ON THESE CRISP autumn nights, we adults remember our Halloweens fondly: jack- o-lanterns, chock-full trick-or- treat bags, overcoats squeezed on over bumblebee wings, ghost outfits and witches' masks that made it impossible to see, let alone maneuver up front porch steps. We remember the treats, but we remember the tricks too; a reminiscence just unpleasant enough to know that we plan to stay home on Halloween.
But Halloween is no fun alone, and the justification for a party, if one is needed, can be to take turns answering what seems to become an endless string of doorbell rings.
Friends to invite fall into various categories: high-rise dwellers with security-controlled buildings who will have no callers with shopping bags; friends who live in isolated areas whose houses will not be deemed worth the trek for treats; and parents of small children, who can escort their costumed characters around your neighborhood and then come back to your place to avail themselves of your hospitality. Another source of guests is a group of adults you don't even know yet. Try sharing your Halloween spirit by making adult treats that can feed your guests but can also be passed out to the neighborhood parents who are hiding behind the shrubbery as they escort their children to your house.
If you have the ability to record a sound track for the evening, there are some wonderful "golden oldies" tailor-made for the occasion: "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," "Witchcraft," and "That Old Black Magic" are good starting points. Then move into "The Monster Mash," sound tracks from John Carpener movies, and pull out the "Thriller" album or even some spooky Bach organ music.
Even though this is a party for grown-ups, there is no reason why the decorations for the event should not be traditional. A hollowed-out pumpkin fitted with a glass jar becomes a centerpiece for the table when filled with flowers. Of course, there should still be the carved jack-o'-lantern to greet guests at the door, but wheat and gourds can also be placed around in baskets or bowls; they'll do double duty at Thanksgiving.
The culinary component of an adult celebration should be more savory than sweet. Many gourmet shops in the Washington area now carry miniature tart shells, which can be filled with a range of options, to be passed out at the door or positioned around the living room. Fill some with sour cream or cr,eme fraiche then top them with dollops of black and golden caviar (the lumpfish is relatively inexpensive), or a small rosette of bright orane smoked salmon or a salmon salad. Those tarts can then be topped with a quarter of a black olive to maintain the orange and black theme for the food.
Giant black olives are delicious stuffed with small cubes of cheddar cheese to add visual interest to the platter of tarts, and carrot sticks are the natural vegetable to choose for the evening, either raw with a bowl of sauce for dipping or steamed and briefly marinated in a simple vinaigrette.
Another option for adult escorts is to offer them a cup of something warming. Acorn squash or pumpkin soup in small paper cups (they will be passing many a garbage can along their route, you can be sure) is a hearty treat, as are hot ciders -- either spiked with a bit of rum or brandy or just spiced with cinnamon sticks and cloves. If you don't want to worry about the proportions of spices to use, there are many premixed mulling mixtures on the market.
But most guests won't leave until they've had their treat. Glac,eed apricot sections dipped in chocolate ae beautiful right out of the candy case. Larger versions of the tart shells can be turned into peach or apricot tarts. Or, you could revert to childhood and have bowls of candy corn positioned around. CREAM OF ACORN SQUASH SOUP
(Makes 6 servings)
31/2 pounds acorn squash (about 3 medium squash)
7 cups good homemade chicken stock (see note)
2 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot, scrubbed and sliced
1 onion, peeled and halved
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 sprig thyme (1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup maple syrup
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the squash on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove to a platter to cool.
While the squash are baking, simmer the stock with the celery, carrot, onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns, all partially covered over low heat. Strain the stock and pour it back into the pot; discard the seasonings.
When the squash are cool enough to handle, scrape out the seeds and remove the pulp from the skin. Puree the pulp in a food processor fitted with a steel blade -- or in a blender -- with a little of the stock. Then add the pulp to the stock. Simmer all uncovered for 10 minutes. Then add the cream, brandy, maple syrup and salt and pepper to taste and simmer for 10 minutes to blend the flavors.
Note: If you are using canned stock, increase the amount of vegetables and omit the salt from the recipe.
The soup can be prepared up to three days in advance and kept tightly covered in the refrigerator. It should be reheated slowly to a simmer, but not allowed to boil and reduce further.