My hubby and I decided to retire our annual holiday party, after several years of hosting. While we loved hosting, the party started after dinner and was not super convenient for families, who either had to get a babysitter or leave very early. So, we decided to morph our annual holiday party into an open house.
Our first annual Holiday Open House was held this weekend. It began much earlier in the evening and was much more kid-friendly than past events. Since it was our first year with a heavier menu (actually serving dinner instead of just an assortment of appetizers) and because we have a baby and a toddler, I kept the menu fairly simple this year.
* I linked to my favorite recipes for these dishes, but I will admit that I took the easy way out this year – both of these items were made from mixes to save me a little bit of time and to free up my oven a bit.
Last year’s annual holiday party did not go as planned. Our heater was being flaky (I’d argue it wasn’t working at all by the end of the week) and I had come down with a cold. Between the two, we had to cancel the party or risk everyone being cold and getting sick. I was super bummed – this has been our big party each year. I plan and look forward to it for months. More than half of the menu, to feed 40-50 people, was already prepared by the time we made the call to cancel. As hard as it was for me, I’m sure I wouldn’t be forgiven if everyone spent their upcoming Christmas vacations in bed with colds.
Even though we didn’t get to host the party last year, I wanted to share the menu I had planned, in case something inspires you. In addition, I wanted to share a few tips and lessons I’ve learned while planning these parties over the last 6 or so years:
1. I plan and execute my menu each year. This sounds silly and might offend some people, but I’ve learned not rely on others (or at least limit that reliance) for contributions. Inevitably, something happens and someone can’t make it, which has the potential of throwing everything off (one year, I had backup appetizers in my freezer, just in case… another year, I wasn’t prepared and had to ask someone to pick up a last minute item from the grocery store on their way to the party because someone arrived without the promised goods). Planning and executing myself means that I don’t worry that something may not go as planned.
2. I’ve learned to dial back on the desserts and increase the savory items. Year after year, my savory items were all gone by the end of the night but I was still left with a number of desserts. Sometimes this is due to guests preferences, other times because people end up bringing cookies and other sweets unannounced.
3. Start cooking and baking well in advance. I usually start cementing my menu in November, about a month away from the party. I start cooking and baking at the same time. Cookies freeze great; candy keeps well at room temperature. I store candies in airtight containers in my basement – cooler temps and not in sight to tempt us! Even some savory appetizers (such as the spinach and artichoke dip and meatballs on the menu below, or mini quiche that I’ve made in the past) freeze really well. This keeps me from feeling frantic in the week prior to the party, and rushing around the day of the party. I’ll even keep a little extra in the freezer in case I need to restock during the party.
4. Know your layout and the flow of guests throughout your house. We’ve always had two floors of the house for entertaining. Currently, our upstairs has a family room, kitchen, dining room, etc. The downstairs has a second family room and pool table. While I set most of the food out upstairs, I usually try to make sure there’s snacks – bowls of nuts, a small cheese/cracker or veggies tray, an extra plate of assorted cookies – in the downstairs as well.
But this final item is equally as important for your main entertaining space. Does everyone tend to hang out in the kitchen and family room? Maybe then, place the food and beverages in a dining room so that people move around the space a bit more. Our formal living room and dining room have been completely empty for the past two years, so we always set up a few folding tables for holding food and beverage stations.
These four tips have helped me kick things off smoothly every year.
This year, we’ve decided to change things up a bit. We now have two young children and the majority of our friends have their own families. While we’ll still hold a holiday gathering, this year’s will be slightly smaller and more kid-friendly than it has been in the past. Come back tomorrow for our first annual Holiday Open House Menu.
When I had my daughter, several friends highly recommended a join a new mom’s group. I was originally uncertain, but so many different people gave me the recommendation that I couldn’t ignore it. I joined a group run by a local hospital, and it was one of the best decisions this new mommy could have made. I gained not only a support system for those few months but a group of amazing friends that still gets together on a regular basis, two years later.
It feels like just yesterday that we were a group of women with our new babies, and so many questions. Today, this group is moving on – several of us are taking the leap to a family of four (and wondering what we were thinking, as our little ones start the Terrible Twos). To celebrate the first new baby to join our group, a friend and I hosted a nautical-themed baby shower brunch for the mom-to-be this past weekend. We had a blast surprising our friend and being a bit creative.
Below you’ll find the brunch menu we put together for a dozen women (and a couple of hubbies). I didn’t make everything on the menu, but when I could recommend a similar recipe, I linked to it for your convenience.
Single-Serving Italian Frittatas Deviled Eggs Fresh Fruit, Yogurt, and Pecan Granola Assorted Muffins: Blueberry, Almond Pound Cake, Spiced
Whole Wheat Banana Bread (recipe to come)
Pico de Gallo and Tortilla Chips
Vanilla and Chocolate Cupcakes
Coffee, Tea, Juice, and Sangria
Since this was a shower for a second baby, we kept it simple – we gave prizes to the winners of a couple of games but skipped the favors. However, I couldn’t resist making “Catch of the Day” goldfish bags for the few kids that were present.
I can’t believe my sweet Sophie is already a year old. It seems like it was just yesterday that she was this teeny tiny baby who used to cuddle with us every evening in front of the tv. And now? Now she is inquisitive and walking all over the place. She loves to be scared and play peek-a-book. And she loves to read. She’ll carry around books for an entire evening sometimes. She likes to flip the pages, sometimes gnaw on the corners. Some nights she’ll sit patiently while we read a full book out loud to her. Other nights she’ll simply look at the photos, trading one book for another.
I absolutely love this photo of Sophie, where she’s surrounded by books and she’s “reading.”
Sophie frequently pulls all of the books off of her bookshelf, spread them out around her, and “read.” We have several well-worn board books and a few crumpled children’s books, including Dr. Seuss’ Alphabet Book, the inspiration for this party.
I decided not to go crazy with matching menu items to the first few letters of the alphabet. Instead, I planned a very simple menu and made name tags to match. I had originally hoped to have a large letter in the background, in color, with the name of the dish across the front, but I couldn’t figure out how to make that happen on our new computer. So instead, I used alphabet washbi tape to decorate the tags.
For decorations, we put out Sophie’s favorite alphabet books, an alphabet abacus, and a few of the alphabet blocks that she received this past Christmas. I also added a frame that I received at my baby shower, with photos of Sophie as a newborn and at 3, 6, 9, and 12 months.
We did give Sophie the requisite smash cake (or in this case, cupcake), but she wasn’t really into it. She was curious when I showed her the cupcake, but didn’t like it when she got icing on her fingers. She wiped her fingers on the side of the high chair to get the frosting off, and shuttered every time she tasted the icing and cake. It’s a good thing we had some homemade strawberry frozen yogurt for the birthday girl to fall back on. 🙂
Finally, although we only had a few kids at the party, I wanted an activity for them as well as a favor to take home. These alphabet puzzles served as both. Cute, right?
Invitations & Matching Thank You Notes: MTipsy’s Etsy Shop
Alphabet Washbi Tape: used for accents on invitation/thank you note envelopes and on the tags to label the dishes, by Scotch (from Staples)
Cupcake Tower:Tutorial, supplies from local craft store (Michaels)
Puzzle Favors: Oriental Trading