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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tips for a Successful Party

I went to a clothes swap party last night, and it was really fun. The food was great, and it didn't seem like it had taken a lot of effort on the part of the hostess (whether it did or not, I don't know, but it is good for it to seem that way). It made me think that for a party to be successful it is both simpler than it seems and more difficult than you would think to strike a certain balance. Here are some important things, I think:

Music: It is good to have something set the mood without inhibiting conversation. It's good to have something off the beaten path a bit to show the host's personality, but not so much that no one recognizes it, because the guests recognizing the music can lead to good conversations. Last night's party had some Richard Thompson, and I thought that worked great. If the party ends up switching from wine to bourbon, often things work their way in for irony's sake ("California Girls", "Umbrella"), but we at least want to start out classy.

Decor: This can be very simple, but I think can turn something very normal into something festive. I really enjoy this website. I probably didn't even know what the word "tablescape" meant before planning a wedding, but I feel things you learn while planning a wedding you can use in a variety of social occasions. A few well thought out presentation ideas can transform a whole event. I like some of these ideas. Like getting very cheap soup spoons from an Asian market and serving little scoops of salad on them. Also, I was reading in Martha Stewart Living last night about taking coconut doughnuts and arranging them inside a cake dome, and offering vintage dessert plates from the Goodwill and classy table linens. The article also mentioned ordering pizza, but placing fresh herbs, red pepper flakes in a small bowl, a variety of exotic salts, and a hunk of good Parmesan next to the pizza, so people could add their own toppings to the delivered pie. These ideas turn common foods into party worthy elements. I love a variety of containers for florals, and even fruit and books can be cool centerpieces. Overall, it is important for the look to match the occasion, and I think these can be the kind of thoughtful, personal touches that people appreciate, and can really add to the fun.
Food: This is the most important element. Not only the menu is important, but so is the physical placement of the food. I went to a holiday party where the food was spread out over the entire house. Standing by the firplace chatting? Have some bourbon balls! In the kitchen? Have some cheese. Perfect! What I have also realized is that the food does not need to be complicated to go over well. I think some kind of vegetable tray is important. Maybe some great cheese from here or here. And then something the host actually put effort into that can be eaten without utensils like tarts, crostini, or skewers. Arrange the thing you put effort into, the good cheeses, and the vegetables in a thoughtful attractive way, open some wine, put on some Billie Holiday or whatever you like, and there you are, ready for a memorable get together. It is really not that difficult, but somehow it takes a good amount of thought for it to all go together. If I were really advanced, I would have put one of these on our wedding registry, and I would serve cocktails, but with people driving and many of  them probably having different tastes I can't see that working. When people come to our house they really seem to prefer beer and wine (and usually bring wine).

I think what I have learned is that entertaining is a lot simpler than it seems. The first time we hosted Thanksgiving we did Beef Wellington, three kinds of appetizers, maple glazed carrots, cauliflower braised in white wine and anchovies, butter lettuce hearts of palm salad, baguettes, mushroom bread pudding, pumpkin whoopie pies, chocolate cream pie (which my Dad requested), and it was very ambitious. The next time around we did Thanksgiving we did Beef Bourguignon, Duchesse potatoes, probably a salad, Mario Batali's Rosemary Olive Oil cakes for an appetizer, and that was it. Seems minimalist in comparison, but we weren't hungry at the end, and I think sometimes focusing more on lesser dishes can end with a more successful result.

It can also help if the people you invite have things in common and get along well, but you can't always predict or determine that in advance. So, here is to many memorable get togethers in the future, simple and fun!

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