Wednesday, April 4, 2012

confessions of a casual hostess

i host most of the holidays for my family and friends, including but not limited to:
  • Easter
  • cinco de mayo
  • everyone's birthdays
  • baseball opening day (yeah, it's a holiday in my house)
  • occasionally halloween
  • thanksgiving
  • Christmas/Hanukkah/holiday/new year's party, which is never to fall on any of those occasions
  • an assortment of half-holidays (like half St. patrick's day...oh, you don't celebrate half st. patty's? shame on you!)
for memorial day, the 4th of july, veteran's day and Christmas, we usually go away, and Christmas morning brunch is usually a group effort at my folks' house. i like it better sometimes (especially on Christmas) when i don't have to deal with all of the hassle of cleaning and preparing and i can enjoy the company of around Christmastime everyone is throwing parties, and i don't want mine to be another imposition or stop on a long tour of stops throughout the day. that's just not how i roll. i like sitting on the deck singing and chatting until the wee hours of the morning. i enjoy playing dominoes for hours. i really think it's great when people go for seconds and thirds of all of the food that is prepared either ahead of time or throughout the evening. but there are things i don't like about entertaining too, and other things that i do very badly. sometimes i even do things that are definite no-no's for people who actually entertain on a regular basis.
here are some examples:
  • i hate "tablescapes." i hate the word "tablescape." i'm all for minor decorating (i usually do for cinco de mayo and hubs is all about Christmas lights), but to go all out and then have all of the pretty, impractical things in the way of the food and drink? no way. not happening. maybe a centerpiece, depending on the occasion, and a tablecloth with matching napkins. and some candles, if you're lucky. the food should be pretty enough to be its own decoration.
  • every meal i host is a buffet. i am not sitting you down and serving you. i made everything, but that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone loves every single thing (though they should). so i'm not going to put it on your plate and have you hate it. i like when people pick. so what if at Easter you just want ham and liquor, much like my brother-in-law? that's fine by me. but i'm not going to make a plate for you with everything on it, or serve you in courses, when i don't always know your preferences.
  • my bbq's usually involve meat and only meat. no sides, no salads, nothing like that. occasionally we'll roast some onions, peppers, asparagus, and pineapple, for use on burgers and sausage. once or twice i grilled peaches, but i think i was the only one who ate them. i learned to do this through trial and error. i used to host a bbq with the hubs every friday. at first we made all kinds of stuff: pasta salad, cole slaw, desserts, you get the idea. but when everyone saw the ribs, chicken drumsticks, hot dogs and giant burgers, no one touched anything else. if we want to serve food that isn't meat, we call it something else, but not a bbq.
  • i only sometimes plan activities, and they are not always entirely appropriate to the occasion. sometimes we'll have a pinata for cinco de mayo, and sometimes we will make a gingerbread house for Christmas. i've even been known to play board games on game night. but other times, we are making leftover gingerbread houses in the middle of the summer or having snowshoe bbq's or making snowcones in january or churros for a going-away party. i like to mix it up and base activities off what's fun, what's handy, who's around and how much we've had to drink.
  • rain does not necessarily cancel an outdoor party. i come from a family of roofers. we can tarp off anything. some of the best parties i've had have been outside in the pouring rain under a tarp city. doesn't do much for ambiance, but you won't forget it.
  • sometimes i leave in the middle of my own parties for a bit. like to take the dog for a walk. or to go to sleep if it's super late and hubs still seems to be feeling froggy. this only happens at "friends" parties, not "family" ones. friends are more understanding when i randomly disappear.
  • with the exception of holiday dinners (at which time everyone is incredibly prompt with fork in hand at the specified time), i usually tell people that the party begins an hour or two before it really does. why? because my friends usually fun at least an hour or two late for no discernible reason, even the ones who live down the block.
my point is, you don't have to be a great hostess. you just have to try. i haven't always been the best. hey, i'm not the best now. but i like to make people feel comfortable in my home, not like if they reach for the butter they'll mess up the tablescape. good food and good company are usually about all you need for folks to have a good time.

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