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Top Five Things to Keep on Hand …

I’m always intrigued by what the best entertainers secrets are – what do they do if someone just drops by unannounced? What do they do to stay inspired? What do they keep at arms reach at all times?

These days my reading is limited to short magazine articles, sound bites, and web articles for the most part – so I subscribe to a number of blogs from those people I admire and would love to learn from on all accounts … some of them happen to be in the world of entertaining.  Here is what I’ve gathered that might be a little off the beaten path from those like Giada De LaurentiisIna Garnden, and of course Martha as well as from the tops in the etiquette world …

1. Nuts. Across the board this seems to be a foodie’s quick and easy tip on keeping guests happy.  Whether it’s as an easy appy, a quick side with drinks before you head to dinner or a party staple – keep nuts on hand.  The top suggested nuts? Almonds, Cashews and peanuts. PS – nuts stay “good” in a sealed container for up to 3 months.

2. Parchment Paper. This one comes from the Barefoot Contessa who suggests that parchment makes food all that much more crisp and also saves you in the clean up process so you can spend more time enjoying people and less time in clean up mode. Huh. Less clean up. I’m in.

3. Lists. From weddings to small dinner parties, all of the food divas recount post-its, to-buy and to-do lists (week before, two days ahead, an hour ahead etc) as their top tip for seamless entertaining.  For some great party planning lists and questionnaires check out Martha’s party planning tips.

4. Beverages. You can get away without serving a pop-by guest food but should always offer a drink.  Say you get dropped off after an event and your kind chauffeur walks you inside or a neighbour pops by for a quick afternoon visit?  Always have a few bottles of wine on hand – white and red.  The experts suggest having a “house” wine that you purchase by the case and keep stored but close by.  Friends have also taught us an assortment of teas makes for an easy afternoon visit beverage and leaves you with options day or night.

5. Puff pastry. Surprised you with that one – didn’t I?  This one makes my top five because I constantly read of super easy recipes either for breakfast treats (like Apple turnovers) or evening delights that use a cheater puff pastry.  So if you have surprise house guests or are making an elaborate dinner and want an easy but still homemade dessert (like cinnamon twists) – this one is something you might not think of – but is so nice to have on hand in the freezer.

Have a great day!

It’s a Party! Tips, Tricks, and Etiquette: a mini-series event

Planning an “event” is one of my very favorite things to do.  Whether it is a wedding, a kids birthday, or a fabulous dinner with friends – they are each unique, exciting and they each hold the potential for making memories that will last a lifetime.  I was writing out some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years to try to fit into one post, and my brilliant husband suggested that this should be a series rather than one epic post.  So here it is; over the next number of posts we’ll suggest some great techniques, time savers and fabulous details for hosting events of all kinds as well as some pointers on the polite side of hosting and attending events of all kinds.

A few general tips to get you started for any event: know your audience, set your goal, and be realistic but inventive with what you have to work with.


Are these close friends or business acquaintances? Are there children involved?  Is this a grown-up only soiree? Are there any dietary factors to keep in mind? Any sensitive topics to avoid or make other guests discretely aware of? Is the group large or intimate?

All of these questions will help to dictate the time of the event, type of food you prepare, and manner in which you invite your guests.

For example, with regard to timing; you wouldn’t host a dinner party as late as 7pm if you’re inviting guests with their toddlers – but if its a baby sitter night you might even consider starting the evening at 730 so parents have the time to tuck in little ones before they come over.

If you have vegetarian guests or those with dietary restrictions like allergies make sure you accommodate for their needs without making a big deal so that they don’t feel singled out.  If you are unsure, either ask the person privately prior to having the event, or provide a number of options on the day of the event.  I’ll sometimes prepare a meal with many options like a big cobb salad with all the options in rows for selecting what you prefer, or a make your own pizza night for casual dinners.  Lay it out so that people can serve themselves and you avoid any awkward moments for both you as the host and your guests – and everyone enjoys the casual atmosphere.

If you are inviting business colleagues or a larger group of peers, an email invitation often works well.  If it’s a special group of people you don’t see often a written invitation is a lovely touch.  If its close friends for a dinner get together tonight or tomorrow a phone call is a great way to quickly connect and more personal than an email.

Goal Setting

It might sound ridiculous; but the best way to be satisfied after putting in the effort to host any kind of event is to know what you want to get out of it.  So instead of just saying “lets have a party for Johnny”; make sure you take a moment and truly understand your motivations and what you’d like your guests to get out of the event… Do you want to do an informal poll to ensure everyone you invite can come? Do you want to have people stay long into the night or have a set start and finish time?Do you want people walking away thinking about the great conversation they had, or the food they ate, or the way your venue looked (or all of the above)?

My first post on this blog was about our annual Christmas Party.  This year, our goals for that event changed and we had to be honest with ourselves in the planning stage as to what we truly wanted in order to ensure its success.  For us that meant changing the time because kids were involved for the first time, changing the theme away from cocktail to mid-afternoon, and ensuring well ahead of time that the timing and type of event worked for our guests because we wanted to ensure as many of our friends could make it as possible.

Ingenuity meets Reality:

When I started planning events, my better half would cringe.  I would try to cram 10 appies, 3 mains, and 3 dessert options into the six hours we had on a saturday to prepare for a big dinner.  I would then throw in the need for us to have elaborate flower arrangements (that I arranged), fun activities (optional of course) and some cool giveaway for the end of the evening.  I LOVE to entertain, but I’ve become more realistic about what I can get done and more selective about where I throw my energy.

I’m not an advocate of the Coscto party (“oh it was so easy! We just bought it all at Costco!” sound familiar? Yech) I also don’t think we can all do as Martha suggests, and hire good help for our occasions… but I do think you can make some parts of any party very easy on you and add some amazing flourish with ingenious little details that make your event special…

And so we shall begin … on our mini series event of planning (and attending) fabulous events…


Time.  It just flies by. And yet in the moment it can last forever…

In our household we have been seeing almost every hour on the clock for a month and a half thanks to a never ending thread of baby sickness – it means the precious quiet time we do have is now even more special.  So anything we can do to save time doing the mundane is appreciated so that we can enjoy each other (or sleep).

This past little while has made me think about time in a new light – I’ve always felt that more can be done in 30 minutes than most people think is possible.  Just start something and you’ll find the time to complete just about anything.  Sit there thinking about it and you’ll never get it done.  Its a part of the premiss of this blog – we always have the time to make each day special – even if its only 5 extra minutes in a day.  I’ve had that theory tested recently.  Being up most of the night means that any precious moments during the day have to be used as efficiently as possible.  I order things in my head according to imminent importance; making food and playing with our kids are both at the top of the list, laundry is close by as naked kids aren’t as cool as one would think, making time for walking with friends and family, sleep and clean up are clumped in the middle and, sadly for this blog, anything technology or TV related falls to the bottom of the list.

Its made me all the more inspired by the men and women who have small kids and still run a small business and put meals on the table and go to activities and appear to have a life.  We employ a lot of time saving techniques in our household, not all of which are Martha approved, but they are in place so that we can spend more time together enjoying life rather than sitting around worrying about silly details.   We no longer hang clothes to dry or separate by colour (gasp!) at this point in life if it doesn’t go in the drier it doesn’t get purchased.  I make dinner with one baby watching from the baby bjorn and another in the chair on the counter.  I have even actually resorted to calling the place I get tea from when I’m 5 minutes away – placing an order and running in with exact change to pick it up.  I just ordered and paid for my crib and mattress on the phone and got them to put it in the loading bay so I could zip out of the van in the rain – pop it in my trunk and keep going – sleeping babies in the back never out of sight.  On a day to day basis we make lunches at night and have clothes laid out, and toaster, plates, juice and kettle all ready before we go to bed in order to make the mornings easier and more efficient so that we can max out on precious sleep minutes and seconds.

There is also a significant “Hyde” side to this time efficiency thing … I have a new disdain for customer service people who waste my time by chatting with each other when they should be doing their job or stocking a shelf  for an extra two minutes instead of coming to the cash when there is a line up.  My disdain is not always pretty.  I also have been known to act like a semi-truck with our van on the highway (not with kids inside) when people try to cheat in the lane during lane closures as if their time is more precious than the rest of the world’s.  I sadly have no patience for explaining the steps of what I’m doing to adults (my two-year old gets a free pass) from working or cooking, to stroller or garden repair, to cleaning up spit up – you’ll just have to trust that I have it covered.  This side of me is something I try to tame on a regular basis.  Each time I find a new fabulous time saving technique I help that mission because I have an extra minute to do the things I love but never have time for.  For me those include writing a blog, going for a run, drinking tea while its still hot, having a shower, making something special for someone…

Today I made two dinners before 9am, read 4 news articles online, read 3 pages of my new branding book and just popped in my second load of laundry.  Today I got to write a blog.  Today is a good day.

What are your time saver tips so that you can have the time to make your day more special?