Whitney Withers creates boo-tiful confections and costumes year-round for her 16-year-old daughter, Sloane Withers-Marney. While Halloween is a real treat for Withers, this single mother has plenty of tricks to extend her ingenuity.
A legal assistant by day, Withers conjures up recipes and patterns for the dishes she bakes and costumes she makes in her Overland Park home.
Q: Is Halloween your favorite holiday?
A: This is my favorite time of year. I love the crisp fall air and preparing heartier dishes that emulate the season.
Halloween gives people permission to be free to try on different personas. Creativity comes in all forms, whether you’re sewing and making costumes, decorating your home or cooking in your kitchen. For at least one day, everyone gets to be someone different, and adults get to be kids again.
Q: Do you ever feel like Alice in Wonderland yourself — falling down the rabbit hole into a creative world when you’re cooking and costuming?
A: I fell into making costumes for my daughter when she asked me to make her a Han Solo costume when she was 10 years old. After she won a costume contest with it, I think we were both hooked.
Now my daughter dresses in one of her 20 costumes, ranging from superhero to princess, volunteering to visit sick children and appearing at events such as Comic Con dressed as a cosplay guest, in which she dresses the part of a movie, book or video game character.
I learned the basics of sewing and cooking in home economics classes but have really taught myself to stretch beyond the basic recipe or pattern. I love to bring people together and feed a crowd, and I also love to see a crowd of children come up to my daughter, whether she is dressed as Rapunzel or Batgirl.
Q: How did you develop this hands-on approach to life, especially when some claim cooking and sewing are dying arts?
A: I like to keep my hands busy. For me, I like the process of creating something new from simple ingredients or fabrics. Cooking and sewing at their most basic level are anti-technology, relaxing, tactile and appealing processes to me.
I like taking raw materials and coming up with something of which I can be proud and share with others. There’s also the unknown factor because, although I may start with a recipe or idea, I’m always tinkering and am never really sure how something is going to turn out. When I was a child, I was always sculpting and creating things, and now it just feels good to use some of these same inner talents to share joy with others.
Q: Did you develop this Pumpkin Pasty recipe?
A: My daughter asked for a Harry Potter party when she was young, and as part of the food I wanted to serve items the characters would eat in Hogsmeade village. A pasty is a British staple, which is folded pastry, usually with a savory filling of meat and vegetables.
This is a super-easy recipe, as the pumpkin custard can be made and refrigerated the day before. While you can make and roll out your own pie crust recipe, the refrigerated pie crust is an easy alternative.
I love using spices in my cooking and delving into making interesting ethnic dishes. What’s most interesting is that hand pies are popular in America now but are also well-known as empanadas in Spain, Mexico and South America; as Gujias in north India; and as calzones in Italy. The idea of making a crust and filling is nothing new, but it’s what you create on the inside that makes it unique and truly your own.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Pumpkin Pasties or Hand Pies
Makes 12 servings
3/4 cup sugar
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
2 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 (6-ounce) cans or 1 1/3 cups evaporated milk
1 (14-ounce) package of 2 refrigerated ready-made pie crusts
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Coat a 9-by-13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs and sugar with an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, until sugar dissolves.
Whisk in pumpkin, butter, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and allspice until well incorporated. Add milk slowly until well mixed.
Pour pumpkin mixture into prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes.
Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for 45 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean and a light brown crust forms on top. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. This can be made the day ahead, covered in plastic wrap and placed in refrigerator.
To assemble pasties:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Roll out rounds of prepared pie crusts and cut out 12, 4-inch circles, rolling scraps of crust together as needed. Scoop out 1 tablespoon of cooled pumpkin custard and place in the center of each round of pie crust.
Carefully fold crust over filling, forming a semi-circle. Seal edges together using a crimping tool or the tines of a fork. Using a sharp knife, vent hand pies by cutting 3 small slits in the top.
Place on prepared baking sheet and continue process, placing 6 to each pan.
Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before eating.
Per pie: 276 calories (44 percent from fat), 14 grams total fat (6 grams saturated), 55 milligrams cholesterol, 34 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 363 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.