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    Tuesday, 24 October 2006


    With childhood obesity on the rise, kids really do not need additional calories from a bag full of candy. Chocolate candy bars, suckers, and gum are not only adding to our children’s waists, but also attributing to tooth and gum decay.

    With so many healthier options available, consider these alternatives to giving candy this Halloween.

    Stickers – All children love stickers! You can get boxes of 1000 stickers from local dollar stores and split them among hundreds of children. With many different styles, you can offer a wide variety of sticker designs to each child. You can buy 10 boxes of stickers for what you would buy an extra large bag of candy, so you can offer kids a whole strip with the cost of a candy bar!

    Bagged snacks – Most popular crackers, nuts, dried fruits and seeds come in individual serving bags. Cheese crackers with peanut butter filling and sealed bags of raisins are great alternatives to sugary offerings. With less sugar, less fat varieties, you can be giving children healthier snacks with much needed protein.

    Coloring books or crayons – You can buy these items in bulk at local stores and online for a very reasonable cost. When the school year begins, you can purchase 24 count crayon boxes for as low as $.10! If you go to dollar and discount stores, you can find whole packages of coloring and activity books for very little cost, as well. Offering these items will expand a child’s imagination without expanding their waist.

    Party favors or craft kits – Several online companies offer bags of 100 party favors and craft kits for a very low price. Everything the child needs to play a game, make some noise, or create a craft is included! Many times you can find these items at craft stores and discount retailers, too.

    Mini Books – Paperback books can be cheap! Give the gift of reading this Halloween.

    The amount of children you have knocking on your door will determine the above option you want to choose. However, any way you look at it, these ideas will give the kids more enjoyment than the few seconds they get from candy.

    Nicola always enjoys Halloween parties with her family. Visit her Halloween site for tips and information about halloween masks at

    This article may be reprinted in full so long as the resource box and the live links are included intact. All rights reserved. Copyright

    Posted by: AT 01:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
    Monday, 23 October 2006

    Here are a few tips to spice up your Halloween party fun. 

    • Waiter there's a fly in my drink! -- Freeze ice cubes with faux insects inside by filling a tray half full and freezing, then adding a gummy critter or a couple of raisins, fill the rest of the way with liquid and re-freeze.
    • Fill a new plastic household glove with lemonade, limeade or other liquids to create an eerie floating hand in your punch bowl. Use heavy duty rubber bands to secure the top of the glove, leaving a little room for expansion. Use a small plastic dish to prop up the secured end of the glove in the freezer. Freeze until solid, peel away the glove and float the hand in the punchbowl.
    • For a realistic looking eye frozen in a cube, see below to get a recipe for Bloody Eyeball Cocktails.
    • You can use a ring mold or bundt cake pan to freeze a creepy ice ring for you punch bowl. Fill 1/3 with liquid and freeze, arrange a layer of gummy worms on frozen ring, fill to 3/4 full and re-freeze. To un-mold, simply run hot water over ring for a second to two.
    • Consider using Mountain Dew soda in your drinks and punches, nothing else has quite the same green glow.
    • A wonderful tip we got from the fine folks at the House of Blues, is to use plastic light sticks as swizzle sticks, it gives the drinks an eerie, mysterious glow.
    • Make Halloween shaped tortilla chips by using cookies cutters to cut shapes out of tortillas, then deep fry until crisp. You can also make low fat tortilla chips by baking your cutouts in A 350° F oven. In either case, sprinkle with salt. Chips made of blue corn tortillas look especially spooky.
    • Use cookie cutters to cut out small sandwiches in Halloween shapes.

    Bloody Eyeball Cocktails

    per eyeball:
    1 radish
    1 pimiento stuffed green olive

    per drink:
    1 shot vodka or tequila (optional)
    1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
    1/4 tsp. horseradish
    salt & pepper to taste
    hot sauce to taste (follow link for recipe or use your favorite)
    V8 juice to fill glass
    small lemon or lime wedge

    Prepare ice "eyeballs" at least a day before your plan to use them. Peel radishes, leaving thin streaks of red skin on to represent blood vessels. Using the tip of the vegetable peeler or a small, knife, carefully scoop out a small hole in each radish, roughly the size of an olive. Stuff a green olive, pimiento side out, in each hole. Place 1 radish eyeball in each section of an empty ice cube tray. Pare the radishes down a bit to fit, if necessarry. Fill the tray with water and freeze overnight.

    To make drink, fill a tall cocktail glass with 3-4 eyeball ice cubes, add ingredients in the order given and shake.

    For an elegant touch, line the glass with a salt rim before filling by running a piece of lemon or lime around the rim then dipping it in a small dish of salt.

    Posted by: AT 01:50 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
    Tuesday, 17 October 2006

    Halloween doesn't have to be for kids alone. This year, while the little ones are out trick-or-treating, take the opportunity to open a bottle of dessert wine to pair with Halloween candy and other sweet goodies.

    Although we're accustomed to pairing dessert wines with more sophisticated, formal desserts, consider this also a lighthearted guide to matching wine to flavors "chocolate and caramel, fruit and spice, custard and vanilla" that you're as likely to find in your trick-or-treat bag as on any fussy restaurant menu.

    Port is perhaps the most classic pairing for chocolate, but pour anything in the red-wine family such as Banyuls or Shiraz alongside handfuls of M&M's, pint-sized candy bars, or other chocolate Halloween treats. Baby Ruth, Snickers, or other nutty candy bars in your bag? Select a Sherry or Madeira to complement rich nut flavors.

    If caramel apples are your Halloween weakness, pairing choices for the toastiness of caramel and butterscotch might include Muscat or Gerztraminer. The acidity of white wines should stand up well to the sweetness of caramel. But if you prefer to focus on the flavor of the apple, go for Icewine, Sauternes or a late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc.

    Candy corn, another seasonal treat, has a strong buttery, vanilla taste and a creamy texture. Chardonnay pairs well with vanilla flavors, as does Riesling or Sauternes.

    What about lollipops, Jujubes and other super-sweet, fruity candies? Pop open a versatile dry or demi-sec style sparkling wine, like Prosecco or Champagne.

    No matter what's in your bag of candy, or on your dessert plate, there's no trick to matching wine with Halloween treats.

    Kara Newman is a New York-based food and wine writer.

    Posted by: AT 03:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
    Monday, 09 October 2006

    No, Christmas is not coming early - there's just more of it to go around.

    The weather outside is still relatively hot, but if it seems like you are already seeing holiday wreaths, boxes of colorful string lights packed on store shelves, and displays of gyrating "Booty Shaker" electronic Santa Clauses and "Hip Hop" animated snowmen, well, your eyes are not deceiving you.

    Many stores have already started preparing for the holidays. But even though it's early October, that doesn't mean just displays for the Halloween or Thanksgiving seasons.

    As early as three weeks ago, some stores, including Lowe's Home Improvement, Wal-Mart and some national drug store chains were already putting up Christmas holiday decorations.

    But that's nothing new, experts say.

    "Retailers are not starting earlier this year than they have in previous years or that they have started in the last 10 or 15 years," said Dan Butler, vice president of retail operations and merchandising for the National Retail Federation.

    There are more store chains nowadays, giving consumers more of an opportunity to notice the holiday preparations and decorations, Butler said.

    "There is a bigger impression," he said.
    Butler hosted a late-September conference call with media and retailers to run down the economic outlook for the upcoming holidays, including federation forecasts that the 2006 holiday season will be slightly above par, economically.

    Addressing the annual lament that the holidays seem to be celebrated in stores earlier and earlier, Butler said there is a simple explanation.

    "First of all, retailers realize that over 40 percent of the customers begin shopping for the holiday season before the end of October," he said.

    And since stores are larger and have more decorations and preparations to make than the typical household, the process is longer - it takes between four and six weeks on average for a store to ready itself for the holidays.


    The retail group is forecasting 5 percent growth for the holidays over last year - about $457 billion in anticipated holiday shopping expenditures.

    That's below last year's 6.1 percent growth, which itself exceeded expectations.

    Over the past decade, the average holiday shopping growth is 4.6 percent, so "overall, a 5 percent increase in the current economic climate is very good," Butler said.

    The NRF forecast includes figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce that reflect consumer confidence. The forecast does not include spending at restaurants, on automobiles or at gas stations.

    Big days

    It's a misconception that Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving, is the biggest shopping day of the year.

    While it's used as an important gauge to measure anticipated holiday sales, the biggest sales day is typically the Saturday before Christmas, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

    Because Christmas falls on Monday, experts say to expect the malls and shopping centers to be packed on the preceding Saturday and Sunday.

    Cyber Monday, the online version of Black Friday, is expected to continue to grow this year.

    "That day has really evolved over the last 10 years," Butler said. "Last year it really broke through as a banner year for online activity."

    And retailers are seeing more shoppers go to stores on weekends, and following up with purchases, or research, during the week.

    What's Hot?

    In women's clothing, expect to see "lots of plaid" on the shelves, Butler said, adding, "We notice a lot of hand-knit and crocheted looks in women's categories."

    Sweater dresses seem to be popular, and "the short jackets are hot this year," he said. "You're going to see boots everywhere."

    Evidently organic may be in as a look as well.

    "You're going to see the whole organic theme used in marketing materials," he said.

    Products that look earthy, though they may not be truly organic, are expected to go over well, Butler said.

    He is seeing retailers gearing up for the trend by carrying items with colors like celery green and lemon yellow.

    "That sense of connecting with the organic feel is very popular," he added.

    Diet products or gift certificates to spas or gyms are also expected to be strong sellers, Butler said.

    Expect gift cards to be a popular item among consumers again, and this year many stores are capitalizing on it by offering cards geared to an individual's lifestyle.

    "We see more personalization," he said, with gift cards including photos or a theme. "Every year gift cards become more and more important with the consumer."

    Hot gifts for the kids this year will likely be the anniversary Tickle Me Elmo doll, PlayStation 3, iPods and Barbie products, according to NRF.

    Cell phones, cell phone accessories, iPods, computer gaming products and computer gifts will top the wish lists for young adults, according to NRF.

    But for now, many consumers interviewed at local stores seemed to be focused on getting their Halloween costumes and decorations in hand.

    "I won't start my Christmas shopping till the end of November. I like going later," said Ashley Jones, 18, of Long Beach.

    Jones and her sister were at the Wal-Mart at CityPlace shopping for Halloween costumes. The store's display is about three aisles big, with two aisles devoted to Christmas displays, including giant Santa snow balls.

    Thanksgiving decorations were crammed into half an aisle.

    Kristin Wojcik, 25, also of Long Beach, was also shopping for Halloween costumes and said that the current holiday trends are a double-edged sword for her emotions.

    "I was kind of stunned when I saw all the Christmas stuff out way before Halloween," Wojcik said.

    "But I really love Christmas, and seeing all the lights and hearing the music, so it makes me happy, too."

    Posted by: AT 03:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
    Monday, 02 October 2006

    I know it is way too early to begin thinking about holiday shopping, but not in the retail world. Two large retailing trade organizations has issued their forecasts for the holiday shopping season. The news isn't bad, it's just not all that good. National Retail Federation forecast 5% growth in retail sales for the 2006 holiday season over last year's holiday season sales of $435.6 billion. The average increase for each of the past ten years has been 4.6%.

    So 5% is looking okay, as long as the downward trend in the housing market does not accelerate at the same time as gasoline and energy prices increase while consumers move into the colder months. Much of holiday retail spending is based on the psychological state of consumers. More negative news, such as Ford offering to buy out 75,000 employees, will put consumers in a defensive frame of mind. Preservation of capital will become widspread. Holiday spending accounts for 20% of all retail spending throughout the year.

    Retail Forward Inc., another large retail trade organization, has issued its preliminary holiday shopping forecast of 5.5% increase over 2005, which was a banner holiday shopping period. Retail Forward has based its assessment on stable interest rates, a slowing housing markey and moderate increases in energy prices. This holiday shopping season is forecasted to be good for supercenters and discount clubs, while sales at higher-priced department stores will continue to lag. Retail Forward will provide a more detaled holiday shopping forecast via Webinar on Wednesday, 27 September 2006, beginning at 11 A.M. EDT.

    Holiday shopping online is forecast to increase 23% from $27 billion in 2005 to $33 billion in 2006. While this may sound like a great deal of money, online sales account for just 3% for all retail sales.

    Posted by: AT 07:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email


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