Saturday, December 21, 2013

6 Ways to Make Christmas Parties a Breeze

This week I hosted a lunch at my place for the girls. There were seven of us in total. The lunch was a good test run for the 15 person shindig I'm hosting this Christmas Eve. Although I was super organised for the lunch, I still had a couple of moments where I felt lost, unsure about what to do next or not paying attention to my guests because I was consumed by some meaningless task. It didn't feel as seamless as I'd wanted it to be. 

So I started thinking about what I had already done to prepare, as well as what else I could do to improve for next time. The list boiled down to six key points. The other key factor for me this year has been having a baby. This means I have limited time to get things done in, so have to be extra organised and focused to stay on task and accomplish all that I want.

I look at hosting parties like I do work: it's the same amount of effort be it for four people or 20; same amount of production management be it a $100 job or $100,000. The only things that change are the quantity and risk level. So here goes. I hope I give you some ideas to make life easier for you this holiday season!

1. Plan your menu in great detail.
This is the first thing I do before hosting any party, big or small. Not only because I love food and it can often make or break a gathering for me, but because it is the springboard for a lot of the tasks below. Some things to consider: allergies (nuts, fish, dairy, gluten); cultural or religious restrictions; variety; ease or complexity of preparation/cooking; cooking time and space; popularity.

2. Advanced food preparation and catering.
Freeze, freeze, freeze! There are many delicious recipes that freeze well, so use them. That way it's only a matter of pulling them out of the freezer on the day and in some cases also heating. Ideas include seafood skewers, meat balls, mouse type desserts, dense/moist cakes and sweet or savoury pies. 

A lot of biscuits can be made ahead of time and keep well for weeks in an airtight tin.

Perhaps you can get your local delicatessen to prepare a platter for you. Or you might place an order with your baker for your favourite cake or dessert. If you can afford it, outsource to trusty suppliers!

3. Shopping list and buying groceries.
Write a detailed shopping list based on what's required for your preplanned menu. This is also a good chance to do a pantry, fridge and freezer stocktake and clean out. It can get expensive, especially if you're hosting a big party, so think about spreading out the big shopping list between several shops over several weeks or a month before the party.

Buy all the pantry goods and long term fridge / freezer items ahead of time; leaving seafood, meat and baked goods for the day before or on the morning of the party. Particularly if it's a busy holiday season with high demand, or you're after exotic ingredients or specific cuts of meat. Ensure to locate these early on and place orders with your suppliers ahead of time. For example: I ordered the pork belly at my butcher and bread rolls at the bakery about a week and half before I need them.

If crowds or venturing out is not your thing, have a think about what items you can get delivered to your place in advance. These days you can do your grocery and alcohol shopping online at the same place, saving you time and frustration, particularly during the super busy holiday season where shops are packed and queues never-ending.

4. Thoroughly clean your house a week before the party.
This ensures the real dirt, mould and grime is gone. Ensure to include outdoor areas, balconies, furniture, BBQs or grills. All you're left with the day before or on the day of the party, is a super quick and easy superficial clean consisting of a quick vacuum, mop, wipe down of the bathroom and emptying of rubbish bin.

5. Do all the last minute things ahead of time.
I always leave the music playlist creation as the last thing. So often I'll be on the laptop finalising it as people are arriving. This sucks and it's super antisocial! Plus you miss out on some of the fun. To ensure you are the host with the most, create your playlists in advance. At the same time go around the house and refill all the candle holders with fresh candles and finish off any decorating. 

The night before the party ensure you have all the bowls, platters, cutlery, serving ware, glasses, wine coolers, decanters, bottle openers, cheese knives and whatever else you may need within easy reach, preferably in one central location. This saves rummaging thought cupboards and drawers, so instead you can hold a conversation like a normal person, as opposed to having your head shoved deep inside a drawer, swearing because you can't find something.

6. Delegate tasks and avoid the rush.
I have already written a list of shitty (and time consuming) little tasks for my husband to do a couple of hours before the party. This includes picking up the ice, cold beer and fresh bread. These can be viewed as fun little tasks that he and our daughter can do on their daily walk together. Also frees up my time to stay home and focus on last minute food preparation. 

In addition, take people up on their offers to assist or bring some food or drinks along. Or at least don't reject their assistance until you have a better idea of how you are tracking. Things can change last minute: you might drop a bottle of alcohol you need for the punch; need more ice to cool the drinks; or have run out of a key ingredient for the feature dish. Easy things for people to pick up on their way through to your place. 

Anything I've missed that you find critical when hosting a party? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy partying! Have a joyous and safe holiday season. 

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