Anatomy of a Dinner Party: a day in the life of a hospitalityaholic

August, 2009 browsing by month


Hostess Secrets

Monday, August 31st, 2009

All successful hostesses have a bag of tricks up their sleeves. Normally, I want all my guests to think I’m magic, but now that I am a responsible blogger, I should share.

1. Matthews Hamper House: This is the mac daddy of all things containerable (I think I just made that word up). If you want to give your guests a parting gift and need something nifty with which to present it, these are your folks. Their space is very big and they have everything from little cello bags to giant baskets and everything in between. I could spend hours in this store at the State Farmers Market and just lose my mind. If you need something to put something else in, they’ve got it.

2. Ikea. No surprise here. The best prices on wine glasses and my beloved .49 tea towels that I adore using as napkins.

3. Goodwill (multiple locations). I consider the Goodwill my own personal treasure hunt. Every piece is unique. From vintage champagne flutes to pitchers painted to look like watermelon, I find something cool almost everytime.

4. Super H Mart This grocery store is outstanding. The absolute freshest produce at ridiculously cheap prices. The last time I shopped there I bought a beef tenderloin for $5 per pound! Its a bit of a hike (Duluth, Kathianne!) but so so worth it. 2550 Pleasant Hill Rd, Duluth – (678) 543-4000.

There you go. A few of my secrets are now yours. Go and seek out little shops off the beaten path. You never know what you will find.

xoxo, Patti

OMD – Orchestral Manuevers at Dinner

Monday, August 31st, 2009

A smaller dinner party gives you wiggle room to be creative. Six guests is perfect for creating an intimate night that allows you to use your imagination. Take fun pieces from around your house and use them to concoct a delightful tablescape.

Saturday night’s dinner party gave me just such a opportunity. With a most interesting group of folks – two of our favorite dog trainers, a cnn editor and an artist/writer friend I had not seen in 15 years, the evening seemed ripe with the promise of a lively time.

The menu was simple. Grilled leg of lamb, bacon laced green beans, sour cream mashed potatoes and honey-ginger carrots, topped off with cake and ice cream. The table setting was a bit more lush. Hand beaded placemats from Mexico were placed over gold braided cloth placemats to give them substance. Gold napkins with beaded and tasseled napkins rings were set on the plates. I lined the table with textured votive holders for the candles and placed two wine decanters on either side of the table for easy access.

This was a group of people I had not brought together before and yet, our artist friend knew our dog trainer friend – I love little surprises like this. Atlanta is such a “small town” big city that you are bound to know someone in common with a majority of people you meet.

Funny stories were shared and everyone filled up on lamb, wine and laughter. It was a divine evening. The evening ended with a rousing game of Wii bowling on our brand spanking new gaming system. It was a sophisticated party that ended with games. Good times.

xoxo, Patti

Bloggers Note: Many thanks to our darling guests who allowed themselves to be photographed for this posting.

When Is An Invitation Too Casual?

Friday, August 28th, 2009

While sitting on our porch over a glass of Syrah, I mentioned to my dear friend that she and her husband should come to over the next night for a casual dinner of grilled brats and potato salad. Very low keyed. She agreed, but needed to check with her guy that they would come on by.

Next day came and went with no dinner guests.

Question – is it the responsibility of the hostess to telephone to reconfirm such a get together? My thought is yes.

These friends are every bit family to us and we all knew this was not a white tablecloth affair. Certainly no feelings were hurt on either side. We were going to prepare this dinner either way.

Would I have stopped at Star Provisions to pick up that lemon meringue tart if it had just been E & me? Probably not, although lets face it, a lemon tart will never go to waste in our home.

All of this wondering could have been avoided if I had just sent an inquiring email or made a telephone call. I am lucky that I am a homemaker and most of my friends are seriously busy at their offices. My day is usually a lot more flexible.

So, when in doubt, don’t be shy. Pick up the phone and call just to reconfirm. And if the answer is “no”, go ahead and put on your jammies and grab the remote control. You have the night off!

xoxo, Patti

Leftovers and A Show

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

After a long day of work, Eric and I just wanted to chill last night. We got that and so much more.

At the end of the workday, I found a multitude of candles all over the house and brought them into the kitchen and lit them. The champagne flutes were taken from their cabinet and a bottle of bubbly was cracked. We enjoyed a very simple dinner of creative leftovers that consisted of a fresh spring salad with grilled pork from Sunday’s supper along with the last bit of that delicious squash casserole from the same dinner with Jeff. We ate at our marble island, standing up, drinking bubbles and sharing our day’s experiences.

We could hear torrents of thunder outside and did not want to miss the show. We took the champagne and candles outside and watched the most spectacular lightening and thunder storm, all the while commenting on the shapes of the clouds, like two kids laying in the grass on a summer afternoon. The lightening and thunder morphed into an amazing summer shower and eventually we were forced inside.

Remember to treat yourself as your own special guest. Even leftovers can be sexy.

xoxo, Patti

Stuff Gay Guys Like – And Me Too!

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Plucked from Stuff Gay Guys Like – so funny! Author – VDG.

# 3 Dinner Parties
Dinner parties are a crucial aspect of gay guy society. As a way to see old friends, talk about real estate or coming-out novels, or, for the single gay guy, possibly meet a boyfriend, the dinner party is unbeatable.
If you are invited to a dinner party at the house of a gay guy (or more likely, the house of two gay guys) it is crucial not to arrive empty-handed. Always ask what you can bring. If you are told to bring something specific, bring it. If you are not told to bring something specific, bring wine. If you are told not to bring anything, bring wine. You will never be told not to bring wine.
While the dinner party is a wonderful environment for conversation, that is almost never the main reason for a gay guy dinner party. Gay guys generally throw dinner parties for one of two reasons: to show off some fabulous aspect of their lives, or to find a boyfriend for a single friend. And sometimes both.
In the first case, flattery is important, and whenever possible should be sincere. Details are what matters here: don’t say “this soup is good”, say “the crimini mushrooms in this soup are wonderful.” If you don’t know what crimini mushrooms are, say “what are these wonderful mushrooms?” Your host(s) will always appreciate food compliments. But they will appreciate complimenting their possessions at least as much as complimenting their food: on the table take a serious look at the glassware, silverware, plates and tablecloth (if any). Do any of them appear antique, imported, or campy? If so, comment on it: “These plates are beautiful! How old are they/What country are they from/Where on Earth did you find Tinkerbell dinner plates?”
The second case is more delicate. If the host(s) are smart, they will have invited a number of single gay guys and just enough couples to keep it from being mortifyingly obvious that they are trying to set someone up. In such settings, it’s considered poor form to comment on recent breakups or first dates, or how difficult it is to find a boyfriend these days, as this will only add pressure to the single guy in whose honor the dinner party is being thrown. Instead, keep the conversation to noncontroversial topics (such as coming out novels and real estate) and if you see two of the single guys talking to each other, don’t interrupt. Or, if you happen to be talking to one of the single guys and another one comes over and joins the conversation, wait until the conversation is flowing, then excuse yourself.
Your behavior during the dinner party is important, but so is your behavior afterward. No thank you note is too precious for a gay guy dinner party. Handwritten, hand-stamped and mailed the day after (even if that’s a Sunday) is the best way to go. Always comment on a specific detail (e.g., crimini mushrooms, Tinkerball dinnerware) and express hope that the same group can be assembled again soon. Never ask about whether any of the single guys hooked up in writing, though feel free to do this over the phone or email after the thank you note has been sent.
Following those simple rules (wine, complimenting details, never interrupting two single guys talking, and thank you notes) will ensure you further dinner-party invitations, and eventually you may feel comfortable giving one on your own. Have fun!

xoxo, Patti

Party To Go

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Last week my dear friend Crystal asked me to co-conspire on planning a birthday surprise for her darling husband, Teague.

My mission was to gather our friends and show up at their doorstep as they arrived back from a long weekend at the lake, food and beverages in hand.

Teague wanted a pound cake for his birthday and I found a recipe that fit the bill in my old Southern Living Cookbook that had served me well in the past. The batter went together beautifully and the aroma in the oven was delectable. I set the baked cake on a proper rack and waited for it to cool. Then, ever so carefully, I ran a knife all around the pan and released the cake. I didn’t plan for what happened next. The cake started to fall apart in chunks. Oh boy. So I did what any other clever kitchen magician would do – I pulled out the wooden skewers and skewered the whole thing together. Now I just had to figure out how I could get it to hold. I decided to wrap it in kitchen film – that should do it. And then put it in the fridge in the hopes that all the butter in the cake would cement it in place.

Then I made some stuffed mushrooms to take along with the two bottles of bubbly and waited for the rest of party to arrive.

Everyone met at our house and then we all walked over to Crystal and Teague’s house for the surprise. Lisa and Bob brought bacon and peanut sauce – never underestimate the power of bacon. Michelle brought fresh baked Indian donuts. Yummy. Chioke and Taruan made a scrumptious platter of crackers, figs and fig compote with cheese. Poppie and Garry contributed a lovely pea salad. Bubbly flowed and laughter filled the air. And yes, the cake was still in hunks, but what delicious hunks they were.

Teague was pleasantly surprised and another year passed. Another year filled with friends and good times. And there will only be more to come.

Parties don’t always go as planned, but if you act as if all is well with the world, no one is going to be disturbed that the cake doesn’t look like Martha Stewart baked it.

xoxo, Patti

Sunday Supper

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Sunday evening always has a bit of a melancholy tinge and it makes me want to create a send off party for the weekend. Usually this plays out as Sunday Supper. It’s comforting to gather up friends who might be lounging about and have a last hoorah.

Last night we had a quiet hoorah. It was just Eric, Jeff and me. Which is fantastic as we don’t get to spend nearly enough time with our good friend and just visit. And we kept it simple. Grilled pork chops and squash casserole.

Pork’s doneness can be difficult to gauge, so always use your thermometer and consult your cookbook. Tonight was no exception and the pork was not done all the way when we plucked it from the grill. Plan B – just slice it up and put it on the indoor grill for just a few moments. It turned out perfectly.

The squash casserole is the last soldier from Crystal’s victory squash garden. Her entire front yard was covered in yellow squash and zucchini and we have eaten our fill this summer. The casserole is crunchy, gooey and savory. A high note. There are plenty of leftovers which we will enjoy all this week as we contemplate Autumn’s arrival and we leave behind the pristine produce of Summer.

Gather your loved ones next Sunday night and wave good bye to the weekend with your own get together. It will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy come Monday.

xoxo, Patti

Be Fearless

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

There comes a time in every accomplished cook’s life when you hear a friend say, “we would love to invite you, but we can’t cook nearly as well as you”. Just invite me – I don’t care what you are serving, I am looking forward to our visit.

Thank goodness for fearless friends like Val and Jay. After a night of dancing to Abbey Road Live, a Beatles cover band, followed by a rousing late night Wii bowling competition, we were invited back this morning for brunch.

And what a brunch! Eggs benedict with hash browns, fresh cantalope, watermelon, blueberries and strawberries. Washed down with orange mango mimosas. Enjoyed with our friends, Rick & Denise, it was a perfect Sunday brunch. Pair that with the temps dipping into the 60Fs this August morning, and it borders on sublime.

When you feel anxiety brought on by the thought of entertaining, remember there are all kinds of ways to feed your guests. There are thousands of food purveyors on the web, and I am sure in your community. Pick up some goodies, arrange them on your pretty platters, serve a gorgeous drink and you have all the ingredients for a perfect party at your fingertips.

Get out there and entertain! And let me know here how it goes.

xoxo, Patti

An Impromptu Dinner Party

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

Happy hour sometimes morphs into dinner time. This is a rare occurrence in our home because we are usually scheduled to the gills. But it happened last night and it is always a pleasant treat.

Spent a little time with Val this afternoon teaching the basics of pasta making. I had mentioned this to our pals Denise and Rick earlier in the day and in the midst of waiting for the pasta to rest, Denise called and I invited them over. As Val and I were finishing with our class, Denise and Rick arrived with a bottle of Pinot Noir and happy hour began in earnest.

After a few bottles of wine between the four of us, Eric finally gets off work and joins the party in the kitchen, where I am preparing a drinky snack – peanut butter & bacon sandwiches (with the crusts cut off, of course). And as yummy as this was, we needed something of substance. Eric came to the rescue, whipping up a yummy, yet simple dinner of grilled rib eyes (look at those grill marks!) and some of the leftover pappardelle from Wednesday night’s soiree. I pull out my favorite heavy white TAG plates and 4 cool wooden placemats, set with our hammered flatware and burnished gold napkins. The makeshift dessert is four spoonfuls of lemon curd each topped with a plump raspberry, eaten standing in the middle of the kitchen. Everyone walks home a bit later, warm headed, with a tummy full of deliciousness and memories of a fun, last minute, dinner party.

Later that night, as the rain is pounding our roof, Eric and I sit outside on the porch to enjoy Mother Nature’s spectacle and muse about our evening.

Every night is an opportunity to create a special dining experience for you and your loved ones. Even if it is dinner for one, take out your most special pieces and drink out of your best glasses. You are your own best friend. Pamper yourself.

xoxo, Patti

The Clean Up Controversy

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Most people dislike the cleanup after a soiree. For me, its a magical time for Eric and I to relive funny and interesting moments from the evening. Giggly, a little tipsy and elbow deep in sudsy water makes for a romantic after party for two.

I’m not telling you that you have to be responsible for clean up after a huge gala of 100+ guests. There are services that handle that. But for a small dinner party (6 to 24 folks), this time can be your time to decompress while getting your kitchen and dining room back to its sparkling clean state.

Start with your toughest dish/platter/roasting pan. If you served a dish like lasagna in a ceramic/glass dish, I know that baked on cheese and sauce can be a bear to get off. TIP TIME: Put a dryer sheet in with the soapy water in your pan and it will be spotless in no time. You can take the wet dryer sheet and just wipe up the remaining gooey-ness.

Load the dishwasher with your pots and pans first and then stack the dishes in the sink. This way you can leave it until tomorrow if you are just too sleepy to deal with it right now. Place them in soapy water and you will be much happier in the morning. Line all of your wine glasses up and pop a little drop of dish liquid in each one so you won’t have any red wine stains on your nice stemware. Filling them with a bit of hot water will make you feel happy the day after, too. It’s all about making it easy on yourself. Not that giving a dinner party is easy – it’s entertainment and have you ever seen all that goes into a Broadway production? Great entertaining is not easy, if you really set out for the summit every time. And you should. Welcoming people into your home and feeding them is one of the most personal things you can do for those you love (or want to impress), so why do it half way?

xoxo, Patti