I rediscovered the Little Witch books by Deborah Hautzig in 2008, the year the market crashed and I got divorced. As do most witchy stories, Hautzig’s offer an alternate vision of family—an alternative to mainstream society’s preferred template. Her witches, like others in film and fiction, are outsiders, oddballs, and single mothers by choice.
I’d read the books myself as a kid, and a sketch of a helter-skelter little-girl witch began to haunt me impishly. I searched the internet until I found the image that matched. I ordered the books and read them to my daughters, then seven and four. Preferring witches to princesses anyway, they took to the series with relish.
Little Witch lives in an unkempt but adorable little yellow house with Mother Witch, Aunts Grouchy and Nasty, Cousin Dippy, and a couple of cats. Little Witch is good but her mother and her aunts want her to be bad: “You cleaned your room again!…Little Witch, when will you learn to be bad?” Then, “Go to school if you want, but remember, don’t learn anything!” In Little Witch Learns to Read, Little Witch hides her library books and stays up reading late into the night. She’s drowsy in the morning, and the big witches notice. They search her room and find a book: Snow White. When Little Witch gets home from school the big witches confront her. She confesses, telling them that she loves stories and that, in spite of her mother’s directive, she’s learned to read.
Mother Witch wails, “But this book is terrible! It’s all about a lovely princess who lives happily ever after!”
“But Mother Witch, didn’t you read about the poison apple? And the evil queen? And the ugly old witch?”
Little Witch reads the rest of the book to her mother and aunts and cousin. Mother Witch puts Little Witch to bed with some personal wisdom: “That book has a very stupid ending! Nobody lives happily ever after. But the middle parts were good.”
Twelve years later, my girls and I live in a similarly disheveled yellow house with a falling-down fence and an overgrown yard. There’s a man around, and no cats (I’m allergic), but we do keep a mean little female dog. And we observe Halloween as seriously as Christmas.
Dinner Halloween Eve is usually pizza on the fly, but a night or two before we’ll have our traditional spooky dinner of Monstrous Meatloaf, Ghoulish Goulash, and Mashed Potato Ghosts (any mashed potatoes molded into ghost shapes with caraway seeds for eyes).
2 pounds ground turkey, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 cup basic bread crumbs, 2 large eggs, 1/2 cup ketchup, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme,, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, extra ketchup, two green olives.
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and one below. Preheat the oven to 400. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Hands are best for mixing, and the sound this makes will be truly ghastly. WASH your hands. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and oil the foil (lightly). Dump the turkey mixture on the sheet/foil and slap into monster shape of choice. Smear the top with ketchup. Stick a pan of water on the rack below the meatloaf if you want, to keep the turkey from drying out. Put raw meatloaf monster/rimmed sheet on the middle rack. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until it’s done. Add olives, as pictured.
2 pounds cubed beef, handful of flour, 2 tablespoons olive oil or lard, 1 garlic clove, 2 tablespoons onion powder, 2 tablespoons sweet paprika, 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds, salt and pepper to taste, 2 bay leaves, about a cup chopped plum tomatoes, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 2 cups low-sodium beef broth.
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy pot. Dredge the beef cubes in the flour and brown in the oil, tossing, for 5-10 minutes. Throw in the crushed garlic clove. Scatter the onion powder, paprika, and caraway seeds over the meat. Cook for another minute or so, tossing. Add salt, pepper, and bay leaves. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, and broth. Turn up the heat until concoction boils. Scrape any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan to combine. Turn the heat to low and cover the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. Serve with chopped parsley, sour cream, and egg noodles, if preferable to the potato ghosts.