The Holidays bring a season of sharing our time, opening our homes and entertaining our friends and family. Some events are centered on joy and thanksgiving, and some focus on events, like the arrival of seldom-seen family and even the excitement of sporting events. The likelihood of us inviting others into our homes is higher during November and December.
November and December are two of the busiest months on people’s schedules, restricting the time available to prepare for the events we plan. Our available space is also restricted, as colder and less predictable weather forces us indoors, bringing the fear of greater scrutiny of our homes. How can we balance the desire to entertain with time and space considerations? Three words: Plan, Prepare and Present. Good planning and preparation make a positive presentation much easier and enjoyable.
Plan: As soon as the idea for an event comes to mind, think of how many will attend, where you want them to be – at a table, around a family room, etc. What time of day and what mood, whether the gathering is formal or informal all affect how you plan and what food will be included. Planning is the most difficult part of the process, but good planning eliminates lots of wasted time in preparation. List out what needs to be done. A good list allows the work to be easily delegated, allowing others to help.
A few good accessories ease your planning by directing your tasks. For instance, versatile casserole dishes allow you to cook in them, and take them directly to your table. Having a standard salad bowl and servers eliminates the frantic search for a large container and utensils. Useful cookbooks are essential, and can be read for leisure, marked in and referred to during the planning stage. Pulling together a menu is fun when you have favorites or noted new recipes at the ready.
I know one hostess that puts sticky notes in dishes indicating their future contents, and even puts sticky notes on buffet tables indicating the place for each dish. These notes help remind her of items missing or yet to be done, and make it easy for helpers to set out serving dishes in the proper places.
Prepare: This part is where you actually put any food, rooms and any decorations together. Get ready in every way by working your way through the lists generated in the planning stage. Prepare food ahead of time if possible, and freeze or refrigerate it until it needs to be warmed. Pick up accessory dishes or serving pieces, napkins or decorations and put in place if possible. Inspect and clean any dishes and serving pieces before use. Silver, crystal and stemware may need special attention as they may tarnish or become cloudy between uses. Small gifts – candles, candies, maybe something hand-made – for your guests are a pleasant surprise. They can be given at any time, or be a part of their tablescape or place setting.
Present: This is the icing on the cake, putting the planning and preparing together. Get all beverages out and available, wine chilled and opened, ice in bucket. Put potpourri or diffusers out to give your home a light fragrance. Ensure that guest areas, dinner tables and bathrooms (check soaps and towels) are ready. Light candles, chafing dishes or warmers lit.
Last, and very important: allow an hour ahead of your party to relax, maybe read a magazine or book, so you can enjoy your company when they arrive.