What do entertaining novices need to know? I encourage them to plan their ideal meal but prepare the key pieces first and back into the extra things. That way you will have something on the table, even if it isn’t exactly how you imagined it. And always hand guests a great glass of wine when they arrive. That can make up for what you feel is lacking.
How do you create a festive atmosphere in your home? My husband is a rector at St. Luke’s in Darien so he’s in and out of the house on the holidays. We didn’t want to miss a meal with him, so a few years ago we decided to have hors d’oeuvres and we asked friends to contribute dishes. This worked as it allowed guests to have a meaningful part in the food that was served.
How does a foodie throw caution to the wind like that? Occasionally I assign a theme. One year we did a traditional Italian seven-seafood Christmas Eve, so guests had some direction when planning what to bring. That can be great fun. But ultimately, while food is important, enjoying the company of your family and friends is what really matters.
What do you do when there’s too little food? That’s where years of experience come in. I always have something I can throw together. In my pantry, there are rosemary-roasted nuts, jars of olives, as well as some great wedges of cheese. Even at a dinner party I keep a half gallon of ice cream around in case there’s a dessert disaster. A hostess needs a plan B.
What’s your entertaining routine? Grocery shop, set the table and start cooking. That way, I’m ready for guests at any moment and can enjoy the process of preparing the food. I also try to make time for smaller celebrations during the holiday season—getting together with a girlfriend for tea or decorating gingerbread houses with children. Entertaining with family is always going to be part of the equation, but I like to remember to enjoy the people I have chosen to be in my life at this time of year, too.
How do you lure picky eaters? Those are usually children, and to get them to the holdiay table, I include them in the food-prep process. That can really help. When my daughters were younger, I’d ask them to help plan the menu and it fostered a love of cooking as a family that endures to this day.
What’s your holiday staple? Very few dishes make it on the have-to-have list every year, but the one thing that’s consistent is roast turkey and stuffing. The flavorings and cooking methods change from year to year.
What food trends are you seeing? I’m starting to see more Bussels sprouts, although pumpkin’s been hot for the past few years. I’ve developed a pumpkin bread pudding that does double duty. Top it with caramel sauce and brandied whipped cream for dessert, or drizzle it with maple syrup and serve for breakfast or at brunch.
What’s a great hostess gift? I’ve given homemade clam chowder so the host doesn’t have to eat leftovers or cook dinner the next day. The best gift I’ve received is warm, fresh, homemade bread.
What’s your best entertaining tip? Don’t try to shape the holiday plans according to tradition or to what you think you should do. Instead, figure out what works for your family, and then enjoy. It all flows from you.