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Tricks and treats

(article, Culinate staff)

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With Halloween, it's tempting to put all the emphasis on The Night: costumes, candy, spooky decorations. Leading up to the big night, though, there's fun to be had in gathering friends or family for a few laidback hours. We're talking about the slightly sweet, surely messy, potentially glorious pumpkin-carving party.

Here's how to keep such an endeavor simple and fun — so simple, in fact, that you can do it this weekend. Follow these tips for throwing an impromptu pumpkin-carving party.

[%image feature-image float=left width=350 caption="A ghostly image of a Culinate friend sitting on a Halloween stoop."]

Call a few friends. Thirty-six-hour notice is plenty for this easy-going gathering. Keep the number of guests low enough that you can accommodate everyone indoors if the weather turns wet. Ideally, though, you'll be able to carve the pumpkins outside on the deck or in the back yard, then pile into the house for snacks. Make sure there are enough adults to keep an eye on the knife-wielding youngsters.

Plan the menu. This is an afternoon party (or, second-best, an after-dinner event), so think snacks. You might try one or two of these seasonal treats: Orange-Frosted Pumpkin Cake, Pumpkin Bread, Pumpkin Chocolate Cookies, and Pumpkin Apple Muffins with White Chocolate Glaze. Your guests will also appreciate big bowls of hot popcorn, handfuls of pumpkin seeds (see below), and mugs of warm spiced cider. 

Tools. We recommend making this a B.Y.O.P. party (bring your own pumpkin), and that goes for knives and tools, too, although as the host you might want to have a few serrated blades on hand. Some people go all out, opting for power drills and similar paraphernalia; others are content with the cheap-o kits from Target. Let them decide. 

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More supplies. Have on hand lots of newspaper for catching the stringy, sticky pumpkin innards; big spoons for scooping out seeds (silicone scrapers work well, too); bowls for seeds (more about that in a minute); and Sharpies for outlining your designs. Finally, spring for a pack of unscented votive candles, one for each jack o' lantern.

About the seeds. Save the seeds! These make a delicious and nutritious snack: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse the seeds, being careful to remove all the stringy pulp. Grease a large baking sheet. Spread the seeds in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet and salt lightly. Cook until the seeds are dry and just beginning to brown at the edges, about 15 minutes. Pass these to guests or send each guest home with a wax-paper-bag full of seeds; store any leftovers in an airtight container.

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