Haunted Halloween Dinner Party Decor

For this ghoul fest our team went with a black and white dinner party theme. It is a little known secret in party planning to keep colors simple (and white is the most affordable color to use for decoration) Hey, even celebrities like to save money.

For the tablecloth you can use a basic white cloth. Top it with a 10' spider web as an overlay. We found this one online at Grandin Road. Use black string or ribbon and tie tiny plastic spiders from web that drape down at various heights on the sides.

For our centerpiece we have either a bubbly skull or a witches brew cauldron. To make your own haze freeze ice in a bowl and pour with boiling water over it right before guests arrive. Dry ice also works.

This is a great time to break out those silver candlesticks, trays and vases that have gone unpolished! Add a ton of mix matched black candles to the table. We found these at Michaels. Lighting is a key element to create a spooky environment. Party tip trick-- Just make sure the candle sticks are no higher than you elbow to fist ratio, so you can still chat with guests across the table.

If you have white plates those are great. Find black chargers or spidery black placemats work to place under the plates.

I love these Martha Stewart crows with LED eyes. Super spooky.

Serve water out of goblet glasses and stuff them with white napkins adorned with googley eyes. Use martini glasses to serve your wickedly fun cocktails that are orange and black. Garnishes are key. Eyeballs from Lychee nuts and fingers from the grave are what we have here.

Serve a devilish first course which also doubles as decor...
We have carved out white ghost pumpkins into soup tureens. I love the jack o ripper scraper. It makes cleaning pumpkins easy. You can use any soup; we are serving a butternut squash.
Choose an 8-inch pumpkin
Carve pumpkins
Bake for half an hour
Heat ready-made soup, pour into pumpkin. Garnish with a spider or corn syrup blood droplets.

The famed NYC restaurant, The Four Seasons, made this dish popular and every celebrity from Martha Stewart, George Clooney and Halloween temptress Heidi Klum has been transported by their
seasonal food.

Maybe dessert is a dish best served cold, but I suggest serve it on a spider web... This funky cake plate from Sur La Table holds devilish cupcakes Sweet Revenge.

Use tons of fake spider webs to add to the decor. This is the one time you almost can't go overboard in the creepy decor department!

My favorite touch on the decor is the R.I.P or V.I.P name card tombstone for the back of your chairs. My neighbor, who is a professor at FIT in NYC, had her students add an extra cool factor to this spooky idea. It is one piece of silver grey fabric, which I measured on the chairs, cut into a tombstone shape, then sewed up the sides. Add felt letters and fabulous skulls to complete the chair cover.

Spooktacular Halloween Dinner Menu

Here is my suggested dinner menu for this spooky night. My next blog will be scary decor, decor, decor!

Guests can munch on a few fingers while they wait for the main dinner...
Serve Smoked Salmon Tartare in purple fingerling potatoes
Items needed
(makes 12)
6 Peruvian fingerling potatos
1oz smoked salmon
1 tbl finely minced red onion
1tsp crème fraiche

6 purple Peruvian fingerlings (found at food stores like Whole Foods or request your local grocer to carry)
Boil for 7 minutes.
Remove from water. Place in the refrigerator to cool.
Cut potatoes in half and use a melon scoop or knife tip to scoop out the inside to make a cup.

To make the smoked salmon tartare combine the smoked salmon, red onion, crème fraiche and chives. Mix well.

Assemble with your hands to make small smoked salmon tartare balls to place in potato cup.

Serve a ghoulish first course:
We have carved out white pumpkins, called ghost pumpkins, into soup tureens. You can use any soup; we are serving a ghoulish butternut squash. This is a simple element that also adds to the décor.
Choose an 8-inch ghost pumpkin
Cut off the top, just like you were making a jack-o-lantern
scoop and clean pumpkins
Heat ready-made soup, pour into pumpkin. Garnish with a spider or crème fraishe blood droplets.

The famed NYC restaurant The Four Seasons made this dish popular and every celebrity from Martha Stewart, George Clooney and Halloween temptress Heidi Klum has been transported by their seasonal food.

Our main dish is a page straight off the table from famed chef Mario Batali's restaurant Babbo. I'm calling it -brain food a la Pasta Nera. It is black squid ink spaghetti served with sautéed shrimp. Click link above for Mario's recipe.

I've heard revenge is a dish best served cold...well I suggest serving these devilish "Sweet Revenge" "Dirty" cupcakes made with a dark chocolate truffle ganache on a Valrhona cupcake... served on a spider web cake platter from Sur la Table.
Marlo Scott, owner of Sweet Revenge suggests pairing the cupcakes with a bloody good rioja wine from Spain, the Marques de Solariego. The spices and cherry notes in this wine make the "Dirty" extra wicked. Their beer pairing is a Koppaberg pear cider.

This is a true "treat" for your guests to end your Halloween evening.

Happy Halloween Cocktails

Heidi Klum isn't the only fabulous person hosting a Halloween party this season. I have a few tricks up my sleeve to help you create a dinner bash that your ghouls won't want to miss! My next few blogs contain a few fun dinner party tips from cocktails to a little "sweet revenge" dessert. Enjoy and Happy Halloween.

Greet your guests with eerie cocktails from the grave.

Spooky, Spicy Mango Margarita
(makes one cocktail)
2 parts mango puree
1 part tequila
3/4 part triple sec
1 slice of seeded jalapeño (if you like it hot keep the seeds)
1/2 oz of roses lime juice
shake over ice serve in a martini glass rimmed with orange sugar and garnish with a lychee "eyeball" and black jellybean or blueberry

The Graveyard Martini, it is my twist on a black Russian
Starbucks Coffee Liquor
Garnish with a chocolate cookie rim and marzipan fingers from the grave.

Great Teachers Inspire Amazing Things

Teachers have been on my mind a lot recently, probably because of the movie "Waiting for Superman". So here is my own personal ode to those who continue to educate myself and others everyday.

I come from a family of teachers. My mom, my aunt, my cousin and countless friends are all in the business of educating our children. Recently my young daughter had the pleasure of being in a class with the passionate teachers pictured above, Matthew Wagner and Monica from Kidville. It was in this moment, as she became eager to attend class; I realized again exactly how powerful an amazing teacher is. Teachers have the ability to command attention and impart learning as if it is a gift.

Creativity expert, Sir Ken Robinson, says school should be children's bliss; a place to discover your passion. I wish that for this next generation. For a while, school was that for me. One of my favorite teachers was Mrs. Dixon. She taught my eighth grade history class. Her balance of compassion and love of her subject translated into a safe and fun place for me to shine.

I recently read an article by Tony Schwartz, President of The Energy Project, that listed four qualities great leaders have in regard to business but I think every great teacher has mastered these amazing gifts too. These are his words:

1.Great leaders recognize strengths in us that we don't always yet fully see in ourselves.
2.Rather than try to get more out of us, great leaders seek to understand and meet our needs, above all compelling mission beyond our immediate self-interest, or theirs.
3.Great leaders take the time to clearly define what success looks like, and then empower and trust us to figures out the best way to achieve it
4.The best of all leaders-a tiny fraction- have the capacity to embrace their own opposites, most notably vulnerability alongside strength, and confidence balanced by humility.

I've had other terrific teachers, including my mom, my friends, many co-workers and employees. I'm always eager to learn what life has to offer and I'd like to take this time to THANK all of the amazing teachers out there who inspire me and countless others all over the world to find their bliss.

Here are a few teaching websites I'm learning from now;
Teacher Christy Crawford's Top Teaching blog on Scholastic's website about technology in schools.
Jeffrey Bussgang and Dina Kaplan introduced me to DonorsChoose.org, an online charity connecting you to classrooms in need. You can donate money to help teachers right now!
And, the article that gives a personal experience regarding learning leadership skills I quoted above is here from the Harvard Business Review.

Thank you teachers!

Super Party Games

You’ve heard a million times “ it’s all fun and games” well tonight it can be! Here are my game winning rules for a fun and affordable family party.

Rule number one. Keep the food simple and mini sized.

Small bites are key for game night. Choose food that allows you to focus on the play, not juggling plates and flatware.

Here are a few ideas for things you can make yourself in minutes or find at wholesale stores like Costco or Sam’s Club.

Cheesy beanie bites
Use mini fillo shells and fill them with a spoonful of refried black beans, and white shredded cheese. Bake at 350 until the filling is hot and the cheese is melted, about 8-10 minutes. Add finely grated red pepper as topping.

Mini chicken nuggets with individual dipping sauces. You can make or buy nuggets. For dipping sauces use mini ramekins or bathroom size paper cups cut down, use pinking sheers for a nice finish on your paper cup. The sauces can be purchased or home made. Mix it up by including a chili pepper salt mixture and Thai lemon grass spicy mustard.

Endive leaves are perfect bite size scoops. Instead of chips, use these with a festive mango salsa or a warm blue cheese artichoke dip.

BBQ meatballs on a skewer are always a huge hit. For game night, up the ante and add an egg noodle, a sprig of basil and a grape tomato and turn your dish into a mini spaghetti and meatballs.

Bite size pieces of garlic bread are filling and simple to prepare! Buy frozen garlic bread. Chop into squares and bake.

It is fall so serve your dessert in a mini pumpkin...pumpkin crème brule is so easy to make and just bake it in the mini pumpkins. Use white gourds if you are going with a theme of black, white and red for game night.

I suggest you serve 6 different food options with at least one sweet option. Since you are not serving a full dinner guests will need a little more food. The smaller they are the more you need. Calculate about 10-12 hors d’oeuvres per person for the first hour. Then after the first hour only you need 4 per person. Serve 1 mini pumpkin per person for dessert.

Rule two. Game on! Be creative with your food presentation.
If you decor is your thing, bring your A Game to the table and I guarantee it will inspire your guests to do the same. Use game boards to serve hors d’oeuvres, decorate platters with poker chips and playing cards. Clean old board game pieces and toys like the Rubik cube and domino's to use as props on platters. Most of all have fun!

Rule three. Original games are winners!
Don’t worry if you don’t have a ton of board games. There are some fun games that you can play using items you probably already own. Here are a few below and check out one of my go to game books “Super Party Games” by John Chaneski for more fun ideas.

News Clips
Items needed
News papers, magazines, catalogs, tape, copy paper

Give players or teams words to find such as “a palindromic word” like madam. When the team or players find all the items they tape them onto a piece of paper and then create a sentence from their word pile. Make it challenging by having players make a news headline from recent events. The team that finishes first is the winner. Points can also be assigned on how hard the word is to find.

Will Shortz from the New York Times created a version of this game.

Items needed
3x5 cards, markers

This is a variation of the old TV game show Password.
Pairs of clue givers try to get their teams to guess the identity of a famous person by giving one-word descriptions…in alphabetical order.

Both clue givers are given the same celebrity. Team A goes first and their team gets one guess from the one clue given out loud. For example; if the celebrity is Donald Trump. The first clue giver gives his team the word “affluent”. Team B could clue giver could use the word “building”… and so on until the celebrity is guessed.

Card stock, duck tape, paper tape, or safety pins (something that will stick to clothes), computer printer

Print out a ton of celebrity names, dead, living, esoteric etc…
The host pins a celebrity name on each guests back. The guest does not know who his/her celebrity is. They have to ask a series of yes or no questions to find out which celebrity they are.

Strange but True
Items needed
Pens/pencils, index cards, tags, markers

For this game folks have to guess each other’s secrets.
To prepare the host needs to call your guests and find out a little secret or unusual trivial from each person. Like a shy woman could give this trivia“In grade school I was a bully.” Gather about 6 secrets. During game night call three people to front of the room for each secret. Prepare trivia cards to give to each of the three people. One of the people is the actual secret holder the other two are extras and have made up secrets/trivia. The guests get to write down whom they think the secret belongs to. The person who guesses the most secret keepers correctly is the winner.

Rule four. Dare to laugh. If you are looking to roll the dice and go board game crazy here are a few favorite games that are popular with my family.

Trivial Pursuit BET YOU KNOW IT (NEW)
You can buy your way to the winners circle with this new version of Trivial Pursuit! This brand new game offers a whole new way to play where you bet if your opponents actually know the answer. Guess correctly and players will earn chips
that can be used to buy wedges -- or they can earn wedges by answering questions correctly on their turn. On each turn players are able to choose their favorite from one of four rotating topic
cards in the specially designed “Mixologist” envelope. So, players may answer a GEOGRAPHY question about Dogs, Breakfast, Broadway, or Jingles. TRIVIAL PURSUIT “Bet You Know It” cards have 1,800 fresh questions which also feature a variety of new styles including images and multiple choice. With a chance to earn a wedge on every turn – victory is that much closer

Your teammate has to guess the word you are describing, but you can not use the TABOO words on the list or you are out.

Players have to guess all the catch phrases/words before the timer runs out. Features and Benefits: 2 Teams alternate turns guessing the answers to clues in 11 categories, including
Entertainment, Sci-Tech, Sports & Games and more, to keep things interesting. Unit's clock counts down and buzzes when time is out.

Loaded Questions
The family/party game tests players on how well they know each other with more than 1,000 questions designed to spark laughter, creative discussion and lasting memories. Players are asked a series of questions they have to write an answer to. Then one "reader" collects the answers and reads them out loud. Players have to guess who said what. It is a great way to get to know people. Questions include Who is your favorite author?

Loopz (NEW)
This is the next generation in electronic interactive games that combines the power
of music, motion and memory. The game gets players moving as they are challenged to
match the patterns of light and sound by quickly motioning their hands through the Loopz™
rings. Players must showcase quickness and skill to keep the music sequence going, while an
internal counter keeps track of time completed levels and overall performance.

Players draw pictures based on words drawn from a deck. The audience/teams have to guess correctly.

A creative-thinking category-based party game produced by Hasbro through the Milton Bradley Company and published in 1988. The objective of the 2-to-6-player game is to score points by uniquely naming objects within a set of categories, given an initial letter, within a time limit.

From the game fictionary or dictionary.
An actual word is given to players and they have to define it with either the actual definition or something made up (I prefer making things up,shhhh). Players then turn in their answers anonymously and take turns voting on the best one. Points are assigned on various levels with the player whose definition accrues the most points wins.

Bezzerwizzer (NEW)
Think you know it all? Bezzerwizzer® is a new twist on trivia with 20 categories of questions, plus stealing and tile-swapping for fast-paced game play. As players make their way around the board, they must rely on both strategy and knowing all the answers, as opponents can steal points or categories away from them! For up to four players.

Clue originates from the United Kingdom, where it's known by its original name - Cluedo. The popular murder mystery board game was originally named Murder!, but had its name changed when the Waddingtons game company picked it up. The name Cluedo is a mixture of the words "clue" and "ludo" - ludo being the name of another board game, which most closely resembles Sorry! or Parcheesi. In North America, the game's host and victim is known as Mr. Boddy. In other parts of the world, including the game's native UK, he's referred to as Dr. Black. This name seems to make more sense, as the guests are also named for colors (Miss White, Colonel Mustard, etc.). Clue has had video games devoted to it since the days of the Commodore 64, and has also had its own feature film.

The thing I love most about game night is that is really invites laughter and conversation at any party. I hope these tips help inspire you to create your own winning bash! For more fun event ideas you can also check out www.rivaevents.com.