Tag Archives: holiday planning

The Making of an Elegant Halloween

Elegant Halloween

The easy way to make your Halloween Party an elegant event.

If you know anything about me, you know that I love this time of year.  It’s the best season for home entertaining.  The absolute best time to have parties – as many as you like!  And, the first party of the season is always Halloween.

Halloween parties come in all sizes and shapes.  A friend of mine is a film art professional.  He, his wife and their grown kids get together and turn the family home into the perfect haunted house complete with strobe lights, sound effects, props of all kinds and huge dry ice fog pumps that lay an entire blanket of “fog” over the back yard.

In Southern California we have a lot of theater and film people, so the costumes can get quite elaborate.  Last year, another friend of mine went to a costume party as the Headless Horseman – complete with a horse!  And, another friend (a professional body builder) came to the same party as a very convincing Captain America.

I always aim for elegant sophistication for my parties – large or small – casual or formal – and this goes for Halloween as well.  After 20 plus years as a restauranteur, I always have a plan – lists and everything on my calendar – but the point of any party to is to have fun so I make sure there’s plenty of that! For instance, a Halloween party is the perfect excuse for adults to dress up like crazy.  If you want a costume party, pick a theme – favorite cartoon characters, TV characters from your favorite TV show, et cetera. Keep the focus on the fun.

Think about the drinks you can serve.  A great Halloween “welcome” cocktail is a Black Widow – mix black vodka (yes there is such a thing) and cranberry juice over a large ice cube in a highball glass and have them at the door so that when guests arrive the party gets started immediately!

Plan the décor and keep it elegant. The best way to do that is to keep it simple and consistent.  Black is a great background for any pop of color – think orange or “old gold”-  and it’s perfect for the holiday!  I use black chargers, black metal candlesticks with black candles, and silky gold napkins.

Don’t forget your centerpiece for your table whether it’s buffet or plated dinner.  Find black twig pumpkins, dark colored vines, maybe even some real pumpkins (small and in different colors) and column candles (these can be black or white) in different sizes.  Add in a skull or two and you have your “set.”  Just remember that some electronic props – you know, like the ones that laugh hysterically if you get close – will get VERY old as the evening progresses.

Keep it simple, keep it black with pops of color, and have fun!

How to Prevent a Holiday Party Nightmare

Candle Holders from Pottery Barn

Five things you can do RIGHT NOW to prepare for any holiday gathering – for the rest of the year!

The whole group was coming to my party. I was so happy that I found myself literally grinning from ear to ear every time the doorbell rang. People were in such a great mood and everyone was engaged in conversation. The atmosphere in the room was lively, people were laughing, it couldn’t have been better. But then, to my horror, I realized that I wasn’t ready. Worse than that – nothing was ready!

I had no drinks to serve.

My dining room was a mess.

None of the food was ready.

I was in a complete panic. Then I suddenly realized something else that stopped me cold in my tracks. I was still in my swimsuit and I reeked of sun tan lotion! And, even worse than that, I had an inflatable swim ring around my waist? Whaaaaaat? Seriously? I don’t even sit out in the sun much less use suntan lotion or an inflatable swim ring!

That’s when I woke up and sat bolt upright in bed.  It was all a horribly bad dream. I laughed. Of course. If you’ve ever wondered what a nightmare looks like to a home entertainment expert, this would be it. I’d been so busy this summer. I’d been up north, back east and in between. With that kind of schedule, who has time to think about the holidays?

But now, I am. In fact, part of this blog was written right after that silly dream – well, let’s call it what it was – a nightmare, okay? Now, this is my warning to all my fellow home entertainers – the time to prepare is NOW.  The holidays are literally, right around the corner. As a friend of mine is fond of saying: The trick to preparation is getting prepared now.

There are FIVE simple things you can do – today – to get your home prepared for the holidays.

ONE: Start with easy-to-do accent changes: change out the couch throws for heavy knit ones and add a few accent pillows that say, “here come the holidays” like this pillow and this one from Crate and Barrel. You don’t have to start with the ‘jingle bells’ thing just yet, but nice warm colors will help set the mood just right.

TWO: Think about the “welcome beverage” you will be serving at your parties.  Bring everything into the seasonal spirit with sparkling wines; Gruet and Schramsberg are always favorites in my home! And don’t forget the pomegranate seeds. Then stock up on beautiful reds, like these bottles from Long Meadow Ranch or Davis Estates. Speaking of bottles, don’t forget to put your favorite vodka (Chopin anyone?) in the freezer.

THREE: Remember your candles. My summer setting is always ‘white and bright.’ It’s time now to change up to softer colors to match the couch throws and pillows. Keep those simple candles (for fall white or ivory) but change out the holders to pewter, silver or soft gold.  The softer color of metals create a softer light – like these from World Market or Pottery Barn.

FOUR: If you have a mantel or fireplace, change décor but keep it light and simple. If you have centerpieces or runners for your coffee table and dining table – it’s time for a change. Think “autumn leaves.” Like this basket setting from Pottery Barn.

FIVE: Maybe this is on the top of everyone’s mind, but the music list is always good to figure out long before the guests arrive. Time to put away Elvis and bring back Frank. Well, maybe it’s the opposite for some folks, but you get the idea.

Want to go the distance? I even change out some of my framed pictures – ones of my family and friends on easel backs and some on the walls. Store away the pictures of beach parties and put up the ones of camping trips in autumn and ski trips to the alps. You’d be surprised how this simple switch will change the “feel” in your home.

The point of this exercise – don’t wait until the week or days before the first holiday party. Start now and set the canvas. You can add the finishing touches later. Besides, you’ll have plenty of other things to worry about before your guests arrive. Everything you do now will look like you really took time to plan things out. Taking these steps now will also help you enjoy your party that much more and you won’t be waking up from a nightmare like I did!

Have fun!

Plans for Thanksgiving? The “To-Go” from The Farm

Every year, for the last 20 years, we have offered Thanksgiving To-Go from The Farm of Beverly Hills. We start about a month ahead with emails, postings, advertising (print when it was big and now Facebook/Instagram/Twitter as well) and cards on the tables along with the check presenters reminding everyone to order early.  All orders are pre-paid so that the person just comes in, announces their name, goes through what’s packed for them and leaves.  It has been a great success for us and people start calling to check on the date for ordering even before it’s ready for “publication.”

We close the Beverly Hills location that day for pick up only.  You can’t believe how many calls we get each year from people just looking for a place to have breakfast that morning.  They’re so excited to have us answer the phone and then so VERY disappointed to hear we aren’t really open!

I have to admit that the first several years were a bit disorganized (it got better as the years went on thank goodness).  Chef would have been at the restaurant all night cooking everything with the Turkeys going in the oven VERY early in the morning so they would be freshly cooked by the time we were set to open the doors for pick up.  I would get to the restaurant no later than 6am (pick up hours were always 10am-12pm) to start portioning out the different menu items, labeling them with the name of the person who ordered it and setting them out on the dining room tables.  I always wrangled at least one person to help with this.  I tried several different ways to organize the labeling and portioning and a few years ago the system was finally perfected with some help.  I don’t have to get there before 8am now!

Each person’s order, with everything they’ve purchased from appetizers all the way to dessert, is put in one “pile” with a copy of their order and reheating instructions (so their house smells amazing!) on top and the room is set up alphabetically so that all the orders can be found easily.  For some, they are picking up dinner just for themselves as they’re not near family or friends. For others, it’s a full meal for 20 guests or just pies for dessert.  It can get a little crazy at pick up with several people showing up all at once and usually in a hurry to get out!

Every year there has been one or two stragglers who somehow haven’t managed their time well and are LATE for pick up.  I’m always hoping that they actually answer their phone when I call to see where they are.  I’ve been pretty lucky as they eventually show up.  There are also those who stop in hoping that we have some “extra” gravy or pie that they can buy.  We usually do.  After the last order is gone, I finally leave for my family’s dinner. Some years I was a  “little” late but fortunately have always been forgiven for my tardiness.  At the end of it, I’m tired but happy.

I always felt it was important that I was the face people saw when they came to pick up their Thanksgiving orders (you know the face behind the name).  People really appreciated that I was giving up my Thanksgiving morning to be there to greet them and it has always been my pleasure.  I’ve been lucky in that I get to see several people each year-I guess they like our food!   But, I’ve been even luckier in that I’ve been able to help make it easier for people to create their own memories around the table for this holiday whether it’s just having a comfort meal for one in front of the TV or those parties for 20.

These are the moments that feed my soul.