Monday, December 22, 2014

20 Holiday Entertaining Tips

For the past few years since I moved to my current apartment I have had a Holiday Party and various other parties throughout the year.  The Holiday Party was an idea I came up with a few years ago to try and clean house of all the stuff I had accumulated but didn't use or need at the end of the year.   I came up with this idea because when I moved from a house to an apartment I had to get rid of so much stuff that I had accumulated through the years but because I had a house they would just end up stored in the basement or get moved around the house.   Now that I don't have extra storage space I have to find creative ways of organizing my things.  

I have accumulated a lot of things in the past year from going to many food related events where I have gotten free food samples or sometimes gifts.  If the gift is relevant to me or useful then I keep it but if it has hasn't been used in a year or I know that I have no use for it then I will try and give it to either a charity or a friend that might need it.

The Holiday party that I have had for the past few years was called my Swag Swap party where I would get my friends to bring things for a gift exchange that they might have gotten at an event, film festival or who knows where or they just pick up a small gift if they don't have anything.   I always gather up all my extra things and put them into gift bags and then when my guests arrive I sometimes put their stuff into gift bags so that you can't tell what it is... like a wine bottle or box of chocolates etc.   Then closer to the end of the party I put all the gifts in one giant pile and we draw numbers and do the choose and steal but what usually happens is they end up trading with each other and going through the extra bags to get what they want.   I don't care because I hope that I get rid of the things that I don't need and they go to people that can use them.  They are happy because it's the fun of trying to get what you want.   It's the ultimate re-gift and recycle party.  I usually do this between Christmas and New Year's when things are a bit quieter around town and a lot of people are off work.  

This year I was going to scrap the party all together because it generally costs me a lot of money for the food and the gift bags and even the party supplies like disposable plates and such.

But I looked around my apartment and realized that I had accumulated a lot of food stuffs and there was no way I was going to be able to eat it all without making myself sick.   I was also send a case of Persimons which have a short shelf life so I thought it was a good time to throw a party and share the food wealth.   I scrapped the gift exchange even though it's really fun and an ice breaker it does take up a lot of space in a small apartment and you need people to arrive on time to make it work.

I decided to host the party before Christmas this time so that I could use the Persimons and have time to clean up everything before going into the New Year.  I would like to start 2015 with a clean and organized space and less clutter.

Because I hosted it before Christmas and didn't want to have a massive back breaking party a lot of people couldn't come and there were a few no shows which happens sometimes.

No matter how hard I try my parties and parties in general can be challenging.   This time I approached it in a different way and I will tell you some of the tips that I used to make it less stressful for me.

Here are the challenges that I have to deal with when I host one of my parties.

1 friend is Gluten intolerant.
1 friend is Diabetic
1 friend doesn't eat Pork for religious reasons.
1 friend has a dairy intolerance.
1 friend only eats chicken and no fish or other meat
1 friend is vegetarian and very particular on what she eats.

That's the food challenges.   But then the other challenge is that no one ever arrives anytime close to the time I set to arrive at the party.  
I called the party Sips & Nibbles and set the time to 7pm this time.  I figured since my friends are always late that a later start then usual would help.

The Sips and Nibbles theme referred to the fact that I was basically having a whole range of munchable types of foods and I had beer, wine and a non alcoholic drink that was a big hit.  It was fresh mint, pomegranate seeds, lime soda and water.   I told everyone not to bring any chips or munchies and said to bring whatever their favourite drink was because I didn't want to take up space with special drinks for everyone.

Here's how the party went down.

The time was set for 7pm.  I didn't post an end time because they never seem to happen anyway.

The first person to arrive was my best friend who normally can't attend my parties because of her busy family but she came early to help me get organized for the party.   She arrived at 6:30pm.   Great.. I needed the help.

Since I know that my friends can't seem to tell time i decided to wait until the last minute to make and put some of the food out.  When my friend arrived we chopped some vegetables and made a spinach dip and got a few other things ready.  I didn't put the cheese on the cheese platter until 7pm because it needs a bit of time to get to room temperature but too long and it dries up.

The next person to arrive was my chronically late friend who normally arrives after everyone else but always says she wants to come early to help.   She arrived at about 7:35pm which is early for her.
Another friend said he would arrive late and he arrived at the same time but came up in a different elevator than my other friend.  Another friend sent a text that she would be late and would arrive around 8:30pm.   Another friend sent a text that he wouldn't be able to make it,  he sent the text at about 6:00pm.   Another friend wanted to come but had to work downtown until 10:30 so she called when she was done work and then came for about an hour.   Two other friends arrived together after 8pm.
One friend sent a text to one of my friends saying "it's a long story" and she wouldn't be able to make it.   At 1:00am I got a text from another friend with an explanation of why she didn't make it.

So as you can tell a Potluck Party or sit down dinner was a bit of an impossible feat.  I have tried those in the past but my friends seem to like the drop in whenever they are free approach but some still want the sit down dinner food.

This year I really didn't care how many people showed up and was prepared for them to stagger in whenever and I knew I had to deal with dietary restrictions so I tried to plan for it with a new strategy.

Here are the tips I used:

1.  Prep all the tableware and platters a day in advance of the party and have a pile of extra bowls, platters etc. in case anyone shows up with anything that has to be put in a bowl or on a plate.

2.  Try and set out food that people can munch on when they arrive so that they aren't asking you when the food will be ready.

3.  I have to always make a huge variety of foods available to accommodate all the dietary restrictions so I know that I have to try and be organized as much as I can to present it all.

4.  I set up a bar station where people could pour their own drinks and grab their own plates.  I only have a table that can squeeze 4 people and that's without food so it has to be a more casual serve yourself style of food.

5.  If you have the space set up extra tables for drinks and munchies.   I had a small round table that I had a big silver punch bowl with ice for the beers.  I also set up munchies on my coffee table and had a console table as the bar table.

6.  Keep your dishes as simple as possible.   Make what you can in advance.

7.  Prepare some things when your guests arrive so there is no waste and things are fresh.   I made fresh pizzas using the Persimons that I was given but had to make a few different versions to accommodate the no dairy and no pork restrictions.  If I had made them in advance and if they hadn't shown up then the customized pizzas would have been wasted.  I also didn't have to reheat them that way.  My best friend helped me with the pizzas.  I would suggest if you have a large kitchen island to have everyone put their own toppings on their individual pizzas.

8.  Set up as many things that they can serve themselves.  For dessert I had pre-made cut up Persimons that I had cooked and cooled and then I set up a station with disposable clear plastic cups, spoons,  the Persimon fruit,  coconut whipped cream, gingersnap cookies and my homemade granola for my gluten free friend to swap out for the gingersnap cookies.  They served themselves how they liked it and the portion they had room for and that allowed them to have seconds if they wanted more.

9.  Lighting -  I picked up some Dollarama christmas lights for $3 and strung them on my fake Ikea palm like tree.  I also had a coupon from Bernardin for some Mason Jars and I used it to get a six pack of festive green Mason jars.  I used an idea I had seen at a Sobeys party and other parties to make an inexpensive lighting trick and decor by adding cranberries to water and I put in some dill,  that's what I had.. and then added a floating candle on top.   Festive and nice cheap lighting.   I also had a string of LED lighted christmas ball lights that I got at the Gourmet Food and Wine Show that I had put on my TV cabinet to make it look like a Mantle.

10.  Festive decor on a budget.  I picked up a tiny Cypress tree from Whole Foods for $5 and then found some $2 mini ornaments from Dollarama to decorate it and used it as the centrepiece on my dining table with is a small 4 seater round glass table.   I had a couple of candles on the table as well.
I have a small fake Pointsetta plant and have wrapped gifts and bags scattered around the room but no overt Christmas decor really.   More festive.  A lot of things were things I already had around.

11.  Platters - I had a slate board that I used as a cheese tray and added fresh and dried fruits and crackers.   I had a glass filled with spreaders and knives for the cheeses and picks next to the cheese board.  I had another platter of crackers including gluten free ones which I indicated to my Gluten intolerant friend for her to choose.   I also used a small cake stand to elevate a spinach dip that I made.
My friend brought a casserole dish with Mexican layer dip and I had a platter and space left open for that.  I tried to leave a bit of free space on the table for anything that had to be added.

12.  Cleaning up a little bit during the party.  You need to be strategic when cleaning up during the party because you don't want to make your guests feel like it's time for them to go or that they need to have to stop their conversations to help.   I tried to take away unused cups and plates after they were empty and just saying you are just getting it out of the way will make them more comfortable.

13.  Be prepared for the unexpected.  People will show up late.  People will cancel at the last minute and people will just not show up.  I have learned to not stress out about it anymore and I just expect it to happen now.   They say you can train your friends but I have never figured out how to do that so if you can do it let me know how.

14.  Try and be your own guest at your party.  Because my best friend helped me in the kitchen and I left things for them to serve themselves it gave me more time to actually sit and eat and have conversations with my friends.

15.  Have lot's of ziploc bags, plastic wrap, tin foil and containers on hand if people want to take some food home after the party.  I think one of my friends thinks it's a take out restaurant when she comes to one of my parties.

16.  Try and keep it simple.  While I always try and keep it simple my parties aren't a simple thing.  I can't just order a pepperoni pizza and pick up a case of beer but I try and plan as much ahead of time and try and always find new ways of presenting different things. I tend to get carried away.

17.  Tea and coffee.  I have been finding that my friends don't usually want tea or coffee and I don't have a coffee maker but I always try and have a full kettle of water ready to boil in case they want tea or french press coffee.  If I had the space I would set up a tea/coffee station.

18.   Try and find out your guests food restrictions or allergies before the party so that you know how to accommodate them.

19.  Make sure you introduce people as they enter the party.  People will want to know who they are and how they are connected to you.  Also if they have only met once before it's a good name reminder. My best friend hadn't met my friends because she lives in Maple but she remembered everyone's names.  I am not as skilled as she is but it was great that she knew who they were from previous conversations that I had with her so she already felt like she knew some of them.

20.  Pace yourself.   When I do the larger parties it sometimes takes me 2 weeks of running around, organizing, cleaning, planning, cooking, setting up and then cleaning up afterward.  This time I only spent a couple of days before and less than an hour the next day.  My energy and fitness aren't so great so I would do some prep and then take a break then do a bit more and take a break.  The last time I had a party I was wiped for 3 days afterward so I know that I can't do that anymore so I try and work within my limitations now and that's why I didn't do the Swag Swap and full out entree dishes.

Some other things that you can do is to think outside of the box.   I picked up 3 small square glass vases that I loaded with cut up vegetables.  They can also be used for tea lights of for flower arrangements or even the cutlery.

And if you have a Best friend that is as helpful and fun as mine is then make sure they can come to your party because everyone will be glad they did.

I like to buy things that are red because they can signify Valentine's Day or Christmas or just add a color pop to any time of the year and it goes with my black and white and grey decor anytime.  It doesn't have to say Christmas to have a Christmas feel.  Candles, ornaments in a vase, a string of christmas lights in a vase or on a mantle can give off a festive mood.

But the most important TIP is to HAVE FUN.... It's not a GREAT PARTY unless EVERYONE is having FUN!!

Happy Holidays and I hope these tips are helpful for your future Holiday Parties.

One last thing.   Because I live right at a subway station it's easy for people to not to have to worry about drinking and driving.  Make sure you know how people are going to arrive and leave and keep an eye out for their drinking consumption.   I am lucky that my friend from Maple was dropped off by her husband and the rest of them all took the subway so I didn't have to worry about their safety driving home.

Stay Safe and Enjoy your Holidays!

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