortified to find that someone 
had polished off all the pre-dinner nibbles.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Creepy Canapés

I did a dry run today of the morsels I am planning to serve with drinks on October 31st. I'd been pondering something ghastly to offer people from the Ghostly Platters I bought a few weeks back and hit on the idea of severed fingers! But what to make them from? I thought I'd try a savoury pastry idea, cause it would enable me to form little knuckles and joints, plus paint on some gruesome detailing with a little food colouring. The addition of a slivered almond made the perfect fingernail, but I also tried pumpkin seeds which worked well too. I wanted to know how many digits I would get from one batch of the shortbread mixture - it gleaned 28, but I am still wondering exactly how many severed fingers I am going to need, cause they really are quite yummy plus they are *dead* easy to make!

Here's the recipe:

Witches Fingers 
(a cheese shortbread dough)

You will need:
100g plain flour
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of salt
100g butter
50g grated parmesan
25g strong Cheddar cheese
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp olive oil
red, yellow and green food colouring
slivered almonds or pumpkin seeds
a little beaten egg to glaze

Make your fingers:
Dice the butter and rub together with the flour, salt and cayenne until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the grated cheeses and mix with a knife. Add the egg yolk and olive oil and bring together to form a dough. Rest the dough in the fridge for 25 minutes during which time preheat your oven to 170 degrees centigrade and butter a baking sheet.

Roll out the dough to about 15 mm thick and cut into strips about 15mm wide. Cut the strips down to varying finger sized lengths then shape each piece into a finger by rounding off the sides and pinching in either side of where a knuckle might be. Leave one end of the finger blunt, as if it's been chopped off, and shape the other end to a rounded point. Paint a slivered almond on one side with a little of the beaten egg then push it into the rounded end to resemble a fingernail. Then mix one drop of each of the food colourings to make a murky reddish brown and paint the base of each nail, a few lines across the knuckle, and the stump. Place all the fingers as you work on the baking sheet, then lightly brush all the fingers with the beaten egg.

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes until crisp and golden. Rest them on the sheet for a few moments before transferring to a cooling rack as they are quite fragile when just out of the oven.

Give your guests the finger this Halloween!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Pumpkin Risotto

The Mock Turtle rsvp'd to my halloween invitation by means of bringing over half a pumpkin. So I made risotto for lunch! This is how it went:

You will need:
half a medium pumpkin
handful of sage leaves
1 tbsp groundnut oil
1 bay leaf
largish wedge of butter
1 large onion
1 level tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
175g of risotto (arborio) rice
1 pint vegetable stock
salt and pepper
a good amount of parmesan cheese

What you do:
Heat the oven to 200 degrees c . Cut the pumpkin into wedges, remove the seeds and pithy part and put in a roasting dish. Pour a little ground nut oil into the hollows where the seeds were and rub over the flesh with your fingers. Tear a few of the sage leaves and scatter over the pumpkin, split the bay leaf and lay it on top then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the hot oven for about 30 minutes until the edges have turned brown and crispy. *

When the pumpkin has cooked remove it from the oven and let it cool for a bit, then chop it into big chunks (about 1 to 1 and a half inches, any smaller and the pumpkin will disintegrate too much, and the risotto has a nice texture if it is chunky) removing the skin as you go. Meanwhile, chop the onion quite finely and melt a generous amount of butter in a large saucepan. Fry the onion gently until just brown, then add all the spices, and the rest of the sage leaves torn into pieces, fry gently. Then tip the chopped pumpkin in and stir well. Add another good dollop of butter at this point so the rice can get coated in it, then tip the rice in and stir till it's all coated in buttery spices.  Add the vegetable stock, stir again, then season to taste. Cook gently on a low heat, stirring regularly until the water has been absorbed and the rice is al dente. Add lots of parmesan shavings just before serving, serves 2 greedy people or four not so greedy people. YUM.

* I sewed on horses legs while I waited for this stage, but that's an entirely different post, and you can do whatever you like.