One weekend not long ago we had different groups of friends over for three separate occasions. On Friday evening, one of our dear friends visiting from Haiti came by to have pre-dinner wine and snacks with us. On Sunday morning, we had waffles and bacon for a playdate with one of my college besties and her family. On Sunday evening, my childhood bestie (and neighbor) came over for zucchini lasagna, salad and chatter. The hubby, who is much more of an introvert than I am, never even bats an eye anymore. The constant ebb and flow of guests is our new normal since moving back to the DC area. We find ourselves awash with friendships old and new, and we feel so, so grateful and fulfilled by them.
Whether it’s an evening shindig or brunch morning, there are ten entertaining essentials I use to get ready for our friends, variations of which are pictured above. The coastal theme is easy for anyone to duplicate and provide neutral basics entertaining on any occasion (picking entertaining gear with bold, loud colors can mean that sometimes your “basics” end up clashing). About an hour before our guests are due to arrive, the hubby scampers around picking up loose toys and making sure our house is tidy enough not to scream “THESE PEOPLE ARE CRAZY,” while I do the following:
Devise a plan of attack and initial set-up.
I tie on a clean apron and make a list of all of the prep work that needs to be done before our guests arrive. Then, I set up plates, glassware and utensils. Right before the holiday season, I bought a utensil caddy for containing flatware. I told the hubby it was a silly purchase, but after months of cramming flatware into random vases and tall glasses, it’s really nice to have designated container for guests to grab their own forks, knives and spoons. I also set out my wine opener so that we’re not searching for it, mainly because most of our guests come blustering in these days yelling, “I NEED WINE.” No judgment, that’s just the way it is.
Prep basic appetizers.
I usually have an assortment of cheeses, bread, olives, nuts and dried fruit for dinner guests. I use my much-loved round walnut cutting board, which doubles as a cheese platter. I cut baguettes first, then wipe down the cutting board and place unwrapped cheeses on top. Fun fact: most cheeses are not tasty straight out of the fridge. Just like a shy debutante, you need to bring them out a little early (about a half an hour) before guests start arriving so that they have time to warm up a little.
Accoutrements are key.
Cheese knives, appetizer plates and cloth napkins always make an occasion seem more festive. Invest in basic cheese knives and appetizer plates and varied (but matching) sets of 4 cocktail-sized and dinner-sized napkins. I like to pull out sets of different colors when we have a large group of guests because it helps guests identify their napkins and also incorporate bright colors and patterns on our table.
Fill the well.
Before guests arrive, I fill a pitcher with water, ice and lemon slices so that guests can help themselves throughout the event. I particularly love these tiny bodega glasses, which let guests have a sip or two and don’t take up much space (they also double as great dessert cups).
Dip, baby, dip.
I use Anthropologie’s latte bowls to contain just about all of our party noshes, from hummus to goldfish crackers for the kids. They’re perfect for holding a group-sized amount of dip and add a fun burst of color.
Following these simple steps can make sure your guests are taken care of when they first arrive while giving you precious time to monitor what’s cooking on the stove or even participate in the merriment. For me, sometimes this also means making sure my kids are appropriately dressed before people start arriving. right now Meimei is in a no-pants phase and Ge Ge is in a “handsome outfit” phase comprised of a half-zip sweater, pressed khakis and a polo shirt, which means basically that at all times one of my kids is woefully underdressed and the other is comically overdressed.
Sigh. Win some, lose some, right?