Tips for the Holiday Party Host

eat drink garden

Photo by Erin Feinblatt

Hi Val,

We’re very excited about our party on Saturday. We used to throw this party annually when we lived in New York. We were younger and didn’t care what we served. Now that we are older, we would love to do this right. You’re the expert when it comes to entertaining. I would love any suggestions you have on what to serve.

Thanks, Juliana

I was excited and flattered to get this e-mail from my sweet friend, Juliana. So often, people get overwhelmed by the details of entertaining. They find the idea intimidating, but it really doesn’t need to be. One of my biggest passions is to enjoy and feel confident in the role of host. It really comes down to being thoughtful in your choices, editing out what isn’t necessary and being genuine. So, here’s a peek of the notes I sent over to Juliana to get her on track to throwing a great holiday party.

wine for parties

Photo by Evan Janke

First, let’s start with booze – a very good place to start. I recommend serving one type of each: sparkling wine, white wine & red wine.

It’s better to offer one of each over multiple types of reds or whites. If you go the multiples route you’ll have people mixing wine, which can be off-putting when they mix their Sauvignon Blanc and their Chardonnay. Just choose one type of each and make it a good one.

If you want to add hard alcohol to the mix, offer one easy specialty drink or a limited bar. For a small bar set-up I would go with one clear and one brown—for the holidays vodka & bourbon are great. Add some tonic, sparkling water, a pitcher of water, limes and a bowl of pomegranate seeds for garnish. A little dash of bright pomegranate seeds makes for a party in a glass pretty damn easily.  Do yourself and your guests a favor by limiting the selection of alcohol, or else your party can easily slide into a crazy drunk free for all (not a good look).

setting up bar

Next up, here are some serving ideas that are simple and pretty.

Trays are your friends for both the bar and serving food (I’ve found some great ones at World Market over the years). Trays can wrangle an area, making things look neat, tidy and beautiful. For the bar, in lieu of flowers, fill a bowl or basket with the fruit you are also using as a garnish. It will add a pop of color that seems effortless and you already have them on hand – easy breezy!

I recommend using a white tablecloth to drape an area for food. Whatever table you are using will look clean and fresh, letting the color and texture of your appetizers shine.  Again, here’s where trays are great, they allow for groupings that work together and keep it looking contained.

We aren’t in our rowdy twenties anymore, so it’s okay to bring out your good stuff and use it. All those pieces you lusted over on your wedding registry or inherited from your mom and grandma— use it! Past generations put their treasures to use and we really should too. Fill in with your Pottery Barn stuff, but mixing in your crystal, china and/or silver will make it all sparkle. Handing someone a glass of Champagne in your mother’s crystal flute will make you and your guest feel special. (Juliana did just this at her party and it was so personal and lovely.)

veggie platter

Photo by Evan Janke

Now, let’s talk food. This is where everyone seems to get jittery, but all it really takes is offering a few good choices to hit it out of the park. Here are some of my tried true ideas that won’t keep you in the kitchen all night.

For me, it always starts with a trip to the farmers market and grabbing gorgeous veggies for a crudités platter matched with a killer dip. (Here’s a whipped feta dip that is so delicious and beautiful in color). On a large platter, mound the veggies blocks of colors; it will look natural and beautiful.  Have fun picking out special farmers market finds like purple broccoli, Romanesco, radishes and colorful carrots.

Add a couple of bowls (silver or borrow mom’s china) of marinated olives and Marcona almonds.

Costco is a great place to get a wheel of Manchego. Slice up a wedge and serve it on a platter along with the wheel so people know what they are eating. Alternately, you can take a big hunk of Parmesan and crumbled it into bite size bits.

Then to round out your table, have some warm flatbread in a basket. All you need to do is to buy the pizza dough from TJ’s, roll it out thin, hit with some olive oil, salt, dried oregano and red chili flakes (or oil and za’atar!). Next, grill it on the barbeque or grill pan until crisp and bubbly. Break it into pieces. You can make this ahead of time and then reheat in a 200-degree oven until warm.

This offers a great variety of tastes and combos that work with many different diets— and keeps you out of the kitchen once the party starts. Stack small plates on the table and encourage people to help themselves.

crosby loggins

Photo by Erin Feinblatt

Most of all, have fun and enjoy yourself. If you’re having a good time, your guests will feel that energy and have fun, too.

Epilogue: We were lucky enough to be guests at Juliana and Jim’s party over the weekend. It was a total success. They were relaxed, gracious hosts and everyone had a good time. The best part was that they seemed at ease and confident, making for a fun, festive party. We hope they make this an annual tradition on the West Coast, too.

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