Homemade Halloween spirit

Can you remember the last time you heated oil together with popcorn kernels in the bottom of a pan and waited for the first pop before you started shaking the pan?

I imagine if you asked most kids how to make popcorn, they would say, "Put a bag in the microwave oven, and hit the popcorn button."

It might be safe to assume homemade popcorn is a thing of the past - that is fair. Why go back to a procedure that takes more time and dirties a pan when you can pop it in the microwave without any fuss.

You could ask the same question about homemade macaroni and cheese. Chances are you will hear, "Open a box, boil noodles and add the dry pouch of cheese, butter and a little milk.

I recently read some people feel that by opening up a box and adding a few ingredients, they were making homemade food. I suppose food purists would insist "homemade cooking" be defined as starting with all ingredients in their whole, natural form. But, in reality, this is just too time-consuming for many people for everyday cooking.

And, after all, it can be argued that sitting down at the table together to share a meal is more important than how you put the meal together.

AN ONGOING TRADITIONHomemade popcorn is worth the effort for this recipe. Inspired by a recipe in an old cookbook, I started making these popcorn balls many years ago for classroom Halloween parties. Now my kids are too old for classroom parties, but the tradition of making these popcorn balls lives on.

I put punch in the same category as popcorn balls. Every classroom party or Halloween neighborhood get-together deserves a good punch - so does the environment. Punch eliminates all those juice boxes, pop cans and water-bottle containers.

Make sure all the punch ingredients are chilled before you put the punch together, so it is cold and refreshing.

(makes 16 popcorn balls)

6 cups miniature marshmallows
1/4 cup (1/2 cube) butter
Pinch of salt
Yellow food coloring, as needed
Red food coloring, as needed
16 cups popped popcorn*

In a medium-size saucepan over low to medium heat, melt marshmallows, butter and salt. Add yellow and red food coloring to achieve the orange color you desire, stirring well.

Place popcorn in large, lightly buttered bowl; pour marshmallow mixture over popcorn, and stir to gently coat.

Lightly coat hands with butter, and shape popcorn mixture into 10 medium-size balls.

*To make popped popcorn: Put 1/3 cup vegetable oil and 1 cup popcorn into a large pan; swirl pan to distribute ingredients. Cover and place over medium heat.
When first kernel pops, begin shaking pan until popping is complete, carefully lifting lid during cooking to allow steam to escape.

(makes 20 8-ounce servings)

1 large (2 liter bottle or 67.6 ounces) ginger ale, chilled
48 ounces cranberry juice, chilled
12-ounce can frozen pink lemonade
1 quart cold water

Stir all ingredients together in a punch bowl.

Madison Park's Linda Burner Augustine can be reached at mptimes@nwlink.com.

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