Our Halloween Tradition, and Pumpkin Chili

Dear Joey,

I’m so sorry you weren’t able to be really present to all the fun of Halloween again this year.

I wish we could have watched Vertigo together, huddled together on the couch and balancing bowls of pumpkin chili on our laps after a successful night of trick-or-treating, instead of the way it actually turned out: you living through an episode of Vertigo yourself while I tried very hard to keep the day from further unraveling my already frayed nerves. You stayed in bed most of the day trying to feel better, and we were both pretty bummed out when we realized this would make two years in a row you would miss out on enjoying the best parts of Halloween with us.


It wasn’t your fault you were laid up this year, and last year wasn’t your fault either. I certainly wasn’t upset with you for being in South Dakota to say your final farewell to Grandpa Maier, paying tribute to his memory with your brothers by toasting tomato beers and homemade schnapps, swapping stories, and eating your weight in kuchen.

This year you were equally unavailable to join in on all the (work and) fun of Halloween, but if it’s possible, I was even more disappointed about it this year. My heart was heavy with a strange mix of frustration and disappointment because Vertigo came on so suddenly. You were here, but you weren’t here, not really. And this would make two years in a row that I had to do this thing Halloween thing by myself. At least this time around you got to see  the Goobies in their costumes and help sort through their collective candy haul, listening to them marvel over how crazy it is that strangers just kept filling their buckets with the stuff.


Keeping true to tradition (and a true testament to the sort of people they are), Thomas and Katelyn drove all the way out to our place to go trick-or-treating with us. The tradition started the year Eli was born; he was just a little Sweet Pea asleep in his stroller as Katelyn walked around the Fremont Hub with me and the girls, Addie dressed as a butterfly and Mia as a strawberry. Mia was only four months old at the time, and Addie was a breath away from turning two years old–none of them old enough to appreciate the whole experience, really. You and Thomas were both still at work, but we dressed those kids up and took them anyway, and Addie hesitated to let strangers fill her pumpkin with candy. I’m not sure either Katelyn or I could imagine a day when those kids would run ahead of us to the next house and say “trick or treat!” without our prodding. They came back to our place (in Fremont, at the time) for pumpkin chili, and a tradition was born.


Through the years we’ve wound our way through crowds of big-kids together, coaxing our own very small ones to say “Trick or treat!” to strangers, while holding their hands and helping them to be brave. Our nights used to end with tucking all those little ones into their beds (or pack and plays), and uncorking a bottle of red wine, piling our bowls high with pumpkin chili, and watching a Hitchock flick.

Last year you were out of town for your Grandpa’s funeral, but Thomas and Katelyn brought their boys to our place to trick or treat with us anyway. This year when I told them you had Vertigo, they offered to come help me take the Goobies trick-or-treating (because trying to take three small kids out on Halloween by myself would have been mayhem, and they knew it). By the time the kids’ loot was sorted, sampled, and stowed, it was bedtime. And so, instead of enjoying dinner together, we split the pumpkin chili and said goodnight, happy to have another year of friendship in the books as we waved goodbye.


Next Halloween things may go a little differently than we plan again. Unexpected things happen on Halloween, and that has sort of become a tradition itself. When Halloween comes around each year, perhaps I should ask: what will be different this year? and always expect there to be an answer. Life happens, and we can’t predict what circumstances we will face year after year after year. People pass away. Others move away. Sometimes we get sick. Kids grow bigger and braver and have bedtimes that matter (because sometimes Halloween is on a school night). I think the best we can do is come up with a framework for what we would like our tradition to look like, and do our best to make things work within that framework, like friends celebrating together; a hearty, warm meal waiting for us after a long trek through the neighborhood soliciting candy from strangers; dressing up in silly costumes and letting the kids eat just one piece of candy before bedtime.

This year I learned that if I keep my expectations low enough–and give myself a whole lot of grace when things aren’t just so–then maybe I won’t be disappointed. And if I’m not disappointed, then perhaps I can enjoy things for what they are, as they are, because even in the middle of disappointment, there is always something redeeming if we look for it, right?



Pumpkin Chiliimg_6618

I’ve made many iterations of pumpkin chili until finally landing on this one. It is the one, in my opinion. The first time I made this Mia was a baby (and couldn’t eat it), and she still cries when I try to make her taste it. The kid just doesn’t like chili. But Addie loves it, and actually sighs and says, “Oh, yum. YUM!” when I serve it to her. There isn’t anything super special about it–it’s quite straightforward and similar to my classic beef chili recipe. The biggest difference is I use pure pumpkin puree instead of tomato sauce, a swap that make the chili slightly sweeter than its classic counterpart, but equally hearty and satisfying. Use beef if you prefer, but I like the combination of turkey, pumpkin and butternut squash. I use Heavenly Homemaker’s recipe for homemade taco seasoning in this recipe because I always have a stash around, and using it makes this chili a snap. Make the chili a day ahead so the flavors have plenty of time to meld together–and so you don’t have to spend time fussing in the kitchen on Halloween night.

  • 1 Tablespoon refined coconut oil (or other neutral tasting oil)
  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup homemade taco seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2-15 ounce cans pure pumpkin puree
  • 2-14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 4 cups black beans (drained)
  • 2- 12 ounce bags peeled & chopped butternut squash

First, roast the butternut squash. (Do it a day before you plan to make the chili, and two days before you plan to serve the chili, to make chili-making super easy on yourself.) Grab a 2 pound bag of cleaned, cubed butternut squash (from Trader Joe’s, for example), pour the bag out onto a sheet pan, and drizzle some olive oil on top. Give it a sprinkle of salt and pepper and spread it into an even layer. Roast at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes, or until the butternut squash is tender and golden, but not burned.

Next, chop the onions and mince the garlic. Then, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until almost translucent, then add the ground turkey to the pan and then turn up the heat to medium high. When the turkey is almost all the way browned (as in, when it’s still slightly pink), toss in the garlic, taco seasoning, coriander, kosher salt and stir it the meat, crumbling it up as it cooks. When the meat is browned, add the pumpkin puree, diced tomatoes, water and red wine vinegar; stir well to get everything incorporated. Next, add the beans and butternut squash. Cover and let simmer for about an hour, but remember that the longer it simmers, the better the flavor will be.

To serve, top it with hot sauce, or sliced green onions, or cheese and sour cream (if you can have them), or nothing at all, because it’s good that way too.

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