Sunday, July 22, 2007

Entertaining Styles

I was having lunch with my neighbor, Meera, and the conversation came to parties. Meera had recently co-hosted a baby shower. I was about to throw a book signing. We both were looking forward to parties we are planning for the future: For Meera, designing a Southern menu for a dinner club in the fall and for me, creating a pajama party for my next Ladies In night.

Both of us are lucky to have been raised around women who entertained. Meera's grandmother is reputed to have held over 100 teas through out her days. I remember my mom working herself to a frazzle preparing all the dishes that her 5 children, their romantic mates, 13 grandchildren and the assorted relatives and friends would devour at family celebrations and holidays. The women made others welcome in their home, displayed delicious meals and oversaw many memorable occasions., especially those of Meera's and my childhoods.

Our styles of entertaining have evolved into something quite different from our moms and grandmothers. Meera has two small children so she has found brunches to be the solution for her busy lifestyle right now. I like to host affairs on the casual side, usually setting up a help yourself drink station and buffet on my island.

One of Meera's baby shower co-hosts entertaining style helped us identify a quality that we feel is important: hostessing is an opportunity to put a personal, creative touch on things. We discovered than when we delegate details of an event or party, we want to be careful not to lose our own special flair.

During the selection process on the Next Food Network Star, contestants are asked, what is your culinary point of view? In Daring To Be Yourself, Alexandra Stoddard asks, what is your unique point of view? Is there a better place for us to play with self expression than at home, in the company of our family and friends?

Having others over or throwing a party is work but it is also fun. We all love sharing in relaxing, happy times with each other. I find it intriguing all the ways that I have been entertained by men and women. There really doesn't seem to be a wrong way, except for perhaps when entertaining is sloppy or thoughtless in my mind. I've been to a summer pig roast, a 60th birthday pasta bar and a casual supper with greens freshly picked from the garden out the back door. Each speaks to me about the hosts and hostesses and I am grateful for the pleasant experiences I am left with.

As I host my next events, a few things I'll be thinking about will be:

THEMES: Themes help me get going in a direction. It is simply easier to edit out from all that is available when I have parameters from which to make my choices.

MENU: I usually prepare all my own food. Sometimes a friend will bring an appetizer, salad or dessert. This gives me more control over the dining experience. But if the only way we can see to entertain is by hosting the event where our friends bring over dishes, I say that is the way to go. When I use a caterer, I have definitely ideas about what I want to have. For Deborah Ford's book signing, I worked with the caterer for a Southern cocktail party that honors Deborah's heritage, with items such as biscuit crostinis and pitchers of mint juleps with silver service. I like how some hostesses prepare a signature item when they have catering, such as Alexandra did by preparing Chicken Curry. If I ever have grocery or market tray goods again, I'll follow Aida's example by using my own platter for serving to make it more personal.

FLOWERS: Only for large events do I contract the services of a florist. I have good flower sources and I can save a great deal of money by getting Doug to arrange stemmed flowers for me or using potted plants.

TAKE AWAYS or PARTY FAVORS: These aren't necessary but I love how surprised friends are when I have a little something for them as they depart. Meera's baby shower guests were given tea candles to be lit upon the arrival of the twins. After a cookout, I sent guests home with the potted Hydrangeas I used for the table decor. For Memorial Day, we gave raffia- tied sprigs of Rosemary, the symbol of remembrance.

MUSIC: Doug and I definitely give some thought to the cd selection we play when we have people over. We are fortunate to have many to choose from and our eclectic music tastes allows us to go in just about any direction.

If we're going to go the grocery deli and throw out some cold cuts, we can make an extra trip to serve some artisan breads along with it to make it special. We can sprinkle in fresh herbs, drizzle on some honey, ream a lemon or grate some cheese or chocolate, anything to make things fresher or put a loving hand to the foods we are serving. We can put out flowers that speak to us or have special meaning to our guests. We can light some candles, establishing an atmosphere. We can aks ourselves what our unique point of view is. Whatever we do, let us be inspired as hostesses.

"Acknowledge, accept and appreciate what it is that makes you different." -Sarah Ban Breathnach

"There is something you can do better than anyone else can do it." -Myrtle Filmore

"Being a host is like being in love - you have to think of the other person." - Inn at Ormsby Hill

"The hostess must be like a duck - calm and unruffled on the surface, and paddling like hell underneath." - Anonymous

"To offer wine is the most charming gesture of hospitality." - Alexis Lichine

"Dining is an always was a great artistic opportunity." - Frank Lloyd Wright

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