Oh the holidays! You might already have a full dance card, but hear me out: Host a party. Trust me, come January, you’ll be so glad you did. From latest CBC Radio column, here are my tips and tricks for the easiest–and most fun–parties of all kinds.
There are already so many parties during this busy season, but you’re saying people should be hosting their own parties as well?
Yes! Tis the season to getting together with friends. People are generally in a celebratory frame of mind, and the more parties, the better we feel. Study after study has proven that social interactions and connections boost happiness, lower stress and lead to longer lives.
Well sure, but hosting a party sounds like so much work! I’ve got to shop and clean and cook….
That’s because you think it needs to be a sit-down party with table cloths and candles and a soup tureen. Not true! Picture this instead: Charcuterie boards that you serve as a meal.
Pop to your local Italian grocery store and pick up every kind of sliced meat. Add a few pieces of good cheese (left at room temperature for at least 6 hours for maximum ooey-gooeyness), add lots of bread, crackers, olives, nuts and dried fruit and you’re done. This is lazy entertaining at its best.
Your other option is to throw a “crappy dinner party.” This is ideal for good friends and weeknights. The rules are: no pre-cleaning allowed; dinner has to be simple (sometimes we order in!), and no hostess gifts or fancy outfits allowed.
Really, no cleaning?
When it comes to cleaning, do a “good enough” job. Clean the bathroom, tidy up the clutter…and then just dim the lights and make sure there’s plenty of wine.
What if I really do want a proper dinner party. Is there an easier way to do it?
For a small group, a sit-down party can be perfect for great conversations. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be fun and delicious.
To get through it without stress, just cook everything in advance. When your guests arrive you want to be doing nothing! Start with the fanciest potato chips you can buy. For the main course, serve a braised meat dish like beef bourguignon or osso buco that you make a day ahead and keep warm in the oven, but are still luxurious and delicious. Don’t worry about tons of side dishes, good bread and a simple green salad are enough. A box of chocolates or great ice cream for dessert. And never serve a soup course.
What about for bigger groups?
When you have too many friends….or 40 cousins….my favourite holiday party is a festive open house. This is perfect for big groups of neighbours and friends, or for hosting all those pesky family members at once.
My kind of open house is a drop-in party with lots of good food and a very casual atmosphere. Kids get sent to the basement to get noisy while the adults hang out upstairs. I usually roast a big bone-in ham, the kind that easily serves 40 and is delicious warm or cold. Set this out with lots of buns and condiments and let guests make their own sandwiches at their leisure. Add a few big bowls of popcorn, a large veggie tray and some platters of cookies or little sweets. It is also fun to have a big pot of mulled wine gently simmering on the stove — great for drinking and it makes the house smell fantastic.
When you go to someone’s house for a party, what’s the best host or hostess gift ?
If you’re coming to my place it’s Champagne, but here’s the secret: Bring it un-chilled and as you pass it over say “it’s not for tonight.”
Once the party is over, you can get people to leave?
Controversial! In theory if it’s your party, you should let people stay as long as they wish, but…..
Subtle cues can also work, like “Gosh, it’s been so great catching up, I hope we can do this again in the new year.” If you have young children, use them as an excuse, “oh, it’s time for Timmy to go to bed, I guess this is goodnight all!”
A dear friend of mine doesn’t beat around the bush, he just tells us, “Ok folks I’m going to bed, you’ve gotta go home.” There’s nothing wrong with unvarnished truth!