When it comes to entertaining at home, often the most simple parties are more fun than the more over-the-top gatherings, where often the host or hostess takes on too much and just can't execute it all. I'm a firm believer in simple is better, but when I say simple, I don't mean boring. Simple as in clean, fresh, modern; the simple elegance of a row of small vases filled with dahlias down a dinner table. Clean green dinner plates, topped with white salad plates. Stemless wine glasses. And LOTS of white votives. It's my favorite way to set a dinner table (or coffee table, in my apartment).
Just last evening, I hosted a small gathering of friends to celebrate winter, and to warm my "house" belatedly, now that I have moved back to the NYC area. My goal of the night was to keep it simple, as it was about spending time with close friends and talking. The plan was to serve nibbles and drinks (serving dinner to 9 would have been difficult with 8 dinner plates), and then we'd walk over to a charming and delicious homey restaurant in the neighborhood for dinner. Nothing big, and no reason for me to sweat. Why is that? I planned ahead, and didn't bite off more than I could chew.
Lots of Bubbly!
If you're looking to dress up a plain glass of bubbly, try serving flutes with a garnish of frozen raspberries or cranberries. I love a splash of Chambord with my bubbly, for a pretty red Raspberry Royale.
Fresh-baked Vanilla Scones served with Clotted Cream and Wild Blueberry Jam. Something comforting and classic that goes well with an effervescent wine, and is also perfect on a cold, winter afternoon with a group of ladies.
Cheese plate. But of course! Serve a variety of cheeses on a simple board, along with your favorite crackers. While I didn't have time to make it to my local cheese shop for my favorite Humboldt Fog (which pairs well with a drizzle of honey on oat crackers), one of my favorite combinations is plain Swiss cheese on wheatmeal crackers (a topping of blueberry jam, optional).
Chips and Dips. One of my friends is starting up her own Texas-style catering company (Texas-style you ask? Yes. She's from El Paso and makes some killer dishes full of southwestern flavors), and she offered to bring her spin on guacamole (more of a chunky avocado, tomato, pepper relish than creamy spread) and souffle-like cheese spread, paired with her homemade tortilla chips.
Of course, clean your house well! Put away any clutter. Clear your countertop and coffee table. Nothing is worse than seeing personal detritus hanging around when you're in someone's home. Also, clean the bathroom, and put away any personal belongings. Light a candle in the bathroom, and be sure to put out fresh toilet paper and hand towels.
Nothing is more welcoming than the sight of beautiful flowers. While I went to my flower market envisioning 5 short, little vases filled with freesia and lilies, I spotted some incredibly fragrant tuberose. I would only need 3 stems, and their intoxicating aroma would fill the apartment in no time. And, I had just the perfect narrow vase.
I'm lucky to have excellent lighting in my apartment. I turned off all the overhead ceiling lights (not that they're ever on; I can't stand them), and instead turned on the two floor lamps I have in the living area (as I have no room for side tables and lamps). Paired with the under-cabinet lights in my kitchen, and a candle, it created just the soft light I wanted, but without making it too dim or romantic.
An essential part of any gathering, whether it's you and a loved one cooking together, or a group of girls drinking and gabbing about life, work, boys and more. I put on my iPod to one of my favorites, She & Him, and let it cycle through the two albums during the course of the evening and a volume that didn't cause us to raise our voices, but was loud enough to hear and appreciate.