By Julia Pantoga
This is a sociable time of year. For some of us, entertaining is fun—a chance to show off our lovely homes, our cooking and our planning skills to friends; a chance to work on the puzzle of how to fit 15 people into a home that feels crowded with 3 people in it; and a chance to drag out party games and toys that have gone unplayed since last winter.
For others, entertaining is a stressful required chore of the holiday season—this year, it is your turn to host the family (including all the nieces and nephews and their children) for Christmas Eve. You don’t keep your house visitor-ready (i.e. clean and neat with valuables put away), you don’t feel comfortable around a lot of people, and cooking doesn’t come naturally to you. Whether you love to entertain or not, here are some tips to make it less stressful:
Entertaining is for you to enjoy
As you are preparing to entertain, remember always that entertaining is meant to be enjoyable for you. Don’t serve food you don’t like. Don’t invite people into your home you don’t like. Close off rooms of your house that you don’t want people in. If cooking doesn’t come naturally to you, or you don’t enjoy it, buy food from a restaurant or a caterer. If you really feel uncomfortable having several people in your home, throw money at the problem: entertain in a restaurant party room.
Prepare EVERYTHING in advance
You may want to serve foods to your guests that you can’t prepare much in advance, such as spinach salad. I’m sorry, but you really need to knock that off your planned menu because you need to prepare EVERYTHING in advance! There are two reasons for this:
1. When you are entertaining, the only thing you should be thinking about is enjoying yourself.
2. If you have a small space, you can use your food preparation areas as flat surfaces for putting out food.
This lovely display of family photos will be put away in the service of snacks!
Use every surface
And I mean EVERY surface: the stove (if you don’t have a flat top, use planks of plywood and table cloths to make it flat); the top of the coffee table where you usually keep magazines; the end table where you keep awesome photos of your kids; the kitchen counters (which you don’t need since you already prepared EVERYTHING in advance).
Use the rest of the house creatively
Empty a bookshelf and use it as a bar. Keep the cold drinks in your bathtub or kitchen sink. Put everyone’s coats on the wicker sofa in the screened in porch.
• Enjoy yourself.
• If you have only one bathroom, don’t use that bathtub for cold drinks.
• If you don’t want people to go in your bedroom, don’t put coats in there.
• Before you have people you aren’t close to in your house, snoop-proof it. Paper bags are helpful for this. Say you keep several medications in your medicine cabinet in the bathroom that you’d rather not have just anyone see. Put them all in a paper bag and put the bag in your underwear drawer. That is not a great hiding place to prevent burglaries, but it is good enough for a party. While it is entirely likely that someone will open your medicine cabinet; it is improbable that a party-goer will rifle through your underwear drawer and open a paper bag. Use a paper, rather than plastic, because it makes more noise. Since your medicines are all together in one bag, they will be easy to return to the medicine cabinet after your party.
• Leaving toys and reference books (atlases, dictionaries, etc.) out are always good for getting lively conversation going.
Easy and fabulous party foods:
• Figs, cut in half topped with cream cheese mixed with chopped pecans (you have no idea how great this is until you try it)
• Homemade cookies
• Apple slices with lime juice squeezed over them, served with good cheddar cheese
The best party foods:
• Don’t require a fork
• Don’t require a plate
• Can be eaten standing up and with one hand
And here’s the deal about serving: Nothing you serve has to look fantastic. Rather, it should be easy to get to and serve, and it should taste great. Your friends are there to enjoy you and your hospitality, not to be impressed.