This week, we unpacked the Halloween decorations. It feels like just yesterday I was wearing a cancellation-worthy “Officer Naughty” costume while freak-dancing on stage with American rapper Too $hort at a college fraternity party. Now I’m armpit deep in 1100 sq. ft. of premium faux spiderweb and Pinteresting “pumpkin charcuterie” while my five year old torments my toddler with a grim reaper mask. It’s worth noting that it’s only September 17th, and I’m already unpacking a whole lot more than styrofoam gravestones and animatronic bats.
As a working mom, I’ve always been more breadwinner than bread baker. The pandemic obsession with sourdough starters was a conversation ender for me, not to mention that my kids eat frozen Trader Joe’s ravioli at least once a week. Look, I, too, fantasize about babies in matching beige linen bloomers and an edenic life of buschooling (that’s homeschooling, but on a renovated school bus surrounded by hand-stuffed lavender pillows and foraged fungi). But the reality is, I just went to court for an unpaid fix-it ticket (fun fact: I got pulled over while – but not for – pumping breastmilk). Traditional acts of domesticity, like roasting whole chickens or milking Birtha the family cow every morning, are not high on my list of priorities (backyard wedding financed by my parents in the scenic canyons of southern california and two ensuing children notwithstanding). That is, until I discovered the #snackolantern Halloween snacks and unlocked my higher purpose.
But to fully understand the transformational power of a Jack O’ Lantern themed snack platter, one must start at the beginning. And by that I mean our son’s first Halloween. He was a mere five months old, and his dad and I were already haunted in ways that had nothing to do with ghosts and everything to do with still reeling from the trauma of our newborn being rushed into emergency surgery for Pyloric Stenosis (a condition that may cause severe projectile vomiting, dehydration, and weight-loss) just three weeks after becoming first time parents. Talk about spooky szn!
That year, we opted out of faux blood and mini Snickers in favor of a buzzkilly sign on our front door that screamed: BABY ASLEEP PLEASE DON’T KNOCK (we said please, we’re not monsters). I even posted an Instagram photo of my plain clothed self, nary a haphazardly placed construction paper pumpkin cutout taped to a credenza to be found, with the caption: PROBABLY THE LAST HALLOWEEN I CAN IGNORE. Little did I know the accuracy of this premonition. Fast forward five years and the aforementioned barfy baby is a healthy, Halloween obsessed kindergartener who successfully negotiated himself a 7-foot-tall inflatable Jack Skellington lawn decoration… in August. And what began as an effort to assuage my working mom guilt has become a hobby has become a meditative practice has become a full blown passion has become MY ENTIRE PERSONALITY.
I vividly remember the first time I laid eyes on the Snack-o’-lantern— sweet, savory, yet slightly unsettling with its crooked, yogurt-covered pretzel smile and licorice-black triangle eyes— on the Instagram account of triggeringly crafty mommy blogger PS I MADE THIS. This genre of nurturer can effortlessly transform cardboard into castles and somehow assemble an on-theme tablescape for ten in less time than it takes me to reheat Impossible nuggets (I’m not here to debate the merits of plant-based meat substitutes, my personal parenting philosophy is “everything in moderation”).
Upon first glance, I was intimidated. How does one have so many varietals of nuts on hand? Must all the ingredients be grain-free and organic? Who am I to pair candy corn with carrots and celery with Sour Patch? Can a regular tweezer be used in lieu of a fancy food styling tool (I’ll wash it first obviously!) But then, something happened. The fear melted away like a Sonic the Hedgehog popsicle succumbing to a Los Angeles heat wave (RIP beige couch), and a wave of inspiration washed over me, unlike anything I’ve felt in the last twelve years as a corporate creative answering marketing briefs about sweat-wicking thongs and cult favorite kale caesars. Hello Artist’s Way, goodbye imposter syndrome. SNACKOLANTERN IS YOUR BIRTHRIGHT, SNACKOLANTERN IS YOUR INNER CHILD, SNACKOLANTERN SEES THE WHOLE YOU AND DOES NOT DEMAND PERFECTION.
So off to Von’s I went, basket bountiful with barbecue chips, dried apricots, and baby carrots – basically anything orange, bite-sized, and with which to construct an edible pumpkin face but also the first masterpiece of the rest of my life. Slowly and with shaky hands, I began to build the foundation. Brick by brick, chip by chip, carrot stick by carrot stick. Today, a toothless tangerine grin. Tomorrow, a homestead!
How to make the perfect snack-o’-lantern
Step 1: The first and most important rule of snack-o’-lantern is that there is no such thing as the perfect snack-o-lantern. Each snack-o’-lantern is a unique creation, and should be celebrated for its individuality. Uncanny accouterments and eerie expressions are rewarded.
Step 2: Now that you’re emotionally prepared with the tools to take on the Craft Mom Industrial Complex, it’s time for supplies (yes, this will involve some capitalism). Calendar heads may want to make a shopping list, but free-spirits can buy on the fly. Here’s what you’ll need:
- One large circular tray or serving board (at least 20”)
- An assortment of orange, black, and green bite-sized ingredients (more on this in step 3)
- Officer Naughty Costume (optional)
Step 3: By now you know that I (but also the snack-o’-lantern, for whom I am just a vessel) encourage the taking of creative liberties and that these steps aren’t meant to be prescriptive. For best results, you’ll want to tailor this list to your family favorites, and ensure a mix of sweet and savory. You can call me Candy Baraghani.
For the eyes, nose, and mouth:
- Black licorice
- Black olives
- Oreo Halloween Cookies
- Chocolate covered raisins (or cherries or nuts)
For the pumpkin:
- Cheddar cheese
- Baby carrots
- Dried apricots
- Orange bell peppers
- Clementines or oranges
- Candy Corn
- Orange Starburst
- Orange Sour Patch Kids (the green ones can be used for the stem)
- Cheez-It Cheese Crackers, barbecue chips, or other orange crackers
For the stem:
- Green Sour Patch Kids (the orange ones can be used to make the pumpkin)
Step 4: Once you have your ingredients and have sufficiently exhausted your Big Little Feelings toolkit in regards to why your child can’t have an entire bag of Sour Patch for breakfast, you’re ready to assemble! Begin by using your “black” ingredients to form the eyes and nose into a triangle shape. To construct the mouth, place a couple rows of berries (or your ingredient of choice) near the bottom of your serving tray and curve them up into a creepy smile.
Step 5: It’s time to add the orange bits. Working your way outward from the eyes, nose, and mouth, apply generous clusters of ingredients to help secure these features in place. Continue layering on handfuls of ingredient groupings until the platter is filled all the way to the edges. You’ll know you’re on the right track if you begin to experience delusions of grandeur about being hired in a professional capacity to do this.
Step 6: Top it all off with a bright green stem, for maximum “this is from an organic, third generation, family-owned spooky pumpkin patch” appeal. Arrange celery, cucumber, and green Sour Patch Kids into vertical columns protruding from the top of the platter. I don’t think this is what they mean by getting more women in STEM lol.
Step 7: Behold, the snack-o’-lantern, in all its spooky-liciousness. They said it couldn’t be done, but you, queen of zoom meetings and lunch break Pelotoning, crushed it with the Halloween snack ideas. What’s next? Ironing? Quitting your 9-5 to make free-range jam? Making a weird soup for dinner?
Step 8: There’s really only one thing left to do: Instagram the sh*t out of it, undoubtedly inspiring legions of women to secure their rightful place in the craft mom canon.#SNACKOLANTERN