Spirits of Halloween

The air has suddenly turned crisp and trees are beginning to paint the skyline in shades of amber, gold, and crimson. 


Show-stopping design by Lemuel Ayers.

Our hearts grow a little more FESTIVE with thoughts of the approaching seasons.  Halloween, kicking it all off, has always been one of my favorites and I’ve got the perfect recipe to share…a magical party trick-or-treat, complete with stories of fanciful costumes and make-believe.  This is the time of year we start to think about celebrations…entertaining in our homes…and gatherings with friends and loved ones.

HERE’s just the recipe for that, LEMUEL AND SHIRLEY AYERS’ CAFE DIABLE! 

The “Spirits” in the above title refer to booze…FLAMING BOOZE!  …and what cook doesn’t get EXCITED when they get to cook with actual FIRE?  FLAMING, SPICED COGNAC AND COFFEE.  An after dinner, show-stopping, theatrical performance that your guests will talk about for years to come!

Shirley Ayers’ preparation and serving of this is classic. It’s a basic and good presentation.  In my NEW Halloween-themed video of this recipe (at the bottom of this blog) you’ll see a slightly more elaborate, more theatrical rendition.  The choice is yours…either way,  your friends will absolutely love the outcome. 

(As a reminder, you can click on any of the photos within this blog to see them larger.)




Ayers’ vision for Oklahoma! (1943)

Lemuel Ayers was a set designer, costume designer, director, and producer of films and Broadway shows.  He’s most famous for Oklahoma! (1943), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Ziegfeld Follies (1945), Kiss Me Kate (1948, 3 Tony Awards), and The Pajama Game (1954).  Lemuel had over 36 Broadway productions and 3 major film credits…he collaborated with such greats as Cole Porter, Tennessee Williams, Stephen Sondheim, Vincente Minelli, Miles White, and more… Accomplishing all this before the age of 35, his artistic visions were unique, fresh, and ahead of the times.

“Lem brought a little more color and a little more fun to the things he did.”

James Sheldon, prolific TV Director and Producer

Lemuel’s costuming for Pearl Bailey and Robert Pope in the Broadway version of St. Louis Woman (1946).

Lemuel was married to Shirley Osborn, a Broadway actress from a renowned theatrical family.  Together they had 2 children and an estate house in Nyack, NY.  They played host to some of the most influential, artistic luminaries of the time, throwing elaborate, alcohol-fueled, weekend-long parties.   Regulars at the estate included John and Elaine Steinbeck, Mitch and Fran Miller, Mel Ferrer, and many of the top producers, directors, intellectuals, and writers.

Playbill from The Pajama Game (1954) opening.

The Ayers were good friends of James Dean’s mentor, Rogers Bracket.  Bracket brought his protege to a number of the Ayers’ dinner parties and gatherings, expanding Dean’s exposure to this circle of important, show-biz, movers and shakers.

Jim loved playing with the Ayers’ 2 young children, Sarah (aged 7) and older brother Jonathan.  He climbed the trees of the Ayers’ heavily wooded, 11 acre grounds, acting like a monkey.

“Jimmie had a remarkable ability to create magic. My brother and I were madly in love with him. I had an unbridled expectation of him; I couldn’t wait to see him! He and Rogers used to arrive burning rubber. He drove very recklessly. Once they hit a deer. The car was totaled.”

Sarah Ayers

Lemuel Ayers

As Dean (perhaps intentionally) endeared himself to the children, both Shirley and Lemuel became increasing fond of him.  James received a last-minute invitation to join the Ayers and a select group of their friends, as a deckhand on an annual, chartered yacht trip.  Jimmie accepted.

The yacht, named Typhoon, sailed up the Hudson River to Martha’s Vineyard and back again in 10 days.  Despite some initial bad weather, Jim enjoyed the experience…even joining the excursion for the following year and dubbing the collective as “The New York Yacht Club.”

Jim was able to convince Lemuel to allow him to read for the part of Wally Wilkins in Lemuel’s upcoming Broadway production, See the Jaguar (1952).  Lemuel was hesitant.  He was looking for a more experienced actor. But Dean persisted, and out of 100 other actors vying for the job, he got the part. It became his first “big break” into professional acting.

Lemuel died in August 1955 at the age of 40, after a long, difficult battle with cancer.  Shirley established the Lemuel Ayers Cancer Research Fund at New York Hospital in his memory.





Playbill from See the Jaguar (1952)

In his 1st of 2 Broadway roles, Dean played the 17 year-old, man-child Wally Wilkins, whose recluse mother has kept him imprisoned in an ice house locker to protect him from the evils of the world.  When the mother learns she is dying, she gives her son a gun for safety, new shoes, a note for the person who might find him, and then releases the simple-minded, naive, innocent child into the wilderness.  He meanders, searching for her, unaware that his mother (the only thing he knew in this world) is already dead.

Meanwhile in the nearby town, resides an unscrupulous business man who captures wild animals and exhibits them in cages.  Signs on the cages read, “See the Ocelot,” “See the Weasel”…  He has an empty cage waiting for his next conquest, labeled “See the Jaguar.”  The business man is also hunting for a rumored wild boy, said to be wandering the woods (also rumored to be carrying his large, monetary inheritance in his pocket).  Wally (Dean) inadvertently stumbles onto the scoundrels property looking at the caged animals, and is lured-in by the business man’s false kindness.

As the drama progresses, Wally shoots and kills the jaguar in self-defense.  In revenge, the business man imprisons him in the cage meant for the jaguar.  It’s a morality tale of innocence vs. the brutality of society…of how a mother’s overprotective but noble intentions, destroyed the very thing she cherished most.  It’s a dark and uneasy story.

The drama opened at Broadway’s Cort Theater on December 3rd, 1952, and closed December 6th, 1952.  Despite it’s extremely short 5-performance run, See the Jaguar received mixed reviews by the critics, but high accolades for Dean’s portrayal .  The New York Herald Tribune wrote, “James Dean adds an extraordinary performance in an almost impossible role.”  The loudest criticism of the play came from 7 year-old Sarah, who was highly “disappointed there wasn’t a real jaguar in it.”




James Dean as Wally Wilkins in See the Jaguar (1952)




It was the name of this recipe…Café Diable…that led me to choose it for a Halloween posting.  Diable comes from the French, meaning devil.  Have you ever wondered why certain foods are named; deviled eggs, deviled ham, deviled crab, chicken fra diavolo, or even devil’s food cake?

Devil’s Food Cake was originally reddish in color

The term “deviled” dates back to the 1700s, and refers to food that was heavily seasoned with mustards or spices (either “hot” or just strongly flavored).  It was a culinary joke, meaning that the dish was “hot as Hades.” Scanning through antique cook books, we can see that even just 100 years ago, there were a lot more “deviled” dishes around…deviled tongue, deviled kidney, deviled bones…  The Underwood company, famous for it’s canned, deviled ham since 1868, used to make a variety of deviled meats (their red devil logo is the oldest, trademarked logo still in use).  Deviled Ham is the only survivor in that product line.

Devil’s Food cake is a wholly different story.  It’s NOT, as you might guess, because it’s dark, sinful, and the opposite of Angel Food cake…  Devil’s Food cake got it’s name from the dark, reddish (Satan-like) color produced by the chemical reaction of buttermilk, soda, and unprocessed cocoa of vintage recipes.  It was the original Red Velvet cake, long before the addition of red food coloring became the norm.

This Café Diable recipe falls into the first category of deviled foods…it is heavily spiced (just not the hot spices).  A rich Devil’s Food cake might make a nice accompaniment.



(click to view larger or print out)

This after dinner drink isn’t overly sweet.  The liqueur is strong, with pronounced flavors from the spices and citrus…reminiscent of a spice cake.  I like mine with a little added cream.  Bailey’s Irish Cream is REALLY good!  It tastes elegant and special.  Your guests will feel pampered and appreciated.





Need more Halloween thrills and chills?  Check out last year’s Rod Steiger’s Pumpkin Pie recipe (this would go with Café Diable, nicely)…







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  1. Greg! Your videos just get better and better – they are works of ART! Just love the theatrics of this, been meaning to get a chafing dish for ages – perhaps this is my excuse. The Café Diable looks absolutely delicious!

  2. As always, the video makes this look easy. It looks delicious.

  3. A great choice for Halloween! And glad to learn more about the origins of deviled ham and devil’s food cake.

    • Thanks Clara! I had wondered about “deviled”-foods for such a long time…it’s always fun when a posting leads you down the path to learn something, perhaps trivial, but new. 😉

  4. Looks great . An excellent vid as usual and a lovely way to serve coffee on Halloween . Also a perfect recipe to burn down my flat . Fear I won’t be trying !

    • Ha, ha! Not nearly as threatening as it looks. The alcohol burns off too quickly to do any damage. There’s always the option of just lighting it in the bowl, without the extra theatrics. Thanks for the kind comments Mark!

  5. Wow! Very Scary! But looks Wonderful!

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