When the weather makes you want to hibernate, just try these ...
In the winter it’s tempting to stay home instead of heading outside to socialize with friends and family. I’m a homebody myself and that tendency only intensifies when temperatures drop and nightfall comes early. But it’s not good for anyone to hibernate all winter, however tempting it may be, and the cold does provide an excellent excuse for good food and drink enjoyed fireside with friends.
Enter the dinner party. For me, it’s a win-win: You get to see people you enjoy, but you don’t have to go anywhere, except maybe out for some groceries. To my mind, there are four basic styles of dinner parties ideal for this time of year, so here are some tips to making them happen in your home …
I know some people who do weeknight entertaining on a regular basis and they both have jobs and four active children ages 5-18. They are obviously superhuman. However, since I’ve been lucky enough to be a guest at many of these weeknight dinners over the years, I’ve learned from the masters and come away with a few tips that make midweek entertaining seem a little more possible.
First, prep in advance or even leave instructions for your older children or babysitter to get things started before you get home. Serve an easy appetizer like chips and salsa or cheese and crackers. If your guests are bringing children, or if your own children will be coming and going throughout the evening, provide pizza or other such kid-pleasing food for the children at the kitchen table. Or scrap cooking all together and pick up super delicious take out, like Lebanese mezze or a Peking duck, for the whole crowd on your way home from work! You still get to spend time together in your home with minimum preparation and cleanup, leaving you time to enjoy your guests.
Friday or Saturday Night Fancy
Because this one is usually on the later side, it is usually an adults-only party. But if the children of your guests are friends with your children they can be fed at normal kid dinner time, and then all pile into an upstairs bedroom with a movie or board games—maybe even in their pajamas. If there’s a tiny baby coming I try to have a quiet spot ready if he or she needs to go to bed before her parents are ready to leave.
This is the time to use all the crystal and all the china and all the good table linens. Plan and shop your meal in advance, taking time to make the menu special. Something like osso bucco is terrific on a cold night — or try grilled salmon and roasted vegetables if you’re observing Lenten Friday abstinence. Pair wines with care. (Bring your menu to the wine shop if you need some help.) Dress up a little. Curate the perfect playlist. But remember you’re not at a fancy restaurant, you’re at home on purpose. Mix it up a little. Do something unexpected like serve old school ice cream sandwiches for dessert. Run out for fast food fries to serve with the entree. And make sure everyone is within arm’s reach of wine and water so no one needs to wait for a refill.
Weekend Night Casual
This is the night for a big pot of something served family style and maybe in front of a television broadcast of a game or the Oscars. This is when you can invite tons of people who are welcome to come “any time after 6” — with the kids. People can help themselves to as much or as little as they like, and maybe they’ll only stay for a drink.
This is also a great occasion to say, “Yes, please!” to all of those offers from your invitees to bring something. A couple of gifted appetizers and salads, and maybe a few dozen cookies, can turn your big pot of beef stew or chili into a laid-back feast that’s worthy of the weekend.
This is my absolute favorite and for a few very good reasons. It assumes a certain amount of chaos because the children will most definitely be awake so the feel of the meal is already more relaxed, but most have already been to Mass or church service and are ready to enjoy a Sunday feast.
You can stay dressed in your Sunday best or maybe change into something slightly more cozy and comfortable. Embrace the long afternoon ahead and serve the meal in courses. Since it usually spans both lunch and dinner, the Sunday repast is perfect for a languorous multicourse meal, and yet concludes with plenty of time to do all the washing up before bedtime.
Start by lingering over drinks and appetizers then make your way to the dining room where you’ve laid out pasta like the Italians, and then move on to something meatier. Or maybe begin with a warm goat cheese salad followed by a few perfectly roasted chickens.
Dessert is a must on Sundays. Semifreddo and pavlova are two of my favorites, but I sometimes like to return to the living room and serve an easy dessert of fruit, nuts, and chocolates. Everyone is usually full, and relaxing on the sofa and chatting in front of the fire is a great way to end your time together. This seems to be the one day of the week when no one feels rushed. There’s time for conversation and sweet snacking. There’s time for playing with the kids or going for brisk winter walk if that’s more your thing. The high-low mix of a special feast and the comforts and insanity of home is magic. I’m sure a lot of readers remember the tradition of Sunday lunch with all the cousins at your grandmother’s every Sunday, and maybe some of you are lucky enough to still live close to your family. For those of us who aren’t so lucky, it’s time to start this tradition anew in your own home, and make time to mark Sunday as a special day for worship, family, and friends.
However and whenever you choose to entertain loved ones in your home, like every other act of hospitality, it will be well received. Your guests will simply be happy to be invited and to have a chance to spend time with you. When there’s a warm and cozy home, good food, and great friends waiting for you it’s an easy decision to get outside and brave the cold. Here’s hoping we hibernation types feel the same when we receive such formidable invitations.