Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Holiday Entertaining Tips

Tips For When You Are The Guest

We all want to bring something to give our host or hostess when we are invited to their home. And we have all experienced that pausing moment -- WHAT should I bring?
Don't bring your host cut flowers. They will have to stop what they should be doing, greeting their guests, to get out a vase and arrange the flowers. If you really want to bring flowers, bring cut flowers all ready arranged in a vase. Most likely your host has all ready decorated and set the mood for the party. The flowers might be place in another room, such as one of the bedrooms or the kitchen, so don’t be insulted.

Don't bring a dessert. Your hosts will have planned their entire menu. Two things can happen here. One, you will make your host feel obligated to fit your dessert in as well. Or, you might end up feeling hurt because your hosts didn't include the dessert you brought. If you do bring candy or baked goods, let your host know that it is for them to enjoy at another time. Don't bring something that has to be refrigerated. Their refrigerator can very well be full all ready with things for the gathering, and you will again put them in a position to stop what they should be doing to rearrange their fridge.

Do look for imaginative gifts. A few suggestions: A lovely container of Godiva's hot cocoa, unique shaped bottles of Balsamic, Sherry or other flavored vinegar, flavored olive oil, such as truffle, or pear, or dipping oils, unique bottles of cooking alcohol such as an Italian Marsala or a French Madeira or a California Sherry. Jars of gourmet mustards, imported olives, tapenades, marmalades, jams, or chocolate sauces. Or bring them something you have preserved yourself. A special bag of gourmet coffee beans from the best local coffeehouse. A beautifully shaped and/or scented candle. A bottle of fine wine or champagne is always appropriate.

When Entertaining - RELAX AND HAVE FUN

Entertaining is truly all about having fun and creating memorable moments. It's not about impressing people. It's about spending first-rate time together. Entertaining not only gives us the opportunity to spend a fun and relaxed time with out friends, but also allows us to reveal our own style and charm. You have all heard the term, "a gracious hostess"? I have always read that to mean relaxed and charming; one that has created an inviting, warm atmosphere where people are comfortable and feel at home. It's up to you to set the mood. If you are enjoying yourself and relaxed, your guests will be as well.

If you haven't done much entertaining before, don't take on a grand party at first, with a large guest list and an extensive menu. Have a few friends over for appetizers and cocktails or a simple dinner or brunch. We all learn by experience. So relax and give entertaining your friends a go!

Planning Your Party - SETTING THE MOOD

I read once that when entertaining in your home to be sure to appeal to all five senses. I agree wholeheartedly. I think many people get caught up in cooking when they entertain and forget all about setting the mood. MUSIC is very important in setting the ultimate mood for your gathering. For instance, if you are hosting a High Tea, stack your CD player with classical music. Mendelssohn is always a favorite of mine. If you're having a cocktail party, perhaps some jazz, such as Craig Chaquico or Peter white. Or oldies music, something lively to help conversation along. At a dinner party, go with music that is more relaxing and instrumental, such as George Winston or Nicolas Gunn. If you are having a Mexican fiesta theme party, go to Latino shopping areas in your city and buy some fun mariachi and Mexican fiesta CD's. Having dessert and coffee after the theater? Music from all-time classic musicals or some good 40's blues works well.

LIGHTING is important as well. If you don't have dimmer switchers, definitely get some. They are inexpensive and help create the ultimate mood when you are entertaining. CANDLES. I can't say enough about candles. Use them throughout all the areas in your home that will be used when you are entertaining. Nothing says warm, cozy, and inviting as well as soft lighting and the glow of candles. One thing to keep in mind about using candles.It is best not to use scented on your table or in the room you will be dining. Let the AROMA of the food fill the senses there. Don't attack the senses with a flowery or spicy candle mixed with the food aromas. Personally, if I use scented candles when entertaining, my favorite location to place them is in the bathroom.

Planning Your Party - SETTING THE TABLE

Most of us have the basics -- our fine china, crystal and silver. Don't stop there. Mix and match items that are unique to you. Create your own style. Express yourself. Try looking at setting your table as you would picking out the accessories for your wardrobe or finding the right pieces to accent the rooms in your house. Give your table the same consideration and creativity you give to those other areas in your life to make a personal statement. Don't be apprehensive about MIXING AND MATCHING. One of my favorite things to do is to use different patterned or colored glasses together on my table. When I give a high tea, my tea cups are all different shapes and patterns. So are my tea pots. Don't be afraid to use COLOR. Let the seasons be your guide. I am always on the lookout for fun and different pieces to use setting my table. Fun and unique doesn't spell expensive. It's Fall? Use your fine china, but for your soup bowls or salad plates, use ones in Fall colors. Different TEXTURES on your table help bring it to life. Choose whatever appeals to you and mix and match to personalize your table. Having a Mexican theme dinner or buffet party? You can find wonderful, inexpensive cloths in the Latino shopping areas of your city to use as table runners, placemats and as tablecloths. They are a wonderful combination of deep, warm colors and very bright, festive colors. The texture and colors are an appealing setting for your Mexican meal. Serving Chinese or Japanese? Oriental steamer baskets are fun and interesting serving pieces to use. You can find these very inexpensively in Chinatown areas. Fill them with sushi to fortune cookies.

Seven Tips for Setting the Perfect Table

Some suggestions for creating interesting tablescapes at your next party :

1. Several days before the party, plan what you will use on the table. Set out china, glassware, and silver, and then plan to coordinate flowers and floral containers. If you're hosting a buffet, gather together platters and serving pieces and match them to the dishes you will serve based on size and color.

2. Using collections such as porcelain figurines or architectural ornaments on the table is a good way to infuse your personal interests into a setting, but don't overload the table with too many extraneous objects.

3. To cover or not to cover? The answer is a personal one. If the wood and grain of your table are pretty, it is fine to forgo the white linen tablecloth.

4. Instead of a traditional tablecloth, cover a table with a patterned shawl or quilt. Drape it at an angle to create interest.

5. For a casual setting, use greenery such as palm fronds or magnolia leaves as place mats.

6. Get creative with napkin rings. Tie up linen napkins with organdy ribbons or raffia and tuck in sprigs of rosemary or small flowers such as pansies.

7. After everything is set and before the first guest arrives, sit down at the table. Make sure that nothing obstructs your view across the table and that the settings, as well as any serving accessories on the table, are arranged in a logical and attractive manner.

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