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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.

Fran’s Party Etiquette Rules – For Guests (Part I)

Guests at a party - party on!

6 Guest rules to keep you from becoming the party joke.

I love good parties, both throwing them and coming as a guest.  They can be great fun (at least for me)!  The most amazing thing is that with all of them that I’ve attended and many I have thrown, there’s always someone who ends up being “that guy.”  You know, the one that everyone talks about the next day either because of something they did or didn’t do.  They’ll make some faux pas by loudly making an inappropriate remark and then repeating it all night, or showing up with their “posse” when the invite clearly was for just them – it could be any number of bad moves and will be memorable depending on just how spectacular the fool decides to be about whatever he (or she) has done.

As carefree as we want to be at parties, there are some cultural rules – etiquette – for both Guest and Host. I’ve collected a few over the years. Call them “Fran’s Party Etiquette Rules” (catchy, don’t you think?). The list has gotten rather long, so I broke them down a bit over several posts (stay tuned!).

Let’s start with the rules that I hope will keep you from becoming the long-remembered party joke:

  1. Never show up to a party empty handed – it’s kinda rude, so don’t do it. Some  cultures have a very strong tradition about this – the Japanese even have a special name for such a gift – they call it “Omiyage.” The host has gone to a whole lot of effort to throw this thing – show some appreciation.  Having said this there are a few guidelines about gifting that I’ll go through in a later post. Read it!
  2. DON’T bring your own playlist of music unless the host has specifically dubbed you the party DJ. You don’t know what the host has planned and unless you want to wind up being disappointed (or embarrassed) by being asked NOT to mess with the music, just don’t do it.
  3. If you spill something – tell the host/hostess IMMEDIATELY. Don’t run and make pretend you didn’t do it.  The sooner it can be cleaned the better the outcome.
  4. If your babysitter bales on you – DON’T bring the kids. Call with your apologies.  Your kids don’t want to come to the party and the other adults there won’t be that comfortable either.  Even if your host insists you bring them (unless it’s a BBQ in the afternoon) don’t do it.  You will need to watch them all night – not great for you either.  Just don’t.
  5. Unless you’re are intending to help with the clean-up, and I mean really help not just follow the host around while they’re doing it, then leave before the party is over. My rule of thumb is that if there’s only about 20% of the guests left – it’s time to go.
  6. Don’t look in the cabinets or closets – stuff is put away in there for a reason and it’s not for you to know.
  7. DO NOT GET DRUNK! I know that one seems obvious but, as we all know, there’s always one.  Don’t be the one.

Maybe you have a few of your own set of rules? Wanna share? Let me know! Remember, though, it’s not about the rules. To me, a party is just another table to gather around– maybe bigger than your average get-together but it’s always about “around the table” – coming together and showing appreciation to one another that counts most.