Impromptu Parties can be such Magical Gatherings!
Heres how to always be ready to celebrate when company comes a'callin!
“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.” – Oprah Winfrey
Today I’m thinking about my mother, who died 14 years ago but is still very present in almost everything I do and create. I hear her voice when I’m cooking and can’t find the right spices and I cook her special dishes regularly. I totally miss her mashed potatoes, a secret that she took with her to the great test kitchen in the sky. She was a really great cook , nothing fancy, just simply gorgeous, delicious food and she WAS the Barefoot Contessa long before Ina Garten even thought about picking up a chefs knife. She could throw a party for 50 without ever making a fuss and she could do it with only 24 hours notice.
My mom was a very successful lifestyle entrepreneur who spent her days running a wonderful gift business, but it was her way to always have dinner every night at the dinner table, with candles, wine and cloth napkins. Speaking of those napkins.. did you know that if you want to use cloth dinner or cocktail napkins but dread ironing them, that all you need is a brick? This was one of my mothers magic tricks…she kept a brick right by her dryer and when the napkins came out she’d fold them while still warm, stack them and then place the brick on top leaving her with perfectly pressed, ready to use napkins at anytime!
My mother is the reason that I can cook so well and I loved watching her in the kitchen. She could throw a dinner party in a moments notice because she was always prepared to entertain. She had one small part of her freezer and pantry stocked especially for such occasions and always kept her bar ready for drop-in guests. I still do too, because you just never know and for me, just like my mother before me, Food is Love! She taught me that entertaining well didn’t have to do with how grand a spread you put out, but everything to do with how welcome and comfortable you make your guests feel.
A wedge of runny Brie with fresh fruit and honey, a tin of smoked oysters, olives and a bowl of Caponata (eggplant appetizer) were her staples, she always had them in her cupboard as well as a box of really good crackers. A simple tomato bisque, usually from a can (but now with so many good organic varieties in a box you won't need Campbells like she did!), enriched with a touch of cream or coconut milk, flavored with a jigger of sherry and served in her mothers demitasse cups, became another great conversation starter. When you have an entire roomful of people who don't really know each other well, talking about the different cup patterns really does work as an ice breaker!
Mom also always kept a bag of shrimp in her freezer which she could thaw in an instant. Take those shrimp, mix them up with about 1/2 a cup of mayonnaise and a 1/2 a cup of sour cream and then add about 5 tablespoons of chopped fresh chives, finely chopped celery. Season with cayenne, Worcestershire sauce and a dash of salt and pepper. Stir and serve with little forks or toothpicks, buttered toast points or crackers. If you don’t have shrimp, you can do the same thing with tuna canned in olive oil or smoked salmon, but if you’re using canned tuna, make sure that you drain it first. If you have a rotisserie chicken in the fridge, chop up some of the white meat add those same ingredients and you have a lovely chicken salad to serve with crackers. Those 5 things, arranged graciously and set on her coffee table with pretty little plates, a good bottle of wine or champagne and a vase of flowers were simple, delicious and truly satisfying.
If you don’t have cut flowers, the easiest thing to do is to walk out into the garden , scoop up a few posies that you’ve planted, dirt and all and repot them in some pretty tea cups. I promise that they’ll never notice that they’ve been gone for the short time that you’ll have them inside!
When I’m teaching people to plan simple parties I always encourage them to create a signature cocktail that they can throw together at the drop of a hat. My favorite spring cocktail is a delicious mixture of things that I always have around, lemon soda, Crème de Violette (this is succulent heady stuff for all you Violet perfume lovers!), Limoncello, citron vodka, peach bitters and blackberries, fresh when in season, frozen when not! Just take a tall glass, fill with ice and a few of the blackberries. Then pour a jigger of citron vodka into it, and a tablespoon each of the Crème de Violette and Limoncello. Top off with the lemon soda, a dash of the blood orange bitters and garnish with some fresh Thai basil. That’s all! It’s a signature drink that you can whip up in an instant that kicks off the conversation on a surprise evening beautifully! Always keep a bottle of red, white and a nice bubbly on hand alongside some beverages like tonic water or soda that you can dress up with bitters and fruit for any non drinkers!
To me it’s more important with whom you’re eating than what you’re eating and I want you to always feel comfortable having people in your home and enjoying their company. My mother had tricks that made it easy to entertain well and she was always prepared to use them. I think that we miss a lot of opportunities for relatedness because we’re more concerned with what it looks like instead of simply just enjoying ourselves and frankly? Life’s just too short to not enjoy ourselves and spend time with the people we love.
In a pinch, Whole Foods is a great source for flatbreads and other appetizers that you can keep in your freezer, bake and serve at a moments notice. So is Trade Joes. When it comes to serving them, don’t stress. This is a great time to break out some of the things that you inherited from your grandma that you’ve never really used, like all of the plates and platters sitting in your attic. Remember…none of this needs to match, in fact a mismatched set of dinnerware makes for a more charming and less stuffy table. Choose a color that brings all of them together and use that color in your tablecloth, napkins and flowers. That will tie everything together in a way that feels fun and sophisticated. If you don’t have them, get a few good glasses (colored ones are so much fun!), some pretty little plates, a platter or two, forks and some cloth cocktail napkins. I discovered a long time ago that the local Goodwill store is a treasure trove of usable pieces like these. Keep all of these in a special place and you’ll always have them ready to use.
Connection is everything after the last couple of years, so don’t be intimidated to entertain at home, just try it! The world is spinning faster than ever before and now more than ever we need to sit down , listen to some great music, break bread together, drink some excellent wine and really talk about what matters to us. Create real and lasting dialogue. Dance a bit. Love a lot. If there’s any sort of silver lining to be redeemed from our experience of the pandemic, I think that’s it.
Be Vulnerable, Be Playful & Love well.
“I am thankful for the mess to clean after a party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.” – Nancie J. Carmody