It’s been another busy week around here and I feel like I’ve hardly been at home! We have reached the end of the first half term of the school year so the children and I have a week to re-charge our batteries and prepare for the madness of the Christmas term which is always a non-stop, full-steam-ahead sprint to the holidays.
One of our favourite things to do at this (and pretty much any other) time of year is to have people over. As the home-loving gal that I am, I have always loved having friends and family gather at our place to enjoy a nice meal and a little tipple (or two!) Since we had the children it obviously holds the added bonus of being an opportunity to have a fun evening with friends whilst not having to worry about getting a baby-sitter.
I am so lucky that my hubby is the chef in our house and he loves to cook for others and try out new, more exciting recipes that we wouldn’t be having in the day-to-day meal-prep frenzy that has to be squeezed in between ballet lessons, grocery shopping, swimming, school projects, housework and general tearing-around that has to be done on our weeknights. Over the years, we have made a few changes to the way we plan and prepare for these social gatherings that make things run more smoothly and (by and large) reduce the chances of a) burnt dinner b) being half dressed when guests arrive or c) a screaming row! So, here we go with my definitive top 10 tips for entertaining at home:
1. Get ahead with the housework
We have been using our Cleaning Schedule for a few months now and it works so well….when I’m on top of things. Of course there are days when all my best-laid plans go out the window and I fall behind with the housework but having a plan definitely helps me to tackle those little jobs as and when I have a spare 10 minutes without being overwhelmed.
In the weeks when I know we are having people over, I try extra hard to stick to the plan and get things done in the week leading up to the event so I don’t find myself rushing around on the day working up a hot-sweat to get the house together when I need to be doing other things. Generally, on the day itself, I just whizz around with the vacuum cleaner and that’s about it.
2. Ask ahead about food preferences or allergies
It’s always a good idea to get this info ahead of time so that you can plan your menu without having to re-jig things at the last minute to accommodate a food allergy or preference.
3. Team Up
My Mum always says ‘Many hands make light work’ and it’s so true. Splitting the workload in terms of food-prep and house-prep makes things so much easier. In our house, I usually make a dessert, get the house clean and tidy and get the kids to bed while hubby cooks the main course and dessert and walks the dog so she’s not bouncing off the walls while we have people here (though she usually does that anyway!) Generally, I will make the dessert either the day before or early in the day (since I’m home earlier). I often involve the children in our preparation too. They love to lay the table and make it look pretty, light candles and get involved with anything that delays the moment they have to go to bed!
4. Plan the meal prep
If you do everything possible in advance – either during the day or the night before – everything is so much easier on the night. From preparing the dessert to peeling and/or chopping vegetables to making a soup or sauce, whatever can be done before the evening will take pressure off on the night.
5. Clean up as you go
After all the effort of making your kitchen sparkle for your guests, the last thing you want is to create a disaster zone in the hour before they arrive. So, get the washing up bowl filled and ready and wash each item as you finish with it. Then it’s just a matter of putting things away and a quick wipe-down of the worktops and you’re ready to go.
6. Leave yourself time to get ready
Don’t forget to allow time to get yourself ready as well as the meal! There’s nothing worse than still being in your underwear when the doorbell goes! Cue sweaty red face and ‘dragged-through-a-hedge’ hair.
7. Remember – everything doesn’t have to be ready the second your guests walk through the door.
It’s easy to forget in the pre-dinner panic that people won’t want to sit down and start eating the second they walk through the door. If your meal is ready when your guests arrive, chances are, it will be overcooked or burnt when they are ready to eat. It’s often much less stressful to know that you have a bit of a window once your guests arrive and if one of you is pouring drinks and greeting people, the other can be dealing with the last minute meal preparation.
8. Serve a meal that is easy to eat
As a guest, it’s always preferable if you don’t have to mess around with your food too much. Lots of dishes on the table where people have to help themselves can be fun but it can also be awkward and can mean the food goes cold before everyone has had a chance to serve themselves. It’s probably best to keep such meals to small groups and go with something simpler for larger tables. It’s probably best to avoid meals that have a high likelihood of ending up in your friends’ laps too! Nothing more embarrassing than mustard on your chin when you’re in company darling!
9. Create the ambience
Create a playlist, light some candles, turn off the big lights and keep things relaxed. The last thing you want is your guests listening to one another eat or cutlery clattering against plates while they worry about waking the children. Try to relax, chatter, laugh loud and everyone will soon be following suit – just focus on the lie in you might get in the morning if the kiddo’s are a bit late going off to sleep!
10. Don’t take it too seriously.
If you are fretting about red wine getting on the table cloth or stressing that the vegetables aren’t perfectly ‘al dente’ or the meat too tough, your guests won’t relax either. There is nothing worse than going to someone’s home and feeling that you are putting them out or causing your host an episode of high blood pressure. Laugh at yourself, don’t worry if things aren’t perfect and just enjoy yourself – that’s what it’s all about after all!
Oh, and don’t forget to put the wine in the fridge!! Is anyone else entertaining this weekend? I hope you have a blast!
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