Tag Archives: holiday planning

Holiday Home Entertaining Tip – Stocking Stuffers!

Holiday Stocking Stuffer vert

A fun update for an ancient holiday tradition.

I think one of the most fun and endearing holiday traditions is Christmas stockings. When I was a kid, it was a way to get a lot of candy. By the time I was a teen, the presents I had found in my stocking got a little more sophisticated. One year, I got my first really nice watch. That was a really happy memory.

As far as the history of the stocking stuffer goes, apparently that’s how everyone got their gifts, from the earliest time when the holidays started until about the 1940s. One of the stories I read goes all the way back to the 4th Century when the European legend of the guy we know as Santa Claus first emerged. St. Nicholas, as he is also known, heard about a poor man who didn’t have enough money to take care of his children. St. Nick, being a rather clever man, tossed bags of gold directly into stockings that were hung by the fireplace to dry. BAM. There’s where legend and a centuries-old tradition merge.

While the stocking stuffer became more a thing you did with kids, I think the tradition has gotten a bit more trendy among adults. A friend of mine owns an agency in Santa Monica. He and his wife sew up small stockings for each employee. Then he stuffs the stocking with some candy and the annual Christmas bonus. Nice stuffer! A dance group in New York uses the stocking stuffer as a rather unorthodox way to announce the next year’s list of principal dancers.  Now, that could be either a stocking you want or maybe not!

You can use the stocking stuffer for just about anything – as part of your regular holiday celebration or your annual Christmas office party. Whatever you do, think about the people who will receive the stocking.

Don’t just automatically add candy and snacks – especially among adults. Unless that’s what the receiver would normally eat. Maybe a theme for the stuffers would be a nice twist to the tradition.

For instance, what if you stick with individual hobbies and interests?  If someone you know loves to cook – then think about small and handy gadgets that they would like. Or maybe one of those gourmet cooking sauces. I find plenty of ideas at Crate and Barrel and Williams-Sonoma.

If you’re giving to someone who loves to travel, how about small travel conveniences like personalized luggage tags, organizer bags for cosmetics, little travel bottles that can go through security. I go to the Container Store for those ideas.

Maybe you’re a do-it-yourselfer. In that case, perhaps a gift that comes from you – like something you’ve made. Back to the friend who sews stockings for his employees. He got the idea from his wife when she used to dance in the Nutcracker for a regional ballet troupe. She sewed elves for each of her fellow dancers. About 100 of them. Now that’s commitment.

Unless you have a knack for sewing (or knitting), you’ll probably have to buy the stockings. I’ll make it easy. Try these from Amazon. They have all kinds of styles, colors to choose from – some are funny, some are traditional, and some are knitted socks!

I think stocking stuffers can be a fun alternative to the typical wrapped present. It keeps the whole activity of gift-giving simple and fun for everyone.

Time Management for the Holidays

time management - vertical

My Top 5 Tips for sane and safe planning during the holidays.

This is one of my favorite times of the year, I can plan all the holiday parties I want and not go crazy. It’s the one time of the year that I can turn on all the great holiday party ideas that I’ve been storing up for the year. And you know me, holiday decorations, party themes, finger food, appetizers – you name it – I’ve got something I want to try.

But, this is also the time of year that we can lose ourselves in all the demands on our time. Considering that the usual demands don’t stop – work, the meetings, classes, a visit to the dentist, coffee with a friend, a drive downtown – we’re adding a lot of extra stuff. This is where all those years owning my restaurants comes in handy.

Owning a restaurant is all about planning. A well-managed restaurant is a little like a ballet. The key to making it easy? We never let up. We always plan ahead. And, we’ve always got a plan “B” – you know, just in case.

My Top 5 Tips for Holiday Planning:

  1. Start early – like NOW. If you’re like me and sometimes think it’s a circus up there – write it down! Don’t rely on your memory to hold in all the ideas and schedules in your head. Use that smartphone that you’re carrying around. It’s got a calendar function in there that works pretty well.
  2. Big time saver: make a list of everything that you need to do and update it on a regular basis. Include everything: shopping for gifts, shopping for food – your grocery list, Holiday decorations – whatever. Then consolidate the lists into shopping trips.
  3. Match your calendar with your list. Set blocks of time for everything from your list. Pick a start time and how long you think it will take, but pad the time block a bit and expect delays. They are inevitable. Do as much early as you can i.e. – anything that doesn’t spoil try to buy way ahead of when you will need it.
  4. Multitasking isn’t always the best idea any time of the year. But, it’s particularly true this time of year. In fact, multitasking too many different things often produces a disaster. Speaking for myself, I focus on one task at a time. Make it right. Then move on to the next.
  5. Follow your plan and schedule as closely as possible. If, for some reason, something is delayed or postponed, reschedule it immediately or delete it entirely. Resist the temptation to “save” tasks that – for whatever reason – cannot be completed as planned. Reschedule or move on.

Along with my “TOP 5” holiday planning tips, make sure that that you always think about doing something nice for yourself each day. Whatever it is – some quiet time, a hot bath, watching your guilty pleasure – just take time in the day (or evening) to do something you like to do for only you!

And, most important of all, don’t forget to breathe. The bustle of the holidays may encroach on your space a bit. Some of the tasks may pile up – especially if you have kids (or friends and relatives with kids). The stress level may climb a bit. Remind yourself (if you can every day) that you’re in control. Your schedule is your key to getting everything you need accomplished for the holiday season.

Remember there are only 24 hours in a day. If you schedule too much for one day, prioritize and start taking things off your list – if you can – try to delegate what you can’t get to. You’re only human! It’s OK to say no.

The Perfect Holiday Gift Guide for Women

Fran Berger_gifts-for-girlfriends

All you have to do is think about what you’d want as a present.

We all want to give the perfect holiday gift to our friends – especially our girlfriends.  Last week, I posted a holiday gift guide for our guy friends and the response (mostly from the guys I know) was incredibly positive. They loved all of my suggestions – with some of them saying that I must have read their minds!

Because I’d helped them with “guy” gifts, a few friends (both men and women) wondered about gift ideas for close female friends and family. Here’s my big tip of the day: if you like it, chances are, your girlfriends will love it too.  The trick is to first think about either what they love to do or what their activities are.  Sometimes it’s enough just to hear them say: “I wish I could do more…” to discover the best gift ideas.

Let’s take a look at my list:

When I travel, I like to stay organized. I used to use plastic bags for everything – standard and easy to find but not very cute.  Then I found these cool canvas travel bags from “Bag-All.”  They’re lightweight, easy to clean, and they organize all my travel stuff nicely: dirty laundry, my hair stuff, toiletry, and makeup. They have so many different sizes and shapes.  Some of the bags have French printed on the front.  They even have a “pink collection” where 15% of the sales go to breast cancer research. How cool is that? An ideal gift for the friend who loves, like me, to stay organized while they’re on the road. $28-30 each.

We are all trying to reduce how many plastic water bottles we use in our daily lives so – how about a water bottle? This is not your average plastic water bottle, but a really beautiful and fresh design in a ton of colors and patterns. It’s from “SwellBottle” –  spelled ‘S’Well’ – and it makes a real statement with a small footprint. The 500ml bottle is perfect for spin class and keeps drinks cold all day. $40

How about a friend who’s into the zodiac? Or, maybe they just like to keep their pretty things in a fabulous designer marble box? Michael Aram has a collection of beautiful boxes. I got the “Gemini” Zodiac box because, you know, that’s MY sign. There’s an original design for each of the 12 zodiac signs. I’m going to use this to put my earrings in at night.  It’s just too pretty not to use! $100

Speaking of cool designer containers – L’Objet has this porcelain candle jar that caught my attention. I think this is an especially unique gift for the friend who has a taste for simple elegance. Because I don’t love heavily scented candles this one is perfect with a beautiful clear scent called “Pink Champagne.” Elephants are used to symbolize general good luck and many Feng Shui practitioners believe that elephants should have their trunks facing upwards.  So, the elephant on the lid is going to bring luck, everyone can use a little. You can buy direct or look up a store near you. $135

If your friend loves to get cozy after a nice warm bath or curl up in front of a lit fireplace – this is the gift for them! I absolutely fell for this grey cashmere robe designed by Chris Arlotta. With a great shawl collar and simple tie belt to close – it’s the perfect design.  It’s available from Bloomingdale’s. $398

One more for the serious traveler.  I saw the Oslo 4-wheel Compact Carry-on from Tumi and instantly thought – this was the one for me. For its size and profile, it’s ideal for toting a laptop or pad safely and any files you might need not to mention enough space for at least an overnight trip.  It will easily fit in almost any overhead storage – perfect.  $495

And if you can imagine yourself swooning after you received one of these items as a gift, then that’s the right one to give!

The Perfect Holiday Gift Guide for Men

gifts for your guy friends

Don’t settle for predictable – get an early start and go for the unexpected!

One of the most difficult things to do is to find the perfect holiday gift for the man in your life.  Maybe you’re thinking, “OH, it’s not even Thanksgiving – I’ve got plenty of time to pick holiday gifts!” Sure, there is still time – but time seems to be moving faster and faster these days. And, the best gifts are the ones where thought and preparation has gone into the selection. You can’t get that with a last-minute dive into “mall hell.” Seriously.

My mother taught me that one way to ‘be prepared’ was to get an early start. That way you can take your time, think about who you’re buying for and pick just the right gift. I have a few tried and true tips for finding that perfect present for the men in your life.

First – Men like the unexpected; they enjoy being surprised. And, it doesn’t take a lot of money to do either – just a bit of creativity.  For instance, if you want the gift to be memorable, then avoid the obvious (predictable) choices. Like sports gifts. Don’t assume that just because your male friend watched the World Series means that he’s enough of a fan to want a monogrammed “team” hoodie. And gift cards? Gift cards of any kind are a definite sign that you don’t have time to put even a little thought into the gift. Yeah, I get the “office party gift” angle, but for a personal friend? Seriously?

Second – think about where you and your friend agree on what I like to call “fashion and distraction.” When I think of fashion as a gift, I think about how my friend reacts to fashion big names. Some guys just like something because it’s cool, not because it’s popular. As for distractions, think about something that’s NOT work-related. Seriously, giving your guy friend a set of beautiful ballpoint pens may seem like a great gift if he collects them, but personally, that’s like giving a woman a vacuum cleaner. Don’t get me started on some of the anniversary gifts I’ve received over the years.

Third – and this is probably the most important one. I think it’s great to be generous, but I try to never overwhelm my friends. There’s an old English proverb that says there is no grace in a gift that sticks to the fingers nor the soul. I can go crazy when giving to a special friend and might spare no expense. But not when it’s someone I’m just getting to know – the last thing you want to do is make the friend feel uncomfortable. And to be honest – the very best gifts are the ones that have had a lot of thought put into them – not the ones that necessarily cost the most.

Whatever you do, keep it fun. Here are some suggestions for just about every guy on your list…

I love these colorful socks styled by Ted Baker.  They have so much personality!  Guys in suits look pretty cool with a dash of color.  This is a great gift for the guy who likes to be a bit fashion forward.  $15

How about a “Rabbit” flask from Bloomingdale’s? This is an extraordinarily cool gift for the friend who likes to take along their favorite scotch whiskey on an outing or to the game. Also, check out other barware gifts made by Rabbit , they make my favorite wine opener. $50

If your guy likes to wear hats then check out these knit beanies by The Kooples? I found mine at Bloomingdale’s, but they seem to sell out fast. I got the striped wool beanie because I loved the two tone. Then I went back and got the solid black ribbed one. By the way, they’re a French brand that is sold all over Europe and is going fast in the US. Yes… that trendy. $65

You know a guy who likes to primp a bit? I found this great grooming kit called Saturdays NYC, celebrating GQ’s 60th anniversary (GQ60). GQ did an exclusive partnership with Bloomingdale’s, and this is the ultimate “Chaz” bag with all the essentials. $135

Not every guy is into sports, but I don’t know a single guy friend who doesn’t like his tech. And for music, you got to get him the latest PowerBeats3 wireless earphones. I like these earphones because the ear loop holds the buds in a bit more snuggly for a full sound which is great whether your guy is at the gym or just hanging out.  $199

And finally, for that really special friend, how about a wonderful black leather E/W Messenger Bag? This bag makes a statement, and it’s beautifully made. The leather and craftsmanship are excellent. Large enough to carry a 15” MacBook and light enough to just tour around. Made by Shinola – you remember, the company that used to make boot polish? Who would know, right? $795

Whatever gifts you find for your guy friends, just remember to think about who they are and how they live and you’ll never go wrong!

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.