If great comedians like Patton Oswalt had their way, people would stop spending so much money on birthdays. He puts forward a list of acceptable birthdays to celebrate (found on his Werewolves and Lollipops CD) and non-milestone birthdays for adults did not make the cut. Well, I completely reject this list* and shamelessly celebrate my birthday every year with a generous party.
Not only do I celebrate my non-milestone adult birthdays with a party but I always add in the controversial element of a theme. People tend to groan at the idea of a theme party and I can understand why. We’re adults and we do not need too much direction to have fun. However, as a hostess I find a theme gives structure to my planning and as the celebrant, I simply enjoy the silliness.
Fortunately, my friends indulge my nonsense and give me the room to be the ham I often like to be. I think their accommodation is due in large part to the fact that while I like a theme, I tend to limit my plans to those that guests will notice but that will not require them to do anything special themselves. That means that my theme elements are included in invitations, the menu, and the décor but nothing close to compelling them to dress up or play games.**
This year, the theme for my birthday was, “Christmas in July!” I thought of it a while back when I was trying to find an excuse to get Andrew to make more food that included summer savory. It is one of my favourite herbs but he finds it utterly underwhelmning. It hardly ever gets used outside of holiday time and I am not patient enough to wait until December to enjoy it so I made my plug. When Andrew came up with the idea of putting it into turkey burgers with a cranberry something-or-other on top, the xmas theme emerged.
The invitations for this party were ridiculous, as most of my birthday invitations are. I drafted a series of letters to Santa and I answered them on his behalf, working in the details of the party. Last year I sent out a detailed script of two people having a conversation (about “Fajita Fiesta!”) and the previous year was a list of formal Frequently Asked Questions (about “Grilled Feast!”). The invitation is always sent as a 1-2 page email, so it is short enough that people will read through but long enough for me to amuse myself. I don’t use mailed invitations for this casual summer BBQ party. I also don’t use online invitation sites because the number of recipients is usually under 20 so the volume of messages is easy enough to manage myself.
We chose to hold the party on a Sunday this year. We did it last year due to a tight summer schedule and happened to find it worked well. People who had other typical summer plans like Saturday afternoon weddings or visits to cottages tended to be in town late in the day on a Sunday so we had a decent turnout. It also gave us a day to do the cooking and other party prep without having to take a day off work or be up too late the night before. This year’s party had a lower turnout but that’s just the way it goes with summer parties; people are often out of town.
I have started to get in the habit of putting out some sort of marker on our door when we host a party. Not only is it festive, but it helps people find our townhouse easily in a row of identicals. Last year I made myself a feather wreath that was suitable to leave up through winter. The white feather wreath was surprisingly suitable for a summer party, much more so than a heavy pine wreath would have been.
The décor for the party was fairly simple but it definitely said, “Xmas in July.” I did a great little craft I found on The Daily Digi for the centrepiece (see photo below).
It couldn’t have been easier. Bunch up strips of tissue paper and attach them to a foam cone with colourful pins. No measuring is required (although if you are looking for a reason to measure, you could make the strips of tissue uniform. I used my finger width as a general guide.).
To finish them off, I cut and hot glued green felt to the bottom but that is optional. I made two small trees and two taller trees and they looked great. I have tucked them away to have nice holiday table accents when we host family in December.
My stepson also helped by making us some paper snowflakes. We put them up on the walls, hoping to help us forget the 30C (85F) temperatures outside.
For these parties, we always opt for buffet service. For a pop-in event, it doesn’t make sense to plan a sit-down dinner or to limit things based on the time people arrive. It also helps people be a little fussy or timid about our different concoctions.
As for the menu, Andrew prepared a great summer version of a Christmas dinner. Here was the offering:
- turkey sliders with choice of topping: cranberry-orange relish, bacon apple butter, or spiced ketchup (regular ketchup with a splash of hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce)
- fried potato cakes
- ‘stuffing bites’ Admittedly, these were brilliant. Andrew mixed up some dressing and we let it sit overnight in a plastic bag in the fridge to get cold and damp. I then pressed it in mini-muffin tins and baked it off at 325 until toasted brown. We served these at room temperature with a meaty dip (see next item).
- We wanted to make a gravy-style ‘dip’ for the stuffing bites but didn’t want to make gravy as we hadn’t roasted a bird and it is somewhat unappetizing when it isn’t hot so Andrew made a brilliant (and tasty!!) dipping sauce that was basically a reduction of turkey stock we had in our freezer. It worked out perfectly and was an ideal complement to the stuffing.
- a tray of vegetables. We had originally toyed with blanching brussels sprout leaves and making a salad with them but while they are one of my favourite vegetables, they aren’t for everyone so instead, we went with a simple cold vegetable tray but picked items in theme-friendly colours (red and green peppers, cherry tomatoes and white button mushrooms). It was a summer party after all so we decided to save the heartier vegetables for colder days.
- for drinks, we had a cooler of assorted beers but we made up a cooler jug of cold, spiced apple cider and let people serve themselves. Next to the cooler was a bottle of rum so guests could spike their own as they saw fit.
- pre-mixed mulling spices are not always available in the summer but my stepson (who is always a great help!) made up a great little pouch of spices (anise, cloves, cardamom, allspice and a few cinnamon sticks) and tossed it into the plain, cold apple cider overnight and the resulting drink was refreshing and delicious! Note that we reserved a couple of cups of cider and froze it in a plastic storage container to add in as an ice cube to keep the drink cold.
- pumpkin pie squares – A few years ago, my friend, Jackie, made up a cookbook of collected recipes from family and friends and gave us all a copy. In that book was a great recipe for pumpkin squares. I have made these a few times, including versions with substitutes for the cream and for the flour and so far, it is a forgiving and consistent recipe. It also lets people have a “little bite of pie” rather than a whole slice and it lets pepole eat with their fingers, which is convenient for a BBQ.
- xmas sweets – As I always like candy on my buffet table, I put out a few glasses of peppermint sticks and other seasonal treats like cheap chocolate macaroons and licorice.
It was a fun theme to carry out and it was a good time.
* Although I do find it pretty funny and encourage you to check out his comedy.
** Truth be told, I would do those if the group were up for it.
I have come to appreciate that when away on holiday long enough, what I eventually long for is a sense of home. I don’t mean a pile of mail in the box or marketing calls. I don’t even necessarily mean loved ones or a full return home. What I mean are those elusive concepts like familiarity, privacy and comfort. Luxury hotels understand this very well and that is why they offer you conveniences like toiletries, a comfy bed, and food available at all hours. They want you to feel as though you have everything you need to be comfortable with minimal effort.
This came to mind recently when we were hosting Christine and Kevin. They live out east and only come this way a couple of times per year. When they do, they have a fair bit of driving and visiting on their agenda and by the time they get to our house they are usually on the last leg of their journey and are tired, missing their pets, and just about ready to be home.
Before they arrived for their visit, I wanted to make a point of doing something for them as a little treat. They are always so generous with us and I wanted to reciprocate in some nominal way with a gesture.
I once marveled at how Ina Garten (a.k.a. The Barefoot Contessa) set up a guest room on one of her shows and I remember thinking how nice it would be to stay at her house. She had made the most beautiful bed in a charming room but then she put out a selection of perfumes on a pretty little tray. I don’t have great linens, or a huge room overlooking a lovely garden, nor do I have a stash of perfumes. I do, however, have a desire to make guests in my home comfortable. So, with that in mind I grabbed one of the baskets I had on hand (note to self: write post in future about my gift stash) and went to work filling it up as a welcome basket!
In the past, I have just set out a mini-collection of toiletries in the guest bathroom such as a new toothbrush and toothpaste, a hairbrush, a hair dryer and extra wash cloths. In this case, however, I wanted to put out a few things that would be suitable for guests at the end of a series of visits, like snacks for different kinds of cravings and items to read should they want to hide away for an hour or two, or be slow to surface in the morning. I also knew that they had a day and a half of driving ahead of them so I included some items suitable to a road trip. This particular basket included:
- Book of puzzles (along with a pen!)
- Earplugs (our cat is a little chirpy, which is adorable in the daytime, less so through the night)
- Eye drops (for guests with allergies or who read a lot)
- Sleep mask
- Hard candies, and gum
- Travel-sized toiletries
- Snacks like nuts and chocolate
It was fun putting the collection of goodies together. I included a little note card, stating, ”Just a few things to make your stay more comfortable.” The purpose was of course to make them feel welcome but also to clarify that these items were not left there by accident and were for their use and enjoyment. Best to be upfront and put out some key information to avoid awkward questions and conversations.
You can tailor your own welcome basket as you wish. I can imagine in the future, particularly for guests staying a number of days, we may want to carve out a little section in the fridge and fill it with:
- Bottles of water and/or the guests’ favourite drinks
- Fruit and vegetables suitable to a quick snack
- Individual snack cheeses
- Sandwiches, ready as an easy lunch or to take along on day trips
You could also set up a little reading nook and fill a magazine rack with a variety of magazines or coffee table books for them to browse through. Or, you could assign them ‘their mug’ and put out specialty teas and coffees with fancy sugars or biscotti. If you had the right kind of company (or if you ever hosted me!) you could put out a nice glass and a selection of ports or dessert wines. There are many great options for a welcome basket. Just think of what makes a nice moment for you at home and try to replicate that (or top it!) for your guests.
I truly enjoyed the party we threw last Saturday night (so much so that it has taken me until now to regain enough energy to write about it!).
Being able to enjoy one’s own party requires proper planning. I will say that we were partly there. The clever menu allowed us to prepare most items the weekend before. That freed me up to work on other aspects of the party, such as table decor, baked goods and service items but here’s a tip: don’t underestimate how long these items can take. Do not wait until the day of your party to realize that the tablecloth you just bought is the wrong size, leaving you to wash a blanket to sub in at the last minute (it was a winter party so maybe I got away with the blanket as a seemingly deliberate aesthetic choice).
Also, do not wait and figure out service items the morning of a party. I usually pre-arrange service pieces on the table but this time I neglected to do that and had to do a last minute run to the store for additional spreading knives.
The table decor suited the winter theme. I had borrowed a few snowflake trivets from my mother after xmas. I didn’t serve anything hot at the party but they had a lot of impact on the table as they were and being metal, they caught the candlelight well. Two days before the party I bought white carnations and blue hydrangeas from the grocery store in a mix-and-match bouquet deal. I cut the stems way down and displayed them in a glass salad bowl. I am not skilled at arranging flowers but figure that most are pretty enough without extra fuss. Nature’s cool that way.
We also mostly went for a white food theme. We weren’t strict about it but our white/light green vegetable platter served with Andrew’s delicious home-made aioli supported the theme and gave us a reason to sneak in a few less traditional items. The platter included endive, cucumber, fennel, white asparagus, cauliflower, mushrooms and green onions. The only vegetable left at the end of the night was the onion and I will leave it out entirely the next time. Who wants onion breath at a cocktail party? We should have thought of that.
I made my first batch of crackers ever and it was a fair bit of work. It was not hard, but it was definitely time-consuming to roll the dough out thin enough to bake up crispy. Until I improve my technique or find a different recipe I like I won’t recommend it but I am sure that with a little more practice it could turn out to be a solid addition, particularly for an event that doesn’t involve too many other items. I had meant to hold back a few crackers to test out how long they would stay crispy so I could know how soon in advance I could make them but I forgot so that will have to wait for the next time.
You will notice in the photos that I labeled the food items. I purchased from Michael’s craft store a page of scrapbooking paper that had a series of frames on it. Once cut out, they made cute little labels. For less than $1 I got a nice look on my table and a way to save us from having to explain each item all night.
In addition to the white vegetables, we also put out some canary melon balls with mint. The melon offered a touch of freshness to balance out the otherwise rich, pantry-safe meal. I thank my wonderful stepson, Harry, for scooping out the melon. If it had been left to me, I’d have just cut the melon in cubes but the ball shape is much easier to eat from a mini-skewer and shows a little more attention to detail.
With a few exceptions of fresh items, our theme was spreadable items that looked like winter stores. For the dessert, we kept with that theme. Andrew made a berry spread a week in advance, along with some dulce de leche. Both of those were delicious (note for next time: warm up the dulce de leche to make it easier to spread). I made round cookies to use as a sweet base for those spreads rather than crackers and they worked out perfectly. I had a failed attempt at making other spice cookies that morning and so I looked to Andrew’s grandmother’s pineapple sandwich cookie recipe for a reliable shortening-based dough I knew would keep its shape when baked and be a decent vehicle for sweet spreads. I added some nutmeg to the cookies to make them a little more interesting and I must say that they worked out so well that they have emerged as a new go-to recipe for me.
As I mentioned in a previous post, one of my entertaining quirks is that I always like to put out some kind of candy at a party. People tend to pick at a dish of candy throughout the night and it keeps a table from seeming too formal. I also happen to personally like candy and it gives me a reason to buy some as a treat. For this winter party, I found some round Scotch mints (which to me looked like little snowballs when stacked in stemless martini glasses) and some white chocolate-filled milk chocolate truffles that I only picked because their nice blue foil packaging caught my eye.
All in all, we had some solid ideas to make a meal of preserved items serve up well for an evening cocktail party. One pleasant surprise with the jarred food was that it made clean-up super easy. 30 minutes after people left we had most of the work done. It may not be what you want to do at 1:00am but the following day, it is sure nice not to have to wake up and deal with crusty dishes.
Despite a lot of planning I left too much to do the day of the party. I will go back to my approach of pre-setting the table to ensure I have everything I need a day or two in advance to save a last minute trip to the store or strange fussing about. This lesson will not be applied for a while, however. That is our last big party until July. Our focus this spring will be dinner parties with mixed couples. We will explore dinner planning for 6 and considerations for manageable weeknight entertaining.
Future posts will also include other things we learned from this party, such as go-to service pieces and the helpfulness of my new stand mixer.
Mark the Winter Party 2012 a success. 15 people came out despite wintery conditions for a night of food, drink and conversation. The menu we planned provided us the freedom not to fuss with anything once the party started, which was our main goal. Despite a few hosting live-and-learn items, once people arrived all we had to do was keep drinks filled and enjoy the company of our friends, which we did. It was a wonderful evening with delightful company.
In an effort to reduce the stress of a friend partially confined to bed-rest this holiday, we prepared a bit of a mini-pantry to help them through their entertaining.
I have long said that one of the keys to low-stress entertaining (especially of last-minute guests at the time of year when many stores are closed), is to keep a good pantry. We filled a basket with a number of versatile items to get our friends through at least a few family pop-ins.
Here is what went into the holiday hamper and the thinking behind each item:
- Summer sausage: For appetizer-style service.
- Sage Derby cheese: For appetizer-style service, and with its great green rind automatically feels festive.
- Assortment of crackers and crostini: For appetizer-style service.
- Bruschetta topping: Good for appetizers on the crostini.
- Bag of popcorn and a bag of low-sodium natural chips: Good to put out for family members who pop in with their kids.
- Pineapple juice: Good for kids, but also good for an adult cocktail mixed with vodka or gin and soda water.
- Sparkling grape juice: A good offering for family members who are not drinking, or for kids (you have to know your crowd and I know they sometimes struggle with having child-friendly items at the ready).
- Frozen mini-dessert selection: Perfect to pull out at the last minute in the quantity you need without having to thaw (and store) a whole dessert.
Those are the basics. That selection should allow them to have 1-3 visits with plenty of food and drink. The only cooking required would be afterwards to turn those items into other meals and we thought of that as well.
The meat and cheese can go with eggs for a nice, rich seasonal big breakfast. The bruschetta topping is one that was cooked so it can easily be tossed with some gourmet pasta (also included in the hamper) for a quick supper. The juices and snacks will keep fine on a shelf so do not have to be eaten right away. The key with this basket of goodies was to have things that would serve up with little effort but that would keep well should no one come by.
If you do not feel prepared for unexpected company, consider keeping on hand a few of these flexible ingredients that can easily be stored but that can also be turned into a variety of meals later.
Instead of entertaining this weekend, we let others do the entertaining.
Friday night and Saturday morning we prepared food to help a friend put on a party with 25 of her in-laws. It was a lot of fun but while I was listening to Andrew’s classic post-mortem of the cooking process, a clear division emerged in my mind between preparing food and hosting a party.
Cooking involves throwing yourself into creating something and offering it up to other people to take in and experience. Hosting, however, involves continually responding to people and supporting their experience throughout the event.
As little helpers to the in-law party, we played a minor part in hosting that event. I didn’t get to see people arrive, chat with them about their lives, connect conversations and all those other items I enjoy about having a crowd over.
If cooking food for someone else’s party is like being a party surrogate, then being a guest at a lavish dinner party is like being the revered child.
Saturday night, friends of ours spoiled us with a scrumptious four-course dinner that included wine pairings for each course. The evening was filled with wonderful little touches like setting the living room furniture close together for a cozier setting over appetizers and decorative hurricane lamps offering sparkly candlelight.
Any dinner at this couple’s house will include great music. They had loaded up some great albums for us to enjoy over cocktails but then a different selection for dinner and afterwards. The music is always just right and they were thoughtful enough to play music we spoke about the last time we got together (the fantastic Allison Krauss/Robert Plant collaboration Raising Sand).
One other thing that stood out for me about the night was the deliberate slow pacing of the courses 30+ minutes apart. If I had heard of this idea in advance, I might have been skeptical. I might have feared it would make the night drag but it had the surprisingly opposite result. Their approach made the night feel like it had constant movement since we talked steadily and their trips to the kitchen were so far apart that they seemed to have minimal impact. As a slow eater, I particularly appreciated not feeling rushed through my meal and from a food appreciation perspective, it allowed me to enjoy the wine pairings to a degree I hadn’t done before.
It was a weekend with a real change of pace for us in a number of ways, doing no entertaining ourselves but it gave me a new perspective and understanding of what I like about dinner party details.
This is the start of a series I will write on how to entertain on a budget, including cheap eats.
Not every good meal requires truffle oil, saffron and a wedge of aged Mimolette (but given the means, I might demand it). You can make some tasty vittles with very little monetary investment. Sometimes to balance the budget but sometimes just because he likes a challenge, I will ask Andrew to make a really cheap meal. Like, REALLY cheap.
First, allow me to vent about shows that tell you that you can make a meal for four out of $10 of groceries but then go on to tell you that half of the groceries were bought in-season at the end of the day at a farmer’s market and the rest were in the pantry, including wine, spices, and fresh herbs. Well, I am not sure if the pantry fairies haven’t yet found my neighbourhood but the wine, spices and herbs in my cupboard cost me money at one point and I live in a climate with limited growing season so I cannot rely on ready access to discounted bell peppers and field berries.
Instead, I rely on items that are inexpensive all the time and balance them with other ingredients that I try to buy on sale. The key then to making them fit for company is presentation.
Case in point: baked beans.
I happen to love baked beans more than the average person and left to my own devices would have beans and toast for dinner more than I care to admit. I think it probably comes from the family picnics and potlucks I would attend as a kid. Someone always brought a crock pot of pork and beans and I suppose I never got over the appeal.
But just because a dish is inexpensive and typically uninspired does not mean it can’t be a wonderful feature on the table to serve to company. In a culture where people have many instant dinners or go to extreme lengths to display cooking skills like they are passing some contest, I find that what people really miss and so appreciate, is a simple, homey meal made from scratch. I know that in my circles, this is the exceptional meal in people’s lives and so why not capitalize on that and get more bang for your buck rather than offering fine dining found in restaurants?
The photo above shows an example of how attention to detail in the presentation can turn a frugal home-style dish into an impressive centrepiece. Carefully laying the bacon in a nice pattern on the top of the dish allows for even fat distribution and caramelizing of the meat but also makes bacon-lovers like me dream of fields of bacon flowers (pause while I dream a little longer of fields of bacon flowers…).
Add some home-made jalapeno corn bread or some home-made pita chips or if you have to… a bag of Fritos and this can be served as a game-time treat for sports fans (note to Andrew: Make Michelle some beans for Super Bowl XLVI) or as a nice weekend lunch. Pairing is part of the presentation and sometimes attention to drinks like a good mix of beers can make the meal seem more special.
Guests do not care about your grocery bill but you sure might, especially if you entertain often. It may go over the catchy $10 mark but it will still keep you on budget.
This particular meal cost us:
$3 worth of organic navy beans, a $3 package of bacon (on sale, usually $6) plus roughly $6 of other ingredients (can of tomatoes, spices, maple syrup).
Total: $12 and we had two meals out of it for three of us.
Be our guest (goddamnit!).
When I invite people to my home, I want them to feel like guests. That means no work on their part other than showing up and having a good time.
I could have stopped there since that is basically what it comes down to for me but since I sometimes consider more than only that, I continue…
Oh, I’m fine; I can have one of these buns and besides, I had a big lunch today.
When Andrew and I plan meals, we like to take into account allergies/aversions/restrictions/preferences of our guests and every dish is planned with the particular attendees in mind. It would seem too fussy and imposing for me to ask that my guests then do the same, particularly if they do not know everyone else all that well. As a general rule, I like to host the kind of event I would want to attend and I would not want to receive a list of things to avoid in my cooking if I were already doing the cooking for the host.
Huh—I never thought of putting those things together before… that’s different.
For a brunch, we like to offer a full palette balanced with breakfast and lunch items, both sweet and savoury. Even if everyone you invite is capable of, and more importantly, interested in making something delicious for the meal, the quality of the meal is dependent on what people choose to make. Last-minute make-shifts and substitutions are classic and it can all go bad pretty fast. Not that it’s all about the food but if it weren’t even a little about the food, we’d meet up after lunch.
Typically, the host of the potluck makes the main/fussier dish and the others bring side elements. Since the items I like to make (baked goods, desserts, and treats) are the sides, I wouldn’t get to make as many of the things I enjoy most. It would just be Andrew’s food out there, which is of course delicious but not as much fun for me (hosts should be able to enjoy the party, too, should they not?).
I don’t like firm RSVPs for a casual adult event. I like allowing people to skip it at the last minute if they decide to sleep in longer or simply do something else that day without feeling the guilt of not bringing an essential brunch item.
Who wants to bring the plastic forks?
By the time I have sorted out the guest list and coordinated a time for everyone to get together in the first place, trying to figure out who is bringing which dish adds a layer of planning that just does not interest me. Depending on volunteers to start things off and then trying to come up with something for the last person on the list to bring when really, they don’t need to bring anything is just lame. “Maybe you could bring a third kind of salad; that might be nice.” Balls!
Unless it’s for a practical reason, like when you’re hosting a very large, multi-family event (over 25 people) or deliberately for the fun of a potluck to try new things, I don’t see the appeal. There is always too much food, of different styles, in containers that don’t go together, brought at different times, catering to different tastes, with ill-equipped service instruments since we only have one slotted spoon and already used it for the bean salad. Basically, potluck brunches can be a bit of a mess and while probably unfair, I do tend to consider them a cheap hosting cop-out. In sum: Sucks to your potluck brunch! (but thanks for the comment Colleen—do keep them coming!)
* My thoughts on ATTENDING potluck brunches would differ greatly from these comments.
When we bought our house, it came with nearly new appliances. It was such a treat, saving us from taking yet another dreaded trip to the home store to buy something for the new place. Well, it only took one big party for me to hate my fridge. I would trade that hunk of side-by-side frustrations in a heartbeat for the basic white fridge with little freezer on top I had in my crappy downtown apartment before I moved to the ‘burbs.
Sure, it keeps food cold so on a basic level, it is sufficient and does what it has to do. It is also visually appealing. It is stainless steel and has glass shelves and so on but I dare say I find myself disappointed by the fact that it is a name-brand appliance, thus unlikely to give me mechanical justification for replacing it in the next 15 years. Boo, hiss.
Why do I hate my fridge? I will tell you. My main issue is that a basic side-by-side fridge is not conducive to hosting a party unless you are serving piles of pickles and popsicles. Allow me to explain…
Issues with Side A: The Fridge
Things need to be stacked or they need to fit in the doors because there is simply less space. Good luck fitting in a dessert that needs to chill, or a platter of fruit. One time I wanted to try Nigella Lawson’s individual white chocolate peppermint mousse shots but then came to the realization that I didn’t have a good space to put a tray of shot glasses in my fridge when full of holiday provisions [moment of pause as I daydream about a tray of shot glasses in my fridge…]. If I remember correctly, I believe I made custard instead and chilled it in a stackable container to serve in bowls later. Pathetic.
Larger items get put on the main shelf in the fridge but that is also where the drinks need to go so that is a source of frustration. I have actually put food in a pan, put a cutting board on top of it and stacked drinks or other large items on it. Sure, it can work but it’s uncivilized and is not feasible for a meringue-topped pie or items in different sized containers. It’s just a pain. Oh, and after a few people show up with bottles of white wine or beer, the shelves in the main part AND on the door are full. Forget keeping water cold or a pre-mixed bowl of whipping cream; none of that is happening without putting out other items onto the counter. Did I mention I hate my fridge?
Issues with Side B: The Freezer
I do not understand why anyone needs so much freezer storage in the kitchen, particularly those who entertain often. Kitchen freezer storage needs for entertaining should be limited to ice, vodka and/or gin, quick-chilling of some other beverage and maybe frozen bits and pieces like appetizers or ice cream.
For a party, you should require more space in the fridge than in the freezer. You will be serving things like cheese, meat, fruit and vegetables and drinks. All of these items need to be chilled, not frozen, and most often served fresh so having a freezer of that size is a waste. Even if you do want to quick chill something, you will need room if it is enough for company and the shelves in Side B are simply too narrow for anything over 8” wide… good for a pie, insufficient for quick-chilling a large tray of truffles or hand-made appetizers.
So what would make me happy? While I know this is not the trend, I daydream about an extra wide fridge with next to no drawer space (I find they are not necessary for vegetable storage and simply constrain the shape and size of what goes in them) and a few extra shelves to be able to set up a few layers of shallow spaces for storage of platters and plates. My dream kitchen would be large enough to have a stand-up freezer in it, also with plenty of adjustable shelves for freezing individual things I [read: Andrew] made. However, if I had to have it all in one appliance, I would opt for a freezer on top that had shelves instead of a freezer on the bottom that was just a drawer. *sigh* Maybe in the next house.
Addressing the issue of letting guests help is classic. Hosts have a range of reasons for not liking help in the kitchen. Some don’t like how other people load their dishwasher. Some do not like having to explain where to find things. Others simply feel bad making company work. I do not fall in any of these categories. I happen to like giving guests a task. It immediately pulls them into the fold and shows that their presence has an impact and makes the event more personal.
That said, I recognize that not all guests who offer help really want to get into the thick of things and from a practical perspective, our kitchen does not accommodate several people crossing paths with breakable things in hand.
My solution: Plan a simple task, away from the main cooking area that a guest can do. For company I do not want to burden with too much work, I will ask them to collect drink orders. I will get the drinks and at most, have a guest pass them out. In order to accommodate (or take advantage of?) those who like to help or for those rare guests who are not good at sitting still, or particularly for first-time guests I will deliberately leave a chore undone to assign. My favourite of these is setting the table. I will put all of the plates and cutlery on the table in piles and ask them to put them around or I will have them fold and put napkins around. These are easy tasks that do not fill the kitchen with extra bodies and yet keep them busy and legitimately cut down my ‘to do’ list.
Once the meal is over, I try to discourage guests from doing chores to send the message that having them in does not cause a lot of work. However, if my guests insist on helping with the clean-up, I will have them put away leftovers. Again, to avoid having them in the valuable workspace in the kitchen, I will set a range of sizes of containers out on the counter to save us tripping over one another. Note that never I allow guests to take on the Mensa-worthy puzzle of fitting the containers in my messy fridge. That is for permanent residents only.
Never be afraid to involve guests in your entertainment plans. Company is often happy to pitch in and you can find little ways to have them be a true help to you yet not taking away from making them feel like company. Depending on the case, it can help ease your workload and help to set a collaborative, homey feel.