This past Saturday was Rich’s birthday, so I threw a holiday-themed birthday dinner party for him at our home. Entertaining is one of my favorite things to do, but let’s face it, getting ready for guests is always a little tricky—daunting even—when you’re not Betty Draper and you’ve got a demanding day job. Today I thought I’d share a peek at our home along with my top hostessing tips for throwing a successful party with limited prep time.
TABLE CLOTH: Waterford | GARLAND: Target | CRYSTAL CANDLE HOLDERS: Godinger | GOLD GEOMETRIC TEALIGHTS: BHLDN | DISHES: Juliska (combination of pieces from their Berry and Thread and Jardins du Monde patterns) | SILVERWARE: Couzon | WINE GLASSES: Riedel (cabernet glasses here & chardonnay glasses here) | RUNNER: Williams-Sonoma | NAPKINS: Williams-Sonoma | SANTA SALT & PEPPER SHAKER: Pottery Barn (sold out, but my mom has these Partridge in a Pear Tree S&P shakers—so cute!!) | CAKE STAND: Waterford
TREE TOPPER: Kurt Adler
TIP #1: Easy Invitations
Forget mailed invitations. They’re great, but Paperless Post is where it’s at. I’ve used these digital invitations for years, and their unique email delivery and huge selection of customizable cards really makes them feel as special and personalized as the snail mail equivalents without all the hassle. Also, as a guest, I always prefer digital invitations because I can quickly and easily access the host’s address and party details on my phone without trying to remember where I stashed a physical invite. Wins all around.
TIP #2: Effortless Decor
It’s amazing what a bunch of candles and fresh flowers can do to quickly make your home look festive and inviting. I always keep a ton of tea lights and several small bud vases on hand so that I can place them throughout the house when getting ready for guests. It takes no time, and makes a huge difference.
But what about the dreaded centerpiece? Ain’t nobody got time, you know? For our centerpiece last weekend, I found a lush, frosted garland and placed it down the center of our table over a linen and red velvet runner (did you see the little jingle bells on the corners?!) and then just placed a few red roses and winterberries in the branches to brighten it up. I finished it off with these gold geometric candle holders and three large crystal candle sticks. Five minutes max.
The garland I bought was a little long for our table, so I cut off the excess with a wire cutter and placed the remaining branches above the table on our chandelier. I secured it with little bits of wire and covered the wire with left over berry branches.
For get-togethers that aren’t around the holidays, there are super easy options as well. When we had friends over for dinner a few weeks before I had Christmas decorations up, I used two small plants (a small rosemary bush and a small olive plant, in these matching planters) that I keep in my kitchen. With candles around them and cloth napkins with silver napkin rings, the table looked fun and inviting without taking the time to arrange an elaborate cut flower centerpiece.
TIP #3: Quick, Tested Recipes
If you feel like you have to take the day off of work to prepare food for a dinner party, you’re going about it all wrong. Also, you’re not likely to entertain too often, because there are only so many times you can tell your boss you’ve got the ebola virus, you know? There’s no need to pick recipes that require four hours in front of the stove, so keep your recipes simple.
For example, at the birthday boy’s request for a chocolate cake, I wanted to make this chocolate peanut butter cake for dessert. Since I didn’t have enough time to do the full version, I took a few shortcuts that were huge time-savers and sacrificed very little taste. I made this super good boxed chocolate cake as the foundation, then made a simple chocolate ganache (literally takes 3 minutes) to spread between each of the three round layers, made the peanut butter cream cheese frosting in this recipe, threw some mint and raspberries on top, and voilà! A deceivingly simple operation.
The rest of the hors d’oeuvres and dinner were similarly simple: black bean hummus that requires about five minutes in my vitamix (or any food processor), ten minute baked brie with honey and pecans, frozen turkey meatballs that just required a good quick sauce, and a few other favorite recipes that are quick and simple—but generate great results.
In addition to selecting recipes that are fast, I’d also urge you not to make anything you haven’t made before. There’s no worse feeling than having guests arrive right as your first attempt at making cheese soufflé collapses. Save these more complicated, maiden voyages for nights when there’s no pressure to feed multiple people, and a potential shipwreck isn’t as gut wrenching.
TIP #4: Pantry Staples to Always Have on Hand
Whether it’s a last minute get together or one that could be anticipated, my schedule never seems to allow for as much time as I’d like to prepare. To avoid this constant 11th hour scramble, I always keep the following items on hand:
- Cloth napkins and napkin rings
- A dinner party playlist
- Lots of candles (especially tea lights/votives)
- Bud vases (so you can quickly grab a bouquet at the corner store and place flowers around the house)
- A nice hand soap and lotion duo (that’s saved and brought out just for guests)
- Small serving dishes for setting out nuts, etc.
- Drinks: Booze/bottles of wine, Coffee and tea, and sparkling water
- Cocktail napkins (as you know, I like the cheeky kind : )
- Boxed/canned nuts
- Hummus in the freezer
- Bags of pita chips and pretzels
- Dry pasta and a jar of tomato sauce
Especially if you need to entertain on the fly, you can basically pull off an entire dinner party with the above list of easy items to keep on hand in your pantry or freezer.
TIP #5: Simple Steps to Make Sure YOU Enjoy Yourself
If you’re off in the kitchen the entire time frantically preparing last minute dishes or setting the table during the party, it definitely affects the vibe of the party and makes your guests feel badly that you’re not enjoying yourself. Keep a detailed list of everything you need to do/make so your trips back to the kitchen can be quick and efficient. When guests offer to help, let them! Whenever I’m a guest, I always love it when the host/hostess lets me do something to contribute to the celebration. Lastly, make sure your dishwasher is empty before the party starts so you can throw dishes in there right away after dinner and leave the rest of the clean up for after guests leave.
One last tip before signing off until after Christmas: One of the BEST things I did last year right before and after Christmas day was snatch up holiday decor for the following year once it went on crazy sale. Holiday decor can be so expensive—the sticker shock when I went to order a wreath for my front door last year about knocked me over. This year, I’m determined again to score some major deals once all of my favorite stores throw their Christmas decor in the clearance section. By doing this last year, not only did I manage to get tons of awesome stuff at ~75% off, but since the holidays always seem to sneak up on me each year, I had everything in my house and ready to put up once December rolled around. Below are my favorite spots for holiday decor, so keep an eye on them for the next week or so!
I hope you’ve all had a wonderful holiday season, and for those of you who celebrate Christmas this week, Merry Christmas!! ♥♥♥