Tall with long, jet-black hair, made darker by an application of temporary purple dye, Beckie Lombardi is one creepy culinarian — think Martha Stewart meets Morticia Addams.
A seemingly ordinary kitchen in the Boise Highlands is her weekend lair. Lombardi dons a skeleton apron and calls to her minions — three Chihuahua mix rescues who mill about at her feet — and she becomes Hellen Die, her alter ego who can really cook.
“Because when you want devilishly good food you go to hell and die,” Lombardi says, with a wicked laugh. She wields a large knife and carves the roast beast.
All of this is the setting in which Lombardi creates concoctions for The Necro Nom-nom-nomicon, her zombie-horror cooking and DIY blog devoted to all things Halloween.
Die, or rather Lombardi, makes her dishes, such as Chili Con Carnage and Autopsy Skull Cake,with a theatrical flair by employing tricks and techniques she learned working in the television and film industry. Lombardi worked as an assistant director on shows such as “Sons of Anarchy,” and as an AD and writer for the Syfy network’s zombie drama “Z Nation.”
As she built her career Lombardi did this exotic cookery on the side for fun. She would play around with ideas and then bring cooked creatures and creations to the set to test them out on the actors. When her “Z Nation” gig ended last year, Lombardi decided to take a break, move back home and create The Necro.
She took the blog’s name from horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s “Necronomicon,” a fictional book of magic he created for a story in 1924.
Lombardi spends her weekends — and an occasional weeknight — inventing ghoulish delights and projects that she posts weekly to inspire her close band of followers. Though she plays up the dark humor of it all, at the same time she is deadly serious.
Lombardi is a perfectionist who presents her creations with careful attention to detail. She renders her images beautifully with artful photography, eerie lighting and captivating arrangements.
“Really, I’m just a kid in the kitchen having fun,” she says, as she bites into what looks like a human finger.
It’s a neat trick. She uses food-grade silicon to make molds of her own fingers, and then stuffs them with Underwood Deviled Ham and a sliver of breadstick — like a bone — for a cringe-worthy crunch.
It’s one of the hardest of her recipes for most people to eat, she admits. Lombardi developed it for her Chili Con Carnage.
“I had the idea to put fingers and ears in the chili,” she says, but when she made the fingers, the meat shrank when it heated, “so it looked like I was serving toddler.”
“I’ll push the envelope but I don’t want people to hate me,” she says. “I don’t want you to like me, but that was too much.”
She connives and cooks for her parents, herself and her friends. She also takes more than a few of her “experiments” to the office, where willing guinea pigs await.
It took years of trial and error for this self-taught cook to get to this level of expertise. Lombardi is tenacious and will spend the time it takes to get it right.
Last year, she wanted to make a chocolate spider filled with mini-marshmallows. When you dropped it in hot milk, the chocolate would melt and the marshmallows would spill out like eggs.
“I knew it was going to be bloody brilliant,” she says. “Getting it to work was awful”
Ultimately I would love an empire, like Martha Stewart for Halloween.
She made a mold from a favorite plastic spider, but the legs were too delicate kept breaking. She worked on it for weeks last August, when the summer heat made molding chocolate treacherous.
“The first one I made was so awful. It looked like a tampon. The second one looked like a mouse. It was epic fail after epic fail,” she says.
But she eventually figured it out, and the spiders are part of her Necro repertoire.
How did this Boise native develop her fascination for freaky food? In her 20s, Lombardi spent four yeas in the U.S. Navy. Every port of call came with an exotic culinary experience.
“I had some friends who would only eat from fast-food restaurants, but some of us were like, ‘Let’s try it,’ ” she says. “We would go out and just be overwhelmed and kind of shocked by all this stuff.”
She ate alligator-foot soup in Singapore, crickets and grasshoppers in Thailand, and scorpions on a stick in China.
“There was always the rumor that we were eating monkey. I don’t know what all we ate, but I’ll tell you it was really good,” she says.
The diversity she found on her plate introduced her to a world of flavors and helped develop her tolerance for the “creep factor” in food.
“Once you wrap your head around the idea that something may look different but it’s going to taste amazing, then you open your horizons to an entirely new world,” Lombardi says.
Lombardi and her sister, Kate, who now is an assistant costume designer working in Hollywood, grew up in Boise’s North End loving Halloween. Their parents — artist Judith and attorney David — planted pumpkins, made inventive costumes and let their daughters decorate the inside of the house extravagantly.
“It became such a big deal (that) preparing for Halloween became an event in itself,” she says. “It’s one day, but when you have a mom and dad working as hard as they did on it, you extend to roughly a month. I had a real desire to keep that going. Why does it have to be just a month?”
Now she celebrates Halloween and its surrounding culture all year.
Hellen Die is not alone.
Lombardi also goes by the noms-de-plume Tye Lombardi and Tye Rannosaurus.
She adopted the different names when Beckie couldn’t get work.
“I would send out resumes and would get nothing,” she says. “My friends said, ‘It’s because you’re a woman.’ So we changed it to a gender ambiguous name. I used to work at a news station in Montana and they used to tease me and say ‘Go get them, tiger,’ so I just went with Tye.
“And sure enough — it was ridiculous — I’d send out two resumes, exactly the same. One with Rebecca, the other with Tye, and Tye would always get the phone call.”
Lombardi went through the Director’s Guild of America’s assistant director program in 2004. The trainee program set her up to work on TV shows such as “Numb3rs” and “Heartland,” and the film “Rush Hour 3.” As Tye she worked on “Sons of Anarchy,” “The Shield” and “Z Nation.” She wrote one of the most popular episodes for “Z,” called “Doc Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” It aired in the third season.
Tye Rannosaurus writes a couple of features for Syfy.com, including “Fantastic Feasts,” a food page that spins off science fiction films and television, such as Replicant Cookies for this weekend’s launch of the “Blade Runner” sequel.
Halloween for grown-ups
“I love to throw dinner parties, but you go online and there are tons of resources but they are geared to kids,” Lombardi says. “There’s nothing wrong with that but I’m not going to serve my guests hot dogs wrapped with biscuit dough and call them mummies. What I’m doing is for an adult sensibility.”
Very adult — fingers not withstanding — yet with a darkly funny wink to the kid inside. The blog’s sections include Scary Fast, Disgustingly Delicious and Wickedly Crafty. Under the latter, she gives step-by step how-tos for things such as making a table-top hellfire pit and flayed-flesh table cloth (not for the squeamish).
She gives her recipes clever and disarmingly accurate tittles such as Terror-Misu, a skull shaped version of the Italian custard dessert; Cricket Crunch Brittle (yes, it calls for actual freeze-dried crickets); Zombie Arm Meat Loaf (with bones); and even a line of Halloween Boo-zy Beverages, such as the Evil Genius, which comes with glowing green tentacles and bubbling fog.
She finds molds online to make her food in special shapes, and she shops all the stores for Halloween supplies, including skeleton-hand salad servers, skull china and skeleton silverware. She searches online for fun items and inspiration.
“Ultimately I would love an empire, like Martha Stewart for Halloween,” Lombardi says.
Zombie Arm Meat Loaf
Courtesy of Hellen Die, Necro Nom-nom-nomicon
1/4 cup pork caul fat
Blue food coloring
Caul fat, otherwise known as lace fat or fat netting, is a natural casing. It’s a fat, so will melt as it cooks and provide moisture and flavor to your loaf. Although not often called for in modern recipes, caul fat is essential to make things look creepy. It’s not usually carried at butcher shops, but some such as Meats Royale, 6300 W. Overland Road, Boise, will order it.
Gently unwrap caul fat and soak in a bowl of warm water (not too hot or it will melt) and blue food coloring.
Blood red glaze
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1 teaspoon each garlic and onion salt
Red food coloring
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
2 large parsnips, peeled
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1/2 purple onion, diced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce or A-1 sauce
1/2 cup tomato sauce
3/4 cup quick oats
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 package of McCormick meat loaf seasoning mix or your own concoction
Roasting vegetables (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oven to 350 degrees and line a large baking sheet with foil.
Drop parsnips into a pot of salted boiling water. Allow your parsnips to boil until just tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. When they’re done, drop them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process and make them easier to handle.
Meanwhile, mix together beef and pork, onion, eggs, ketchup, mustard, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce and oats in a large bowl. Let rest for 15 minutes. This allows the oats to soak up a bit of the moisture and for the flavors to really meld.
Once your mixture is thoroughly blended, you can start making the base of your arm shape on your foil lined pan. Lay down a layer of meat mix about a quarter of an inch thick in the shape of an arm.
Cut your parsnips into two long strips (radius and ulna) and five smaller strips (your finger bones). Use additional small pieces to serve as the smaller wrist bones. Feel free to get as anatomically correct as you’d like at this point. Do as much (or as little) detail work as you’d like.
Press your “bones” into your meat base, then use the rest of your meat mixture to form your arm then baste with a thick coat of glaze.
Take your caul fat, which by now should be nice and blue, and gently wrap it around your arm, refining the shaping as you go. The membrane will help to keep the entire thing in one piece as it cooks.
Once you’ve achieved a shape you are happy with, give it another layer of glaze, pile your roasting vegetables around the arm and place in the oven.
Bake 1 hour, basting every 15 minutes.
Remove it from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Using the rest of your glaze sauce, baste the end of your arm for an extra added dose of gory realism.
Serve with your roasted veggies and enjoy.