22 March 2010

hostess with the mostess 15 tips

hello monday + hello everyone. since you've all made it to my new domain, i welcome you with open arms. i'll be blogging some feel good tidbits this week as i prepare for the annual vacay with my sisters this coming weekend. since i'm in the partying mood, lets start with a list of hostessing tips.

amy preps in her kitchen with her daughters, lucy and sophie. the littlest guest wanders the house and makes fast friends with puppy, scout.

last week dan's sister, amy hosted a little impromptu shindig while we were in town. we were delighted to be invited. our lives used to be full of regularly scheduled fanciness, but to be honest, most of our dinner parties these days end up with bite-sized soggy vegetables on the linoleum and a clapping little boy ready to be scrubbed in the tub. eating is messy business. the amounts of general washing and wiping we do as parents is astounding. suffice it to say, it was nice to get out; to mix and to mingle.

i always love watching ladies i admire–sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, friends–host a gathering in their home. (and it helps if your home looks like a magazine, like amy's does.) the experience is like taking a personal behind the scenes peek; giving me hope that i can host a perfect party too someday. the dinner party is a vast subject that cookbooks and websites are devoted to, so i am bound to learn something new every time i'm invited to one. am always taking mental notes. here are some tips i've collected from real life experts.

hostess tips to remember

01. wear an apron and be comfortable in it. untie it when the doorbell rings or keep it on for casual gatherings. this is why everyone needs a functional yet pretty apron on hand.

02. don't worry if the food is not completely ready when the guests arrive. welcome everyone, pass out drinks and introductions and head back into the kitchen to add garnishes and set out serving spoons. do not forget serving utensils; people will stumble at the salad if there are no tongs available.

03. use your favorite plates. pull them out of hiding and unwrap the bubble wrap. use the good stuff. it makes the event that much more special. dinner parties are all about details. when guests can enjoy the moment to sit down and chat, the charming accents cannot be missed.

04. let your guests help you. if someone isn't chatting up a storm and sneaks into the kitchen to help, it is likely where they feel most comfortable. give them a job to do and it'll help them break out of their shell. in fact, i love the chit chat that happens amongst the kitchen staff at a big soirée.

05. have plenty of pitchers of ice water available. everyone will sit around, long after dessert, always pouring more into their glasses.

06. try to keep your dinner party tv-free. teach your children about old-fashioned fun. a checker board or a deck of cards are easy forms of entertainment for any guest that may seem bored early on.

07. have kitchen shears at the ready. sharp scissors are indispensable. perfect for last minute snipping of herbs, shredding cooked chicken, or cutting off the price tag of your new tablecloth. (possibly my favorite trick is cutting up string cheese into bites for benji.)

08. think of your seating arrangements and table setting possibilities before planning the menu. no one wants to be cutting pot roast on flimsy plates on their laps while squished on your sofa. however small pizza slices or deli sandwiches could work well if you're short on table seating.

09. centerpieces do not have to be elaborate or expensive to make an impact. group bright citrus fruits together in your prettiest salad or trifle bowl. gather acorns, pinecones and cranberries for a nod to nature. grow your own herbs in pretty pots for your table. line the table with a simple row of candles.

10. if you're honoring a special guest, display photos of them along with childhood memorabilia (a football for the quarterback, a camera for the shutterbug, etc.) be creative and dig up some fun memories. it will make the guest of honor smile and assist in the re-telling of favorite stories.

11. when hosting a special party, splurge on quality ingredients; real butter, excellent chocolate, awesome cheeses and the best cuts of meats. always bake from scratch when possible.

12. smart shortcuts will help you tackle all the necessary components of a good party. delegate your least favorite details if you're short on time; let the bakery bake your rolls, have your husband iron the linens, tell your little one to check for plenty of soap and toilet paper in the bathrooms, let a guest bring an extra side dish, order a favorite restaurant dessert for pick up, handwrite the place cards and create the pretty centerpiece well ahead of time.

13. always have a back-up option if your guests show up as sudden-vegetarians. grapes and crackers are good for guests on a sugar cleanse too. don't beat yourself up for not stocking soy milk for the lactose intolerant, just be flexible and offer them what you do have. keep in mind, desserts are the best part. don't go light-hearted unless you want to. a dinner party is a fun excuse to cheat with a sinful treat.

14. please don't go on and on about how difficult the meal was to prepare. or how you had to make it twice and send your husband out for more of this or that ingredient. on the other hand, don't mention if it was so easy you could've made it with your eyes closed. or so easy, you let your toddler whip it together. and never tell us that the fondue we're eating is made up of oil and velveeta cheese. or that the towering dessert has cool whip, egg whites, cream cheese, butter and chopped up twinkies in it. no one wants to count calories while they are tasting them.

15. be a present hostess. these are your friends after all. don't get tucked away scrubbing dishes or wiping counters. listen and laugh and enjoy yourself. quickly gather the dinner plates once everyone is done and put them in the sink (your sink should be empty before the party starts) and serve dessert before people can even think about getting up, wandering away or helping you do dishes. keep the party going and invite everyone to adjourn to–as my parents would say–the soft seats.

and a bonus tip for toddlers. when you find yourself with a tiny one in a home full of beautiful breakables and low on captivating toys, keep your toddler entertained with a simple spray bottle of water. benji's sweet cousin sophie offered it to him when he wandered over to the laundry room. he was delighted and entranced with it. and sophie liked playing hair stylist with benji's drenched locks. and dan and i could actually indulge in adult conversation. it was a win win.

fun features.
• vanessa was sweet to interview me for her monday's maven feature. merci!
• coming up tomorrow, my favorite soup recipe to serve a crowd.


Hil said...

Wishing I had a place to host a dinner party! Great tips Marta!

kh said...

these ARE great tips marta! just in time for our big Easter dinner! thank you!

[eeny] said...

I love dinner parties... I sometimes invite my friends over just because I am in the mood to cook and want to share the deliciousness with someone special. Love your tips Marta.

Tiffany said...

Such good tips, and I agree with you about watching women prepare and host--enchanting!

summer said...

i could just picture every one of these, marta. you create such a setting when you write- i love this about you.

isn't studying the most fun part of being in someone else's home? i'm totally with you. the mental notes are constantly being made, whoever is hosting.

anyway, this advice is fantastic! i especially love the apron, ice water, and 'don't spill the beans about the prep' tips. i get nervous just thinking about a dinner party, but this list makes it seem much more do-able. and even enjoyable! being a better hostess is one of my nearest and dearest goals.

swell.life said...

amen to tv-free dinner parties,pretty aprons, and awesome toddler hair-dos.

i like to put mint sprigs + lemon in the water pitcher to fake fancy. :)

Tara said...

marta, you're just fabulous! and i love these tips - some of them i knew, some of them are new - and some i seem to always forget. really great ideas!


talesofahummingbird said...

i am a true believer in the pretty aprons on hand advice, for sure.

love that little benji with his sprayed up hairdo!

nicole said...

great tips...i am discovering however that not everyone knows how to be a hostess or how to help a hostess...i think upbringing must play a part in the process...as a mom i love including my kids.

Mindy said...

I'm loving all the tips. I am always a flustered hostess. I would be much better if I followed a little more of your advice. :)

caitlin said...

Agreed. I always get excited for get togethers, because that's when we eat the best. And I would also add that if you are attending a potluck and you only have one assignment, make something good. Make it homemade, try that new recipe.

I can't tell you how often people ask me to bring the dessert because they know I won't run to the store at the last minute and get the crappy store bought cookies. Instead I take a bit more time for the chocolate eclair cake, or trifle. Then again, I am not much a chef, so maybe that's why they ask for dessert! :)

Great post!

AmberLee said...

love the tips, and yes, i always feel like i can do anything with a pretty apron on. and one of my favorite things about dinner parties is that my kids learn to play host. i'm resolved to have more. thanks for the inspiration!

Liz said...

Thanks so much for the tips! I am getting married in July and I am already nervous about hosting family and friends for dinners. This is much appreciated!

Corby said...

I am a long time blog stalker - sorry if that is creepy - but this is one of my favorite posts of yours of all time! Thanks for the great tips!

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