How to Entertain Like a PRO (and Look Like One, Too!)

2012 Nov/Dec Edition
The holidays can be stressful even if you’re not having 50 people over for a cocktail party or 30 guests for dinner on Christmas Eve.  To some, entertaining can be a challenge and then when you add in all the turkey, tinsel and toys, things can get even more chaotic.  Here are some helpful hints that can, perhaps, save your sanity and ensure that you and your guests actually ENJOY these special seasonal occasions.
I’m always asked how to take the stress out of entertaining and I always give the same answer:  plan your basics ahead of time and keep it simple!  When you have a few extra minutes, plan ahead and stock up on a few basic items that will allow you to entertain with ease, even if it’s spur-of-the-moment.  First, invest in white, silver, and/or clear dishes and platters.  You will be able to use them time and time again because they can be easily worked into almost any décor or theme by using patterned napkins and tablecloths, flowers, and other décor elements.  I also recommend stocking up on white candles, clear candleholders and silver candlesticks (they don’t have to be fancy or expensive) because the softness of candlelight adds an instant and inexpensive ambiance to any room.
A simple and fun dessert idea for a Thanksgiving celebration is to set up a caramel apple bar.  Melt caramel according to package instructions and serve it alongside the apples with sticks and bowls full of yummy toppings:  hard-shell chocolate candies in fall colors, chopped nuts, and even some melted chocolate for double-dipping.  Snap photos while your loved ones create their sweet masterpieces to look back on during the years to come.  For the older or younger crowd who may find it difficult to bite into the apples, chop them up and add the toppings like a sundae.  Family members of all ages will enjoy this dessert and it just may become a new tradition.  
Get extra mileage out of your fall pumpkins and gourds by incorporating them into your Christmas décor.  Spray paint the items to coordinate with your chosen Christmas colors and add bows on the stems before intermingling them with items from past years. 
If choosing drinks for your event seems daunting, participate in a local spirit shop wine and beer tasting. Their staff will educate you on the beverages you sample, pointing out special qualities of each and providing suggestions for menu-pairings.  In Paducah, we’re fortunate to have several locally owned establishments that host tastings and most of them are free of charge. Another affordable option is to offer a “signature cocktail.”  Make the cocktail ahead of time and your guests can help themselves throughout the evening.  Be sure to have sparkling water and soft drinks on hand for non-drinkers and for the nights’ designated drivers. 
And finally, accept help!  When your family and friends ask what they can bring, tell them.  I promise they’re so thrilled that someone else is hosting that they’ll be more than happy to contribute a dish, dessert, or bottle of spirits.  You can also let someone else do the work for you by pre-ordering the food you plan to serve at your holiday celebration from local markets, bakeries, and specialty food stores.  The food is still “homemade,” it’s just not being made in YOUR home.  Before your event, arrange your purchased selections on white, silver, or clear platters and no one will ever know that you spent the day getting a mani/pedi instead of being a prisoner of your kitchen.
If you’re worried about everything being “perfect,” (I’m guilty of this more often than I care to admit) your guests will pick up on it so don’t sweat the small stuff.  Be relaxed, have fun, and be the “you” that your family and friends know and love. 
Here’s a holiday cocktail party tablescape that Darby created by adding painted gourds to some newly purchased items, as well as some favorites from her childhood.







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