Villisca Axe Murder House: Iowa Skillet Cornbread

On our way home from our summer vacation, we decided to take a short detour into the small rural town of Villisca, Iowa. Being a native Iowegian, you simply cannot NOT know the grisly tale of the awful tragedy that occurred in this most unexpected of places on June 10th 1912.

As Iowa history records, the Moore family of seven and two young overnight guests were found brutally butchered with an ax in their sleep. The years following the murder were just as brutal for the tiny town as conspiracy and suspicion plagued its residents. After two trials that left an itinerant preacher acquitted (both times-same guy) amidst various other theories and wayward leads about a train-hopping serial killer, the true killer still has not been identified, and the town is still being haunted by its very gruesome past.

The grave of the victims

2012; the anniversary of the Villisca Ax Murder Mystery. So, of course-we had to be there.

It’s not just about the past. Yes, the case history is intriguing and unbelievably tragic, but what draws us to the house isn’t just about the past. It’s about the presence that still lives within it. You may have seen the house featured on an episode of Ghost Adventures. Zacky B and the Boys did a slightly entertaining piece on the place. We did get pretentious ax shots and over dramatic women brought in to testify to the haunting of the house, but the crew really didn’t discover much. We had better personal experiences both times we visited.

No, not a haunting specter. Just a terrible photo of my youngest zombling exploring the upstairs.

The first time we set foot in the house was several summers ago when the former curator, Darwin, was operating visitations of the house. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon, long after the last tour was scheduled, but Darwin was kind enough to allow us inside. My first impression was that of mystification and eerie familiarity as I noticed right away that the front exterior of the Moore home was almost an exact replica of our weathered house in Nebraska. Darwin, his passion evident, shared with us the rather horror novelish history of the murder and the division of the town shortly thereafter. But he forgot to mention anything about the present. It wasn’t until we left the bedroom where two of the children had been murdered that I discovered something strange was going on at the Villisca Ax Murder house.

Creepy master bedroom

While standing in the bedroom, I noticed a low dresser top decorated with vintage toys. One toy, a small rubber ball, was nestled between several other items; unmoving. Upon leaving the room, entering another, and then taking a final glimpse into the bedroom before our final exit, the ball was sitting squarely, unmoving again, in the middle of the bedroom floor. Yes, we were the only (living) people in the house. Yes, we traveled room to room as a group. No, the ball was not rigged as I scooped it up and placed it back in its rightful spot between all the toys. When I mentioned the weird incident to Darwin, a small smile creased his wizened face. He shrugged and said, “things like that happen around here sometimes.” Oh they do? Yikes!?

The Moore family burial site

 

            Our most current visit was even more eventful. After snapping a few photos of the zomblings in front of an aged framed picture of the Moore family, my hubby pointed out an image that had surfaced in the background. It was distinctly a face; a creepy little demonic leering face that couldn’t be replicated with neither my digital camera or my cell phone camera. IF that wasn’t enough to send us scurrying out the back kitchen door, right?

No, we tromped upstairs, and the hubby instantly began investigating a closet door in one of the children’s bedrooms that kept opening on its own. A little background knowledge is essential here. The hubs is in the construction field. He knows doors, and he knows what makes doors open and close involuntarily. To our delight and dismay (really. It was a toss up between the two), he couldn’t debunk it. He couldn’t come to any logical terms about why the door kept closing on him.

Yep; on him; cuz he actually went inside the tiny unlit closet during his door examination. I’ve watched enough horror to know good things do not happen in small dark spaces. It was definitely time to go!

If your interest in the Villisca Ax Murder story has been piqued or you just like scary ghost stories like me and my crew, I dare you to visit the official site of the house. It’s loaded with history, personal experiences, recorded EVPs, and everything you could want to know about planning your own visit.

www.villiscaiowa.com/ 

The Recipe: As soon as the leaves turn their beautiful shades of red, orange, and brown and the wind stirs up autumn, we begin to crave Mike’s beer chili and my homemade cornbread. Being from Iowa surrounded by corn, I know traditional cornbread is typically baked in an 8” or 9” cast iron skillet and contains niblets of delicious golden corn in every bite. The finished bread has a crisped top with a dense creamy filling almost making it more of a buttery spoon bread. Smother it with real butter and rich honey, and you’ll have a satisfying side dish staple for all your favorite fall soups, stews, and chilis. Trust me, one hearty bite and you will put your dry, crusty box mix to rest forever….

You can see the tiny nibs of corn peeking through!

Iowa Skillet Cornbread

(Serves 6-8)

 

Ingredients:

8” or 9” cast iron skillet, greased up with veggie shortening

1 ¼ c flour

¾ c cornmeal

¼ c sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 c milk

(1) 8 ounce can cream corn

¼ c canola oil

1 large egg

How To Make It:

Obligatory Reminder: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Have your skillet greased up.

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, and baking powder.

2. With a rubber spatula, stir in the cream corn, milk, oil, and egg until just moist. Do not overbeat or you will have icky dry bread nobody wants to eat.

3. Pour the simple batter into the skillet. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes or until just golden brown.

Serve it up with butter and honey!

Deadgirl’s native Iowa Skillet Cornbread and Mike’s kick-arse chili.

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Chernobyl Diaries: Nuclear Poppyseed Cupcakes

Pack your bags. We’re going on vacationmuwahahahaha….. 

            Many great horror movies have begun with a group of friends setting off together on a carefree summer adventure. We all know what happens. It’s become quite the genre cliché. Fun becomes trouble and the trouble turns deadly. Each member of the party is picked off, one by clueless one, until the final tough contender remains facing off with The Bad Guy or The Bad Something. While most vacation horror films may seem fairly formulaic in their approach to kill off oblivious youngsters, there are an eclectic few going out of their way to do it different. Oren Peli’s Chernobyl Diaries is definitely trying to be a trip-taking rebel.

My Screen Rant:  Chris, his girlfriend, Natalie, and her tag-along galpal, Amanda, are off sightseeing throughEurope. They make a brief pit stop inKiev,Ukraine, to visit Chris’s playful, up-for-anything brother, Paul. Paul is really so up-for-anything that he arranges an impromptu side adventure through Uri’s “Extreme Tourism” to Pripyat, the town evacuated and left deserted following the 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster. His straighter-laced brother is not exactly thrilled.

Pripyat

Of course, the typical warnings soon abound. Another backpacking couple joins in on the tour, Uri must take the antsy group another route after being denied access into the city by gate guards, and signs of “we’re not alone” slowly creep their way into the film. The action really picks up once the tour ends. But you know the tour never really ends, right? Because the van doesn’t start and the walkie-talkie only responds with static. *shocker!* Wild animals are on the prowl, and radiation levels are beginning to rise along with the tension amongst the frightened friends.

An uneasy feeling

That is where the tried and true devices of the Pick Em Off horror film dissolve. What follows is an unremitting assault on your nerves sans spooky music that gives away the better jolts. The creepy setting is finally original. The characters face more than just mutated ruins-dwellers. The ending left a hopeless taste in my mouth (that is usually not the case). And thankfully, it’s not a found footage film!!

Now, who says horror isn’t educational? After an hour and a half of thinking “get the heck outta there,” at the characters, my zomblings could not wait to revisit Chernobylthrough the internet and library books. The movie sparked an interest in the geography, the history, and the science behind the disaster. Chernobyl Diaries motivated their interest in learning far better than any textbook or classroom lesson. Go Horror! I think that’s pretty awesome!

Something’s coming!

The Recipe: Makiwnyk is the traditional poppy seed cake ofUkraine. I took the customary ingredients found in the cake and transformed them into airy lemon-glazed Makiwnyk cupcakes. Not only is the glaze refreshingly tart, it also serves as a tasty adhesive for the radioactive fondant symbols atop each treat. The best part is that you don’t have to be an expert in fondant to create the decorations because the design is fairly simple.

Tips for Success: Make the lemony glaze while the cupcakes bake. Prepare the fondant decorations a day or two ahead.

Nuclear Makiwnyk (Poppyseed) Cupcakes

(Makes 22-24 radioactive goodies)

Ingredients:

3 c cake flour

2 sticks (1 cup) softened butter

5 eggs (room temp, please)

2 1/3 c sugar

¼ tsp baking soda

1/8 tsp salt

1 c sour cream or crème fraiche

1 tsp lemon juice

2 Tbsp lemon zest

2 Tbsp poppy seeds

1 tsp cinnamon

Liners: radioactive green or yellow

Topping: Makiwnyk (lemon) Glaze

Decoration: Nuclear Symbol

How To Make Em:

Obligatory Reminder: Prep pans with cupcake liners and coat sparingly with non-stick baking spray. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. Beat the butter and sugar into creamy submission using your hand mixer or stand mixer.

2. Add the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the sour cream/crème fraiche by hand.

3. In a small bowl, mix together the boring stuff: flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the creamed mixture by hand or mixer until well combined.

4. Gently mix in the cinnamon, lemon juice, zest, and poppy seeds.

5. Fill each cupcake cavity about ¾ full. Bake 15-18 minutes in 350 degrees oven. Always do the toothpick-poke check before pulling them out of the oven. If the toothpick emerges clean from the center of a cupcake, it is done.

6. Cool. Glaze. Decorate.

 Deadgirl Makiwnyk Glaze

 (Enough to cover 22-24 radioactive goodies)

Ingredients:

3 ½ Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 ½ c powdered sugar 

How To Make It:

1. Whisk the two sticky ingredients together until the sugar is fully dissolved and it resembles a syrup.

2. Brush or drizzle over the tops of the cooled cupcakes.

3. Place the decorations atop each cupcake before the glaze dries.

Fondant Radioactive Symbol

1 batch white fondant (storebought or homemade)

Yellow icing color

Black icing color

Tools: toothpicks, rolling pin (silicone or otherwise), silicone mat or tabletop, extra powdered sugar or cornstarch, craft cutting knife or fondant cutting knife, standard circle cookie cutter

**First off, I don’t have any money to spend on fancy-schmancy cake decorating supplies so in true DIY anarchy style-I use what I have around my kitchen.

**Also, I don’t buy packaged fondant because it tastes disgusting to me and where’s the DIY rebellion in that? I prefer to make my own. On our next traveling adventure, I will post a recipe for homemade marshmallow fondant. Much yummier!!

Doin’ it Deadgirl Style

How To Make Em:

1. Dust your work surface or mat with loads of powdered sugar/cornstarch.

2. Using a toothpick to add the color, tint ½ of the fondant yellow and ½ of the fondant black.

Alternative: There are always more than one way to skin a cat, my dearies. Black fondant is a pain to achieve. If you are patience-challenged like me, cut down your time by simply leaving the other half white and paint on the black icing color after the decos have been assembled. I did this, and it worked fabulously.

3. Roll out the yellow fondant thin and cut out as many circles as you can with your circle cutter. Place each circle atop a cupcake.

4. Using your craft knife or your overpriced fondant tool, cut radioactive symbols from the black (or white) fondant. See my example below for an awesome visual or Google it.

5. Using a dab of leftover glaze or a small bit of water + powdered sugar/cornstarch, adhere your small symbols to the yellow circle.

*If you are painting on the black color, use a fine brand new art or candy making paint brush.

Voila! You are set for a radioactive night of horror film watching!!! Enjoy!

Upcoming Travels: Another Friday the 13th means another group meeting with my Main Man, Jason Voorhees. We’ll be watching Friday the 13th Part 4 (my absolute favorite in the series) and munching on Hockey Mask Scotcheroos!

The Amityville Horror: Butter Toffee Popcorn Beware!

This warm weather has me longing to slip into my flip-flops, pitch a tent, and tell spooky stories ‘round a campfire with my zomblings. It also has me ready to pull out my favorite summertime scary movies! It is true; I swap out my horror collection like I swap out cold season clothes for warm season clothes or oven comfort recipes for our favorite grilled dishes.

Like Halloween and Trick’r Treat are necessary autumn staples and Dead Snow and Black Christmas are great to make the season a-fright, the summer grows its own crop of cinematic creepiness. Just a few of my hot season favorites include Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Silver Bullet, Jaws, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (classic and new),  anything involving camp slashers (ahem, Friday the 13th and the Sleepaway Camp series), and The Amityville Horror (original only, please).

My Screen Rant: Flies congregating in the window, a growling disembodied voice that chases away your church friends, waking every morning at the house’s witching hour, 3:15am, by various frightening sounds and strange feelings, vanishing wads of cash, a biting statue, a ‘crazy’ bug ya just can’t shake, a closet door that is very babysitter-unfriendly, a terrifying pig-like imaginary friend that got left behind by the previous owner, black sludge spewing from toilets and faucets, blood oozing from the walls, and did I forget to mention the doorway to Hell hidden behind a basement wall? Owning a house built on an ancient Indian burial ground sure is a lot of drama for the Lutz family. But thankfully after only 28 days of total terror, they are able to flee the Amityville Horror. House for sale! Buyer Beware. Any takers?

The ultimate spook house

I’ve been obsessed with The Amityville Horror for pretty much my entire life. Back before the whole debacle was debunked, I watched the movie and read the book by Jay Anson. I was a wide-eyed believer in the voices in the house that told Ronald DeFeo Jr. to murder his entire family in their sleep within the symbolic hour of 3am. I similarly believed in the Lutz Family’s harrowing 28 days of horror in the house. I was fascinated by the events Kathy and George Lutz described on television talk shows and in the pages of the novel. Years later, as people began to surface with the real ‘truth’ and paranormal researchers kept turning up zilch for evidence on the property, the story began to crumple and fall apart-finally disintegrating into a whole pile of lies. I hated that it was a sham. It was an amazing ghost story, and I still held a shred of belief as to what really occurred there.

The Amityville Horror Movie poster

You see, there really was an Amityville Horror. Ronald DeFeo Jr. really did shoot his entire family in 1974, claiming he heard their voices plotting against him. Never mind he was a frequent user of heroin and LSD, and was diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder?? There are also some sources claiming that DeFeo Jr. was a dabbler in the occult which I truly believe would also explain the “voices”. To me, that is frightening enough in itself. But DeFeo Jr.’s reasons were attached to him not the house. The Lutz family created one of the greatest American hauntings, but what occurred 13 months earlier is the true scare.

Interested in more? Pick up a copy of Ric Osuna’s book, The Night The DeFeos Died: Reinvestigating the Amityville Murders. No, it’s not as entertaining as Anson’s Amityville Horror paperback I revisit every couple of years, but it is quite interesting for the armchair sleuths.

The Recipe: No matter what scary movie you choose to curl up with on a stormy spring night, a bowl of popcorn should always be beside you. But why settle on just plain salt and butter when you can easily and affordably go gourmet. It wouldn’t be a Deadgirl recipe if it wasn’t sweet or indulgent, so count on a popcorn snack with plenty of gooey sticky goodness in homemade butter toffee sauce and loaded with yummy add-ins!

Butter Toffee Popcorn Beware

(Makes enough to feed a large scary movie crowd)

Ingredients:

1 ½ -2 cups popcorn kernels

Vegetable/Canola oil for popping the corn

10 Tbsp butter

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup light corn syrup

2 tsp butter extract

1/8 tsp salt

1 bag of Nestle’s Butterfinger Bites candy

1 1/2 cups honey roasted peanuts

How to Make It:

1. Pop the corn. Heat about 2 tbsp (or enough to cover the bottom of the pan) of oil. Add the kernels and the lid. As the kernels heat and you hear them begin to pop, gently shake the pan over the heat until the popping stops. Add the popcorn to two separate bowls to make it easier to mix.

2. In a saucepan, heat the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, extract, and salt. Simmer, stirring frequently until the butter is melted and all ingredients are smooth. The toffee sauce will be thick.

3. Pour the sauce evenly over both batches of popcorn. Toss to coat. Divide the Butterfinger candy bites and peanuts equally into both batches. Toss.

4. Pop in your favorite scary movie and enjoy!

Oh hello, gooey sticky toffee goodness!

Legend of Sleepy Hollow: Horseman’s Pumpkin Cupcakes

A loud noise made him look around. The creature had moved out to the middle of the road. Even in the darkness, Ichabod could see that it was a rider, an enormous figure on a powerful black horse. And he was following along behind the schoolmaster as he went…What he hated was the silence of the creature. It made not a sound, but rode along, mysterious and menacing. They both went over a small hill. Now viewing his fellow traveler against the background of the sky, Ichabod was horrified to see that the horseman had no head! Even worse, he was carrying the head that should have been on his shoulders, in the crook of his arm!” (Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow 1820)
            I can hear the slight rustle of leaves and an owl sending its low warning hoot above my head. The foreboding clip-clop of the ebony horse’s hooves crossing the bridge has my heart racing. The chasing autumn wind wraps around me, setting my bones to chilling. I reach for my blanket only to realize I’m not eight years old anymore, toes curled, and hiding under the covers from the Headless Horseman.
            “If I can just reach that bridge,” thought Ichabod, “I am safe.” He gave his bony horse another kick. Old Gunpowder sprang onto the bridge. His hooves thundered over the planks. As he reached the opposite side, Ichabod looked behind to watch the horseman vanish in a flash of fire just as he was supposed to. Just at that moment, he saw the goblin rise up in his stirrups and hurl his head at him. Ichabod tried to dodge the horrible missile, but too late. It crashed into his skull! Ichabod tumbled into the dust. Gunpowder, the black steed, and the goblin rider passed by like a whirlwind.” (Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow 1820)
            It would always take me a while to regain a normal pulse after listening to a retelling of Irving’s classic spooky legend. I had it on vinyl, but the scratchy background noise only added another layer of creepiness to the narrator’s somber tone and cheap sound effects. I still have that record somewhere up in my attic, and I still enjoy pulling out the book every Halloween season and reading it to my zomblings.
            I imagine, like Sleepy Hollow, every town has its own eerie legend. Perhaps not a headless specter riding through a wooded area, but something else just as sinister. For me, in my childhood city, it was the legend of The Black Angel. Located in the Fairview Cemetery, The Black Angel is a towering bronze statue of a feminine heavenly being constructed as a memorial to General Dodge’s wife; nothing too frightening to behold. Until nightfall. Then the angel comes to life. Literally.
            As legend has it, she has been known to come off of her pedestal, fly eerily around the cemetery, and weep real tears (or the gorier version-weep tears of blood). There have been reports of a woman wailing around the general vicinity of the statue, but crying over what? Nobody really knows, but there’s been plenty of farfetched speculation despite the fact that her flights have never been recorded and the tears appear to be from dew collecting at night and rolling right down the angel’s face. My favorite detail is how the angel insists on remaining black in color despite numerous attempts at shining her up. Hmm. Could oxidation of the bronze have anything to do with that?
            But forget science in the face of a legend. Where’s the spooky fun in that?? Think about your own towns, cities, and neighborhoods. What scary legends do you revisit during the Halloween season?
            “But the old farmers’ wives were the ones who knew best. They were certain that Ichabod had been taken away by some spirit. They often told the story around the fire on a winter’s night. The deserted schoolhouse, they said, was haunted by the ghost of the poor teacher. A boy walking by there on a summer night would sometimes hear a distant voice singing a hymn, the sound drifting sadly through the quiet of Sleepy Hollow.(Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow 1820)
The Recipe: It’s the taste of October in a dense little treat. I love the grainy texture wheat flour gives the cake along with the traditional spiciness of yummy pumpkin. For the extreme do-it-yourselfer, add equal tablespoons of cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg to a shaker to make your own pumpkin pie spice you can use in the frosting, your Thanksgiving pies, or even to sprinkle on vanilla ice cream. I’m not that hardcore, so I use purchased pumpkin pie spice.
 Horseman’s Pumpkin Cupcakes
(Makes about 2 dozen)
1 ½ c butter (soft like a rotting pumpkin’s shell)
2 ½ c sugar
5 eggs (room temp, please)
1 c canned pumpkin
1 ¾ c wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp salt
2/3 c buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
Orange or cute pumpkin print baking cups, baking spray
Add cupcake liners to your pan and spray liners lightly with non-stick spray.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with your handy hand mixer. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Add the pumpkin until blended. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, powder, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter mix alternately with the buttermilk. Beat again into creamy submission with your hand mixer. Stir in vanilla. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full with batter. Bake for about 20-22 mins at 350 degrees. Cool for at least 15 mins before smothering with pumpkin spice cream cheese frosting.
Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Frosting
(Makes an obnoxious amount)
¼ c butter  (soft like a rotting pumpkin’s shell)
(1) 8oz package of cream cheese (also soft)
(1) 16oz bag of powdered sugar
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla
Pumpkin pie spice (add a sprinkle or two to tease or mix in a bunch for a stronger Autumn flavor)
Beat the butter and cream cheese into creamy submission with your hand mixer set to medium speed. Add vanilla. Gradually add the powdered sugar and salt, beating again on low speed until nice and blended. Then, turn it up to high gear until the frosting meets your desired consistency. I say the creamier the better, of course. Finally, stir in your spice with a spoon. It’s a matter of taste how much you decide to add. I like a stronger flavor to complement the mild cake.