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Posts Tagged ‘dinner parties’

Come For Dinner

In behavior, culture, domestic life, entertainment, family, food, journalism, life, Style on July 3, 2011 at 11:57 am
Thanksgiving dinner in Canada.

Image via Wikipedia

I love throwing dinner parties. If I were rich, and less busy, I’d have one almost every single week.

They combine all the things I love most:
creating and setting a pretty table; choosing recipes and shopping for good food and wine; cooking; making people happy — and spending quiet, uninterrupted time face to face with people I care about.

I use a collection of antique and colored plates and glasses, new and old linen napkins, and love to sit by candlelight as we all share stories.

As I write this, I’m sitting at our antique farm table, the one I bought in Montreal in 1985 and still use, layered with a blue and white vintage cotton tablecloth.

We sit on a bench my ex-husband made that stores all our hardware and tools, and top with custom-made cushions covered in lime green cotton with cobalt-blue piping. I turn the ugly glass balcony divider into a wall by throwing a pretty coverlet over it and lining up big, soft cushions covered in a variety of fabrics, from a 1930s floral print I found in a Paris flea market to a great blue and green check I found in Fredericksburg, Texas (where else?)

Instant outdoor restaurant!

My friend Tamara, whose fun cookbook is here, holds dinner parties in the backyard of her Queens, NY apartment. I attended the first one two summers ago and was instantly charmed — strangers pay $40 per person and sit at a motley array of tables, set with mismatched china and cutlery, and eat great food and get to know one another. It’s very un-New York to travel from one borough to another, let alone risk an evening with people you don’t know. But Tamara’s crowd is smart and fun and creative: I’ve met everyone from radio reporters to a dentist to attorneys.

I made a new friend there whose career as a singer of 1920s music is rocketing along; if you’re ever in New York, you’ve got to hear the Hot Sardines and Mme. Bougerol. The woman rocks a washboard! (Turned out her mom, also at that first dinner where we met, went to the same school and camp as I did. Small world.)

This is the whole point of dinner parties — unlikely combinations, the germination of new friendships with people you would never have met elsewhere. We held one, midwinter, about eight years ago that included our Maine-born minister and his wife; a war photographer, a British journalist and his girlfriend; an interior designer. Ages ranged from 30s to 60s. We ate chili and rice and salad — and a man and woman who met there that night have been happily married for years. Ka-ching!

I grew up in a family that loved to entertain, and eat well, so it all feels like a normal and lovely thing to do. We also don’t have kids, and so it’s easier for us than for those who do, especially little kids or lots of kids.

Here’s a gorgeous new magazine devoted to the art of small dinner parties.

And here’s a very odd French website selling Last Supper placemats with images of all the apostles’ hands.

Do you love to entertain? Tell me about one of your best parties!

As Thanksgiving Nears, Ten Ways To Be A Gracious Host

In business, food, parenting, travel on November 22, 2010 at 1:32 am
New welcome mat from my parents

Image via Wikipedia

Being invited to someone’s home — as many of us will soon be for the holidays, whether for a party, a meal or a few days — is supposed to be a wonderful thing, a gesture of affection and hospitality. As we all know, it can also lead to sulks, sighs, flounces, shouts or worse.

Herewith a few rules for the host:

Make it fun. Really. Too many people stress themselves out to create Martha Stewart-esque perfection, determined to get it right, or else. I love to entertain in style, with candles and linen napkins, but if my guests aren’t having a good time, there’s not much point. Great music and soft lighting help. Delegate as many tasks as possible and allow plenty of time between the house-cleaning, food shopping, prep and cooking — and your meal or party. A pooped-out host(ess) is no fun!

Offer a wide array of beverage choices. Pellegrino, lots of lime and lemon slices, fresh ice, freshly-squeezed orange juice, V-8 juice and brewed tea make a nice break from sugary sodas or liquor. (Most fruit juices contain way too much sugar for those trying to lose weight.) If you’re serving tea or coffee, it’s great to have half-and-half and skim milk available as well.

Determine food allergies — but set your limits. This is really tricky in an age of vegans, gluten-free adherents and people choosing to follow any number of exotic diets. I once prepared a great salmon dish to have my 25-year-old guests sniff “I don’t eat fish.” Yes, we made them something else, but they haven’t been invited back since.

Be clear about your expectations. If the cat will rush into busy traffic if a door is opened, make that known. If you won’t tolerate anyone else disciplining your children, say so. If the apartment door must be double-bolted upon exiting to be secure, tell your houseguests, preferably a few times.

Write stuff down. If you have guests with you for a while, a written list of tips can’t hurt — where to find the coffee, whether you compost or recycle, the location of the nearest pharmacy or grocery store. Most people hate to snoop or nag, and everyone runs their household a little differently.

Anticipate disaster. If you really don’t want a red wine stain anywhere, don’t serve it. If your best crystal is irreplaceable, don’t put it within anyone’s reach.

Stock your medicine cabinet. No one wants to come unprepared, but emergencies happen — aspirin, Pepto-Bismol, bandages, sanitary supplies, extra razors or toothbrushes are all very much appreciated by needy guests.

Don’t assume your guests know how to (safely) operate any of your technology. Explain clearly anything they might find confusing. This might be anything from your remote to your coffee-maker to your music system.

Let your guests know it’s OK to do their laundry (if it is) and have extra soap on hand. If they’ve been on the road for a while, or have little kids or work out often, it’s a relief to be able to keep up.

Make houseguests truly feel at home. Nice towels, a few new magazines, a box of chocolates, a pitcher of ice water and some pretty fresh flowers in their room will make them feel pampered. If you really don’t want people around, don’t invite them, or limit their stay. They can feel it. Fake or forced hospitality is a misery for everyone.

Is The Dinner Party Dead? Not At Our House

In food on October 28, 2009 at 10:33 pm
The Dinner Party, by Henry Sargent, ca. 1821.

Image via Wikipedia

Say it ain’t so! Entertaining remains one of my favorite activities. I’d have people to dinner every week if we could afford it. Last Saturday we had three guests for dinner: oysters (a splurge), home-made curried cauliflower soup, roast chicken, ice cream with fruit. The guests (bless ‘em!) brought Champagne and two lovely bars of soap as a hostess gift. They even wrote a thank-you note, on paper, delivered the next day.

We don’t have kids, so entertaining is easy enough and it combines all my favorite things: great food, lively conversation, a leisurely chance to get to know friends better, the chance to set a pretty table and try some new recipes or turn to a trusted stand-by. Lots of candles, fresh flowers, pretty linens. Heaven.

Apparently, not for many others — who have given up entirely, find the whole thing too much work/time/money/intimidating.

Is the dinner party dead? A panel of Guardian foodies weighs in.

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