Monday, December 9, 2013

Party Time -- What Size is Your Festive?

'Tis the season of parties . . . a round of gorgeous possibilities were featured in a By Invitation Only series recently, with magical scenes set for us to imagining dressing up and knocking on wreath-festooned doorways, hostess gifts in hand (Une Femme's party, especially, a wonderful place to end up on New Year's Eve). . .

Sadly, even in cyber-space, I'm not one of the cool kids, so No Invitation for me, but the week of blogged imaginary and/or remembered parties coincided with my resurrection of the Friday cinq à sept gatherings I've hosted for my on-island girlfriends. And I was so pleased with the results, the way a wee bit of easy hosting yielded an instant hit of festivity, that I thought I'd share the approach. I know it's a very busy time of year, but grabbing an hour or two to hang out with good women friends paid back crazily for me in terms of spirits and energy.

And all I did was:
-- send out a Facebook message to a fairly wide swath of on-island friends, then copied the message to a few who were out of that particular loop. I dug up contact info for a woman I've been wanting to know better and hoping to introduce to my other friends, and sent her a separate email.
[I stick to island friends because friends "from town" -- that is, friends who don't live on the island -- aren't likely to take the ferry over here on a Friday afternoon without some planning, more notice than I was giving. All my island friends live within a 20-minute walk from me]

-- added a few very simple items to my Errands list for the day, items that could be picked up at the grocery store for a no-fuss spread. I look for good crackers, one really special cheese, an assortment of olives (black, green, little, big, spiced, dried, etc.), the best ready-made hummus in the deli section, and a basket of fresh dates. I set out the snacks on the table in a variety of interesting plates and bowls, and I put out two pairs of candles in light-reflecting holders. Very little work but a festive effect

-- chose a good red and a good white from the wine rack and polished up some glasses

 -- baked this Ham and Olive savoury cake, but just because I wanted to. . . I've managed just fine with a no-cooking, no-baking menu for most of my earlier gatherings, but I've wanted to try this recipe for a while. Quick, easy, and we have lots of leftovers now for Pater to munch on.
 I hadn't realized how much batter the recipe made until I tried to fit it in my loaf pan. My last-minute solution involved grabbing and buttering the bottoms of four little ramekins which yielded yummy little individual loaves.






















Meanwhile, I swept the light skiff of snow off the walkway . . . (I love the way the moss is beginning to fill in the pattern . . . )






















And I opened the little box I'd picked up from my favourite French bakery/café in town






















to reveal a little surprise. . .  Just the day before, Sue's post on macarons had nudged me in this direction, but there was still a chance I might have resisted the treat had they not been so cunningly tricked out as little snowmen. Perfection, no? You couldn't have resisted either, right?

In the end, only three friends made it up the sidewalk to knock on my door, everyone else having some Friday commitment or other. I think three might be the lowest number I've hosted so far for these gatherings, but I enjoyed the small crowd as much as the more exuberant afternoons. A good friend came early as she knew she'd have to slip away for the afternoon's Event #2, but she stayed long enough that she was able to visit with my second and third guests. . . and those two stayed on for a really good long chat afterward, during which time Paul got home from his day and joined us for a glass of wine and snacks.

Keeping the shopping and prep list so simple means that leftovers are easily put back in the fridge and/or consumed over the weekend. Keeping expectations low means that if only one friend can make it, I feel fortunate to have her all to myself . . . Adding just a few simple touches -- besides lighting the candles, I plugged in a string of little coloured lights and fitted them into a large glass bowl on the counter, topped off by a few Christmas ornaments -- elevated the mood just enough.

I used to love hosting larger, more elaborate parties before I settled into this university gig, whose schedule frustrates any such ambitions. For years, in fact, my specialty was a big carolling party, with mulled wine, ice candles lighting the driveway, the tree decorated and wreaths and swags and floral arrangements, home-baked cheesecakes and the year's trendiest home-made appies. . . .I sometimes miss those parties, yes, but for now, at least, I'm taking Festive where I find it. And if I don't find it easily, then I'm making it, in small batches, when and where I can. Friday afternoons, for example, 5-7, right here. . . . want to come?

So tell me, are you throwing any big parties this holiday season? Or attending any? Or are you tailor-fitting parties to your circumstances? How many guests does it take to feel Festive, and can that happen at home or do you find the Party Spirit elsewhere?

30 comments:

  1. The best party I ever hosted was two years ago on my 50th birthday. The same day we finally got the keys to our new home. In the morning I sent out an email to about 40 people and told them to come over to the new house to celebrate my birthday and our new home. Lots of people showed up with chairs, wine, food. People made a circle of chairs in the our living room and talked and drank into the night. Very special time.

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    1. That sounds like a wonderful, wonderful day, Elizabeth! We so seldom get to enjoy this kind of impromptu event anymore -- how magical!

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  2. We are having a buffet dinner guest before Xmas. People will mingle and nibble appies then I will put all the food on the dining room table and the guests will find a seat somewhere on the main floor. Bench seats, Morris chairs and sofas will be full as we have such a tiny bungalow.
    Your recipe looks delicious and I might steal the light and bauble idea! Very festive indeed.

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    1. Crowded and casual with fabulous food (I know your hostessing skills will ensure that all is yummy!) . . . all the perfect ingredients! And you're very welcome to adopt my neighbour's idea -- it's delightfully easy and festive indeed!

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  3. Very quiet with us for Christmas but I am wondering accepting a friend's open house invite between Christmas and new year. I've really gotten out of the habit for going to and throwing parties since emigrating. I should start again. What time is that Friday ferry?

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    1. I don't have emigration as an excuse although sometimes I feel as if I've immigrated to a career world with a completely different Constitution. . . . and seriously, if you ever feel inclined to hop that ferry, I'll have a big glass of red poured.

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  4. Great ideas - and totally workable. That loaf looks particularly fantastic.

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  5. I just adore your blog! You are so honest and generous in sharing your feelings and I so relate being 62 with grandchildren and a loving husband who I enjoy being with everyday! Your lifestyle is so intriguing between your island and apartment. I can't help but wonder if you have any stores on your island or do you have to transport all your food from Vancouver? Do you have a medical facility or a pharmacy? Are there cars on your island? You certainly enjoy life and live it with such flair! Thanks for your blog!

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    1. Thank you -- you're too kind!
      Our island is really tiny, about a kilometre out, in the harbour of a city of about 80K. A floating pub, a private ferry (passenger-only, no cars). We bring all our food over "from town" and bring our own garbage back across. We do have a small volunteer-run museum and library, a fabulous volunteer fire department, and a community garden. There are cars, but many drive golf carts -- we obtained special permission to run them, licensed and insured, on the island's dirt roads (the perimeter road is about 4km. My husband and I have owned our place here for 21 years and have managed through that time with just bicycles and a wheelbarrow. . . .

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    2. Thank you for helping me understand how you live. My husband and I live on our boat in the summer so I believe our lifestyles are similar. I so enjoy that "getaway" feel from May until October but I need a place in the city for the winter to regroup and revisit civilization. There definitely is a commitment needed to achieve this unusual balance but it is so well worth it and I feel so fortunate. Thanks for your response!

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    3. We love the balance as well, but it's not for everyone as the logistics can be complicated. And you're very welcome -- thanks for commenting!

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    4. Thanks for the extra peek into your life on the island.

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  6. What a beautiful assortment of treats! I find people just don''t respond to Facebook invitations the same way as a posted (yikes, that dates me) one, or even the ubiquitous e-vite. So I am curious if you knew you would have but three guests, and if there were responses from the entire invited list.

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    1. There's no question that a mailed invitation heightens the occasion, particularly in the anticipation. And I'd probably do at least individual emails if I were planning more. But this is sort of a "rolling event" -- I'm trying to make it happen semi-regularly, with people dropping in whichever Friday they can manage (although I've been busy or away for 4 or 5 weeks now, so have lost continuity). In fact, I did hear back from everyone I invited -- two were away, one was celebrating her husband's birthday with him, one hoped to be finished meeting with a client in time to join us but didn't manage that. And to clarify, I used FB's IM function, just tapping into a list that's already set up for my island running buddies and then augmenting that.

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  7. Your Friday gatherings sound like a really fun and relaxed way to end the week and begin the weekend.
    We are planning a dinner party or two, but small - 6 - 8 guests - we both do better in smaller gatherings.
    That savory loaf sounds really delectable.

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    1. See, 6 to 8 guests for dinner sounds like a big deal to me. I'm impressed!

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  8. I love throwing parties but we have found that in the lead-up to Christmas we're competing with so many other events that it's not really worth trying. Instead, for about 11 years now we have hosted a Chilli Crab lunch in the week between Xmas and New Year. There are usually 14-16 adults and almost as many kids, we set up the marquee in the backyard and feast ... Start time is normally around 1pm, and we're often seeing the last of the guests out the door at about 9pm! Although there's a lot of prep involved for the Chilli Crab, I've mastered it (but cleaning 5kg of crabs first thing in the morning is still not my favourite thing!). We always have a simple starter (sorbet, chilled soup, etc) and a cold dessert (homemade ice cream or the like) so I get those done well in advance. It's one of my favourite days of the year.

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    1. I love, love, love this kind of tradition, and I wish I could do more (some? any?) of this. I'm always so impressed when you talk so casually about the entertaining you do on what seems to me a massive scale. There's just such a satisfying buzz that builds over an event like this -- quite different from the more intimate events, much as I enjoy the latter. . .

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  9. Hi Mater, your little get-together sounds perfect. We really haven't entertained at all at this house, apart from one buffet party for my husband's colleagues from across the country, when they came for a conference. However, when the children were younger, and we were in smaller communities in Alberta and Ontario, we did do a Christmas buffet party for a few years. That was a lot of fun. We will get back into entertaining when we move next year - we are probably going back to the Ottawa area.

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    1. By the way, fascinating to learn more about your little island!

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    2. It's interesting how the entertaining patterns change depending on ages and stages and living accommodations. Ours has been oddly lopsided what with our adult children all living in another city now. Lovely, but lopsided.
      Glad to hear you found the island talk interesting. . .

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  10. Well you're cool to me:).

    And I love get-togethers like that. I used to entertain so much. Then the divorce ended all that. Now I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, we will build up to it again. Might have to decamp to SF altogether though to make it happen.

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    1. Aw, thanks. But by my own nature, cool is just not achievable . . . ;-)
      As I commented above to Patricia, it's interesting to see the entertaining patterns change depending on our life passages. For me, it was the return to school, especially grad school, that pushed entertaining out of the way. Then work, which leaves little social energy. And now the pull in our kids' and grandkids' direction. But I've been finding little ways to add it back in, and I hope to build on that. I suspect you'll be doing the same, and then some!

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  11. Thanksgiving-to-Christmas is a difficult time for us to entertain. My husband is an academic and the term ends this week--his son typically comes in before Christmas, and we then travel to see my daughters and their families. I tend to throw one large gathering sometime in the fall. This year I hosted a salon built upon the theme of World War I literature. We had 30 people, live music, a simple supper (soup, 2 breads, 2 desserts)--and lively, provocative conversation.

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    1. Ah, so you know exactly the problem. We academics are not in the best position for Christmas anything, never mind entertaining. Smarter, like you, to put our entertaining eggs in a different basket (and even better if we can count on a spouse -- mine is a great cook and I think I might take more advantage of that for entertaining). Your party sounds like huge fun, and that supper sounds almost manageable (30?!!) since you wisely keep the menu simple.

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    2. Oh, I've entertained as many as 45 and did all the cooking and clean-up myself! This time I had a good friend who had flown in for the party; she helped out in the kitchen--AND I hired my youngest daughter and her husband (the only kids who stayed 'local') to serve and clean up. Boy, was it worth it!

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    3. Wow! That's a lot of cooking! What a good idea to hire some help, especially trusted family help.

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  12. We don't host nearly as many gatherings as we used to (or that I'd love to) due to the current challenges with jeune homme, but the gathering you've described above is my favorite kind! Not too much pressure, keeping things simple enough to actually be able to mingle, and not too much onerous scheduling or cleanup....I think I know what my first New Year's resolution is going to be...

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    1. It's been my conscious resolution over the last few months, trying to rebuild my social life in small, meaningful, workable ways. I'm pleased with the results so far. . .

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we?

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