Tuesday, December 9, 2008
mailbag: how to stay out of the damn kitchen
Dear Lisa [intoned like a Dear Abby letter]:
I'm not sure the comments section of your blog is the appropriate place to ask, but I'm seeking guidance. I'm throwing a holiday party for probably about 25 guests--the first time I've had that many people over since red cups and a keg were the name of the game. So my question is this: When entertaining that many people for cocktails in your home, how do you manage to stay out of the kitchen the whole time? For a specific example: If you want to serve a fancy signature cocktail, how do you keep from mixing up new batches every 15 minutes, which would prohibit you from having any real conversations? I'm thinking a punch bowl full of egg nog, or some other single holiday-ish drink. Is this gauche? Plus of course lots of wine and other, easier things, and of course, lots of graze-able hors d'oeuvres and crudites all around the house as well. Anyway, what say you? Maybe this can inspire a post.
Fondly, Less Domestically Gifted Than You in Los Angeles
I feel your pain. When you're at home alone, the kitchen is like any other room of the house, meaning that you can enter and exit. But when you have people over, suddenly the kitchen develops an invisible dinner party-related force field that sucks you back in at every possible moment. Better go check on that cake in the oven twenty times. Someone ate two olives, you should go get more from the refrigerator. Napkins, anyone? Shoot, you forgot the festive coasters. Go search the entire kitchen for them. And then your party's halfway over and you haven't even really had a chance to sit down, let alone talk to everyone or try your own onion dip. Obviously, as a host, you want to make sure your guests are well-fed and socially lubricated, and the tools to achieve those things are usually in the kitchen. The trick is to get in and out as quickly as possible.
You're on the right track with a punchbowl. Punch is cool again, didn't you hear? If you want to serve a special cocktail in addition to a big-batch drink, set up all of your ingredients in a prominent area where people will congregate. Then, when someone inevitably asks you: "What can I do to help?" just hand them the cocktail shaker and your recipe. Everyone likes playing bartender, and it's a good way to get strangers talking. But choose wisely: you don't want hot buttered rum all over your carpet or someone who will pour weak drinks, or even worse, drink the entire bar themselves.
So drinks are solved. What about food? While it's impossible to stay out of the kitchen completely, you can definitely spend more time with your friends if you make food ahead of time. Have room temperature food plated before everyone arrives. A bowl of chips can sit out for a few hours, so get that kind of stuff out of the way first. If you're serving cold or hot food, do it in stages. Bring out the cold food first while the hot food is cooking, or vice-versa. Then you'll have a little time to hang out with everyone and eat in between. I used to put everything out all at once, buffet-style, but I've found that it's easier and more fun to bring out food in stages throughout the night. It makes things a little more exciting and I think people end up enjoying the food more because there is the constant surprise of not knowing what's next.
Your plan to place food throughout the house is great. The dinner party force-field effect also occurs in other areas of the house, causing people to congregate in small spaces like sheep in a pen. Spread the snacks around and you won't discover 20 people mingling in your hallway.
Tomorrow I'll post two recipes that might come in handy for your holiday shindig.
PS to everyone: I love letters! Send more my way.