Pam McMurtry, McMurtry Ink
Celebrating the harvest is a tradition that may be traced back to ancient Israel's Feast of the Tabernacles. In modern times, Halloween can be spooky, but it's possible to sidestep the macabre and create a warm and happy celebration for family families. Here are some easy tips and a timetable for preparing your home or other location for company.
Go out to the street and walk up to the entrance. Notice the details as if you were a stranger approaching your home for the first time. First impressions will probably be of the door, lighting fixtures, window ledges and landscaping.
Make notes of necessary repairs, cleaning, decorations and updates.
A docent of a historical landmark house once said if the windows and light fixtures are clean, the house will seem clean.
In the month before
Hang pictures, clean coat closet and carpets and make repairs to house and yard.
Select a theme or motif. Be creative — think about favorite literature, history, movies, places, etc. Look for inspiration to start planning around; owls are big this year, you might add acorns and oak leaves. Advance planning gives you the advantage of time to gather items and recipes, but a good last-minute party can be pulled together if you have a basic supply of decor and some delicious food.
Plan the menu and start early preparations for activities.
Shop for paper products. Figure out your menu. What size plates do you need? What about bowls and cups? Plan for at least two napkins and two forks per person if you are serving dinner and dessert, it's better to have too many than too few. Deseret Industries and other thrift store might have candles, jars and costume pieces.
Mail, deliver or otherwise send out invitations for the holiday party.
Two weeks before
Purchase non-perishables, canned or frozen foods, ingredients for desserts and basics like rice or pasta and punch ingredients (except fresh fruit). By buying over a period of time instead of all at once, your budget won't take a big hit.
If you are using cloth tablecloths and napkins, these can be ironed in advance. Wrap a towel around around the bottom of a clotheshanger. Iron the tablecloth and drape over the towel then hang in an uncrowded closet. Napkins may be stored in a covered container.
Review menu, choose serveware, buy or borrow what you need.
Polish silver and wrap or put in an airtight container.
Clean your house and set up lighting and decorations.
The week before
Clean windows, remove cobwebs (maybe not for a Halloween party...) and oil cupboards. Wooden cupboards clean well by wiping with a cloth saturated with lemon oil or Liquid Gold.
Dust tops of fans and picture frames and “de-clutter” rooms.
Clean refrigerator and oven.
Prepare favors if using.
Three days before
Clean walls, bathrooms and floors.
Check coat closet for extra hangers for guests to use.
Two days before
Buy perishables, including fresh produce, meats and dairy.
The day before
Prepare foods. Most vegetables can be washed and cut up the day before they are served. Tear and toss salads, but don't add dressing, croutons or cut tomatoes until just before serving. Assemble casseroles or baked dishes and chill to cook just before needed. If making a main dish salad, cook ingredients like chicken or bacon and refrigerate to use the next day.
Clean guest bathroom and hang sign telling the family to “Use other bathroom.” Place guest soap and towels in bathroom.
Carve jack-o'-lanterns. Glow sticks or battery-operated tea candles can be used instead of real candles. Refrigerate to keep fresh.
Day of the party
Give house the “once over” in the morning and set up any last-minute decorations.
Set table, eating areas and beverage-serving areas.
Bake entree, side dishes and prepare last-minute dishes such as dessert and punch.
Rest and dress for the party.
Enjoy the party!
Fit a colored punchbowl or cauldron with a clear plastic bowl for a liner (check discount or party stores). Place several activated glowsticks in the punchbowl and set the liner on top. Fill the liner with your favorite punch or juice, adding a few drops of green food coloring if you wish. Wearing gloves, float chunks of dry ice for a bubbling, steaming effect.
Pumpkin Pie Cake
Many like this rich dessert better than pumpkin pie!
1 box yellow cake mix, with one cup reserved
½ cup butter, melted
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 29-ounce can pumpkin
1½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 12-ounce cans evaporated milk
½ cup sugar
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. From a box of yellow cake mix, remove one cup of dry mix and set aside for topping. Combine remaining cake mix with egg and melted butter.
Pat into the bottom of a 9-by-13 baking pan. Mix together four eggs, pumpkin, sugar, salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and evaporated milk.
Pour over crust. Set aside.
Mix together reserved cup of cake mix, ½ cup sugar, 1½ teaspoon cinnamon, ½ cup softened butter and the pecans until the texture of corn meal and sprinkle over pumpkin filling.
Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes or until pumpkin is set. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Pam McMurtry is a wife, parent, artist and writer. Her "A Harvest and Halloween Handbook" is at
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