On the Porch: Easier Entertaining
Anita Joyce, a purveyor of French farmhouse style and inimitable hospitality through cedarhill.com, offers her tried-and-true tips for making entertaining easier
My parents never hosted parties. (Maybe they needed my tips for easier entertaining? See below.) My mom was in college when I was in elementary school. Then she went to work, at a time when married women didn’t work. There were many benefits to her job, mostly financial including a second car, but there were also downsides.
We never hosted parties, and for an extrovert like me, that was a travesty. On the rare occasion we had dinner guests, there certainly weren’t enough people to call it a party. My dad would set out our only party accoutrement—a Lazy Susan candy dish. When dad started pouring M&M’s—plain and peanut—and cashews into the dish, we knew someone was coming. I hung around the living room for the candy, and then if kids were visiting, we took off for a more “relaxed” visit, which translated as rambunctious and rowdy.
Then I married into a more sophisticated family. My mother-in-law planned the board of visitors and board of regents dinners for a major hospital system in Houston. My father-in-law was a minister and a former seminary dean. Parties were a way of life for them. Here was a world of appetizers, crystal stems, fancy china, linen napkins and real silver. When I entered this world, I knew I never wanted to leave.
I paid close attention, soaked up everything I could, and soon I was hosting my own parties. I would host a party for just about any reason. You got a raise? Let’s have a party. New house? Party. Great week? Party. Nothing made me happier than throwing a big party—the more guests the better.
I spent weeks getting everything ready then I would literally cook and bake for a week beforehand. I didn’t mind the dishes that piled up later. I love dishes and enjoyed holding the dishes I only saw when we had parties.
One time I hosted a party for my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary. Because I needed so many dishes for the crowd, people asked if I borrowed from my in-laws. If they’d known the truth about me, they would’ve realized they were asking a silly question. I just smiled and said no. There was no need to borrow anything. I had hundreds of dishes, silverware and glasses at my disposal.
Now our life is so busy that we usually claim weekends for resting. We still entertain, but less frequently and more manageably. I often opt to serve dessert only or enjoy just one couple at a time. Now I often cater at least part of the meal.
If you want guests to feel special with minimal effort, here are some ideas for you.
START WITH COMFY CHAIRS
If you want guests to linger at the table, be sure your chairs are comfortable. If they don’t have cushions, think about adding them. My Parisian bistro looking chairs are very comfortable without cushions, so they work well.
The outdoors, with cooperating weather, is a great place to entertain because everyone loves being outside. (Well, my mother-in-law didn’t like being outdoors, so maybe not everyone, but most people. . .).
SELF-SERVICE DRINK BAR
Whether or not you’re serving adult beverages, guests don’t like to ask for a drink or a refill. If it’s self-serve, they’re not usually shy about helping themselves. I love to leave out limes, lemons or orange slices, so they can add them to sparkling water or other drinks.
PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME
As much as possible, I try to have all the cooking done before any guests arrive. I like it to appear effortless, even though it rarely is, because I want my guests to enjoy their visit, and I want to enjoy their company. If I’m in the kitchen most of the time, I won’t get to be part of the party.
GO WITH A SIMPLE MENU
I like for the tables to be beautiful, but I make the cooking as simple as possible. As a seasoned cook, I realize I can spend an entire day making something delicious or I can spend an hour making something equally delicious. Use your time wisely. Buying fantastic bread uses my time better than making it from scratch. I prefer fresh, local and simple over just about anything else. Simply prepared fresh fruits and vegetables make me happy.
USE REAL DISHES
I’ve had many wonderful meals on a paper plate. Your choice of dishware isn’t the most important thing about entertaining; paper plates don’t make an event a bad one—and sometimes they are the best option. For me, though, I prefer (and recommend) using real dishes when you can. It will make your guests feel special. Worried about breaking a plate? Then you’ll have a good excuse to buy more!
article and photos by Anita Joyce, cedarhillfarmhouse.com
Anita Joyce has a city house in Houston, country house near Shelby and a flair for French style. The former engineer is a wife and mother as well as a self-taught photographer, interior designer, blogger and on-line entrepreneur who founded cedarhillfarmhouse.com in 2011. Today that site alone has 80,000 unique visitors per year.
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