The air has gotten brisk, and the leaves are turning. As you tuck away your tank tops in favor of woolly scarves and tights, don't forget to keep your belly warm with your favorite fall foods.

What better way is there to kick off National Chili Month (don't act like that's not written in pen on your calendar) and say goodbye to summer than with a chili party? Here's how.

The Invite
Chili really isn't a black-tie affair, so keep things feeling loose and casual by calling or emailing pals the week before. Since chili is a perfect slow-cooker dish, you can host the fete mid-week without too much stress (which gives you a great excuse for Wednesday night debauchery).

The Food
Depending on your culinary skills, you can cook the main dish yourself or ask guests to bring their favorite variety. (It might seem like there's no difference between one pot of beans and another, but Texans are serious about their cubed beef, while Ohio folks will smother their spaghetti, Skyline style.) Depending on how much space you have, you can also provide the basic ingredients and stage an old fashioned chili cook-off.

If you'd rather stick to the basics, whip up a pot or two. (A meat-free white bean or veggie version is always good idea.) If you mosey down this route, ask guests to bring the trimmings, and get creative. Suggest chopped onions, pepper jack, Vermont cheddar, home-made salsa, hot sauce, unusual peppers, avocado, tater tots, sour cream, etc. Then set up a bar where they dress their own to their heart's content. But don't forget -- chili is lonely without lots of fresh cornbread by its side, so keep it plentiful and warm in your oven.

The Decor
Roll with chili's down-home vibe and keep the decor casual and cool. A classic red-checked tablecloth and some white napkins lend nicely to the county-fair vibe. If pals are competing for the best batch, offer blue ribbons for the winners. (You can award prizes besides the usual best in show, like beaniest or most-likely-to-make-your-Dad-sweaty.)

You don't need people to come in costume (cowboys and campaneros? They so don't do costumes) but encourage guests to throw on that Western shirt, embroidered fiesta dress, or the cowboy boots they barely ever get the chance to wear.

The Entertainment

Chili is amazingly portable, so it's no problem if guests cozy in on the couch with their bowls. If you're a gaming group, opt for low-impact board games that can be played from a seated position (nothing with leaping around or too much leaning over the board) like Trivial Pursuit, Scattergories and Scene-It.

If you're more of a movie crowd, look to your main course for inspiration. Chili has roots in Mexican, Texan and Southwestern cuisine, so opt for cowboy movies like "Unforgiven" or "Lonesome Dove" miniseries, Robert Rodriguez's south-of-the-border shoot 'em ups "El Mariachi" or "Desperado," or, if you're feeling extra saucy, spicy Mexican dramedy "Y Tu Mama Tambien."