Monday, April 9, 2012

Wynn Anne's Guide to Entertaining

Here are a few tips I've gathered over my years of entertaining. All of them are lessons learned the hard way.

1.  Try not to kill your guests. 
This is the most important rule, and it may seem to go without saying, but so many people nowadays have serious dietary allergies, that you really can't be too careful. This year one of our guests reacted to some nuts in one of our appetizers. He knows he's allergic to hazelnuts, but these were not those. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like someone saying he feels his throat closing up to dampen the mood! Fortunately, we had some antihistamines handy, so he gradually recovered, but he did not eat.
Tip: always have antihistamines (Benadryl, Claritin) in the house. People with anaphylactic allergies should, of course, have an Epipen, but they may not, or you may not know where to find it. Not a bad idea to also have some antinausea medication.
2. Let others contribute.
You should have seen the dishes our guests brought for Easter dinner! All their favourites, lovingly prepared, recipes I'd never even heard of.
Tip: Identify ahead of time which course people will contribute to and what the main entree will be so people can coordinate their choices. (If they are likely to bring wine, it will also help them choose which wine to bring.)
3. Get fancy!
For me, part of the celebration includes turning my dining room into a beautiful tableau. This means bringing out the heirloom dishes, scouring Michael's for surprising table decor items and spending a while fussing.
Tip: Don't be tied down to items specifically designated as table runners. My aunt uses some lovely small quilts as tablecloths, and I have even used a shower curtain! (See below.)
That swirly bronze fabric is actually a shower curtain.
The candlestick ornaments are actually napkin rings.
4. Clean the house the day before the event.
You will, of course, have to buff the bathroom taps and sweep the kitchen floor, but at least you'll know that it's just touch-ups on the day of.
Tip: If you are fortunate to have a cleaning service, plan your entertaining for the day after the service is scheduled, not the same day. I once had cleaners show up just one hour before the guests. It was a panic!
5. Whenever possible prepare food items ahead of time.
Or even buy the items, like appetizers or desserts, already prepared. This allows you to scratch one thing off the list.
Tip: Don't forget to put the purchased item on an attractive serving dish. And if you're buying prepared items, be careful of allergens. See point number one.
6. PLAN to have one hour to relax before guests arrive.
This is the hour I use to freshen my hair and make-up and sip a glass of wine. It is so much better than scrambling to be ready as the doorbell rings.
Tip: Plan what you're going to wear ahead of time, as well, to be sure it is clean and in good repair.
7. A jug of ice water on the table is a must.
Wine is not a very good thirst-quencher. In fact, it dehydrates.
Tip: You could always fill the water glasses ahead of time, but I find the jug keeps the water fresher.
8. Start with a clean kitchen.
Before you start chopping, slicing, steaming, and baking, start with a clean slate. This is for hygiene reasons as well as to prevent injury from working in a crowded space.
Tip: If you have a double-bowl sink, fill one bowl with hot, soapy water, so you can clean - and re-use - lightly soiled items as you go, rather than filling up the dishwasher and running out of measuring spoons.
9. Wine.
This is Steve's contribution to the list, and probably goes without saying. Regardless of what I'm serving, I always have both white and red on hand.
Tip: If you know your guests' favourite drinks (alcoholic or not) have them on hand; it shows you've put some particular thought into their preferences. 
10. Go with the flow.
Once your guests have arrived, remember the event is about the people, not the accessories - not even about the food. If something catastrophic happens to the food (jellied salad sliding under the table? running out of pasta?), laugh and improvise. What else can you do?
Tip: Your guests may forget about the dropped pie or the dried-out turkey, but they will certainly remember, even longer, how they felt in your company. As Maya Angelou said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
There. Those are my top ten. What are yours?

1 comment:

  1. Love these tips! I still have a lot of learning to do.


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