Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Guest Post: Cheap, Healthy, Good Entertaining - Hosting While Preserving Your Finances, Sanity, and Well-Being

A freelance domestic goddess and English teacher, KitschenBitsch writes about fun, frugal, and (often) retro living and cooking, though her content ranges from cooking and puns to health, society, and her significant other's hilarity in any given month.

As the holidays descend upon us like so many hungry vultures (What? Am I the only person who feels completely blindsided?), many of us will find ourselves entertaining, either hosting parties, large dinners, or maybe even housing guests overnight(s).

From Flickr's jpovey
In the past, I’ve always looked forward with excitement to any opportunity to entertain. Due to work and distance, the mister and I rarely see some of our friends. Of course, due to work we end up running around like headless chickens, and it turns out that headless chickens do not do housework. Then, as the date looms, I begin to freak out because the house isn’t clean, food isn’t waiting in the refrigerator, and I’ve realized I have multiple work or other engagements around the time of said event.

Basically, I imagine myself as a lovely hostess with trays of hors d’ouevres, flowers in the guest room, and a nicely decorated home; in reality, I shove everything under the bed, buy the $2 manager’s special florals at Kroger, and end up making the refreshments after the guests have arrived.

Luckily, I’ve found some ways to allay my freakout, and I would like to share them with you.

CARE AND FEEDING OF HOUSEGUESTS

1) Chill out. Unless your guest is a complete neatnick and you know it, don’t worry so much about the state of your house. Wouldn’t you rather be somewhere that is comfortable than in a room that looks like a museum? If you’d rather be in a museum, don’t come to my house. If you’re worrying about the state of the house and running around the entire time, you won’t be spending time with your guest and said guest may feel uncomfortable.

2) Nice amenities aren’t expensive. Want a guest to feel welcome? Leave an extra blanket, pillow, towels, a notepad, a pen, a decanter of water, and a (working) flashlight near the bed. This way, everything the guest might need is close by, and should the guest need to wander around, the flashlight can help with navigating an unfamiliar house at night, saving shins, toes, and your sleep. Don’t have a decanter? Save a juice jar, clean it, fill it with water, and invert a glass on top. Viola voila!

If your guest is couchsurfing, try to give him or her some privacy. A folding screen is great if you have one around, and the above items could be left on an endtable close by.

From Flickr's Rick
3) Keep food easy and accessible. Guests breakfasting at varied times? Have some oatmeal in a slowcooker with a topping buffet. Leave bowls of fruit on the table. Apples and oranges are cheap and crowd-pleasing, and crackers are also marked down this time of year. Leave plates, glasses, and utensils out so your guest doesn’t have to rummage.

4) Plan escape time. If you live alone and haven’t hosted before, having a houseguest could be a weird experience after a couple days. Alternately, if your houseguest lives alone, it can be stressful for him to be surrounded by people all the time. You don’t have to hover (unless your houseguest is young enough to require babysitting). Go run an errand if you need to get away, or go take a nap. It’s okay!

5) Know your guest’s expectations. Does the guest just want to spend time with you? Are there other folks in town she wants to see? Does she want to hit the museum? Ask in advance to make the visit work.

THROWING A PARTY THAT FEELS LIKE ONE WITH MINIMAL MONEY AND STRESS

1) Eat your leftovers and stockpiles in the weeks leading up to the event. This strategy serves several purposes. First, you’re going to be prepping and cooking food for an event; the last thing you will feel like doing is cooking dinner for yourself during this time. Also, eating up your fridge and freezer stockpiles makes room for the food you cook in advance. Lastly, this frees up space for the glorious leftovers you are sure to have, as well as the booze you or your guests may be chilling. And while you’re at it, wipe down the fridge shelves and door pockets. You’ll be so happy every time you see it, and you won’t shriek when one of your guests opens it to slip in a bottle of bubbly.

2) Resist last-minute additions. If you have already planned, shopped, and begun prep, do NOT drop everything to make that gorgeous appetizer you saw on The Kitchn. Cool your jets. You have enough food and you are trying to be superhost. No one will give you a cape. I promise; I have tried.

3) Have a timed list. Kris has already taught us the importance of the timetable for knocking out a holiday dinner. It’s applicable for parties too, and you should include all the tasks necessary (cleaning, dishwashing, etc.). Also, make sure you work in a good 45 minutes of chill time for yourself before guests arrive so that you can be relaxed and ready to enjoy yourself.

4) Ask two people to bring ice and have a place to put it. Unless you have an industrial icemaker, you need this whether you think so or not. You will run out of ice. It is a fact of entertaining. Also, by asking two people, if one forgets -- you still have ice! Win!

5) You don’t have to be matchy-matchy. I have tons of mismatched glassware that I use for entertaining, and I picked up 18 white appetizer plates for 29 cents a pop at the grocery store last year after the holidays. I’ve used them for a baby shower, two spa parties, and a dessert buffet. Unlike the fine china, no one has to feel bad if one crashes to the floor. Look for deals like this, or thrift some cups and plates; just clean them well. Try to stick with one color to unify the look, or pick schemes that work with pieces you already have. You’ll come out close to the price of disposables and have something you can use again and again. Or, if space is a problem, donate them back.

6) Start early with cleaning and decorating. You can also get your servingware out and ready to go days in advance. It’s one less thing on the list and will help you feel collected and ahead of the game.

7) Decorate frugally and sparsely.

From Flickr's Elin B
Tealights are the best cheap decor. You can get a bag of 100 for under $5. Put them in colored glasses, ashtrays, in jellyjars on platters -- anywhere they won’t start a fire or damage what they sit on. Dim the lights, and let them flicker for ambience. Just don’t forget the matches.

Ribbon is multipurpose and thus handy for more than decor. Craft stores often have $0.99 spools of ribbon. Tie it to chandeliers and let long strands flutter. Put bows around vases and candleholders, and tie some ribbon around a mason jar to make a nice holder for a tealight..

Flowers are a nice touch, but not necessary. Shop for flowers late the night before if you’re not looking for something particular. Lots of grocery stores mark down gorgeous flowers to move them on out, and you can get great deals. Buy several bouquets and make groupings throughout the house if they are cheap enough. No vases? Pitchers, mason jars, and glass juice bottles can make great vases, or you can float the blooms in bowls of water.

Tablecloth, shmablecloth. Use an old (clean!) sheet or two to drape the table. For an upscale look, if you have some old pillowcases in a matching or complimentary color, rip the seams down the long sides and unfold them. Lay them crossways on the table for runners that double as placemats.

8) Don’t forget the music. ‘Nuff said.

9) Dress up the outside entryway with a ribbon or something to indicate to people who have never been that they are at the right place.

10. Enjoy your guests. Don’t constantly run back and forth to the kitchen or fuss too much with things. A party isn’t just for your guests; it’s for you, too.

~~~

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3 comments:

Autumn said...

To help make sure I get some relax time, I take a shower about an hour before the first person is expected to arrive. That way it forces me to get things done on time, and I get to refresh after being by the oven/stove (small kitchen) for hours before.

This lets the spouse do the final vacuuming and sweeping and garbage taking out while I'm primping. I'm even training him to take things out of the oven when the timer goes off for hot apps, but we are working on that skill. Sigh

aspiring recluse said...

word to not having matchy-matchy plates! i bought a giant set of awesome retro patterned china at goodwill years ago, and it has saved my ass countless times when i need a bunch of plates, more serving dishes, or something odd-sized or shaped (my cats eat out of the little sherbet dishes that came in the set, because they're fancy like that). PLUS, it's a million times better than buying a crapload of plastic or styro ware, even if it means more dishes down the line.

Dee Seiffer said...

Disclaimer: I get this is really over-the-top anal. But I am ADD and have a teflon brain.

When I throw big parties for holidays (and all 5 kids come home) or for all of those kids graduation parties (all of my relatives came from out-of-state), I use an Excel spreadsheet to plan to menus for the several days I will have a house full of people.

The first column is the day (thur, fri, sat), next column is the meal (I plan all three meals + snacks), the next column is the menu, next column ingredients, next column store where I like to purchase that item (Trader Joe's or Costco usually). Then I can sort by what day I need each ingredient and from what store. I can even give the shopping list to an accomplice since it is so complete.

I have been able to house and feed 15 people three meals a day, for three days using this system.

Told you it was crazy. And I have stacks of three sizes of plates for snacks, lunch and dinner, plus an extra set of silverware I bought really cheap on clearance at Christmas Tree Shop (and wine glasses).