Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dia De los Muertos

 Day of the Dead “Paint a Skull” Party

Not ready to pack up those skeletons after Halloween? Why not keep the party going a bit longer by celebrating the colorful Mexican holiday Dias de los Muertos.
Until recently this wasn’t a holiday I knew very much about.
Lucky for me I grew up with a mother who is a hostess and crafter extroadinaire. She can turn any occasion into a fabulous fete or find any excuse to throw a party. Considering Mexico is one of her favorite travel destinations, I wasn’t surprised to find myself invited to Dias de los Muertos luncheon and skull painting party.

A holiday honoring the dead may sound like a somber affair, but this is anything but a staid or serene occasion.  In Mexico it is a time for festivities, feasts, sweet sugar skulls, colorful decorations and the famous costumed skeleton characters depicted dancing and singing.

For more information and wonderful photos try this fun site or one of the many others covering this unique holiday.

Buffet-turned "Altar"

The altar is the centerpiece of the celebration and might feature photos of the deceased with objects representing their interests (wings for a pilot, paintbrushes or spoons for the artist or gourmet) and of course colorful skulls flowers and candles. My Mom turned her dining room buffet into a showstopper but a small table or shelf will work fine too. The important part is being creative and making it a personal tribute.

Some Altar "fun facts" 

Skulls, photos and trinkets

                  Lunch is Served

We dined on “squash”ed skull soup and “to die for” tea sandwiches with “coffin” cake and my attempt at sugar skulls for dessert.

Death by chocolate: Brownie "coffin cake" with white chocolate skeletons from candy molds

Sugar Skulls: see Halloween Dessert bar post for Instructions!
And we hung a traditional "Papel Picado" banner

Papel Picado: Day of the Dead Paper Banners

Banners make everything more festive and the famous Papel Picado cut paper flags so popular for the Day of the Dead in Mexico are true works of art, many cut by hand. You can order them online but many are quite pricey.
I tried to wing it by picking up some fun scrapbook paper at Joann's Crafts (my second home)
I splurged on the laser cut floral ($1.99) but the others range from 29- 59 cents. 
I cut the large squares into 4 equal size "banners" and cut some simple skull patterns and glued them on several of the plain background. I punched holes in the solid paper and strung them on colorful ribbon.
The fun part is choosing the colors or patterns to match your color scheme.
Let the Crafting begin!
Basket of Skulls- Brown paper forms from Joanne's crafts painted assorted solid colors

 The craft table included paints, stickers, beads, "faux"flowers and plastic eyeballs! Anything goes!

The ladies had a ball painting and gluing! The fun part is seeing how each creation turned out to be so unique. 
The Spooky Spectacular results!
From Flowers to Felines.....
to Pirates and Pesticides

Inspired by these great cat designs I found online I decided to honor our beloved four footed furry friends who have moved to the great beyond by adding cat ears and tinsel whiskers to my skull

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Halloween dessert bar

Halloween Dessert Bar

As one who adamantly dislikes horror movies, it is a bit ironic that Halloween is one of my all time favorite holidays.
 Admittedly, my tastes veer more towards mysterious and mystical than outright gore and ghoulishness, more Edgar Allen Poe than anything with a chain saw.

But it really only takes a few subtly spooky touches to add some magic to your house even if temporarily. Here are a few very budget friendly tricks and treats to whip up with some simple how-tos.

Melted Witches
Crystal Ball Cupcakes
Day of the Dead Sugar Skulls
Crunchy Bones

Melted Witches!

These are fun to make in a variety of different colors or flavors!
For the brooms I molded either a piece of cut licorice or half a starburst around small pretzel rods. The starbust will soften in your hands and I then marked them with a knife to create bristles. I sprinkled the witches with a little sugar for sparkle.

Crystal Ball Cupcakes
A dessert that tells your future?
The magic of turning sugar into glass doesn't require a magic wand, just a few kitchen basics.
 I adapted this recipe from for clear hard candy omitting flavoring as I wanted as clear finish as possible. The candy has a mild sweet taste and be careful it is tough on the chompers so I just used mine for decoration. Also as I didn't have high heat resistant candy molds I used ordinary muffin tins. I used a combo of store bought and homemade cupcakes in simple white and chocolate.
Sugar glass has so many possibilities, I am sure it will reappear in different incarnations in recipes to come. It is often used as a replacement for in stunts in movies- but it can still be quite sharp. 

My not-so magic potion
Be very cautious as this liquid is extremely hot!
I used two size muffin tins pouring enough liquid to just cover bottom.
This photo shows the depth
To remove from tins- press firmly on the underside of the tin in the center of each "cup" the sugar disk should "POP" free- or can be easily pried out.
 There will be some casualties but these can be repackaged as "broken glass candy" !
bubbles add mystery!

I layered them on a cake tier with cheesecloth underneath and topped with a Raven

Day of the Dead Sugar Skulls

These are such fun to make! In Mexico creating Sugar Skulls is an art form, but not wanting to apprentice to a confectioner, I adapted a simple candy clay recipe from
Milwaukee is a long way from Mexico but -----

Authentic sugar skulls require an elaborate recipe and special molds which can be tricky to find and a bit pricey so this is a budget friendly version in the same spirit. I nestled them on a bed of colored cotton candy and silver tray (both Dollar Store)

Five ingredients! I mix it in the sink as anytime I use confectioners sugar my kitchen looks like a Christmas village
Mold a simple skull shape: add more sugar if necessary
For the eyes: That all purpose kitchen tool, the plastic cocktail stirrer 
I used a small knife to create smiles. You could leave them like this for Halloween

I added flower shaped sprinkles, sugar pearls and jimmies for teeth

*These are very sweet- like eating frosting out of the bowl so a little goes a long way

Crunchy Puff Pastry Bones

These are so fun and easy: basically one ingredient and whatever herbs or spices you choose to add!
I made the "bones" from this recipe 
I made a few batches and found they took considerably longer to brown than suggested- up to 20 plus minutes - depending on the size. I sprayed mine with cooking spray and added sea salt and garlic for a savory bite but a sweet version with cinnamon and sugar would be fun to try too!
I cut the thawed puff pastry in thin strips with a pizza cutter
to form ends wrap like you are starting to tie a knot in the ends of the dough
each one will be a little different- like real ones! 

bake @ 375 until golden and crispy!

They're a fun light snack or served with soup and salad
Here good old tomato soup gets some holiday flare

I put some plain Greek yogurt in a plastic baggy, poked a hole in the end and piped some spooky garnishes. Plastic spiders on napkin rings add to the creepiness!
Bon Appetite!