By Beth Zollars
5 Minute Read
Entertaining with Ease
November temperatures dropping and feelings of holiday joy (or madness) permeate our chilly souls. Twinkling lights line up like rigid little soldiers down Main Street and the local grocery store’s massive towering end- cap brimming with boxed stuffing continually reminding us – Happy Holiday Season! Ahhhhhh, I can smell the gravy simmering now.
Over the last 25 years, from intimate gatherings of 5 to 500 (yes you read that correctly) guests gracing my threshold commenting ” Your house is so homey !”
Meaning? a.) Visible doghair covers surfaces everywhere? b.) A distinct odor “Eue de cologne soccer cleat stink” emanating from the mudroom c.) all of the above but the killer three-wick Diptyque Holiday Pine Tree of Light candle seems to be making an impact.
One of my favorite holiday candles – Shop Here
The goal isn’t a museum
Ok, you get it. Tidy up before guests arrive, but don’t tidy too much, when is the last time you felt really comfy cozy in a museum? Use the idea of “relaxed juju” setting the stage for the whole evening. Aesthetic hints of the idea of today’s modern hair and makeup styles – spending hours on it, but the goal- totally threw it together – in a matter of minutes.
Your evening’s ambiance patterning relaxing charm and casual elegance becoming an expert illusionist of style. Not fussy, or contrived. Somehow, make your guests think magic has happened. Bewitched style.
My favorite Do’s
#1 Cloth napkins
If the guest list is under 50, I guarantee I will use cloth cocktail /dinner napkins. Finding them at second-hand stores, or the big home chain stores is a no-brainer, scouring in search of all shapes and sizes amassing a pretty nifty collection. Why you ask would I use them with all the super cute kitschy saying paper napkins available?
Because my three maiden aunties ( Philomena, Ann, and Ree-Ree – entertaining mavens) always used them, and I felt very special and elegant in their home. Transcending time and reflecting back to a bygone entertaining era. Your guests will appreciate the gesture.
Here are a few of my favorites. One from Rough Linen, the other from Kings Lane.
Casual elegance exudes from these navy linen dinner napkins
Darling cocktail holiday version from Kings Lane
#2 Unexpected flowers in unexpected places.
Of course have your killer arrangement on the table or foyer- but pop a few stems in a bud vase on a bookcase, or in an old antique silver pitcher in the restroom. I have a phone booth in a back hall that is perfect for guests looking for a quiet place to make a phone call- and the perfect place for a few stems!
A few hours ahead of party time, I can be found lurking in my bushes and trees for some A-list branches. Not just springtime blooms, but evergreens in the winter, and of course killer maple branches in the fall. Try Burning Bush, Mountain Laurel, Olive branches and even Magnolia.
Cut them 2-4 ft long and arrange – but nothing perfect! Your fireplace hearth or discreet corners of a room needing a little zing will be so happy!
#3 Interactive tasting/drink station
In the foodie world, “flavor combinations” rule. Lately, seemingly getting a ton more press. Taking advantage of the hoopla and creating a custom charcuterie station including a half dozen individual “flights”. Set up each with a min of 4 or 5 ingredients displaying in a vertical manner on a big rectangular wood board. Check out my blog post on charcuterie to see an example.
Guests trying flavors combinations and chatting about their likes and dislikes. Breaking the ice between guests and allowing for easy interactions between unfamiliar guests, a winning combination getting your party off to a notable start.
Bonus idea – Set up a drink station with various ingredients, the perfect signature drink of the evening!
#4 It’s all about the flow..and food.
As soon as guests come to my home I have a bar set up. Why you may ask? Well besides giving guests something to do when they walk in, it allows me to greet each guest if missing at the door. A second bar is set up in the kitchen or even the main living room. When telling guests, “There is another bar in the kitchen”, you should see how fast people gravitating towards a different location with no line will move.
Another tip to help with the flow, spreading out your food options covering various rooms – you can even organize by theme with a food map at the bar.
Acting as a flow traffic cop by serving passed hors-d’oeuvres keeps you in control. Truly one of my favorite ways of keeping an eye on guests, food, traffic, and alcohol.
Oh my god, the onion puffs!
My dear friend and Kanas City Chef extraordinaire, Lon Lane – building an empire with his delicious food and unique menu creations. One of my go-to items – his bite-size onion puffs. Heavenly and simple – guests imaging hours in the kitchen, yet super easy to make ahead. Recipe to follow. Click on his onion puff for more of Lon’s inspired goodness
2 cups of mix make approximately 48-50 onion puffs
- 1 cup Hellmann’s Mayonnaise
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons grated onion
- 2 tablespoons chopped green onion tops
- Cracked black pepper
- Pepperidge Farm White Bread
To make the toasts: Cut out bread rounds with a 1 1/4-inch round cookie cutter. Place rounds on an ungreased baking sheet and dry in a 200°F degree oven until toasts are completely dry, but without color. Remove and cool.
To make the onion puff mixture: Combine the mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese, grated onion, chopped green onion and cracked black pepper in a bowl.
To assemble the onion puffs: Using a teaspoon, top cooled dry toasts rounds with approximately 2 teaspoons of the onion mixture and broil on a baking sheet until golden and bubbly. Remove from the oven and let cool for a minute or two. Pass cooked onion puffs on a tray.
#5 What to bring
Alright, admittingly Planning my menu I’m kind of controlling. Well-meaning guest loves contributing, however, leaving you in a sticky place answering their requests. “Just wine” seemingly a bit impersonal could be jazzed up by asking for a specific year, vintage, or asking for a wine starting with their last name initial.
Your guests will either trek down to their cellar and find one immediately or not find anything and curse you because now they have to go out and find a wine starting with “Z” – no Zinfandel doesn’t count.
Putting my guest hat on for a second, what’s my favorite yummy to bring to a dinner party?
Something for the morning after. Having entertained enough late-night parties, I know mornings can come quickly. How lovely when there is fresh pumpkin bread or cinnamon babka waiting for us on the counter- perfect with a dark espresso to shake the cobwebs out and start your day!
And now… the suggested “don’ts”
Top Three Party Killers
#1 Your Temperament
Simply stated – it’s the trickle-down theory. If you’re at ease and relaxed, your guests will be too. A raving lunatic stressing beyond the brink.. guess what, guests won’t be having a whole lot of fun. Entertaining can be stressful and if the opportunity arising for anything to go astray, guess what?
They will – most definitely without a doubt 10 minutes before showtime the chimney flue will be closed while lighting the fire (ahhh just a new smokey candle smell I say) something will be left on the stove too long (didn’t need that other side dish anyway) or the dog leaving you a small (or not so small) package in the downstairs media room.
Choose to freak out, or go grab a glass of wine, take a deep breath, smile and greet your guests with a plastic bag of poop behind your back (yup, true story).
#2 Keep it Simple.
Complicating menus, drinks, and rules to follow can totally put a wet blanket on the whole night. If you are not an accomplished cook, by all means, don’t have a 7-course dinner. Simple grilled meats and roasted veggies with a salad is a winner! Even the most experienced cooks will pare down while entertaining.
I find if I create my menu, I often take away one thing, and it becomes more manageable.
Follow the simple guideline not just with food, but flowers, guests list, music, or other pieces of your evening. It will keep you and your emotions in check and help with #1 (above).
#3 Yikes Over-Served Hosts or Guests.
It’s a party! Everyone is feeling good, and the party moving along at a lovely tempo. And then you hear a raised voice, or a laugh just a bit too loud, or a few unsteady moves and there you have it- a potential scene.
Nobody likes a party pooper, but the opposite can be true too, nobody likes a party drunk.
What to do if you see guests heading for disaster? I try to remove the guest from the group and offer a non-alcoholic beverage or a cup of coffee. If there is a friend or supportive spouse, I may get them involved in a discreet way.
On occasion, I have had to offer a friend a guest bed to “sleep it off” after she proceeded to get sick in my bathroom. It can happen to the best of us, but especially if you are the host, know your limit and stay just below it!
Do your guests a favor if they do need a ride home call a Lyft/Uber and create the most generous gift of all, your concern and care for their safety.
What are your favorite entertaining tricks? Do you have a go-to meal or drink that you can’t host a party without? We would love to hear from you!
Happy almost holidays!