August Post stirs chili in his kitchen in preparation for a small chili party Thursday evening at his Gastonia home. Post is a great party giver who was event director for Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren.
Entertaining drives some of us to do crazy things. We want our lives to have the glossy shine of life in a magazine. But when we look at all the stress and work, we can end up thinking, “Why bother?”
It doesn’t have to be that way. There are people who entertain and enjoy themselves while they do it.
Consider the case of August Post. A former event director of Martha Stewart’s organization, Mr. Post once spent hours creating a Christmas party decoration by taking apart his entire chandelier, then putting it back together with a cranberry replacing every other piece of glass.
It took hours. It looked amazing.
“I’m not sure,” he admits today, “if that was a decoration or a cry for help.”
Fall and winter are the heart of the entertaining season. We’re not scattered all over on vacations, and the calendar is full of opportunities to throw a party. Decorating our houses even helps to keep winter gloom away.
The trick to it is to skip the stress and go straight to the fun.
Shauna McFeeley of Charlotte chose her house to have a good flow for parties.
“I wanted to have the house where everyone goes,” she says. “Most of my friends don’t cook, and I love to cook. My gift to share is my cooking.”
Ms. McFeeley spoke just a week before hosting a cocktail party for 70 for a Juvenile Diabetes Foundation fund-raiser. And she didn’t even sound panicky. This time, she was using a caterer, but she’s done all the cooking herself for up to 100 people.
It’s just a matter of breaking the work down into steps and then putting it together a little at a time, she says.
“The whole point,” she says, “is to have people over and enjoy them.”
Kathy Rowan keeps her parties on ice: She makes things like rolled spanakopita that she can stash in the freezer so she can have friends and co-workers over at the last minute. A public relations consultant with her own company, she’s always inviting over co-workers and friends. She even invites people who own rival PR firms, for “wine and whine” gatherings.
“I’m one of those throw-it-together people,” she says. “It’s basically, ‘come over.’ ... It’s really about the people.”
Susan Triantafyllides of Charlotte married into an entertaining tradition: She’s not Greek, but her husband is.
“My mother-in-law is a huge entertainer — I’ve learned a lot from her. She’s not intimidated at all. Her cooking is much more elaborate, the first course and all that. I’m like, ‘courses?’
“Typically, I like to choose recipes that can be made ahead of time, so when my friends arrive, I can visit with them. That makes me more relaxed. Try to be a guest at your own party.”
Ms. Triantafyllides likes to look for a special touch for every party. For an Octoberfest party, she had a friend’s father come over and play his accordion. “It was so great — it was different.”
Mr. Post has people over several times a year or more, but it doesn’t have to be complicated, he says. On a recent Thursday night, he was having friends over for chili.
“For somebody who just wants to get into entertaining, it’s so easy. It’s just chili and toppings and big baskets of gorgeous breads.”
The whole idea is to do something that makes the people who are special to you feel special, he says. People got away from entertaining at home for a while, so it makes it even more special when you do it.
“If you take the time to create a mood, people appreciate it. I think it’s coming back. People are interested in entertaining again.”
REASONS TO PARTY
Thursday: Thanksgiving. Aka “Carbo-Loading Before National Shopping Day.”
Dec. 8 (sundown)-15: Hanukkah. Invite friends over for fritters.
Dec. 18: National Bake Cookies Day. It’s more fun when you do it together.
Dec. 21: First day of winter. Break out the hot drinks and sweaters.
Dec. 22: The Saturday before Christmas. Claim it now if you’re planning a party.
Dec. 25: Christmas. It’s on a Tuesday.
Dec. 26-Jan. 1: Kwanzaa. With six days, you can find one for a party.
Dec. 31 New Year’s Eve
REASONS TO PARTY ANY TIME
Wine-tasting party: Invite friends to explore a particular type of wine or wine from a specific region.
Football-watching party: We can’t predict which teams will be worth celebrating, but even losing teams can be commemorated.
Game night: Poker, board games or bunco.
Homecoming: Every weekend in fall is someone’s homecoming.
ADVICE FROM THE SEMI-PROS
Party-givers share their favorite tips.
Less is more. Two or three substantial food items are better than five or six small things.
Look for fun touches, like giving lottery tickets for party favors or using markers to write messages on your wine glasses.
Have a signature drink you can hand out at the door, so people feel welcomed.
Make sure everything is ready so you have time to greet people. “If the hostess is there and calm and collected, that’s nice. And I want to make sure I see everybody.”
August Post :
Instead of decorating with a lot of little touches, do one big thing. It can be as simple as grouping several pots of mums in one basket. Just do it big. “Taking the scale up a few notches has a big ‘wow’ effect.”
Don’t skimp on the wine. “Buy a good wine and the rest will fall into place, even if it’s just a spaghetti dinner.”
If it’s a cocktail party, have something on trays you can pass around, in case people don’t make it to the buffet.
“If people offer to bring a dish, I have a do-not-bring-a-thing policy. If they’re messing up their kitchen, they’re not getting the benefit of the night off. And they can reciprocate another time.”