Simple Essentials Guide to Entertaining
Hosting a party always leaves me feeling exhausted yet ultra satisfied. I like to think that I have mastered the formula for entertaining at my home (or dorm), but every time I still put in quite a bit of preparation and even sprinkle in a little anxiety. However, it is always worth the effort to bring together good eats and good laughs. Pinterest has raised the bar when it comes to hosting a party. There is a lot of pressure these days to set your table like a store display, serve a five course, hot gourmet meal, and still have a chance to enjoy it in the moment. While it is possible to live up to Pinterest standards with an unlimited budget and a few extra hands to help, we have to be realistic as budget-conscious 20-somethings. I will share with you some of my basic rules of thumb to make hosting a party enjoyable for the host and the guests.
One of the most important things to remember when entertaining is to set the scene. This means, cleaning your house, setting the mood, and making your place feel comfortable yet with a sense of occasion. The morning of, make sure to do thorough house keeping. This may include tidying the kitchen, cleaning your bathroom (check your toilet paper stock!), and maybe even rearranging your couches and chairs. While you don’t need to set the table, make sure to designate some counter space for the food and set out cups, plates and silverware. Place your silverware or plastic-ware into a simple glass or vase for easy access and aesthetics. I love to light a candle and open my windows to give my place a fresh, light feel. Bath and Body works has great, affordable candles ever since they acquired Slatkin & Co., and my absolute favorite is Bamboo Jasmine. Heck, maybe even buy some fresh flowers for your home to make it look like real grown ups live there! Of course, a good party always has music. I always stick to my personal favorite albums, Alma Caribena by Gloria Estefan and La Dulzura by Cultura Profetica, a relaxing combination of traditional Caribbean beats and reggae. Pick music that is representative of you but is different and fun; chances are your friends will appreciate something new. While I find this music extremely conducive to good conversation, sometimes it is a smart idea to have back-up conversation topics. Especially if your guests don’t know each other that well, keep a pack of cards in your drawer or go buy one of the countless, hilarious table games from Urban Outfitters. Never frown on those cheesy games; they always reverse those awkward silences. While much of this advice can seem obvious, these are the basics for an almost effortless good time. Have your party ritual and your go tos.
Food and Drink
Yes, I am one of those people that believe food and drinks can make or break a party. When I look back at a really fun party, I always naturally recall the spread rather than the people! Whenever I host a party, I always stick to what I know. When you have guests coming over, it is not the right time to experiment. Find your go to and master it. Even up to the day before, figure out your menu. As 20-somethings, preparing a three-course meal can even be a challenge. Don’t be shy to delegate dishes to your friends. Just make sure to relay a theme so we, as foodies, won’t be appalled! However, when you are on your own, the party will be much more enjoyable if you plan ahead. Appetizers and desserts are the easiest. Appetizers can be as easy as setting out hummus and sliced veggies, tortilla chips and salsa, or even a cheese and cracker plate. Don’t sweat on that part, you want people to be hungry for the main course. It is important to know your guests: what are their tastes, do they have diet restrictions, are they picky? The list could go on, so sometimes you just have to stick with your own version of classic. For me, I like to prepare baked or roasted food because it is easier to control when trying to entertain. Salmon, pork loin, and chicken are all super easy and low maintenance, only requiring a savory marinade that you can do before the party. For the sides, I stick to serving three: a carb and two vegetables. Other easy side options I recommend are baked mac and cheese, baked sweet potatoes, corn/avocado/tomato salad, tomato caprese, garlic bread, rice and beans, and coleslaw. All of these are relatively safe choices and I never have leftovers. For dessert, it is really easy to bake a cake earlier in the day and serve it with simple ice cream.
Arguably just as important as the food are the drinks. Like the side dish rule, stick with the rule of three. Of course, have some water available – dress it up with lemon wedges. Juice is now making a comeback, and serves as a sweet alternative to processed sodas. With a blender and a strainer, you can make any chopped fruit into a juice. I like to stick with pineapple or passion fruit juice, which can also be easily found in concentrate. Finally, the cost of alcohol can often put us 20-somethings at the limit of our budgets. Don’t stress on offering a full bar to your guests, instead serve a cocktail of the night. While studying abroad in Brazil, I learned how to make caipirinhas, made with rum, crushed limes, and sugar. They are so easy and serve as a good conversation topic. Now is a good time to discover your signature cocktail. Also, sophisticated punches (emphasis on sophisticated!) are also a popular alternative and go a long way when serving a big party. For added sophistication, serve coffee and tea after dinner with dessert. All that food and drink can make everyone feel sluggish! For added investment, serve the caffeine with rum cream or whiskey.
Keep in mind that this is my personal guide to a good, simple party. I have been to parties that have been thrown together at the last minute, catered formal dinners that were planned months in advanced, and everything in between, and have had fun at each of them. Not to sound cheesy, but the important thing to keep in mind when entertaining is to have fun, and there are many styles of fun. If you are reading this blog, you probably see food as an anthropological tool that brings people together, like me. Food connects us with friends and family, history, events, and culture. Baked into every bite are life experiences that remind us that we are very much alive and connected to others. For me this essential practice of eating food and coming together wraps my life with meaning and stability and creates a tradition of tastes and flavors that will be passed on from meal to meal and generation to generation. So, why not put a little extra effort into breaking bread at your place, make it a memory!