One of my New Year Resolutions is to have more parties and social gatherings. Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, cell phones… do they alone help us feel closer to each other or do they add clutter to our lives? Perhaps, as we all access these innovative ways to communicate and enhance our lives, we’ll crave even more those special face-to-face gatherings that parties provide. I know that I do, and I’m going to do something about it. To learn the ins and outs of putting on a great party, my first step was checking out OWL’s collection to get advice and ideas. So let’s get entertaining!
Kimberly Kennedy in her book, The Art and Craft of Entertaining, reminds us that parties are “about pleasure not perfection”. She advises the party-planner to not worry about being perfect or having a spotless house or the perfect decor. The point is for everyone to have a wonderful time enjoying each others’ company and in creating a memorable evening. As a hostess, she tells us to relax, have fun, and always be gracious. In her book, she provides a plethora of excellent advice and tips for entertaining. She first considers style by noting that, “Style is about expression, not imitation, and it’s not the same as fashion”. Once we have a sense of our style, this will guide us in how we develop our party plan. She recommends keeping a party planning journal where you jot down idea over time and then use it when it’s party planning time. Kennedy’s book is full of excellent tips and ideas from planning lists, seasonal flower choices, party favors to designing your own invitations. An excellent guide!
In The Party Planner by David Tutera, he provides especially helpful information on the atmosphere of the event. Tutera gives several examples of different parties including cocktail, formal dinner, outdoor, and holiday parties. For each selection, he divides party planning into five sections: the look, the scent, the touch, the taste, and the sound. He then ends each selection with a few additional helpful hints and tips. Tutera’s book expertly guides you to elegant entertaining and decor at its best.
If decorating the house and crafting special invitations sounds too daunting for you, don’t despair! Check out Block Parties and Poker Nights by Peggy Allen. Allen gives tips, lots of simple recipes, and excellent ideas for block parties, welcome gifts, poker and other game nights, and more. All of her advice is casual with little fuss. No decorating or special invitations required!
At Home with Michael Chiarello is predominately a cookbook but there are a couple pages of quick tips for entertaining at the end of the book. Chiarello advises us on our dining area, kitchen needs and equipment, cleaning tips and solutions, recipe scaling, and wine basics. His advice on scaling recipes for larger or smaller crowds is especially helpful.
Even if my husband and I aren’t entertaining guests, I still take delight in making our dinners special because there is nothing more important than the “social gathering” of your family! I particularly enjoyed browsing East Meets West Table Setting by Kuwako Takahashi. This enchanting book offers both elaborate as well as simple ideas for setting your table with style and beauty. Takahashi says that setting the table is “like choosing a dress for my food… it is a visual treat that embraces the guest the minute they enter the room”. Even if you don’t replicate her exact pairings, I felt Takahashi provided many beautiful and delightful concepts and ideas. The decorations were often simple household items that Takahashi made elegant and appealing like using autumn leaves or setting a table for two by the fireplace. Gorgeously illustrated, I hope you have as much fun looking at and being inspired by this book as I did.
Tablescapes: Setting the Table with Style by Kimberly Schlegel Whitman is a book for sophisticated dining. If you are an experienced party-planner and the idea of decorating for a dinner party of 100 sounds fun (rather than something that seems completely unimaginable) then this book is for you. This is essentially haute couture table setting! Not for the beginner.
If you’re ready to take entertaining to the next level, then check out A Guide to Napkin Folding by James Giner. Giner presents with clear instructions, graphs and photographs forty different napkin designs! Who would have imagined that there was forty different ways to fold a napkin? I’m not sure I’m ready for this but there was a fascinating history of napkin folding. Apparently napkin folding dates back to the 15th century!
For the person with creative skills, sending hand-made cards makes your party invitations particularly unique. For help with ideas for card-making, check out Artful Cards: 60 Fresh and Fabulous Designs by Katherine Duncan Aimone or Ultimate Cardmaking by Sarah Beaman. On the flip side, if you are a guest to a dinner party, a hand-made thank you note would be a thoughtful touch.
…and if you’re not sure about the menu, don’t forget that OWL has a marvelous collection of cookbooks including books specifically about party drinks, desserts, vegetarian, and more found in the 640’s.
So, turn off the computer and go call some friends over for coffee and dessert or afternoon tea or brunch or….
Ann Marie is the Library Director of the Oliver Wolcott Library.