By Amy Mangan • Photos By John Jernigan
If you want to have a Halloween party that’s frighteningly fun, caterer Cindy Dinges has the magic potion for a spooktacular time. Devilish décor and clever recipes create the perfect setting that screams, “Trick or treat!” All you need is a little imagination, according to Dinges, owner of Decadence a la Carte.
First, it’s all about the setting. Think of a haunted mansion and you’re halfway there. As a professional chef, Dinges knows the importance of creating the right ambience.
“You have to start with a stunning backdrop to set the stage,” she says.
And the stage begins with the entrance. Find a fog machine, some spiders on a string and turn your front door into a welcome that would make Count Dracula proud. Ghost luminaries, fake cobwebs, and ghoulish accessories turn an ordinary spot into a completely spellbinding backdrop. Sometimes all it takes is a different light bulb.
“Swap a white light for a red or black bulb and you have instant mood,” adds Dinges.
After you’ve dimmed the lights, “dress down” the table. Throw some cobwebs on chairs and the chandelier while draping the table with a worn fabric. Dinges suggests tearing holes in white muslin for the ultimate shabby-chic ghost look. Add some dried roses in a vase with plastic fingers at the base for a creepy centerpiece. Or, if you really want to achieve that Goth look, cut off the flowers and just display the stems.
Then, add food that’s sure to delight both big ghosts and little goblins. A self-professed “food enthusiast,” Dinges keeps the menu true to theme with an eerie twist. Worm-shaped cheese straws and Marty Feldman eyeballs are just some of the crazy delectables you can make from ordinary mortal recipes. Most importantly, keep the menu in “finger food” fashion so it’s easy to eat while holding your martini glass dripping in grenadine “blood” on the rim.
And like any decent mad scientist worth her hosting formula, you need to have the right chemistry for a successful party. Pay attention to your guest list to ensure everybody has fun. Dinges says a willingness to be silly is top priority.
“You have different friends for different things so make sure you have the right combination,” says Dinges. “You need to know which guests would be comfortable dressing up in ridiculous costumes.”
Speaking of costumes, leave it to Dinges to come up with Halloween frocks like dressing as a Freudian Slip or Really Mad Scientist. Go with your inner goof. It’s okay to poke fun at yourself for the sake of a really cool outfit. Known for her lead foot, Dinges once went as a speeding ticket citation.
Since this is the season of treats, don’t forget to give goodie bags to your parting guests. Dinges’ gives lucky friends her delicious hallmark shortbread cookies shaped like candy corn and pumpkins in autumn-colored cellophane wrapped tightly in festive orange and black ribbon.
The best part of this party is that most of it can be planned ahead so you have fun, too. Or, you could just call Cindy…
So, what’s the ultimate compliment a guest can give?
“When you leave with a big smile,” says Dinges.
Cindy’s Tips for a Great Halloween Party
• Hang black paper birds from the chandelier. Spray on some cobwebs for extra effect.
• Replace regular light bulbs with colored lights (red, black, and blue) to set the spooky mood.
• Drape black muslin fabric over tables with plastic bugs and bones scattered about.
• Welcome guests with luminary white paper ghost bags with candles. Place a fog machine near the door.
• Paint drops of blood on a clear vase full of dried roses for a creepy centerpiece.
• Lay out a chemistry set with beakers of dry ice.
• Make tabletop tombstones out of Styrofoam, personalizing guests’ names like “Cindy Dinges — I Told You I Was Sick!”
• Serve drinks in martini glasses with “blood” dripping down the rim using grenadine syrup.
A Monster Menu
Drinks & Appetizers
• Green Pond Scum Dip served with Skeleton Bread. Warm spinach dip and White Mountain bread in the shape of a skeleton.
• Betty Davis Fingers with Cheese Dip. Pretzels with almonds for nails.
• Marty Feldman Eyeballs. Cheese puffs with olives as the eyes.
• Betty Gable Frog Legs. Serve frog legs for an eclectic flavor.
• Grub Cheese Straws. Yummy cheddar cheese straws shaped like worms.
• Creepy Crustaceans. Tangerine-Cilantro Glazed Shrimp.
• Elvis Lives! Foccacia Bread with Artichokes, Spinach, Sun-“Dead” Tomatoes. A wonderful thick pizza bread that looks like Elvis.
• Blood Punch with Floating Ice Hands. Frozen hands swim about this intoxicating beverage.
• Halloween Shortbread. Delightful cookies shaped like pumpkins, witches, candy corn, fall leaves.
• Mini Cheesecakes with Bugs. Dress up cheesecakes with plastic bugs on top.
What to Wear?
Forget plastic masks! Cindy says creativity is the key to a great costume.
• Freudian Slip. Dress up a camisole with a pageant style sash that reads “Freudian Slip.”
• Parking Citation. Spray one foot silver with washable paint for a lead foot with parking tickets pinned to a t-shirt and jeans.
• Black Eyed Pea. Wear a green t-shirt and paint a black circle around one eye.
• Really Mad Scientist. Take a brow pencil and fill in eyebrows to have those “angry eyes.” Tease your hair, grab a beaker of water with food coloring and dry ice and you’re ready to go.
How To Make…
Marty Feldman Eyes
1 pound of ground beef
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup sautéed small diced onion
20 Queen Olives with pimentos
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 clove garlic, pressed
2 cups Marinara sauce for dipping
Mix all ingredients except olives. Take the olive and wrap with meat mixture, letting one end of the olive show. To achieve the cockeyed look don’t center the end of the olive. Place on cookie tray and bake for 18 minutes at 350 degrees. Arrange on a platter so that the eyes are looking in all directions. Serve with sauce. Yield: 25 wandering eyes.
1 liter Vodka
2 liters cranberry juice
1 liter Ocean Spray mango or papaya juice
1 can Bacardi frozen peach daiquiri mix
1 box of non-powdered latex gloves
Red and green food coloring
Mix the first four ingredients. Add red dye to punch. Make green water and pour into gloves and tie the ends. Put the gloves in the freezer overnight. To serve put punch in a punch bowl with blood dripping from the edge. Remove the latex from the hands and float in the punch. Yield: 20 swaying ghosts.
By Amy Mangan • Photos By John Jernigan