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Chef Laura: Halloween humbug

Every year, it seems harder to get amped for All Hallows’ Eve.  As soon as the Fourth of July plan-o-gram is disassembled in the seasonal section of King Soopers, Halloween is forced upon us.  Maintaining that level of excitement for three months takes its toll.

A simple Celtic Pagan ritual has turned into a $6 billion – with a B – annual industry, second in revenue to Christmas.  That translates to every American spending, on average, $70 on costumes, candy and decorations.

Once my favorite holiday of the year, I was starting to get a little “Bah, humbug!” about tonight’s festivities.  Maybe it was the self-induced pressure to make this year even better than last year. Maybe it was the barrage of costume mega-stores that pop up where a failed JCPenney’s used to stand. Or maybe my glycemic index was sluggish and I just wasn’t feeling like myself (Snickers, stat!).

Last night, while visions of candy corn danced in my head, I was visited by three ghosts: Past, Present and Yet to Come.  A peek into my nocturnal adventures:

The Ghost of Halloween Past

Michael Jackson dressed in a white suit a la Smooth Criminal scares the bejeebers out of me as he leans forward then moonwalks me into a crisp autumn night circa 1987.

I see a gaggle of kids dressed as mini Madonnas and Freddy Kruegers: costumes they pulled together after school using items on-hand.  Holding an old pillowcase to haul their loot, they wave off their mother’s attempt to cover up costumes with puffy parkas. 

Once outside, with as little adult supervision as possible, they meet up with a pint-sized Julia Child (me) holding a bloody rubber chicken and travel house to house begging for sugar.  We know which places to avoid: Popcorn Ball bungalow; and which to frequent: Milky Way mansion.

As feet get sore, noses get cold, and pillow cases develop the perfect heft, we trudge home to joyously sort the stash. I dodge my father’s request to “inspect” tasty Hershey bars for suspicious foreign objects “just in case”.

We finish the night snuggled up on the couch watching the one and only televised Halloween special: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

The Ghost of Halloween Present

Back in my bedroom, I wake with a start to discover MJ is gone.  Crouched in his place is Fantastic Mr. Fox.  Expecting George Clooney’s voice, the fox tries to communicate with me, but all I hear is “Jacha-chacha-chacha-chow!”

Deliriously intrigued, I follow him through a forest and end up at a chaotic Wal-Mart.

Pallets of plastic pumpkins, fake cobwebs and Walking Dead makeup kits are displayed on the action alley, while bags of day glow candy flank every end cap. 

I see my present-day self pushing an enormous shopping cart full of American excess. The contents of the cart scream Mardi Gras in October (apparently this dreamy Wally World has a liquor department).  Children – my children perhaps? – masked as Boba Fett and Barbie, tug at my shirttails begging for treats

Despite my growing annoyance and feelings of agoraphobia, I muster a smile as I think about the ingenious marketer who pitched the concept of “fun size” candy bars to the world – which this sweet-tooth thinks aren’t very fun at all.

I muscle the cart to the checkout line and charge $100 on my Visa; 70 percent of the bill for the Halloween garb and confections, 30 percent for “Mommy’s Magical Potion”.

 The Ghost of Halloween Future

Rousing with what feels like a hangover, I see a cloaked creature standing over my bed.  Upon further inspection, the phantom is not the grim reaper but a 35-year-old Mark Zuckerberg wearing his signature black hoodie.

Without uttering a word, he Facebook messages me to follow him to my living room.  Lounging on the floor, I spy my daughters on their iPads, fingers feverishly swiping the screen.  

The future of Halloween has gone digital.  In our “stranger danger” world, kids no longer collect candy door-to-door.  I watch as my pre-teen girls post a pic of their costumed-selves and upload it to www.trickortreatinyourhood.com.

Using Google Earth technology, our neighborhood appears on their tablets.  They virtually ring doorbells with the option to IM neighbors’ message boards: “Heidi Ho Neighbor!” or something about smelling feet.

Like David Hasselhoff commanding KITT remotely, they tell their wristwatches to post selfies on SnapChat to their friends throughout the night.  iPads ping as neighbors place bitcoins in their “shopping cart”.  The girls spend their currency on candy of their choice on-line.  A box from AmazonFresh arrives on my doorstep the next morning.

My kids finish the night by tweeting Yelp reviews critiquing their neighbors’ generosity.

Halloween Morning…

Unlike Dickens’ version, I didn’t awake from my dream with a burning desire to buy pumpkins for my coworkers.  Nevertheless, my Halloween spirit is reinvigorated.  Perhaps it’s time to blend yesterday, today and tomorrow’s trends into our own traditions?

We will bob for apples with gusto!

We will dance like zombies in a spontaneous flash mob!

 We will update our FB status with photos of Barbies and galactic bounty hunters!

And then we will finish the night snuggled up on the couch watching the original televised Halloween Special: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

Happy Halloween, readers.  Here’s hoping your li'l goblins score the full size Hershey’s for your “inspection”.

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Laura Cook Newman

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at www.ThreeHotsAndaCot.net

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