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The Simple Science of Party Planning

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Do I have party planning down to a science, you ask? Well, funny—I guess I do. I’m having twenty-five people for dinner in about nine hours and while I am up a bit early, it’s not because I’m stressing over my seating arrangements. I can blame that on the dog.

My secret weapon to a great party with a way for you to even enjoy yourself is planning ahead. Simple. Throwing something together short notice even takes planning. Not so much possibly as a sit-down for twenty-five but even the impromptu gathering has it’s moments of stylizing.

Here are my simple and quick tips for an easy plan. First, you’ll need a date. Pick it and stick with it. Those that can come great, those that can’t, you’ll have them over another time. Don’t spend two weeks emailing trying to find the perfect night to gather everyone. It’s impossible and sets expectations for you that are unrealistic and usually stresses out the pleasers on your list.

Then your menu. While you’d like to treat your guests to gourmet cuisine, if you’re a cook scour your cookbooks and magazines for something that will wow without a lot of last minute prep time involved. If you don’t like to cook then find a great caterer that makes food that you would love to make if you did cook. Planning your menu with your caterer is simple since they’ve got this down to a science. Rely on them. If you’re picking, keep it simple. The hor d’ourves are usually the biggest headache. You don’t want guests filling up on junk carbs so you come back to them later once you’ve selected your menu. I find I work backwards with this because I want them to actually eat the dinner I prepare.

Once your main entry is selected then find the best balance in your side dishes. Pick maybe two or three only. Don’t overwhelm. A green vegetable and a starch are good basic choices. Also a simple salad with some complex and identifiable flavor goes a long way to add umpf to a menu plan. Like one with feta, blue, or goat cheese, usually coupled with diced pear, strawberry, or orange and some caramelized walnuts makes it memorable.
The vegetables should also be presented nicely and sparingly. It’s not about a pig out but enjoying something yummy together. Your starch can either compliment your entree or enhance it by being the cloud in which it is presented. Soft polenta, mashed sweet potatoes, and the like with a lovely piece of fish or brisket atopare. Yum. My mouth waters at the prospect!

Okay, so that’s some tidbits in the main food arena. Once the date, guestlist, and menu are determined then start at your party date and back up from there. Write a daily to-do list from the day of the party back about five days. I have set my table a week ahead, if you have the separate dining area in which to do this, or course. It is a bit time consuming and it’s a chore that’s easily out of the way early on in the process. Especially if you are going the extra mile with a special centerpiece, polishing silver, or adding a fun conversational game to the place settings, very popular today for ice breakers at dinner parties.

Once you’ve backed up your to-do list it usually brings you to your list making for ingredients at the grocer and also beverage needs. Pair your wines for your choice of entree, beef, poultry, or seafood. Ask your wine salesman at the local liquor store if you need some reassurance. Clean the appropriate glassware and set aside.

Printed invitations add such a nice flare and let your guests know you are honored to be hosting them. Do it on your home computer for much less or splurge if it’s a special occasion and visit a specialty store. The costs are really not that frightening and it adds such a nice touch to the event.

Having your home clean and inviting is all that is needed for decor. A few candles lit and a cool CD and the smell of fresh herbs waifing as guests arrive is all the theme needed to a successful party. If you are having an occasion, like a fortieth or anniversary we could go on and on. Like photo books as favors, CD’s of music of the era, hand decorated wine glasses to signify the event. Oh, and the decorations! But I’m trying to keep it simple and certainly manageable for people who shy away from entertaining. It’s really not that overwhelming if you piece it up and tackle one task at a time.
Use some of your prettiest serve ware, what are you saving it for. It makes yours guests feel special and makes you feel like a pro. Have the cocktails premixed or if not, a prep area set aside where guests can have all the tools and garnishes to mix their own concoction of choice. Fresh ice, glassware, and even a bar book with recipes for trying something new and interesting.

The desserts are always the piece de resistance and can be the most stressful part of the evening. Save the impressive volcano cake for another time. Small samplings that are portioned individually, mini cheesecakes or tarts are best. A trio is always nice with a small dollop of gelato. Grab a helpful friend to be your second set of hands to get this served and on the table so all can enjoy together. Or buffet it with coffee service and let guests mingle and chat without the confines of the table. That’s it! Nothing outlandish is necessary to create a great evening. It may seem that fireworks and trumpets are necessary and that you can’t pull it off, but guess what, you can! Plan ahead, think ahead, and then count backwards. Make sense? Try it! My days of planning all come to fruition today; I’ll let you know how it goes!

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