Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Candy Nightmares

Halloween aftermath usually means two things—putting the witch and goblin decorations away and fighting the battle of all that candy in the house.  There's the leftover candy from what you bought to hand out and then there's all the candy the kids collected on their trick or treat rounds.  Sacks full of candy.  Enough potential tooth decay material to last until next Halloween.

And what kind of candy is it that we now have in abundance?  It seems that all the candy manufacturers, in addition to their regular size candy bars, make the little fun size candy—the mini candy bars or individual pieces.  Those little bite size morsels that give us just a taste.

These little tidbits aren't as harmless as you'd like to believe.  Many of the small treats are worse for you than eating a normal size candy bar.  But that can't be, you tell yourself, because you're only going to eat one of those little things and that's certainly not the same as a regular size candy bar.  Well, you and I both know that's a lie!  :)

I recently saw a list of the ten worse choices of these mini candy snacks and I'd like to share it with you.

1)  Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkins (1 piece):  You convince yourself that you're getting lots of protein from the peanut butter.  Think again.  One pumpkin has 180 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 17 grams of sugar.

2)  Dove Milk Chocolate Promises (5 pieces):  Chocolate is marvelous stuff, full of antioxidants that help decrease the risk of heart disease.  Think again.  It's DARK chocolate that has the antioxidants, not milk chocolate.  You're eating 220 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 22 grams of sugar.

3)  Twix Miniatures (3 pieces):  Like the Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkins, another choice that might not seem so bad for you.  This gooey caramel and cookie crunch treat has 150 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 15 grams of sugar.

4)  Almond Joy Snack-Size Bars (3 pieces):  Coconut milk and coconut water might be popular in healthy eating circles, but that doesn't mean it's ok to cover it with chocolate and still consider it healthy.  With these, you're eating 200 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 19 grams of sugar.

5)  Reese's Peanut Butter Cups Miniature (5 pieces):  Remember the comments about Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkins?  Well, the same rules apply here only this time it's 220 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 23 grams of sugar.

6)  Hershey's Miniatures (5 pieces):  These are staples every year at Halloween time.  The mixed bag of treats begs you to try at least one of each kind.  You'll be consuming 200 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 19 grams of sugar.

7)  Hershey's Kisses Caramel-Filled (9 pieces): These seem safe, but don't be fooled.  You're looking at 190 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 24 grams of sugar.

8)  York Dark Chocolate-Covered Peppermint Patties (3 pieces):  The cool minty chocolate that melts in your mouth gives you 150 calories, 3 grams of fat, and 27 grams of sugar.

9)  Snickers Fun Size (2 bars):  The commercials say, "Hungry?  Grab a Snickers."  If you do, you'll be grabbing 144 calories, 7.4 grams of fat, and 14 grams of sugar.

10)  Kit Kat Snack Size (3  2-piece bars):  These little beauties are worth 210 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 24 grams of sugar.

Perhaps the scariest thing about Halloween is the number of calories, grams of fat, and grams of sugar we consume under the guise of it's little, it won't hurt me.

And strictly for adults…having a glass of wine with our Halloween candy.  What type of wine goes with Candy Corn?  :)

Master Sommelier and Director of Wines at Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants has put together some pairings of Halloween candy and wine for your pleasure.

Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bars go nicely with a fruity, low-alcohol wine like Brachetto d'Aqui from Northern Italy.  It's bright pink and tastes like raspberries and roses.

Hot Tamales are intensely spicy and sweet.  That demands a high acid wine with low alcohol to cut the spice and high sugar content, something like a German Riesling.

Tootsie Rolls go very well with a Tawny Port.  A twenty year old Tawny Port will taste like nuts and orange peel.

Reese's Pieces go perfectly with Vin Santo from Italy.  This wine has a nutty flavor, a great match with the peanut buttery candy.

And finally…what wine goes with Candy Corn?  According to the expert, this super sugary candy pairs well with a very floral wine like Muscat de Beaumes de Venise which is a fortified Muscat from the South of France with a rich orange blossom flavor.

So…sort out your candy and don't over do it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Halloween Is Almost Here…

And this week I have more about ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night.  Starting with the ancient origins of the Halloween holiday and then a bit about Jack O'Lanterns.

The roots of Halloween date back 2000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in, rhymes with cow).  The Celts lived in what is now Ireland, United Kingdom, and northern France.  They celebrated their new year on November 1, the day marking the end of summer and the harvest, and the beginning of the dark winter.  They believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead wasn't clearly defined.  On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, a time when they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

To commemorate the event, the Druids (Celtic priests) built large sacred bonfires where the people made sacrifices to the Celtic deities.  During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes and attempted to tell each other's fortunes.  When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the winter.

By 43A.D., the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic territory.  During the next four hundred years, the Roman festivals of Feralia and Pomona were combined with the traditional celebration of Samhain.  In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1st to be All Saints' Day.  It's believed today that the pope was trying to replace the Celtic festival with a church sanctioned holiday.  The celebration was also called All-hallows.  So, the night before it, the night of Samhain, was called All-Hallows Eve.

In 1000A.D., the church declared November 2nd All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead.  It was celebrated similarly to Samhain with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes.  Together the three celebrations—the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls'—were called Hallowmas and eventually Halloween.

Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition.  It began as a Celtic end-of-summer festival during which people felt especially close to deceased relatives and friends.  They set places at the table and left treats on doorsteps for these friendly spirits.  They also lit candles to help their loved ones find their way back to the spirit world.  Today's Halloween ghosts are usually depicted as scarier, as are our customs and superstitions.

And then there's the Jack O'Lantern.  Making a Jack O'Lantern for Halloween is a centuries old practice that originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed Stingy Jack.  He played tricks on the Devil and made Satan promise not to take his soul when he died.  When the time came, God refused to allow him into heaven because he was an unsavory character.  The Devil wouldn't allow him into hell because Jack had made him promise.  With nowhere to go, Jack put a burning coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth ever since.  The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as Jack Of The Lantern which morphed into Jack O'Lantern.

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions by carving scary faces into turnips and potatoes, and in England they used large beets.  Immigrants from these countries brought the tradition with them to the United States where they soon found that pumpkins made the perfect Jack O'Lantern.

Do you have a favorite costume this year?  Are you planning on going to a party?  Leave me a comment about your Halloween plans.

Next week I'm going to talk about what there will be an abundance of Halloween night and for the next few days…Halloween candy.  It will be Halloween Candy Nightmares (the worst choices) and the pairing of Halloween wine with Halloween candy.  Do you have any idea which wine goes with candy corn?  :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Haunted Houses Are Now Big Business

I remember when I was a child in West Los Angeles.  We had a very large garage and one year my mother and father fixed it up like a haunted house for my Halloween party.  A winding, twisty route through all kinds of scary things.  It was a lot of fun and totally different from anything anyone else in the neighborhood did for Halloween.  Of course, back in those days, scary things were not the same type of bloody gruesome attractions that are the main features of today's professional Halloween attractions.

Halloween attractions have moved far beyond the neighborhood scare as a fun thing for the trick-or-treaters.  Today they are big business.  Operators of the large attractions spend most of the year coming up with new and better scary ideas and then implementing them.  They take pleasure in dreaming up even more diabolical ways of giving us the seasonal nightmares.

And guess what—a group of these scary attraction operators even have an organization of their own.  Eighteen of the most famous haunted house attractions in the nation have formed America Haunts and count among their members Erebus, Netherworld, The Beast, The ScareHouse, and Edge of Hell.  They even hold a national convention every summer in Pittsburgh.  The haunted houses that belong to America Haunts are as diverse as the men and women who operate them.

Some, like Erebus, offer high tech features such as moving walls that push people into bottomless pits.  They use pneumatics and programmable logic controllers to trigger various events.  Erebus is seeking to reclaim its Guinness World Record for the largest haunted house with 2,450 linear feet (over seven football fields) of horror.  With competition from seventy haunted house attractions within a fifty mile radius of their southeast Michigan location, they are constantly improving the attraction with innovative new features.

The ScareHouse is three horrifying haunted houses in one.  In Rampage, the theme is steampunk meets George Orwell's 1984 meets Pink Floyd.  Delirium 3D requires that you wear 3D glasses to go inside the conglomeration of bright colors, neon, European rave music and cybergothic aesthetic.  Forsaken is the most traditional haunted house of the three.

But what's the oldest and largest Halloween haunt?  Knott's Berry Farm theme park located in Orange County, just south of Los Angeles, California.  Or as it's known this time of year, Knott's Scary Farm.  Knott's hosts the world's first Halloween theme park event, the world's largest Halloween theme park event, and the largest event in the amusement park industry.  They make it clear that the event is not recommended for children under thirteen years of age.  Horror and terror runs rampant through the park every night during October.

But what about real haunted houses?  A Denver attraction, The 13th Floor, is housed in a former vocational school.  The building has been studied by paranormal investigators who believe it to be truly haunted.

Do any of you have a genuine haunted house in your area?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Most Haunted Cities in America

With the approach of Halloween, it's natural for thoughts to turn to ghosts, goblins and other scary things.  And America's most haunted cities is definitely a spooky topic.

There are several lists of the most haunted cities in the United States, most of them basically naming the same cities in varying order.  Here's one list that recently came to my attention.

10)    Portland, Oregon:  Portland has a reputation for being the most haunted city in the Pacific Northwest.  It's a city of many haunts, both seasonal tourist attractions and historical happenings where the ghostly participants refuse to leave.  One of the most famous…or more accurately, infamous…historical haunts is the Shanghai Tunnels.  We've all heard the slang expression of someone being Shanghaied, meaning abducted.  This is where it originated.  In the Victorian era (around the 1870s), ship captains would put into Portland on the Columbia River looking for fresh crew members.  Local middlemen would drug pub goers and drop the bodies through trapdoors into the tunnels below where they were held until they could be carted to the waterfront and sold to the captain for $50/each.  These ships were quite often headed for China, thus the term being Shanghaied.  Many of these drugged unfortunates died while being held in the tunnels.  Today, the Shanghai Tunnels have several ghosts, some menacing and others apparently confused.

9)      San Francisco, California:  A city of many haunted locations and happenings.  One of the most interesting is Alcatraz.  The island was a military prison during the Civil War.  It was used off and on by many different groups to house various prisoners from that time until 1933 when it was officially turned over to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and used as a maximum security prison for the likes of Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. On March 23, 1963, Alcatraz closed its prison doors for good.  Over the one hundred plus years that the island housed prisoners of all types, many died in cruel and terrible ways.  Those spirits still inhabit Alcatraz.  Even today as part of the National Park system, tourists taking one of the park ranger guided tours report seeing and hearing strange things that can't be explained.

8)      Chicago, Illinois:  Chicago was the center of gangland activity during Prohibition, including the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.  Many gangsters of the era used Chicago as a body dumping ground.  There were also six thousand Confederate soldiers and sailors buried during the Civil War at Oak Woods Cemetery which has ongoing paranormal activity.  Chicago's most famous ghost is Resurrection Mary named for Resurrection Cemetery.  She was killed by a hit and run driver on the street in front of the cemetery and now is often seen hitch hiking along that street.

7)      Charleston, South Carolina:  The downtown area known as The Battery was a protective artillery installation during the Civil War.  The area is known for its ghost stories.  The Battery Carriage House Inn is the city's famous haunted hotel where visitors often see strange happenings.  The inn's two most famous ghosts are the gentleman ghost and the headless torso.  The gentleman ghost is thought to be a young man whose family owned the house in the early 1900s and, for no known reason, jumped off the roof and killed himself.  The headless torso is believed to be military from the Civil War.  There is no evidence that he intends any harm, but guests have felt threatened when he has suddenly materialized in their room.

6)      St. Augustine, Florida:  The nation's oldest city and the first permanently occupied European settlement.  Castillo de San Marcos is a star-shaped fort and is considered to be one of the most haunted places in a city filled with unexplained phenomenon.  The construction of The Old Fort began in 1672 and took twenty-three years to build.  Many strange sightings, including a Spanish soldier, have been reported.  It is not uncommon for individuals to capture on film strange lights, orbs, rods, spheres, and even distinct apparitions composed of strange mists.

5)      San Antonio, Texas:  The home of the Alamo is regarded as the most haunted city in Texas.  Prior to the Battle of the Alamo, the ground was a cemetery between 1724 and 1793.  It's estimated that about one thousand people were buried during those years.  On the morning of March 6, 1836, following the thirteen day Battle of the Alamo, one thousand six hundred Mexican shoulders lay dead along with the approximately one hundred forty-five defenders of the old mission.  The remaining buildings at the Alamo as well as the surrounding area is one of the most haunted places in the nation.  Tales of ghostly sightings have been reported for almost two centuries.

4)      New Orleans, Louisiana:  With a history of voodoo and slavery in its past, it's no wonder that New Orleans is considered a very haunted city.  Its most famous ghost is voodoo priestess Marie Laveau who was buried at St. Louis Cemetery #1, considered one of the most haunted cemeteries in the country.  New Orleans is well below sea level, so the dead are buried in above ground tombs or vaults resembling small architectural buildings.  Located on the edge of the haunted French Quarter, this oldest still in service cemetery has been the setting for many Haunted New Orleans movies such as Easy Rider, Interview With The Vampire, and Johnny Handsome.  But its biggest draw is the tomb of Marie Laveau.

3)      Salem, Massachusetts:  This site of the infamous Salem Witch Trials in the late 1600s certainly makes the list of haunted cities.  Gallows Hill is believed to be haunted by the spirits of the nineteen women accused of being witches who were hanged there.  It also shouldn't be surprising that Salem has one of the largest Halloween celebrations in the country for people of all ages.

2)      Gettysburg, Pennsylvania:  The Civil War battle at Gettysburg resulted is fifty-one thousand casualties.  It is believed that nearly all forty miles of the Gettysburg battlefields have paranormal activity.  Many of the ghosts show up in photos, including the ghost of Robert E. Lee.  In July 1863, Gettysburg's living population was out numbered twenty to one by the dead.

1)      Savannah, Georgia:  Savannah was named "America's Most Haunted City" in 2002 by the American Institute of Parapsychology.  The city was home to a Revolutionary War battleground and also the site of the Civil War capture of General Sherman.  Savannah offers several different haunted tours and is also famous as the location of the bestselling book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Have any of you ever had any first hand experience with hauntings?

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Since 9-11 we have certainly given lots of thought to our emergency first responders—police officers and firefighters—true heroes who respond immediately to the scene when life is threatened.  Every day these brave men and women put their lives on the line to protect us from disasters, whether the result of criminal actions or natural disasters.

A few months ago I came across an article titled A Day In The Life Of A United States Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer.  It talked about his training and related the events of his first dangerous sea rescue during a raging storm.

It got me thinking about a Coast Guard water rescue I saw covered live on television many years ago.

In 1993, when the Midwest was inundated with floods and the Mississippi River was way out of its banks, the Romance Writers of America national conference was in St. Louis, Missouri.  Prior to the conference, there had been lots of speculation about whether the conference would be cancelled or its location changed due to the flooding.  But, the hotel was high and dry as was the airport, so the conference went as scheduled.

There were some interesting moments of weather during the conference.  Late one afternoon during a thunderstorm, there was a lightning strike on the sidewalk close to the hotel…close enough that the noise was much more than merely the thunder sound of lightning and you could see the new scorch marks and damage on the sidewalk.  Every day television carried live coverage of buildings being swept away, people trying to save whatever personal belongs they could, animals being rescued, etc.

On Sunday morning of the conference, I had television on in my room while I was getting ready for lunch with a friend.  The helicopter news camera crew caught a spectacular rescue for live television broadcast.  The images were riveting.  A white wood frame two story farmhouse totally surrounded by swift flowing water.  No land in sight, only the tops of trees.  A man on the roof waving both arms in the air to attract the attention of anyone who could help him.

And, as if on cue, the Coast Guard rescue helicopter crew arrived on the scene.  They pulled the man from the roof of his house and before they even got the rescue line pulled back into the helicopter, the entire house collapsed and was washed away leaving nothing visible other than debris floating on the water.

Two hours later this same four man rescue crew were standing in the lobby of our conference hotel.  With the helipad on the hotel roof, they were staying there as their temporary staging area for the next twenty-four hours.  These four young men were surrounded by women all wanting to get hero material for their next romance novel—and understandably so.  They were true heroes in every sense of the word.

That same weekend a major league baseball team was in town to play the St. Louis team and were staying at the same hotel as RWA conference.  Professional jocks in a hotel with 2,000 women.  It would seem to be a match made in heaven?

Or not!

From my personal observations, several of the baseball players were rude and arrogant, making uncalled for comments when they were ignored by the women…in the restaurant, at the elevators while waiting for one of the cars to make it to the lobby, and in the lobby.  Anyone who has ever attended a conference with 2,000 people knows what a hassle the entire waiting-for-an-elevator thing can be.

Then the Coast Guard rescue crew arrived in the lobby.  The baseball players were almost trampled in the stampede to get to the obviously embarrassed Coast Guard crew who were soon surrounded in a corner of the lobby.  Blatantly apparent that the true heroes of the day were the ones in demand rather than those inflated egos whose noses were bent out of shape.

Just an interesting observation that came to mind while reading the article about the Coast Guard rescue swimmer.