Festive autumn decor from pumpkins, flowers and fall leaves. Concept of Thanksgiving day or Halloween with copy space Adobe stock image

While you’re celebrating Halloween for more than a day

There is a sweetness to the month of October and the season of fall in general that brings our attention homeward and inward. Could it be the trees going to sleep, cool dry temperatures that delight our morning or daylight hours slipping away causing our focus to converge on how short and fragile life really is. All these things conspire to usher in a season of reflection on relationships and the things that give our lives meaning. What a great loss to our human experience should we ignore or squander this the autumn of our lives. Embrace it, feel it, study it, it is indeed one of God’s great gifts to us.”

— Michael Marcel Sr.

October has become synonymous with Halloween. So much so, that we almost forget the other 30 days of the month.

On Oct. 1, we begin a countdown to the big day. So much of our life is spent doing just that, counting down. We can’t wait for Friday, can’t wait for vacation, can’t wait to be 10, 15, 18, 21.

Much like Christmas, the joy of Halloween is truly at its zenith when we are children.

My fondest memories of Halloween were at the end of the night when we would sit at the kitchen table “full to bust” as my beloved grandmother used to say after having gorged ourselves on pizza, cupcakes and of course, candy.

I would dump all the candy on the table, and my parents would sort through it to make sure it was safe.

After a few years, however, I did begin to notice that through this process a couple select candies would ummmm “disappear” and make their way into a corner of the table for “further examination.”

This “examination” usually involved my parents eating said candies at a later time. Peanut butter cups are tempting, I get it. The omission of these few failed to make a dent on my overall haul.

I used to trick or treat for hours! I would literally come home with pounds of candy!

I’ll admit it publicly, there were even years where I would come back from trick-or-treating, change into last year’s costume and do it all over again. Free candy can be addicting, folks.

As I’ve gotten older, I enjoy seeing the joy Halloween brings to my nieces and nephews and the children around me. Yet, I like to think that I carry some of that same joy with me each year.

Every October, my husband and I come up with our costumes, decorate the house, and make our traditional Baked Southwestern Mac & Cheese. I made it the first year we were together, and I’ve made it every Halloween night since — 15 years and running.

In the weeks leading up to Halloween, we watch our favorite movies that tie in with the season: Death Becomes Her, The Shining, Hocus Pocus, Dead Ringer and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

For the big day, we stock up on candy for trick-or-treaters and relive a little bit of our childhood while our Bluetooth speaker streams holiday oldies like “Monster Mash,” “Thriller” and “One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater.”

Through life, I’m a big believer in making the most out of every day. I regularly use the “good” china to eat a sandwich, or the fine crystal to have a glass of water.

I’ve known people who had rooms in their house that they would never, ever touch. Those rooms would be left in pristine, showroom condition waiting for??? In fact, I once knew someone who had a carpet rake. Daily, she would gently rake the lines on the carpet in her formal living room and then gingerly tiptoe out of the room. Daily.

While I’m all for being organized and neat, I’m afraid I can’t embrace playing carpet fiber Tetris.

Halloween may fall on the last day of October, but my advice is to embrace your inner child and celebrate it all month long. Put up a few decorations, start your own traditions, or rekindle some of the ones you grew up with.

Get creative, and take your costume game to the next level.

Our local thrift stores have myriad options for you to choose from. (Angels Thrift Shop on West New York Avenue is one of my favorites.) Yours truly will be decked out as a genie this year; total cost of my costume: $15.

We are beyond fortunate to have a plethora of live theater, arts and culture in our own backyard.

You could take in a show at the Athens Theatre, catch a DIY Halloween paint & sip or cookie-decorating class at Vision & Heels, or try your luck at Halloween trivia night at Persimmon Hollow.

These are just a few of our local offerings. This paper’s events section is sure to have many more options to unleash your inner fun-loving goblin.

In the spirit of traditions new and old, this month’s recipes are a few of my October favorites. It is my hope that you will enjoy them this year and, hopefully, for many Octobers to come.

Of all my quick bread recipes, this one is the most requested.This is the first time (ever) that I am sharing it.

I love that it makes two loaves, as I’m able to enjoy one and share one. I hope that you’ll do the same.

Pumpkin Bread

2 cups whole wheat flour

½ teaspoon salt

Pumpkin bread

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground


1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter,


2 cups white sugar

2 eggs

1 15 oz. can pumpkin

Green, untoasted pumpkin seeds (often called pepitas and sold in Latin markets such as Fancy Fruit and Produce in Orange City or La Calentana in DeLand)

Sprinkle of salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees, and generously grease two 8-inch-by-4-inch loaf pans. Trace the bottom of a pan onto a piece of folded parchment paper, and cut it out so as to line the inside bottom of each pan.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix well with a whisk.

In a large bowl of an electric mixer or using a hand mixer and a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until blended well. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat after each addition. Continue beating for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Mix in the pumpkin while continuing to beat lightly. The mixture may look curdled and grainy, but that is all right.

Add the flour mixture, scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and beat until well combined.

Do not overmix.

Divide the batter evenly into the two prepared pans, sprinkle with a few green pumpkin seeds, and bake for 65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool completely, and sprinkle the top with just the tiniest bit of salt.

This bread keeps beautifully at room temperature in a sealed container or bag for about five days. Do not refrigerate. Alternatively, you may freeze it for up to three months, thawing it in the refrigerator when ready to use.

Years ago, we were walking in downtown Montreal and got caught in a snowstorm. We finally decided we needed to go indoors, and stumbled upon a charming little bistro. The owners were the most gracious, charming older couple and, without our asking, they quickly greeted us with a piping hot glass of mulled wine.

As the weather gets cooler, I often make this crockpot-friendly version. It’s a great way to use a couple of bottles of cheap red wine you may have lying around.

It’s also a great recipe to save for welcoming friends on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Crockpot Mulled Wine

2 bottles of red wine (any variety

Mulled wine

works here: Cabernet, Pinot Noir,

Merlot, etc.)

¼ cup of orange liqueur (such as

Cointreau or Grand Marnier)

2 cups of apple cider (not apple juice)

1 cup of sugar

2 oranges, seeded and thinly sliced

8 whole cloves

4 cinnamon sticks

2 star anise

Directions: Place all ingredients into the crockpot, and cook on low for about an hour-and-a-half. Take care to not let it start to simmer/boil.

After cooking, taste for sugar, and add more to taste if you desire.

Then, set the crockpot to the warm setting, and allow it to sit. It will be fine on this setting for 3-4 hours.

To serve, ladle into a teacup, mug or heat-resistant glass, and garnish with an orange wheel and/or cinnamon stick.

This next recipe is for our traditional Baked Southwestern Mac & Cheese. The recipe can be prepared up to two days ahead and then baked when ready to eat, making it perfect for Halloween night.

Baked Southwestern Mac & Cheese

For the ground beef:

2 onions, peeled and diced

1 green pepper, diced

1 red pepper, diced

1 small can pickled jalapeños,

drained (optional)

8 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 lb. of ground beef



1 teaspoon of dried oregano

For the cheese sauce:

1 stick of unsalted butter

(up to) 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour

4-5 cups of whole milk



¼ teaspoon of nutmeg

¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper

4 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese

To assemble:

1 box of macaroni, cooked al dente (about 8 minutes)

4 cups of sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 cup of Italian seasoned breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons of olive oil


In a large pan, sauté the onions, peppers and garlic on medium heat for about 7-8 minutes. Add the ground beef, and season generously with salt and pepper.

Add the dried oregano, and continue browning the beef until cooked, about 15 minutes. Add the jalapeños if using, and transfer the mixture to a bowl and set aside.

Next, prepare the cheese sauce. This sauce is made using béchamel, which is considered one of the “mother sauces” in cooking. It is the base for many beloved cream sauces such as Alfredo, garlic cream, etc. It’s a bit tricky to get the right consistency with the flour, butter and milk, but practice makes perfect.

Place a medium to large saucepan on low-medium heat. Melt the butter in the pan, and begin adding flour, one tablespoon at a time, to make a roux. You want it to resemble a thick, blondish paste. Then, very slowly, begin adding the milk, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula so as to eliminate any lumps. After 15-20 minutes, the sauce should be thick enough to easily coat the back of a spoon. Once it has reached that consistency, reduce the heat to low and begin adding the shredded cheese, a little bit at a time. Add the nutmeg and cayenne pepper, and season with salt and pepper. The sauce will be fairly bland and may take more salt than you’d expect, usually up to a teaspoon. However, add the salt incrementally so as to not oversalt it. Remove from the heat, and set aside.

Now, to assemble the dish: Cook a box of macaroni in salted water until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain, and set aside. Heavily grease a 9-inch-by-13-inch casserole pan. In a large bowl, mix the beef and the macaroni, and slowly add the cheese sauce, folding it all gently together. Allow this all to cool so as to not melt the cheese in the next step.

Place half of the mixture in the casserole dish, and top evenly with 2 cups of the shredded cheddar cheese. Place the remaining mixture on top, smooth out, and top with the remaining two cups of cheese. Sprinkle the top with seasoned breadcrumbs, and drizzle with olive oil.

At this point, you can bake the dish or cover it in plastic and keep it in the fridge for up to two days. Once ready to bake, place uncovered in a preheated 350-degree oven, and bake for about 1 hour or until the edges are crispy and the top is thoroughly melted and golden in spots.

After removing from the oven, let rest for 20 minutes before serving. If baking after it has been refrigerated, take the casserole out for 30 minutes before baking, and bake for 15 or so minutes more.

There are a few steps to this dish, but it is perfect for cool fall weather. Also, it’s rather hearty and sure to please pavement-weary trick-or-treaters and parents alike!


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