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Dating on a College Budget

Fall is that sort of picture perfect time of year. The weather could not be crisper, the sun could not feel warmer, and the leaves could not be more colorful. It’s the time for sweaters, pumpkins, apple cider, and having fun with your friends and family. Spending time outside is ideal, because in only a few short months it will be too cold to get out of bed in the morning. But once all the pumpkins are picked, and the apples have made enough pie and cider to last you all winter, what’s next? If you are in the mood to take on a fun project, think about having a few close friends over for a fabulous fall gathering.

Having a small get together can be stressful for any host, and if you want to make it memorable for you and your guests, throwing some store bought frozen h’ordeuvres in the oven, and combining them with soda and iced tea, isn’t really going to cut it. Skip the traditional three-course meal- it’s time consuming and expensive. Instead try a spread of finger foods that reflect those well-prepared three courses. Throw in some seasonal drinks, and decorate simply, yet festively. You will have yourself a get together you can be proud of, and one that your guests will rave about.

A successful party, no matter what time of year it is, can be greatly influenced simply by the décor. Since we are in college, spending the money we don’t have on decorations doesn’t seem practical. However, there are a few easy ways to transform any space into an autumn abyss without blowing your budget. To start, candles alone can make a great difference. Stop and Shop Food Store in the West End of Long Branch carries natural soy blend candles priced at two for five dollars. They come in a wide range of scents for fall, and with just two of the same scent, you can really warm up a room.

According to Sarah Leedy, of Leedy Interiors in Colts Neck, using various sized pumpkins in key places such as on the fireplace mantle, bathroom counters, or next to the kitchen sink can add fall touches throughout the house. “Using fake leaf vines to connect them give off that pumpkin patch effect, which is a very simple way to bring the fullness of fall into your house,” said Leedy. She also suggests filling various sized glass jars with festive candy, such as black and orange jellybeans, or candy corn.

A similar idea, according to, is to place a large yellow or orange candle in the middle of a low bowl, and fill the space with those same candies. also suggests taping mini orange lights beneath a glass table top, covering the table with sheer or silky fabric, and tying the corners to each table leg with orange ribbon. Turning the lights on in a dimmed room will create a seasonal warm glow. A good place to search for these few items is the dollar store, which is usually filled with fun and inexpensive fall décor.

Making food for this occasion doesn’t have to be complicated, time consuming, or expensive. Delicious finger foods that your guests can pick at throughout the night can often be more enjoyable than a sit down dinner. A very appropriate item for any fall festivity is the “Thanksgiving wrap.” Erica Murray, a Monmouth senior, works at Bagel Basket Café in Spring Lake Heights, where Thanksgiving wraps are a customer favorite. “It’s so simple and so delicious,” said Murray. She explained it more or less as a Thanksgiving dinner inside a single wrap. It includes sliced deli turkey, swiss cheese, a layer of stuffing, brown turkey gravy, and an optional spread of cranberry sauce. Cut the wraps in half to offer smaller portions for guests so they don’t fill up too much on one wrap.

Another tasty fall finger food is a twist on the classic favorite mac and cheese with “mac and cheese cups.” “My mom always makes them during the fall,” said Samantha Berry, a Monmouth senior. “They’re just as easy as regular mac and cheese, and taste just as good, if not better. You make regular mac and cheese as you normally would, with whatever brand you prefer, then scoop into muffin cups, add some breadcrumbs on top, bake in the oven until they hold together, and serve. They’re quick, easy, and delicious.”

If you’re looking for something sweet to add, why not try making your own caramel apples. I love making homemade caramel apples by cutting the apples in half, cutting out the seeds, and placing a craft stick in the middle of each half. I then dip each half into caramel sauce, (you can use either store bought caramel sauce, or make it yourself) and place the apple on a buttered baking sheet. Then leave the apples in the refrigerator for 15 minutes so the caramel can harden, resulting in a delicious dessert that’s perfect for fall and fun to eat.

Looking to add a cocktail to the mix? Hot apple cider is perfect alone, or with dark rum. Mike Pilla, head bartender at Avenue Restaurant in Pier Village, suggests a simple yet delicious fall cocktail, which Avenue calls “Spiced Pear.” “It’s fall in a glass,” said Pilla. “The drink contains simple ingredients: Sailor Jerry Rum, pear Berentzen liquor, pear puree, lemon juice, and a dash of cinnamon to garnish. “I can’t give you the measurements, but it’s not too difficult to figure out on your own,” said Pilla, with a big sarcastic grin.

So there you have it. A few simple suggestions for a creative get together with close friends. A little décor, a few tasty bites to eat, and a sweet ending make for a festive evening to be appreciated by all. Check out the local dollar store for decorations, chip in with your roommate for some food, and turn your off campus house (or dorm) into an autumn gettaway for the evening. It doesn’t have to be extravagant and it doesn’t have to be expensive to be a fabulous fall gathering.