“Home for the holidays” takes on more meaning than ever this year. “Right now, there is a big trend towards home parties,” said Karen Gorman, entertaining and design expert in Brooklyn and the Hamptons. “For years, events were out at venues. But even the chicest parties are now more intimate and in the home.” Gorman credits the recent home design craze for this development. “People are invested in their home style and want to show it off.” And with a little preparation, it’s easy to make a home holiday celebration—even an impromptu one—the event of the year. The key is minimal fuss and frenzy.
Gorman’s biggest piece of advice is to start with a party toolkit of basics that can take you from unprepared to almost ready. Key components include: one to two dozen simple votive candles, cocktail napkins, paper hand towels for the bathroom, several glass vases of varying sizes, lots of white and/or silver trays and small disposable bamboo plates.
Decorations don’t need to be over the top to make an impact. An elegant way to adorn serving tables and the bar area is to weave eucalyptus leaves or ivy around platters and bottles. “Add some simple candle light and the look is romantic and festive,” said Viva Max Kaley, NYC-based wedding planner and creator of Viva Max Weddings. “I love the look of just greenery and candles this year.” For a more rustic aesthetic, she recommended placing wooden boxes or slices of tree trunks under platters to give them a bit of height.
Gorman seconds the vote for greenery. “A wreath is a must. A faux boxwood wreath completely unadorned is chic.” Another fast-and- easy option is to arrange magnolia branches into a large glass vase, or display groups of different-size topiary trees with votives. Both of these can be found at local nurseries and last throughout the season.
Plan a Bountiful Buffet
More people than ever are suffering from food allergies, as well as adopting vegetarian lifestyles and alternative diets. The good news is the solution requires less work than a sit-down dinner. “Setting up a buffet allows guests to easily pick and choose what they are comfortable eating,” said Kaley. Be sure to place tented cards by the food display, so guests know their choices. “Signage gives them the confidence to have fun eating. It is also a great way to add a little style to the table. Decorated menus or little cards can add a lot of personality to the display.”
Kaley’s favorite options for a hearty, yet low-gluten buffet that pleases both vegetarians and meat eaters include: sliced local pork tenderloin with a sage and garlic glaze or an apple raisin chutney (served in its own dish and with its own serving utensils), roasted root vegetables with a little maple syrup, vegetarian pumpkin chili, quinoa and kale salad and dark-chocolate dipped fruit.
Consider Going Light
It’s perfectly acceptable, and sometimes even more fun, to offer only passed bites or a dessert bar. Just keep the timing of the party in mind. If guests will be coming straight from work, they are going to want more of a meal.
“Complicated food must be avoided at all costs,” said Gorman. Her go-tos? Precooked flavored sausage—it can be quickly heated in the oven, cut into bite size pieces served with an interesting mustard and a side of warm fig halves filled with goat cheese and drizzled with honey.
If the hors d’oeuvres route is chosen, Kaley recommended roasted beet hummus, white bean or romesco dip with vegetables, tapenades and pâtés with breads and rice crackers and Greek salad skewers of feta, cucumber, tomato and Kalamata olives. She also suggested supplementing with easy-to-grab snacks. “If you are going to serve only passed items, you might consider leaving filling, crunchy snacks out on display in case a few friends happen to be starving. Caramel popcorn, which won’t leave them with greasy fingers like cheese or buttery flavors will, and a spiced nut mix is probably enough.”
Toast a New Tradition
Champagne and eggnog have their place, but why not make this the year you shake things up at the bar? Kaley favors a hot apple cider buffet with bottles of whiskey and rum nearby. Offer garnishes such as cinnamon sticks, caramels, nutmeg and apple slices for variety. This will charm drinkers and designated drivers alike. Gorman is also a fan of themed drinks. It eliminates the need for a fully stocked bar, while still offering guests multiple options. She suggested choosing an international premise. A French theme could include a champagne bar and wines such as Côte du Rhône or Bordeaux, ingredients for a cocktail like the French 75 and Perrier for those who aren’t drinking. “Italy works well too. Serve Prosecco, Italian wine, San Pellegrino water and Peroni beer. Having a set bar theme will keep guests from looking for what you may not have,” Gorman said.
Word It Right
The invitation should inform guests what to expect. Kaley offered up phrasing for different scenarios.
Casual Cocktails and Passed Bites
Please join us for an evening of festive drinks and hors d’oeuvres as we celebrate the holiday season.
’Tis the season to be merry and sweet. Join us for desserts and bubbles as we toast to a wonderful holiday season.
Please join us for dinner and merriment as we celebrate the holidays.