Last night was the school Halloween dance. Just a bunch of over-tired over-sugared kids who had lost half their costume running around like mad things, but strangely beautiful all the same. The younger grades went first, and played a manic dangerous game of tag through the smoke machine smoke and disco lights, with Thriller playing over and over in the background. And then the older kids took over the gym and played a more fraught game of tag, because social anxiety increases with every passing year. Some of the girls danced, but the boys raced around the edges, or walked around looking cool and handsome with their hands in their pockets (that’s my Malcolm, of course.) I was in charge of the pumpkin-pong game, the object of which is to bounce ping pong balls into plastic pumpkin buckets. I didn’t think there would be a lot of takers (Girls and boys and Thriller, what do they need pumpkin pong for?) But they loved
it. And the ones that loved it really really loved it and came back time and time again. I became caught up in the excitement; I cheered when they got one in and I was disappointed for them when they didn’t. I was supposed to collect tickets for the game, but the whole exercise demonstrated my woeful inability to make money in real life. If they got one ball in, they got their ticket back, and they almost always got at least one ball in. They got a free turn if they helped me collect the balls that skittered away from the buckets. They got a few extra balls to pitch if they looked disappointed enough at the end of their turn. Toby asked if he could have a free turn because he was my neighbor, but I had to draw the line at that kind of political pandering…handing out favors to the constituents in my neighborhood! Where would the corruption end? (I gave him a free turn if he promised to get one in, which he did.) If you said to the kid, “You’re really good at this.” Or “You’ve got the best score yet.” The kid always came back to play again. This is either an easily exploited cynical ploy to get children hooked on gambling for life, or a testament to the power of encouragement. After all, they didn’t win anything except a chance to try again and a pat on the back from somebody else’s mother. But if they felt that they were good at it they wanted to try again, they wanted to be better at it. They wanted to practice and refine their technique. They weren’t worried about who was watching them, and if they had one bum turn, it was seen as a minor setback, a reason to try again and do better. It’s a lesson to us all, a pumpkin-pong life lesson. As you go about your day remember to say, “Good job, kid, you’re really good at this!” and give a nice big pat on the back to everyone you meet.
This is more of a serving suggestion than a recipe. You take some firm polenta stir in some cheese and herbs, let it set, slice it quite thin, coat with olive oil, and broil on both sides until crispy. Then you top it with whatever you like. I used mozzarella, black olives, fresh tomatoes and capers, but you could use pesto or red sauce or anything you like!
Here’s Monster Mash
Make the polenta according to the directions on your polenta package. I used the quick-cooking polenta, and added less water than it called for so that it would be quite firm. When it’s nearly done cooking, add salt, black pepper, smoked paprika (about 1/2 teaspoon), 3 sage leaves, chopped, and about 1 cup of smoked gouda. Line a tart pan with tin foil, and pour the polenta in, smoothing the top. Let it cool in the fridge for a couple of hours. Cut it into wedges. Coat it generously on both sides with olive oil, and put it under a broiler until it’s crispy and starting to brown, fifteen to twenty minutes. Turn it from time to time so that it gets crispy on both sides.
When cool enough to handle, slice each piece in half laterally. Arrange in a circle, soft-side up. Sprinkle cheese, spread sauce, and add toppings that you like.
Preheat the oven to 425, and bake the pizza till the cheese is melted. And that’s that.