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Posted: October 31, 2013

Chef Laura: Halloween humbug

Visits from three ghosts restore my spirits

Laura Cook Newman

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”.

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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Readers Respond

I'm sure you father was only concerned with your safety and not his sweet tooth when invoking "inspections." Your Halloween of the future is probably prophetic and rather sad. When kids engage in virtual and remote trick or treating - thereby consuming copious quantities of candy while never leaving the couch - they'll be able to portray Jaba the Hutt next Halloween, without buying a costume. By Pater Familias on 2013 11 02
I remember the real good old days when us baby boomers were young. There was no such animal as "fun size" - all the candy bars were big. There would be 100s of us madly running around the neighborhoods hitting as many houses as possible before the lights went out. We'd be eating candy for weeks - great for a sugar high, bad for the teeth! By Cindy on 2013 11 01
We survived another Halloween! Who do I petition to change the date of Halloween to the last Saturday of October? If FDR were still around, he'd totally back me on this! Good for the economy, good for education, and wonderful for parents trying to drag kids out of bed for school on November 1st. By Chef Laura on 2013 11 01
Hmm... your last ghost is most intriguing. It has inspired me to complete my own work on digital marketing trends. What a fantastically vivid and creative imagination to devise such an awesome prose on this iconic celebration of creepiness! By Julie S on 2013 10 31
What does this article have to do with business? Although I laughed at parts despite myself. I guess the trick's on me. By Scrooge on 2013 10 31
I once read that Carrie Fisher had so many Princess Leia action figures she gave them out as treats for Halloween on year. I wish I lived near Carrie Fisher. By Post Cards from the Edge on 2013 10 31
I know what you mean, Halloween is/was my favorite holiday, but I'm beginning to lose the faith. I think it's the slutty-ness that Halloween costumes seem to bring out in (mostly) women. It's supposed to be fun and a little scary, why do I need to see "sexy" cop or "sexy" reptile or "sexy" baby? Sexy is for Valentines day. Why cant we have more costumes that emphasis red solo cups? By Angry in Amityville on 2013 10 31
Wow, It will be pretty amazing to see what Trick or Treating will be in the future. Maybe some sort of scanners fro kids to get whatever candy they want if they DO go door to door. Thanks, Laura. Your write-up has helped rekindle my halloween SPIRIT... By Donald on 2013 10 31
For my sisters and I growing up it was always Baby Ruth or the rare 100 Grand. Now I've got an eye out for Peanut M&M's. Even if it's a peanut taped to a milk chocolate M&M, I'm all over it! By Luke Skywalker on 2013 10 31
mmm. snickers By Ta Tee on 2013 10 31
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