Mar’s Simple Holiday Entertaining Tips

As the chill in the air arrives in Westport, I anticipate enjoying a wonderful fire in the fireplace, great bottles of wine and fabulous gatherings with my friends and family. My Schnauzer Violet and I will cuddle up and read the paper while sipping on that perfect cup of hot chocolate. The sprinkle of snow reminds me of winters past and inspires me to prepare for holiday entertaining. Soon my home will become the destination for holiday cheer, warm soups and indoor projects that keep me busy into the early months of spring. No matter what Mother Nature brings this winter, my home will be well-stocked and ready for the long cold months ahead.
Holiday celebrations with friends and family mean new memories to cherish year after year. For many, the mere thought of finding and preparing perfect recipes may put an end to the notion of throwing a get-together. Preparation is critical and makes for a stress-free gathering. For several years I have had an open-house from one to six on the day of New Year’s Eve. This gives me the opportunity to celebrate the New Year with friends and not feel obligated to stay up late. In addition, it alleviates the problem of overbooking that many people face because it almost never interferes with their plans for the evening.

This time of year gifts aren’t found just under the tree — they’re also found outside, among the trees in snow-covered fields and your own backyard; sprays of feathering evergreens, berry-studded branches, and woody pinecones. Take advantage of these wonderful gifts from nature by getting outdoors and embracing the endless possibilities for decorating. Keep in mind that evergreen clippings won’t last forever unless you display them outdoors, and even then, you can only expect about four weeks, two weeks when used indoors. What can I say– nothing lasts forever.

Over the years, I have created some simple entertaining tips that will help remove any stress from the process. These tips are timeless and perfect for any holiday gathering.

I often place small candles and tea lights in different glasses, stemware and candy dishes. This is a creative way to display candles for any occasion. For the best results, use different size glasses and cluster together. Select interesting items such as coffee beans or even my favorite, hazelnuts, to fill the glasses. Sand has been overdone in my opinion and not particularly festive for this time of year. Here are my suggestions for the best results:

Navy beans
Soup Mix of assorted beans
Pearl Barley
Coffee beans

Now, find your pruning shears and let’s go out to the garden. Boxwood, holly, hemlock, arborvitaes or even rhododendron clippings will help add that festive feel to your candle display. Intertwine small clippings around the display, keeping them away from candle flames. Pinecones are perfect to cover exposed stems, and with a decorative bow, add the finishing touches. Carry this same theme to your fireplace mantle.

Dim all the lights:
My incessant use of lighting dimmers throughout my home keeps my friends coming back time and time again, not to mention the food. Seek out an electrician you trust for proper installation. My living room, dining room, kitchen, bath and powder rooms all have dimmers giving off the perfect amount of light in which everyone looks great. Add romantic candles and your guests will look 10 years younger. Go to the extreme and have your outdoor spotlights also on dimmers for outdoor parties (and for your friends that still smoke). The perfect amount of light is now in your control — enjoy the power!

Fire it up:
Having a fireplace is a responsibility that one should never take lightly. Fire safety is paramount and should never be compromised. Don’t fuss for hours poking and adding more wood unless this is your only resource for heat. Gatherings around a festive holiday fire are perfect when you have minimal maintenance. I prefer to take a firelighter log and hide it under the firewood. Quite often, I prepare the fireplace days before my guests arrive. You should add newspapers under the fireplace grate and make sure to open the damper before lighting the fire. Adequate air supply is necessary and I often crack a window to ensure proper cross ventilation. Always use a metal, mesh screen in front of your fireplace for safety and NEVER leave children or pets unsupervised near a fire. Follow these safety rules and light your fire 15 minutes prior to your guests arriving. For us men, a word of advice, avoid unnecessary fiddling with the fire. Spend your time enjoying your guests. Fussing endlessly over the fire during a party will not earn you extra credit with your guests. It will only annoy them.

Where to eat, sit and be merry:
As holiday gatherings tend to be larger, a sit-down dinner may not always be possible. Buffets are perfect for holiday entertaining. Create multiple stations and do a fabulous display throughout the party rooms. Don’t limit your guests to one room. If children are invited, provide a special place for them. Adults should be invited to enjoy your home and it should be easy for them to find a place to sit and relax. Keep in mind that you may not want wanderers in the private areas unless you give a tour. Limit your party to two or three rooms depending on the number of guests. Remember that the kitchen is the heart of the house and no matter what you do, your guests will always end up there, so give it up and incorporate the kitchen into the party.

After welcoming your guests and making any necessary introductions, why not pass the hors d’oeuvres yourself. I prefer to do this because it allows me to move freely throughout the party and mingle. An hors d’oeuvres plate is a wonderful way to meet people. Whether at my home or someone else’s, I’ve been known to pass out hors d’oeuvres just so I can introduce myself to the pretty ladies.

And there you have it!