Hard Candy: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
By Cathy Salustri

I love Halloween. I’m not a trick-or-treater, and I don’t dress up (although Calypso will wear a festive dog shirt or black and orange scarf every now and then), but I love the sick and twisted traditions my friends and I embrace this time of year. Starting with the first hint of fall in the air – and by that, I mean the first day we see temperatures under 85 – we start talking about the big event.

Dan decorates their house for Halloween. This includes but is in no way limited to a hand in a jar, skeleton butler, and glowing, motion activated maggot on the floor; going over to visit is not for the faint of heart, or those who have been drinking. Leah makes this popcorn and candy thing that we descend up on like hungry zombies. Amanda bakes, putting what I’m pretty sure must be crack into whatever it is she makes; Stacey picks the worst B-horror movie she can find (past winners include the Peter Jackson classic, Dead Alive and The Convent). Me? I bring the Awful Peeps Cake, a not-so-scary cake that reenacts B-movie scenes with – you guessed it – Peeps.

I blame Martha Stewart.

I used to love Martha Stewart. While I never spray-painted a turkey gold (I have standards), I made my share of “good things.” As time passed, my passion for Ms. Stewart faded, but on occasion I get sucked in by her holiday issues. Growing up, my grandmother always made a big to-do about the holidays, and I guess I still had that warm, happy childhood memory motivating me when I picked up – quite on impulse – a Halloween edition of Martha Stewart Living a few years ago and decided to make a cake topped with marshmallow ghosts.

My mom and I sat down with a cake, a couple bags of marshmallows, black icing (ghosts have eyes, after all) and toothpicks. It was a short trip from “excited optimism” to my sweet, puritanical mother swearing like a sailor at the marshmallows that just wouldn’t be, dammit.

When I showed up at Leah’s house, we all had a good laugh – marshmallow ghosties do not travel well – and forgot about it. The next year, with Martha Stewart just a fading, horrible memory, I wondered… what if I used Peeps? My mom and I decided, in a pure fit of optimism, that we would bond whilst recreating the shower scene from Psycho. With Peeps.

Halloween found me approaching the cake decorator at a local supermarket asking if they had tiny knives used in cake decorations. I received a weird look for my question but, as my mother pointed out, they didn’t call the police, so it could have been worse. More traumatic was the dearth of Peeps, so I had to settle on chocolate-covered pumpkin Peeps. Since I never found a tiny knife, I used a cocktail sword. The bathtub was an overturned butter dish; the shower curtain was wax paper.

Be very glad this column doesn’t come with pictures: it looked nothing like Psycho. With the swords and the butter dish it looked like two pumpkins dueling on a rowboat, which was totally not the look I was going for.

Which brings me to this year. This year, I’ve planned. I’ve sought input. I’ve decided that this year, Peeps will re-enact the Shining. It’s not a B movie, so that breaks with tradition, but I have every faith that, despite my best efforts, the cake will still look awful. I’m looking for two tricycles, a miniature labyrinth, Peeps, and some sort of ability to put that all together in a way that resembles the movie. My hope is that, by the time Dan finishes hanging spiders around his house, Leah’s done with her popcorn candy concoction, Stacey’s picked the absolute worst horror movie she can find, and Amanda’s bought out the neighborhood crack dealers for her cookies, I’ll have a Peeps-topped cake that has caused my mom utter frustration, looks like hell, and may or may not taste good. I might even throw in a sword just as a tribute to Peeps cakes of the past.

After all, what are the holidays without tradition?

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com, or just send Peeps.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.