The Last Big Holiday Party, Ever
Steve and I have had a tradition of hosting an annual holiday party from our days as newlyweds living on West 14th Street in New York City. We would serve a collection of hors d’oeuvres with wine, ensuring there was enough food so guests could linger through the night and make dinner of it, or just drop by for a drink while doing the rounds of holiday merrymaking. The crowd then was mostly magazine people and accountants from Price Waterhouse, representing our two careers.
We continued the tradition when we moved to a condominium in Waikiki. At that stage in our life, the guests included family living in Honolulu, newspaper people and more Price Waterhouse accountants.
By the time we moved to San Francisco and restarted the party tradition, we had two children so the mix of guests now revolved around PR people from the agency where I worked, people from high-tech startups where Steve worked and fellow parents from the French American International School.
Our boys, from as young as six or seven, dressed in blue blazers with pint-size ties, greeted the guests at the door and showed them where to put their coats. They were learning the responsibilities of being a good host.
After so many years, I’m ready to call it quits. This Saturday’s party is being billed as the Last Big Holiday Party, Ever, because much as we love it and love to see our friends all together, it’s a lot more work than I can commit to. While Steve and I work together, decorating, cooking and cleaning is a pretty big undertaking. We might still have smaller get-togethers, but nowhere near the 75 or so people we are used to inviting. Dave and Chris, who arrives from New York on Friday, are inviting their friends and we are all aware that it’s the last of a long tradition.
If you’re considering hosting a big party and this is your first time, here are some things I’ve learned:
- Dips are fast to prepare, but getting crudités ready takes a surprising amount of time when you are serving many people. Wash veggies the night before or early in the day and pre-cut to store in plastic bags.
- Slicing bread is another activity that’s simple but time-consuming, especially if you need bread for several spreads. Slice enough for presentation and extras for seconds just before the party so you can simply refill the platter, rather than spending time in the kitchen cutting more.
- Just as Holly Chute, Executive Chef of the Governor’s Mansion in Georgia does, I lay out all of my serving dishes for each menu item on my table to be sure I have everything I need for serving and to visualize how all the serving dishes will look together with the food. I stick post-it notes to remember what goes where.
- The bigger the party, the greater the mess. For some reason, people at a big party tend to feel less accountable for spills and other messes than they do at a small dinner party. For the sake of my house and furniture, I avoid sticky foods and flaky foods that are likely to spread crumbs and grease.
- I hire a student helper from a culinary school to arrive a few hours before the party to help set up, to replenish platters and wash up. Our family also works, with each person responsible for a different task, such as ensuring the bread baskets are full or the wines and soft drinks are replenished.
- For safety, I’m thinking of battery-operated candles at the dessert stations, since that floor isn’t as well trafficked until later at night.
- I change the décor from year to year. One year for a table centerpiece, I covered Styrofoam balls with spray snow and made mounds of snowballs on pine branches with partridges tucked here and there. This year we are doing gumdrop trees for a touch of whimsy. We’lll demo this simple craft project on this week’s Video Friday blog.
What are we making? We’re baking two hams to slice and serve with rolls, Irish cheeses and chutney, marinated bay shrimp, gravlax, crudités with dips, braided wreath sweet bread with marzipan holly, and some Special Fork recipes. We’re have little cards to identify the dishes and for fun, Dave is giving each Special Fork recipe a QR code so guests can get the recipes via their smartphone on the spot. You can get the recipes below:
- Katie’s Faux Foie Pate
- Spiced Fruit Chutney
- Toasted Walnut Trout Spread
- Pomegranate Yogurt Dip
- Crab Cheese Fondue for old times’ sake
- Sweet ‘n Spicy Roasted Almonds
- Sugar Cookie Snowflakes
Here’s wishing you happy holidays!
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