Tag Archives: christmas party

Hosting a Stress-Free Holiday Party is easier than you think!

Stress Free Parties!

The best part about a Holiday Party is a Relaxed Host – seriously!

I’ve seen it more times than I care to remember: I attend a party or gathering, and there’s a host who looks like she’s been put through the wringer – she’s harried, hassled and a complete mess. One host – and I’m completely serious – had such a scary look on her face that guests cringed every time she popped out from the kitchen. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, dared ask her a question.

Okay. Everybody who hosts a holiday party won’t make it through without at least a little stress. It goes up a notch when deliveries are late. Up one more notch when guests you thought weren’t coming – suddenly appear at your door. And think about how it cranks up when – just before guests are to arrive – your teenage son decides he’s not going out with his friends but they’re ALL coming to your house to play video games!

I’ve seen it all of course. Twenty years in the restaurant business and I’ve seen, first-hand, how stress can ruin a party – not only for the host but for the guests as well. Maybe you think that you can hide your stress by controlling your body language and the tone of voice? Well, perhaps you can, but most people aren’t that talented. The most important thing to remember about stress is that you’re not the only one feeling it. Everyone around you knows it – especially your friends and family. They can feel the adrenaline seep through your pores. It’s not fun for anyone.

That’s why I created my “Live and Die” list of seven things that I do for every event that I host – even small gatherings.

  1. Plan ahead and delegate, delegate, DELEGATE! Everyone has a special talent or unique thing they do really well. Give up some control and let them do it. Doing this will help you in two ways. First, it lets everyone feel involved in preparing for the party. Second (this is pretty good for some of you out there – including me), you relieve yourself of the feeling of having to keep total control.
  2. Do as much of the cooking well ahead of the event as you can. Plan your menu accordingly. Get out your slow cooker (I love my Cuisinart) and make a soup or stew . I might opt for a fabulous tomato sauce with Italian meat balls, in which case I reach for my Calphalon Elite Soup Pot. For a smaller group I might pull out my Staub Cocotte to roast a simple chicken with root vegetables. Or host a “potluck” and assign dishes to guests. Stop feeling as though you have to make everything! See? Giving up control is good!
  3. Keep drinks, and everything you need to make them, on hand and ready to use. Think about the mixers, juices, sodas, and soda water. Keep some vodka in the freezer (you will always find my favorite Chopin in mine). Put out the whisky (I love Maker’s Mark with the distinctive red wax on top) and gin (my new favorite from London is Ford’s) Pre-make coffee, teas, hot chocolate (like this one from Ghirardelli that you can make with hot water) – and hot apple cider for New Years!
  4. Don’t go nuts with the décor. Remember, anything that goes up must come down. So, keep it simple. Focus on a centerpiece that’s easy to make. Weeks before the party, visit flea markets or a good thrift shop for vintage ornaments and stack them in clear bowls or baskets. Or, get some bare branches, put them in a vase (no water) and hang the ornaments from the limbs. Then wrap it all up with twinkling lights and candles and you instantly create a simple but elegant centerpiece that will set the mood perfectly.
  5. Remember that buffets are the easiest way to feed a group – and they’re especially perfect for “potluck” parties. Arrange for one table to hold as much of the meal as possible. I have a video on how to set a buffet – take a look The best part about buffets is that they allow guests to mingle and talk to more than the person seated next to them so make sure there are plenty of places to sit.
  6. Of course, you will have music. Make sure you have a great playlist that will set the mood for your party. Copy your playlist to any mobile music device – like an iPod Shuffle. Be sure that there’s plenty of it – enough to last the whole evening. Set the device to playback on shuffle and – voilà, you’re a master DJ.  Keep it soft though – conversation is where it’s at. Right?
  7. Consider hiring someone (or more) to help! Even if your party is a potluck, get some help with setting out the buffet. Don’t hire a bartender unless you need one, but have someone around who will make sure that the bar stays well stocked. And, definitely get some help with the clean-up! You can call a local caterer whom you trust for suggestions on where to find help, but you can also reach out to party helper websites for pricing and suggestions.

Finally, and this is not on the list because it’s actually the whole reason for having a gathering in the first place: keep it as easy as you can. Even an elegant New Year’s party can be a laid-back affair. Unless you’re a master host and you envision a grand event like something out of the pages of the Great Gatsby – keep it easy on the host (that’s you) and your guests will appreciate it and then everyone will have a great time!

The Reset Diet

Fran's Reset Diet

A diet that helps you think about more than just your weight.

Truth be told, I’m not a good “diet” person. I’m no good at constantly saying “no” to something I want to eat.  Who is? What I mean by “diet” is any kind of program that’s designed specifically to help you lose weight.  Most of them are fads that doctors and nutritionists tell me don’t do any good anyway because they usually involve completely removing items from your daily intake and never allowing them back – even on “cheat days”.  And, then when you try to do that you eventually quit the “diet” and regain everything you might have lost by abstinence.  But, there are useful ideas that are not necessarily “dieting” but are just good ideas that can help your overall health.

For instance, drinking plenty of plain water is always a good idea, especially on hot days.  This is a tough one for me (I’m not a good water drinker) but it’s important to put effort into this one. Eating lots of fruits is also a good idea, and they taste good. I work out, I stay active, and I eat reasonably healthy (and balanced) full meals with a few “slips” now and then – it’s moderation for me and it’s always worked reasonably well.

Now and then though, it’s good to reassess what you’re actually putting in your body. For instance, a girlfriend of mine has a “diet” that she calls her “reset.” It’s something that she does once per year for one month – only 30 days – sometimes it’s just before the holidays (like now) and sometimes it’s just after all those holiday parties. It’s not a lot to do, I’ve tried it, and it really works. The best part is that it’s a diet that I think everyone can get into.

The whole concept is based on moderation – so lose the idea of some strict schedule where you live like a monk for a month (remember, this is me we’re talking about). Think of this as an opportunity to ‘detox’ away from some bad habits that have formed over the year. You know how it gets – too much of this or that, and you feel fat and tired! Through the moderation of the “Reset Diet,” I think we regain understanding what moderation actually means. My testimony is the big gain I got in the end: a big difference in my energy levels, clearer skin, and I lost that bloat I always complain about.

Rule One for the Reset Diet is banishing all alcoholic drinks for five days of every week for a full month. If I know that I have something planned that I want to have a glass of wine or drink at then that is one of my two “free” days. And since this diet is all about moderation, your ‘no alcohol’ days do not have to be consecutive. But I recommend that you try to put several days in a row together – it just has a better effect if you can.

Rule Two is to put yourself into a mindset of questioning everything that you eat. Do your best to ask yourself if whatever the meal you are planning is your healthiest choice. For instance, instead of trying to fill myself for every meal, I go for ‘leaner’ meals. Don’t starve, but don’t stuff yourself either. During this diet, I also cut back on snacks – especially stuff that comes out of a bag or a box. Fresh fruits are good, though. Always.

Rule Three may be the easiest of all. Take a short walk after every meal, or one longer walk after lunch or dinner. If you’re already doing the 10,000 steps per day thing, good. Just keep with the program. If not, maybe this is the time to start with 2,000 steps? Just sayin.

We can all do something for one month! The goal is to reset our bodies, not change everything about us. It’s a “diet” that may actually change other parts of your life, but the best part is that you get two “free” days per week.  I can do anything if I know that I only have to do it for 5 days out of 7 and it’s my choice which 5!  It’s an easy “reset” before or after the holidays.  I’m on it!

Entertaining at home with Magnums

magnums as tabletop centerpiece

How to use Magnums as a centerpiece for your dinner table.

Entertaining at home presents a fun challenge for me because I’m always looking for a way to do something a bit more extraordinary than before. I find the small touches that make a big statement, something that adds sophistication and makes the event more memorable.

“Magnums” contain 1.5 liters of wine or champagne, or the equivalent of two regular 750ml bottles. Two bottles in one! When you use magnums of wine on the table you get to enjoy the party more because you don’t have to keep jumping up and opening wine bottles as often.  But, there’s more than just the convenience of having to open fewer bottles for your gathering.

No matter how you look at it, magnums create a great party atmosphere.  Whatever the size of your gathering – large or small – when you have magnums as part of your centerpiece, the extra-large bottles immediately become fabulous additions to the tabletop and great conversation starters.

I went to a party in San Diego where the host served a double magnum of Champagne, equivalent to two magnums or four standard 750ml bottles. Just to get the cork out was a tremendous feat but, it took two guys to tip the bottle carefully to serve all the guests. That was not only a constant topic of conversation, it was also so much fun and the source of a whole lot of laughter all night long!  It really added to the party atmosphere.

There’s also a practical perspective for magnums. Winemakers prefer larger bottle size because wine ages more slowly and gracefully in larger format bottles than in standard bottles. There are several reasons for this.  One reason is that even though there is a greater volume of wine in the bottle, the amount of oxygen or “ullage” between the cork and the wine is the same as in a regular sized bottle. Corks are porous so tiny amounts of oxygen are let in (very, very slowly!) and that oxygen modifies the wine over time – aging the wine.  Too much oxygen will eventually damage the wine but if there is a lot more wine in the bottle and still the same ullage and cork size then there is less risk of damage to the wine over the same amount of time.  And, the bigger the bottle the more your wine is protected from other things that can damage it (larger bottles have thicker glass) – light, heat, changes in temperature and vibration from travel.

This is particularly true for Champagne where experts note that magnums help the wine retain a more youthful taste than when served from standard bottles. Also, due to the increased content volume, magnums tend to have slightly higher pressure which enhances the bubbles a bit – always a good thing in my opinion!

Either way, imagine one or two magnums sitting on your tabletop at your next party. You’ll enjoy the party with fewer interruptions to open more bottles and your guests will have a lot of fun passing the large bottles around the table to refill glasses. And think of all conversations that will start. But, the biggest benefit? You will be serving and enjoying wine that is closer to what the winemaker intended.

Fran’s Party Etiquette Rules – For Hosts (Part III)

toasting with champagne

Fran’s 7 Golden Rules for Hosting a Party

How about a few rules for hosts? Okay, so the word “rules” might be a little heavy-handed. More like guidelines. This is a part of a series – I started with guest rules, then worked my way through a list of ideas of host gifts (very important). Now I’m on to my list of “rules” for hosting a party.

The whole goal is to avoid those things that can absolutely affect your party in a big way.  Something will always happen, it can’t be avoided completely, but if you do try it will turn out better than if you didn’t.  If you remember the big “rules,” then you can party on fearlessly!

  1. Always make sure your house is set BEFORE your guests are due to arrive. Nothing makes people more uncomfortable than watching the host scrambling to finish those last few items.
  2. Set a tray with glasses of sparkling/champagne/signature cocktail at the door so that when your guests arrive you can greet them with a welcoming glass of something. Nothing sets the mood for the party like this.
  3. Just because a guest brings a bottle of something – you are not obligated to open it. This goes for food items too.  Simply tell the guest that you’ve carefully planned the menu so you will save their special “——” for another time, or that you would love to share it with them on another occasion so it will be a special event for you and them.
  4. I live in Southern California and you’d be amazed what some people do when they go to parties. This has happened to me and it even happened to a friend at their wedding.  Your invited guest decides it perfectly fine to bring an “extra.”  Be gracious to that “extra.” I am positive your friend told them it would be completely OK to come.  It’s not the “extra’s” fault they’re there.  Be welcoming to the “extra” and then take it up with your friend at a later time.
  5. Make sure you have fully stocked the powder room/bathroom that the guests will use – you know toilet paper, Kleenex, soap, hand towels, and do NOT forget the plunger. There may be that moment that something has happened in there that needs immediate attention – you don’t want your guest to have to come looking for you!
  6. I’m a big advocate of using candles for atmosphere – the more the merrier – but never use scented candles. You don’t know who’s got allergies (like me!) and believe me your guests will come “scented” enough.
  7. Make sure your playlist matches your invitation. Your invitation tells everyone what your party will be like.  If you send a formal invitation don’t be playing head banging music when your guests arrive.  And, if you find that your guests are having to talk over the music – turn it down a notch.

Of course, the most important rule of all (maybe #8, which kinda goes back to #1) is to chill out, smile, and have a blast. Nothing sets the mood of the party better than a happy host.

 

Fran’s Party Etiquette Rules – The Host Gift (Part II)

guest gift

More guest rules – these will make you the Party Star!

I accept almost all invitations to parties that come my way. And I go to a lot of them – that’s just the way I roll. Over the years, I have witnessed some massive faux pas at parties – more than I care to remember – mistakes that both hosts and guests make. Some are bigger than others but nearly all are remembered.

I went through my top 6 Guest “rules” in my first post. This time, I want to give you a list of ideas that could make you the Party Star! Now, that’s a nice way to be remembered, don’t you think?

In the previous post, my NUMBER ONE rule, if you’re the Guest: don’t show up to a party empty handed.  In my book, it’s just rude. The host has gone to a whole lot of effort to throw this thing – show some appreciation.

Having said this, there are even a few things that you might want to reconsider.

  • Don’t bring flowers – I know it’s your “go to” but don’t do it.  The host has to stop everything, try to find an appropriate vase, cut the stems, arrange your lovely bouquet and find a place to put them in their carefully arranged party décor.  Just don’t.
  • Don’t bring wine/alcohol – Also probably one of your “go to” hostess gifts but don’t do that either.  UNLESS you know what your host/hostess likes to drink – maybe it’s a dry, full-bodied Napa Cabernet, or a 25-year-old single barrel scotch.  But, if you don’t know for a fact what it is that your host likes – don’t bring it.  I don’t drink Merlot (I don’t like my wine jammy or chewy) but that hasn’t stopped some very well meaning friends from bringing that bottle because they thought it might be a good one.  I have dozens in a closet that I will never drink. By the way, never re-gift.  Don’t do it.

Those are some big DON’Ts, but I have a few easy DO’s that’ll make perfect host/hostess gifts – stuff that will surprise and please.

  • Bring scented soap for the power room. As a hostess, I always make sure there is some, but sometimes I don’t remember to get a new one. Bring a cute dish with a small scented soap as a gift – it will be appreciated.
  • A half-pound of some great coffee. Coffee is always welcome for the host that loves their cup of “joe”.  They come in very cool bags/cans/containers now and that’s a fun gift to receive.  But, always bring GROUND coffee.  You don’t know if your host has a coffee grinder and even though those whole beans look cool if you bring them and your host can’t use them, they’re not so cool.  Always ground coffee.
  • Some fun wooden spoons! Especially if the host is a person who like to cook, but even one who isn’t. Either way, there never seems to be enough of them. Find ones that have colorful handles or are printed with words (eat, gather, etc.).
  • A jar of “Starter Sauces.” Some stores (I find mine at William Sonoma) have a great selection of starter sauces.  You can get them for all kinds of proteins and they have the instructions for usage on the jar label.  It’s very convenient and easy to use for the host/hostess.  And the best part?  They’re delicious!  William Sonoma has all kinds of things like this, dipping oils (for bread) in cool tall bottles, dry spice rubs for all kinds of things – some great stuff for the host/hostess whether they are a cook or not.
  • If they love to travel – find cool luggage tags. I found some fun ones at a fun stationary store.  Everyone needs them and if they are unique (read colorful) they are the perfect way for your black luggage to stand out on the carousel while you are searching for your bags.
  • During the holidays, bring mulling spices.  I find mine at my local William Sonoma. If you bring those and an infuser ball (like something you use for loose tea) and some basic apple cider, your host has the perfect ingredients to make their house smell wonderful at a moment’s notice.