January always heralds the beginning of the party season for me. The month begins with New Year's Eve and concludes with the Superbowl. Whether you prefer black-tie parties and champagne or family room get-togethers with pizza and beer, in January anyone can be a consummate host. As the busyness of the end-of-year holiday season comes to a close, I combat the winter blues by beginning to create guest lists of those people whose company I truly enjoy and menus of goodies I like to prepare. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of presenting a program with Ms. Judith Francis, owner and founder of Shambala Teas. Judi's reputation as the hostess with the mostess is well known in this area and invitations to Judi's soirees are much sought after. Judi wrote a fabulous booklet entitled How To Make It Look Like You Killed Yourself For Your Company... It contains so many smart and easy tips. Judi graciously agreed to allow me to share parts of it with you. Below are a few of my favorite suggestions.
Set The Mood ~ Remember to light some candles. Floating candles in a bowl are a nice touch and easy to do. Try putting cranberries at the bottom of the bowl. Beware of scented candles since the scent can interfere with the smells of food. Use those scented candles in your entrance way or non-dining areas. You can mix and match candlesticks but do not mix candle scents. Candles are a favorite hostess trick since if you keep the lights dim no one will see the dust or nicks on the furniture.
Presentation ~ Pleasing the eye is the first step in pleasing the stomach. Never just plop food from the container on to the table. Take the time to remove the food from the carry-case and place it artfully on one of your good serving dishes. When having a buffet, try to put things at different heights. Put out your tablecloth and then put a small box on the table and cover it with a color coordinating fabric to position a platter at a higher position.
Food Preparation ~ Instead of "cooking," think "implementation." For example, find a gourmet chocolate torte in the freezer section of your supermarket. Make a pretty design on the dish of each guest with raspberry coulis (pureed frozen raspberries that have been through a sieve) and top with whipped cream and a few fresh raspberries. Even pizzas ordered from your local parlor with unusual toppings can make for a fun meal. Think caramelized onions and goat cheese, or pineapple and spinach, or roasted garlic and broccoli.
Happy Ending ~ Remember how much fun goody bags were when you were a child? For your parties, goody bags are a great way to show your guests you appreciated their company (and can help to hasten departures when the party is over!). Tubes of Mango Tea with bows after a Luau, or little sleighs with candy in them after a holiday party, or clear bags tied with ribbon with leftovers sweets from dessert are all fun ideas.
Most importantly, as the host, take 5 minutes for yourself before guests are due to arrive. Opening your door looking fresh and happy is the best way to be sure your guests are comfortable.
Judi's complete booklet, delicious recipes, and (of course) tea with full accoutrements, can be found at www.ShambalaTeas.com.