Tag Archives: party ideas

How will you make your football party stand out?

color coordinate your drinks

It IS great time to entertain your friends and family—make those memories stand out with a themed cocktail drink!

As you plan your football party, there are some quick and easy ways for you to enjoy the day too.  Keeping it casual and having plenty of food around is one way (see my previous post). But, one exception to the “casual” rule—I always have a ‘welcome drink’ ready for my guests as they arrive. I love thinking about focal points for my gatherings. One way to do this is by making drinks that are color coordinated with the teams playing.

Mixed Drink Recipe: Polaroid

Blue Cuarcao for your partySo, how about something BLUE if one of the teams playing is the New England Patriots or the Denver Broncos? Blue Curaçao is made from the dried peelings of the Laraha bitter orange native to the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao. The color comes from a natural food coloring used after the distillation process. It’s also the base mix of a drink called the Polaroid.

I guess they gave it that name because it’s so vivid and striking when you set it out on the table. The mix is all around Blue Curaçao, a liquor made from the dried peelings of the Laraha bitter orange native to the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao. The color comes from a natural food coloring used after the distillation process. Mix this drink when you really want to make a statement.

Ingredients

  • 1 oz of your favorite Vodka, chilled
  • 1 oz of Blue Curacao
  • 1 oz of a clear soda (e.g., Sprite or 7UP) to fill

Instructions            

Fill a suitable glass with ice, add the above ingredients, and stir gently. Add a sprig of mint or a wheel of lime or orange.

Mixed Drink Recipe: The Bijou

bijou cocktailOr, how about something GREEN if either the NY Jets or Green Bay Packers are playing? The key mix is Chartreuse, an herbal spirit made by Carthusian monks in the mountains of South East France for the past 200 years that’s a distillation of 130 herbs and flowers. The rough French pronunciation is ‘shart-ruz,’ the name of the Grande Chartreuse monastery where the monks live.

This is a classic cocktail that features this well-loved liquor with a splash of gin and sweet vermouth. The mix originates from the 1800s, and I’ll give you one guess why they call it the “Bijou.”

Ingredients

  • 1½ oz. gin
  • ¾ oz. green Chartreuse
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes orange bitters (Regan’s)

Instructions

Stir ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and strain into a chilled goblet or martini glass. Enjoy!

Mixed Drink Recipe: The Signature Bloody Mary Mix

bloody maryHere’s something RED, if the Kansas City Chiefs or NY Giants are playing? It’s an easy set up for chilled glasses of Bloody Mary’s—as if you need a reason to mix up a batch of Bloody Mary, right? This classic mix originates from the St. Regis of New York where it was invented!

Get a pitcher and mix up your favorite Bloody Mary mix (see below) and stash it away in the refrigerator until guests arrive. Make sure that your bar is complete with great vodkas (freezer chilled) with all the fun garnishes you can think of – including bacon, pickled beans (see my video), baby corn, olives—and don’t forget the celery!

Ingredients

  • Juice of 3 lemons
  • 2.5 liters tomato juice
  • 5 oz. Worcestershire sauce
  • 10 dashes Tabasco® sauce
  • 2 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp. ground celery salt
  • 2 tbsp. whole black peppercorns

Instructions

Pour ingredients into a pitcher and stir well. Use immediately or seal and refrigerate. Strain peppercorns from mix before adding alcohol.

Having team color coordinated cocktails as a welcome drink is a great way to great your guests and set the tone for the party.  It’s a fabulous way to start a conversation and excite some team spirit as well!

Football Season is HERE!

Ready for football season?

What a great time to entertain your friends and family—but don’t forget the most important ingredient!

It’s football season – a great time to entertain friends and family!

Football Sunday is an instant hit for most people. Even friends who don’t watch football, love to come to my gatherings just because it’s a great time to hang out and party a bit. And the great part?  Sundays are typically lazy days which make them perfect for casual get-togethers, right?

Keep it flexible.  These rules can work as easily on Saturdays if you’re a College ball fan as they do on Sundays if you like watching pro.  Keeping it flexible and casual means that entertaining areas don’t have to be limited to the kitchen or dining room. Your TV area/room is perfect for a football Saturday/Sunday you just have to spend a little time thinking and planning for a good place to set up the food and beverages. Keep everything in a space that is either in the same room where all the action is going on or a convenient location nearby. Make it easy for your guests to stay connected even when they’re hungry or thirsty.

Food on these lazy casual days should be easy to make and easy to handle on your lap. Here’s an opportunity to pull out all your mismatched small bowls, utensils and cups for a fun look. Have plenty of finger snacks already set out – chips, spiced nuts, pretzels, and so on.

One idea that’s always fun is a make-it-yourself taco bar. Or, maybe you have a famous chili recipe that cooks for hours and makes your house smell amazing. Place it in a colorful cast iron stock pot on a portable hot plate to keep it warm and surround it with all of the fixings (shredded cheddar, chopped onion, sour cream) in small bowls (they don’t need to match)

Another great idea for ‘serve yourself’ is a baked potato bar.  Get medium size potatoes. The classic is the Russet potato (of course), but you can use any. Wash and dry the potatoes, rub all over with olive oil, then rub all over with salt (make it Kosher) and bake in a 425°F oven for about 45 minutes or until they’re soft when pierced.  Keep them warm on a hot plate for service.  Set out the typical preparations like butter, chives (fresh), shredded cheddar, crumbled bacon, sour cream, or anything else that strikes your fancy!

Welcome your guests, keep them fed, hydrated, and engaged in conversation.  Use items in your entertaining spaces that you’ve picked up either during your travels or at the local flea market.  Your guests will remember your creativity and want to come back to see what you’re going to use at your next party. Most of all—have a blast and may the best team win.

4th of July Party? How about a tasty recipe for marinated olives and feta?

Marinated Olives and Feta

Sophisticated but incredibly easy: smash some olives, crush a bit of garlic, shred some bread, and you’re good to go!

Want to bring something different to your 4th of July party that DOESN’T need refrigeration or special care? A while back, I found something genuinely fabulous in my favorite place to find fabulous things – Bon Appétit Magazine. It’s a perfect recipe for things like 4th of July parties where light, savory snacks with friends really hit the spot.

There’s only one part of this recipe that needs a bit more explanation – smashing olives and crushing the garlic. I know that there are all sorts of ways to do this, but my video gives you some easy ways that work for me. The rest is that simple.

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 ounces of drained green (I prefer Castelvetranos for their flavor) unpitted olives
  • 3 medium-sized cloves of garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil – essential to get the “good stuff” for this recipe.
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3-4 ounces of crumbly feta cheese. I use President Cheese.
  • 1 loaf of crusty bread

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400-degrees F
  2. Rip up your bread into bite-sized pieces and place them on a baking sheet. When the oven is ready, bake the pieces of bread for 5-8 minutes, or just long enough to make the them a bit crispy and golden.
  3. Lightly smash (by pressing the side of the knife blade directly on top) the olives to just break apart the skin and flatten slightly.
  4. Smash (using the same technique as for the olives – you don’t want them completely flat!) and peel 3 cloves of garlic.
  5. Use a vegetable peeler (this will give you nice wide strips) to peel the zest from the lemon. Remember – only the yellow, not the white which will be bitter.
  6. Place lemon peel, smashed olives, crushed garlic, ½ cup of good Extra Virgin olive oil, and ½ tsp of red pepper flakes into a small saucepan over med-low heat. Swirl every so often and cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until the garlic is golden around the edges.
  7. Crumble feta cheese into a shallow serving bowl.
  8. Pour the olive oil mixture over the feta and let it sit at least 10 minutes. Longer if possible, perhaps an hour or more, before serving.
  9. Serve together with your crisped bread pieces.

You can always double or treble this recipe for a larger crowd.

Some last DO’s and DON’Ts – DO remind your guests that the olives are unpitted, but DON’T worry about letting this sit out for as long as your guests are nibbling. It will go fast!  A Negroni is the perfect adult beverage to accompany this appetizer.

Happy 4th of July, America!

A Sparkling ‘Welcome’ Drink for Your Guests

Fran Berger Sparkling Punch

A great recipe for a truly fruity drink: Freixenet, Cointreau, Cranberries, and Oranges!

When entertaining at home planning is everything. If it’s a themed party, you want just the right decorations for your guests to enjoy. If you’re hosting a formal dinner or a casual gathering, you’ll want to make sure that the home décor is as fabulous as it can be. And, naturally, you want the menu to be flawless – everything just so, no matter if you have it catered or cook every dish yourself. Twenty years of running restaurants – I KNOW that pressure. But it’s all for fun – not just for your guests but for you as well.

That’s why I always say that a great home entertaining event is planned – everything from the arrival of the first guest all the way to clean up after the last guest leaves. When you take time to plan your event you won’t as easily forget the small details that can make huge differences in the flow of the evening. One of those small details is a ‘welcome’ drink- a mixed cocktail that you hand each guest as they arrive. A simple drink at the very start of the party that can help jump start a successful entertaining experience for everyone.

Sometimes it can take a bit of effort to find new and exciting party drink ideas that can be made in batches. But, it can absolutely be a whole lot of fun trying out different styles of beverages and new ingredients.  When I start my research, I spend a lot of time reading recipes and talking to friends of mine who are bartenders. Sometimes I think that I might have made a good bartender, well, maybe not. But I do love to experiment with mixing drinks for my parties and get-togethers.

One thing I’ve learned is that the ‘welcome’ drink can’t be just any drink. You should match the right kind of drink for the right type of event just as you do with anything else. Think of it as though it were the opening lines of a conversation – because that’s really what it is!

For instance, if you’re hosting an all girl’s night and the weather’s cold, maybe a bloody Mary ‘soup’ will be just the thing to serve. Here is the recipe and I also made a video of what it’s like to prepare. It’s delicious and easy.  You can definitely serve it with or without the vodka shot on top and still have a great drink!

Here’s a sparkling fruit punch that I found on Chowhound that’s perfect for a fun gathering any time of year. It takes about five minutes to prepare with a little time extra to chill some of the ingredients. The beauty of this cold sparkling wine punch is that you don’t use any ice. It stays cold because all of the ingredients are either frozen or chilled prior to mixing:

  • 2 whole navel oranges, thin sliced into discs (about ¼’ thick) This will yield about 8 slices
  • 2/3 Cup cranberries (frozen is okay, but it’s better if they’re fresh).
  • 3 Cups, Ocean Spray “100% Juice” Cranberry
  • 2 (750 ml) Bottles of Freixenet Cordon Negro brut sparkling wine.
  • ¾ Cup chilled Cointreau Orange Liqueur (add to taste, see below).

Quantities for each ingredient depend on how many guests you are serving. This recipe will give you about 12 drinks.  Here are a few tips I have for preparation:

  • Thoroughly clean the oranges (before slicing) and fresh cranberries. They’re going straight into the punch unpeeled, so this is a definite must.
  • As I mentioned before, you’re not going to add any ice to this punch, so it doesn’t come out diluted. For that reason, it’s always best to prepare it just before your guests arrive.
  • If you want to aim for a genuine fruit flavor, then you want to get the bottle of Ocean Spray that says “100% Juice” on the label and not one of their ‘cranberry and—’ juices. Cranberry juice is nice and tart, so this punch won’t be too sweet.
  • Lay out the fruit (orange slices and cranberries) on sheet trays before you place them into the freezer to keep them from freezing together. You will want to freeze them for about an hour.  If you’re using frozen cranberries – keep them in the freezer until you add them to the punch.
  • Cointreau Orange Liqueur has a very distinctive taste that will really bring out the orange flavor of the punch.
  • Pour all of the ingredients into a chilled punch bowl just before guests arrive and serve. Make sure that each cup of punch has some cranberries at least!

Enjoy!

Recipe for a Quick Pickle

A quick pickle VERT

An easy “pickle” recipe that’s great for home or as a gift.

I had a great Bloody Mary at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, and they served a simply wonderful vinegary/garlicky green bean as one of the vegetable garnishes – no celery stalk!   I was so impressed with the taste and simplicity, I brought the idea home and decided to try it for myself.

What I found out was that quick pickling is very easy. It requires no specialized equipment or skills, and it’s not at all like canning food. The recipe itself takes VERY little time, and it can be done with just about any firm vegetable – green beans, carrots, cucumbers, onions, asparagus, etc.

The main ingredients for the pickling “sauce” (brining liquid) are vinegar, water, Kosher salt (or pickling salt), and maybe sugar. You can use apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, rice wine vinegar, and so on depending on the flavor you are going for. Do not use balsamic or malt vinegar (no aged vinegar). Know that table salt is just way too salty and too hard to control so you want to stay away from that. I use Kosher salt because it is so easy to manage the taste.

Also, the veggies do not have to be cooked, but I recommend that you blanch them to bring out their natural color. Check out my video on the simple way to blanch veggies.

Before you start, think about the flavors you want for your pickled vegetables. There’s no science to it – it’s all to taste. For instance, I used lots of mustard seed and sliced garlic because I love garlic and I think the pickling tastes great when there’s a nice little kick at the end. I may also use more salt and vinegar than you want. If you want sweeter vegetables, add more sugar to the brine mixture.

Finally, for presentation (critical!) I settled on these 8oz (240ml) tall jars that have 2” mouths, about 6” tall, and gold colored lids. They’re not too big, just right for pickling, and you can get them from Amazon. They make a lovely presentation – especially if you’re planning on giving them out as gifts. And you’ll want to add gift tags to your jars. I found some cute rustic looking gift tags from Amazon as well that I think adds a nice touch.

Here’s my video for quick pickling veggies. You can see that everything is mix and taste. My recipe is loosely based on Michael Symon’s recipe for pickled onions. And you can find some helpful instructions for pickling from one of my favorite websites thekitchn.com.

Instructions:

  1. Wash the jars and dry thoroughly.
  2. Prep your veggies to the shape you want to fit into your jars. Tall stuff should be a tad below the “shoulder” of the jar (below the rim). And don’t forget to blanch the veggies for great color!
  3. Pack your blanched veggies into the jars and set aside on a tray so that when you add the liquid the excess stays in the tray and you don’t make a mess.
  4. Mix your pickling brine. Start by pouring equal parts of vinegar and water into a large pan. Add kosher salt. Add sugar (if you want it). Add more vinegar (if you need it). Add spices. I used mustard seed, black peppercorns, bay leaves, coriander seed, fresh dill, and sliced garlic. Remember, this is to taste, so start easy and work your way up to the flavor you want.
  5. Bring the mixture to a boil. Stir to dissolve the salt and sugar (if used). Taste the brine as you reach boiling and adjust seasoning (e.g., add salt, vinegar, spices).
  6. Ladle the brine mixture into the veggie filled jars. Make sure that you scoop up some of the spices. Be sure to add enough brine to cover the veggies, but leave some room at the top of the jars. If you decide to use the jars I suggested, then you’ll want to fill the liquid to the “shoulder.”
  7. Tap the jars to remove air bubbles that may have formed.
  8. Screw the lids on loosely and let them cool to room temp.
  9. Tighten lids and then refrigerate.

Your pickled veggies will get some flavor in as little as 6 hours, but I think you should leave them for at least 24 hours so that the vegetables absorb the full flavor of the brine. Remember that this is not like canning so they won’t last very long. Keep them in the refrigerator.  Recommended shelf life is about 2-3 weeks.

The whole experience made me think about how simple it is to make something that tastes great. And how cool is it to give a gift that you’ve made yourself.

A New Holiday Party Idea for your New Year’s Celebration

New Years Day Open House

Start a new tradition for ringing in the New Year with an Open House!

One of the best times of the year to have a party is New Year’s Day. I’m not talking about New Year’s Eve – the one that goes on until well past the stroke of midnight. Although THOSE parties can be lots of fun.  I should know, I’ve hosted them for years, but they’re also a lot of work for the host.

There are so many ways to enjoy New Years. I know a lot of people who like to stay off the roads on New Year’s Eve – and for good reason: traffic, parking, drunks – just to name a few of the typical hassles. And, because of those reasons, many people have started some very lovely family traditions of ringing in the New Year from home.

One friend is a “Tubist.” Yep, he plays tuba for a living. He used to play at Disneyland, and once played for the LA Philharmonic Orchestra. His New Year’s tradition is to serenade his neighborhood with Auld Lang Syne right at midnight. I’ve heard that his neighbors come outside to applaud and cheer when he’s done.

But, what I’m talking about is a party ON New Year’s Day.  Picture a new tradition, an Open House on New Year’s Day. Invite people to come and go when they want. They can get there early for the Rose Parade, or crawl in at the second half of the Rose Bowl game.

The key to the idea is “keep it easy.”  If you’ve ever been out late New Year’s Eve, you know what I mean. You don’t want to have to “seriously entertain” bright and early the next day. But maybe, you’d love to drop by a friend’s home for a quiet(ish) morning(ish) get together.

Serve food that can be out all day so that people can come at different times. For the early arrivals have trays out with your favorite selections from your local deli: bagels, lox, cream cheese, capers, thinly sliced onion, and so on. Make sure that there’s a fresh pot of coffee and juice for those early birds.

And how about some easy finger food and snacks? I keep these near the entertainment center for my guests to munch on during the games.

One of my favorites is this Sweet and Spicy Pretzel and Nut Mix from one of my favorite food websites, Food52. A bowl of these will be on my coffee table this year.

I’ll also have a big pot of hearty Turkey Chili. This is another great recipe from Food52. You can easily cook it up the day before so that all you have to do is put it on the stove (or in your cooker set to the lowest temp).

Set the chili out with all of the toppings – sour cream, chopped red onion, shredded cheddar cheese, and salsa (of course). My favorite salsa is Salsa Casera from Herdez, which is great with anything. And don’t forget some cornbread from the market and a simple green salad.

This could be the start of a new tradition at your home: entertaining friends and family on New Year’s Day. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the parade and then all the football games!

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 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!

What is “sophisticated living”?

Sophisticated Living: it’s not what you spend, but what you share.

I’m a big advocate for enjoying life.  We only get one ticket to the big dance so we should participate in life to the fullest extent that we can. No matter where I am, I find that there’s always a way to draw out enjoyment from even the smallest thing. It’s the start for living a sophisticated life.

Why? Because how you enjoy something only increases the chance that you’ll find a way to refine it and add some degree of elegance to it. When you’re having fun, you find it’s so easy.  It takes such surprisingly little effort to add just the right thing to transform the ordinary into extraordinary. It makes everyone smile, including you!

But where does the inspiration come from? How do you learn about that “little thing” that makes such a big difference?

With over twenty years owning restaurants, I’ve seen – up close and personal – individual interpretations of what it means to celebrate your adult life. I’ve made some great friendships with people who have been very successful in finding just the right balance between being happy with their life and leading others to be happy as well. I have seen for myself that an inspired approach to living is infectious – once you experience it, you can’t leave it alone.

We’ve all heard that who you love is as important as how you love. I’d like to take that one step further: how you enjoy life is as important as how much you are willing to share. You’ll quickly learn that sophisticated living has very little to do with how much money you spend living your lifestyle. It has everything to do with what you learn about yourself and the world around you and how you share that knowledge.

I think that a big secret to living a sophisticated lifestyle is being honest with yourself and the people around you. It also takes a bit of bravery because you may feel like you’re risking embarrassment. But, how can you expect to be “sophisticated” when you hide behind pretext telling someone else’s story and not yours? Shout it out! What are your true interests? What types of things are you into? Fashion? Travel? Food? Entertaining? Fearlessly put it all on display! Have fun with it. Be bold. Invite others to have fun with it too.

Living a sophisticated life encourages us to express our deepest dreams and ideas through everything that we do. We enjoy moments and scenes. We embrace our experiences and knowledge – unabashedly and with the greatest joy. And all the while we have our friends and family at our side enjoying every moment with us.

My goal has always been to express the lessons I’ve learned from my years owning my restaurants through parties and gatherings and how I view life; sharing my likes and loves, tips and observations. It’s how I’m living my sophisticated life – sharing my knowledge and enjoying the time I spend doing it.

Want to come along?