Monday, December 19, 2011

Party Time

Okay, so a couple of weeks ago we invited 2 families to our house for a little holiday cheer.  Then my husband started inviting some more work friends and then some more and before you could say ho ho ho we had about a dozen adults and half a dozen kids coming over on Saturday night.

Now we've had a holiday party at our house every year for the past 4-5 years but we had said that this year we would skip it because of just moving in and not knowing a lot of people.  So much for that plan.

Anyways, we had a really great time and I wanted to share a few of the tricks I've learned over the years to ensure that both you and your guests enjoy the evening.

I've found that this is the area that makes or breaks a party.  You have to set the scene for your guests.  This means turning down the lights, putting on the music and making yourself available.  

About 15 mins before the party starts you need to have your music on.  Make sure it is loud enough to be heard but not so loud that it impedes conversation.  You might want to have different music in different areas of your home.  We played more upbeat popular music in the basement rec room area while having more adult jazzy music upstairs. 

After you get the music on start turning down the lights and lighting the candles.  I think candles are an essential and they don't have to be expensive.  Walmart has a great 12-pack of clear glass pre-filled votive candles for $5.  These look great across the kitchen island, the dining room table, on your mantle, or on a window sill.  If you have a fireplace light her up either with a nice roaring fire or by setting candles inside.

In addition to the votive candles,  I threw this arrangement together in less than 5 minutes.  I grabbed a cake pedestal, some odds and ends candles we had in the cupboard, and then cut little tree trimmings to fill out the arrangement.  I placed it on the dining room table and our guests could see it as they came in the front door.  It added a cozy and Christmasy touch.

Bring out the fancy dishes and take time to set up your house.  People feel appreciated when you go to the trouble of making your house inviting and they won't notice if you only put out 2 appetizers or you forgot to put out the relish.  

Make sure you have a few places for people to sit and gather yet at the same time it is easy to get around your house.  For larger parties I like to set up smaller stations so everyone is not crowding into the kitchen.  Just by placing a few snacks on your coffee table and another strategic spot you will get people to move around more.

I've learned that I am not great at making enough food to feed a large group.  It stresses me out.  I am always too ambitious and underestimate how long it will take to make 100 of any one item.  I've also learned that certain foods always get eaten and certain things always end up getting thrown out.  It seems to me that the fussier the food the more likely it will not get eaten by the majority of your guests.  Stick with the tried and true.

I try to choose finger foods or things that can be eaten with a toothpick.  It makes party set up and clean up so much easier if you don't have to fuss with silverware, full size plates, and arranging places for people to sit while eating.  

One of the best solutions (besides catering:)) is to utilize the premade and frozen food options at the grocery store.  Just make sure that you read the package to confirm item count and directions.  This past weekend I picked up some sliders that required that you fill your broiler pan with water, place the sliders on, wrap the whole thing with tin foil and then cook for 20 minutes - no way that was happening.  You want to be able to throw the item on a cookie sheet, quickly bake, and transfer to a nice platter.  

Fan Favorites:  Nachos and salsa, nachos and taco dip, veggies and dip, slow cooker meatballs, cheese and crackers, egg rolls, shrimp and cocktail sauce, bite size desserts.

Fan Fails:  Anything stuffed in endive, anything with more than 4 ingredients, and things that are hard to pronounce.

This year I set up my kitchen hutch as a sweets station.  The night before the party I made the banner (scrapbook paper, black sharpie and leftover twill tape) and hung it on the hutch.  Then that afternoon I spent about 15 minutes setting up all my store-bought goodies.

This canister was the easiest thing I did all day.  Pepperidge Farm makes these Pirouettes and they are just to die for.  All I did was use the canister they came in from the store by covering it with vintage Christmas themed scrapbook paper.  Then I placed some waded paper towels in the bottom to make the wafers stand up out of the canister.  Easy Breezy.

I used a package of mint chocolate Milano cookies to make this cute display.  Just by spending 2 minutes I made a simple plate of cookies look special even though they were store bought.

I also used my 3-tier plate stand to hold some more store bought goodies.  I saw people snacking from this all night.

I wish I had more pictures of the food I served during the party but I was too busy mingling to take pictures.  We served a veggie tray, pizza rolls, shrimp, meatballs, nachos & salsa,  and some other frozen food delights.  I was lucky enough to have a friend who brought a mozzarella and olive tray and some more Christmas cookies.  If I had to guess I spent less than an hour preparing  food for this party.

Make sure you have enough of a selection to satisfy all tastes.  We typically buy a case each of a white wine like chardonnay and a red like Merlot right before Thanksgiving.  This gives us enough wine to get through holiday meals, parties, and last-minute hostess gifts.  Plus if you buy a case the wine store will almost always offer at least a 10% case discount.  

We also keep a limited selection of hard liquor on hand - vodka, whiskey, gin.  These seem to be the most requested for mixed drinks.  For a party we will also offer at least 2 beer choices - usually a light beer like Coors light or Labatts blue light and something more fancy like Sam Adams or a seasonal beer.  

Most importantly you cannot forget your non-alcohol drinking friends so be sure to pick up some soda pop too.

I used to get all stressed out about cleaning our house spic-n-span but now I am much more strategic.  First, do the bathrooms.  At least the ones your guests will use.  There is nothing worse than a gross bathroom especially if you invite kids.  I always hate when using a dirty bathroom with my kids because it is so hard to keep them from touching something icky.  So knowing that I am a freak I always make sure the bathroom is spotless and filled with extra toilet paper and tissues.

Second, tackle the areas of the house where your guests will be hanging out.  Start with clutter and then do a dust and vacuum.  Do not try to repaint or hang curtains or put up a new picture.  Inevitably it will take longer than you thought leaving you not enough time to do other more important things like shower and brush your teeth.  Not that I know from experience or anything.

Third, utilize your garage and storage areas to stash away dirty laundry, toys, clutter, etc.  

Tips from Experience
Mingle.  Mingle.  Mingle.  There is nothing worse than the hostess who hangs behind the kitchen counter all night.  It makes your guests feel like they should be helping you instead of enjoying themselves.  Get out into the crowd.  Enjoy your friends.

Don't be a stressed out witchy spouse.  We have a family friend who loves to host yet when you arrive for dinner or party you can tell she is totally frazzled and she is so stressed that she is barking at her husband all night.  It is the same thing every occasion.  She makes really great dinners but spends the whole time in the kitchen every once in a while shouting out a snotty command for her husband.  We all feel uncomfortable.  We all want to get out of there as soon as possible.

Be prepared to make adjustments as the night goes on.  Sometimes you run out of food.  Sometimes you have to order a pizza.  Maybe the music needs to be changed.  Just go with the flow and don't let a change in your vision or plans upset you.  

Put your pets away.  Not everyone is a dog person.  Especially a leg humping or slobbery dog person.  Some people are allergic to animals.  Enough said.

Ask for help or take help if it is offered.  If a guest wants to bring something say yes.  If they want to come early and help you set up say yes.  Nothing beats an extra pair of hands.

I hope this gives you all some good ideas for your next shindig, and I would love to hear your best tips too.  What was the best party you ever attended and why?

~Gold Shoe Girl~

Linking up to these parties...

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