Entertaining with Ease

There is something about bringing people together that really brings joy to my life.  Having people over reminds me to slow down and enjoy the company of all these wonderful people I know in my [singlepic id=17 w=320 h=240 float=right]life. 

When I was younger, I would hesitate to have people over because in my “perfect” world I would have the fabulous place settings, best crystal, and a large home to accommodate the perfect get together.  With age, there is wisdom, and what I have learned is that people love to get together and don’t really focus on the details that often have me fretting.  Most people are more interested in great conversation, being together, and having a fun time.  My love of cooking and food has always played a big role in my get togethers, and something else I have learned through the years, is that simplicity is often the best way to entertain.  You don’t have to have a 5 course meal to have a successful party.  Asking people to contribute to the meal is also another great way to get together without a lot of stress.

Entertaining with ease means using things around your house and garden to simply add special touches to your tables and food platters, and it doesn’t have to cost much.  Using collections you already have like ceramic birds or other figurines, a collection of plants like violets, miniature roses or little pots of herbs, glass or antique silver candlesticks for the table, can all be used to decorate.

Entertaining with ease also means having a sense of ease for your guests at the party – like it was really effortless to put this all together for them.  They don’t need to know how frantically you were paddling under water!  Being organized and prepped well in advance is key so when your guests arrive, they are not subjected to a hysterical hostess running around with last minute things to do.  Ease means being the type of host that is welcoming and not frazzled for his/her guests and is calm.

My parties often start with a theme, menu, shopping list, and a time line which is broken down to things I can do in advance of the party as well as things I need to do the day of the party.  There really is no way I can do a party and not have things written down. I also have a list of platters I will need, serving utensils, flowers, and candles I will need.  I also have my smart phone programmed with great background music I can plug into the speakers.  I tend to like soft jazz playing in the background which is not the focus of the party, but just adds to the general ambiance.

TJ Maxx and Marshalls are my favorite places to buy inexpensive serving platters, table cloths, glasses, plates – really everything.  I have stuck to 2 themes when I am buying serving pieces.  I have a white collection, and a hand painted Italian Tuscan theme, and when I see the plates on sale, I buy them and add to my collection.

To keep flower costs low, I have several sets of miniature vases in my cupboard.  I usually buy a single bouquet of flowers, often one type of flower, and cut them to fit in the vase and scatter them along the table.  I like to use long lasting flowers so I can have them around for a while after the party.  Gerber daisies, chrysanthemums, hydrangeas, sunflowers, or dahlias are long lasting flowers.  A single stem of dendrobium or phalenopsis orchids can be removed from the stem and floated in a vase or bowl for an elegant look.  In the summer, I love a beautiful bowl of lemons, or I mix lemon and limes with daisies to create simple centerpieces, often cutting several of the lemons in half and scattering them in the bowl for a different texture.  I often pick several leaves from my camellia bush to tuck into the arrangement.  Lemon, fig or rhododendron leaves also work well.

Keep any decoration low on the table so people can look across from one another.  It’s really distracting and awkward to not be able to see all the guests.

I have good quality large solid colored table cloths that I use depending on the theme.  I really like Waterford linens (that I buy at TJ Maxx – I know I really am an unpaid ad for them!).  They rarely stain, and they wash and dry really well and don’t really need to be ironed (which I try to tell myself!). I often will go to the fabric store and buy several yards of beautiful fabric to bunch up and lay down the center of the table for more color and then scatter flower arrangements down the middle.  I also like to buy seasonal linens at the end of the season to add to my collection.  Antique and thrift stores are also great places to buy linens.

I have found that buying 24 good quality white napkins works for most parties.  You can introduce color by making napkin rings to match your theme.  Boughs of rosemary wired together or tied with raffia, and holiday wires and picks from the craft stores can be wired together to make napkin rings.  You can also use raffia or ribbon and tie it around the napkin and place a flower or herbs in the center.

Use recipes that you have made before and you have maybe adapted and tweaked as your own.  Take it a step further and use recipes that your family loves. I find it more stressful to use a new recipe and try it out on my guests.  It’s nice to have a few recipes you know really well on hand to make it easier for entertaining.

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