Last year's Christmas dinner was the worst ever. I offered to prepare an elaborate meal for 14 people — in my mom's kitchen. She doesn't cook much. I didn't have any of my usual tools and was so stressed and beat that I could barely eat when it was all finally on the table. My dad decided that we'd just order food from a caterer next time they hosted the holidays. I wholeheartedly agreed.
I haven't given up on entertaining, though. This year, my family is gathering for a post-Thanksgiving weekend in Seattle. Because I want to have fun — something I always miss out on while I'm trying to make everything perfect — I'm truly going to abide by my friend's advice this time.
Here's the strategy:
• Don't try to be Martha Stewart. That woman's got staff up the wazoo, so of course she can pull off an exquisite eight-course dinner for two dozen guests while simultaneously sewing a table runner from pilgrim-era quilt scraps. Or whatever. Anyway, if people only remember your fab handmade name cards, you didn't host a very exciting evening.
• Plan, plan, plan. Use checklists and other sensible things. If you are not terribly organized by nature, as I am not, this is the moment to step up. A couple of hours spent creating a thorough shopping list and a detailed schedule (for cooking, putting things out, etc.) is well worth it.
• Keep is simple. Parties are not the time to attempt fancy new recipes. The most popular hors d'oeuvre I ever served was a platter of Ikea meatballs, and I'm a pretty solid cook. If you're not an expert mixologist, don't offer to bartend, either. A good selection of beer and wine will please most guests.
• Enlist help. You don't have to do everything yourself. Repeat that whenever you feel guilty about asking for assistance, from a little sous chef action to valet parking grandma's car.
• Drink a glass of wine, stat.
• Shrug it off if you screw something up. Laugh. Just laugh. I nearly shed tears over a batch of overdone dinner rolls last year. Nobody remembers the dinner rolls. Crazy girl who needed a Xanax? Yup.
• Leave the dishes in the sink until later. Don't pass up the after-dinner conversation. Everyone's stuffed and possibly tipsy and definitely in good spirits because pie is on the way.
• Relax, relax, relax. Playing host should be a pleasure, not a punishment. The best thing you can do for your guests is enjoy yourself. If you're at ease, they will be too.
Do you have any tips for being a great host?