I come from a family that embraces Halloween. For us, this holiday is a great excuse to get everyone together, and we’ve discovered a variety of family traditions made for October 31. Even before my husband and I had kids of our own, we enjoyed hosting, as we live in a neighborhood with prime trick-or-treating that was perfect for our little cousins to collect candy in costume. Now that we have our own tiny goblins to join the other kids in our extended family, we continue our simple but fun traditions.

Pumpkin carving is an important part of the festivities. We get together either earlier in the day or a few days before Halloween to carve our pumpkins. The kids help for a few minutes, scooping out the “guts” and helping to sort the seeds that we later roast. Everyone brings their own pumpkin so that by the time evening arrives, we have a doorstep full of different pumpkins. It’s a nice chance for the adults to chat and carve while the kids play together.

Before trick-or-treating, we fuel up with our go-to Halloween dinner — brains and feetloaf. These are two make-ahead recipes, where the dishes simply need to be popped in the oven before serving, so anyone who works during the day or has earlier plans can prepare this meal ahead of time. For “feetloaf,” take your favorite meatloaf recipe and shape it into two feet prior to baking. Use onions as “toenails” and bake as you normally would, but on a baking sheet rather than in loaf pans. That’s it! It may come out grotesque-looking, but that’s the idea.

For “brains,” boil cellentani pasta as directed. Drain and return to the pot. Mix with shredded mozzarella and tomato sauce (you can make your own or use a jar). Tightly pack it into a round, oven-safe bowl and bake at 350 degrees until the cheese is melted and the pasta feels firm. The amount you make depends on the size of your bowl. Just be sure to use lots of cheese, as it’s the glue that holds everything together. Use just enough sauce to moisten it. You can always top it with more sauce once it’s served. Let it cool and then put a plate upside down over the top of the bowl. Flip it upside down and slowly slide the bowl off, pulling up. You should have a round, brain-like pasta casserole. Add a knife and extra sauce for a festive garnish. 

After dinner, everyone gets in costume, we take a few photos, then we head out to get candy! We do our best to make Halloween more than just candy and costumes. We try to make it about fun and family as well. That combination is what makes it one of my favorite festivities of the year.