’Tis The Season!
This time of year, everyone should get an award just for showing up every day, amiright?
A number of years ago, I decided that was not how I wanted to look at the holiday season – or life in general. I want to feel joyful, warm and relaxed in the company of others – not exhausted and maxed out.
When I was growing up, we lived in a lot of interesting places… and my parents were always warm hosts with a knack for entertaining.
From evenings with friends in a tall, old house in Pittsburgh to cocktail parties in Jamaica to holiday events on top of a snowy hill in the Pacific Northwest, there were many gatherings through the years. I would help with the preparations and then sneak to a dark corner where I could watch with awe from the sidelines.
“I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.” (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby)
During the years of our expatriate life in Jamaica, it all seemed like a scene from The Great Gatsby. There were fabulous, exotic people and music and laughter and food. There were the twinkling lights of Kingston Harbor in the distance and the clinking sounds of ice cubes mingling with gin and tonic.
I decided I wanted that life, and from the earliest days of our marriage I have enthusiastically welcomed people into our home – no matter its state of cleanliness, decor or preparedness.
In fact, I once co-hosted a large gathering with a neighbor who was a smidge more detail-oriented and compulsive. She arrived an hour before the party to deliver a casserole and looked horrified to find me in my pajamas casually going through CDs to pick out music with what looked like an unprepared home. I assured her everything would be ready on time.
In the same way that we develop thick skins and become more strong willed as life throws us curve balls, I maintain that almost recklessly hostessing has made me more willing and comfortable (or foolhardy).
With that, I have a few tips and tools to help you begin opening your doors to welcome others warmly and often.
- Be Prepared. A well stocked pantry is the key to handling everything from an impromptu gathering to a full-fledged party with the last minute realization that you’re short on nibbles. I always keep lots of olives, nuts and dried fruit on hand and there is always good cheese in my fridge. So if disaster strikes and a planned dish is an epic fail or you want to be the kind of person who invites people over last minute, a good pantry will save you.
- Steal Decor. Basically, shop your own home to decorate – rob Peter to pay Paul. There is no need to buy decor and obsess a custom theme. A day or two before a planned party, I hit the storage room or go from room to room grabbing items to spruce up entertaining areas. This creates a little breathing room throughout the house, and it lets me pull together interesting little vignettes in the places where people mingle. Add fresh flowers and voilà!
- Cheat Profusely. Martha Stewart ruined us all. Everyone is overly worried about delivering perfection – and it intimidates people from hosting. My very best go-to party dishes (more on that below) are in the “nearly homemade” category. In fact, I’ll share a whole list of ways to in the kitchen with or without a party. And in the meantime, I promise that store bought popcorn poured into big serving bowls and a few packaged crescent rolls will sell just as well to a hungry crowd as gourmet offerings.
- Have Standards. By this I mean standard go-to items… in other words, assemble your greatest hits album. Develop a repertoire of 3 – 4 items, from a signature cocktail to an easy item you can throw together with one hand tied behind your back. It will be easy to fill in the gaps with more run of the mill food and drinks, but your signature items will make things memorable.
Ok, you’re all set, right? Just let me know when I’m invited over – happy hostessing!