6/9/09

De-Stress with Simple Mom!


Meet my Guest:
Tsh from Simple Mom

Doesn't everybody love Simple Mom?  I know I do!

I was so happy when Tsh agreed to be my guest here on 4RE.  If you haven't visited Simple Mom, you're in for a real treat. When it comes to entertaining, Tsh and I both have very similar attitudes in keeping things simple and enjoying our guests! After all, who wants a stressed out hostess when the guests arrive?

Thank you, Tsh, for these great reminders, and for sharing on 4RE today!  I really appreciate you!

simple mom

Entertaining company used to stress me out.  I'd start that morning, cleaning surfaces and the toilet, and shuffling the clutter to a place where guests couldn't see.  I'd start the cooking mid-afternoon, trying some new-yet-impressive-sounding recipe, simultaneously messing up the kitchen and myself. At about an hour before company was due to arrive, I'd run through the shower, pick up any newly-made messes, set the table, throw out some CDs for background music, and yell at the kids and my husband along the way.

I wouldn't say I have entertaining down to an art form yet, but I've since decided to take a few steps to make it WAY easier. Most of us have people over that are friends or family, with occasional work-related company.  More than likely, these people are coming to enjoy food and fellowship -- not to be impressed.  

Here are my essentials to help me focus on the company, instead of on being impressive:

1. Accept my stage of life, and cook something easy.  Maybe when I'm an empty nester I'll serve up duck confit with broccoli rabe.  But since I have small children, I make something tried-and-true, that I know my kids will eat, and that will most likely be enjoyed by our guests' children. This doesn't mean I have to serve chicken nuggets, but a simple roasted chicken, seasoned mixed veggies, rice, and brownies for dessert makes everyone much happier.  And just cave in to the four-foot-and-under crowd, and bring out the ketchup.

2.  Likewise, cook something you've already tried.  I love experimenting with new recipes, but it's better to test them on your own kids and husband, not someone else's.  Don't stress yourself out with the unknown of your culinary results -- go with a menu you've tried at least twice.

3.  Go with a dessert you can make ahead of time.  I love individual molten chocolate lava cakes as much as the next person, but it means hovering over the oven until they're done, instead of spending time with your guests.  Make a simple dessert you can bake the day before, and then you won't even have to think about it that entire day.  Chocolate is a no-fail ingredient that almost everyone loves.  But don't try to impress with a complicated torte smothered in chocolate ganache -- who doesn't love a killer chocolate chip cookie or brownie? 



4.  Provide water, a well-loved beverage like iced tea, and possibly an alcoholic beverage.  Most people like iced tea, and you can spiff it up with strawberries or mint.  But even if they don't, chilled water is a no-brainer.

5.  Set the table before you start cooking.  Even if that means setting the table at 2 p.m., knowing that the table is set with silverware and dishes will mean one less thing you need to think about.  Plus, there's something psychologically motivating knowing the table already looks good.  It gets me excited to visually see that company is coming.

6.  Prepare yourself ahead of time.  I'm a mom of littles, so believe me, I understand the lack of free time you may have throughout the day.  But sneak in your shower during nap time, or if you have to wait, do it as soon as your husband returns from work.  Freshen up with a little perfume, keep your makeup, hair, and jewelry simple, and wear a fallback outfit.  There's no need to get all gussied up to stay in your own home -- depending on the season, I almost always go for a simple t-shirt and a-line skirt.  I recommend doing a little more than throwing on your yoga pants and sprinkling baby powder in your hair -- you'll feel a lot better throughout the evening, and you'll send a subtle message that these visiting friends are important to you.



7.  When you clean your home, focus mostly on your eating area, the post-eating area, and the front entrance.  Clear your dining room of clutter, and open the binds or curtains for natural light.  Straighten up the living room, and make the sitting area inviting.  If your company has babies or toddlers, provide a basket of age-appropriate toys nearby (if you have them).  Make sure there's a place to rest a coffee cup or dessert plate.  And since the entry way is the first thing guests see, keep it neat and uncluttered.  Make sure there's a place for their belongings.

8.  Candles create instant, inviting, cost-efficient ambience.  Keep them out of reach of small children, and use only unscented unless they're far from the food.  A subtle scent could work well at the front entrance, or possibly in the living area if it's not near the dining room, but don't compete with the smell of your food.  I love candles, and use them often -- even when it's just the four of us at the table.  There's something sweetly welcoming about well-placed candles, lit and flickering.

9.  Pre-plan your background music.  I love background music during a meal; we usually have it on for our nightly dinners.  Keep it simple and tasteful, and have it ready to go in advance.  I have a "
Company's Coming" playlist on my iPod, and I get that going pretty much anytime we have guests.  It's a mix of Tony BennettJack JohnsonMiles DavisSarah Maclachlan, and a few movie scores like The Mission and When Harry Met Sally.  In other words, it's happy, easy-going music that almost anyone can tolerate.

10. Let the guests help.  I've since learned that these friends of ours usually want to roll up their sleeves and play a small part in the evening.  Let them cut the bread, or serve the coffee with dessert, or help clear the table.  Don't ask them to scrub the kitchen or anything, but giving them little tasks tells them they're welcome in your home as a friend, and that you didn't invite them over to be impressive.


Remember that entertaining is about people, not about things. Do what you can to focus on those filling the seats around your table, and break bread together with a goal of fellowship and rekindled friendship. You want your friends to drive home saying, "That was fun.  I really like our friends' company."

What is your fall-back menu for company with kids?  

What kind of background music do you enjoy?


(No More Jellyfish ... winners:  Whimzie and Sandy Toes!)

31 comments:

Suzann @ Lavender and Roses said...

wonderful advice. I'm going to have to visit this blog. Congrats to Wimzie & Sandy Toes!!

slip4 said...

Fall-back menu: make your own burritos. All the ingredients are served in separate bowls (kids usually dislike things mixed together a la casserole). Everyone can customize their own plate. The meat (usually some beef, some chicken) can be made ahead and warmed. I always have a big green salad on the side so folks can choose to make a burrito salad instead!

Karen at Nittany Inspirations said...

I always set my table early. If setting for special company, I will even set it the night before.

Sometimes, we will unload the dishwasher and reset the table right away.

When making dinner, I find that DH will not ask when will supper be ready if the table is set, he assumes it's almost ready since the table is set.

Kathryn said...

Great information! Great reminders!!! Thanks.

An Accomplished Woman said...

Love Tsh!!!

I agree with everything she said, except one thing. I am a "sort of" empty nester and I stick to the tried and true recipes. No way I am making too fancy food.

She is so funny. Thanks for sharing

Cynthia

ellen b. said...

Great tips Tsh! I like to set the table early. My girlfriend sets the table early puts out the placecards and then goes around and prays for each guest that is coming as part of her prep, too....

Gina said...

Great reminders today! We always depend on Miles Davis for music or Harry Connick Jr-they always do well! And with summer here there's usually easy foods on the grill and salads prepped in the morning-it makes it so much easier. Desert is easy-smores around the fire pit!

Except whenever I set the table early my little helpers unset it! We usually just do buffet style, so much easier!

Lisa Page Rosenberg said...

All great tips!
My fallback menu is chicken paillard (fancy name for grilled chicken) and sauteed green beans with herbs and fruit - all can be made ahead and are great at room temp - I ask a guest to bring dessert.
When the littles outnumber the bigs - pizza is delivered!

Mary @ Giving Up On Perfect said...

Such a good point about letting your friends help. One of my dearest friends REFUSES to let me help whenever we eat dinner at her house, and it drives me crazy! I feel awful just watching her work!!

Megan at Simple Kids said...

That whole first paragraph? Um, yes. That's my usual approach to having company over. I definitely needed these tips today!

The thing that helps me the most is that my husband nearly insists on grilling burgers or some other kind of main dish meat when we invite people over. That leaves me with some simple sides and preparing and cleaning up the table. Not too shabby!

Erin said...

Some good ideas for background music:
Michael Buble
Nickel Creek
Paolo Nutini
Nora Jones
Carla Bruni

And I like to put together a vintage Christmas "Company's Coming" playlist for Christmastime, too! Big band carols, Bing, Frank...all very festive but low-key enough to still have conversation.

Thank you for your tips!

Mama Ruck said...

We fall back on rotisere chicken. Our outdoor grill has a rotisere feature. I find that when we have something on the grill it always expands the conversation area to outdoors and relaxes the evening. I am going to use the tip about setting the table early.

TeriLynneU said...

My go-to menu is chicken spaghetti & fresh bread with salad. I always plan a dessert but also am thrilled to give that task to a guest who wants to bring something. I love to have my daughter who is 9 set the table ... I give her free reign so I never know if we'll have paper plates or fine china but it's such a good experience for her to be a part of the process. And it also gives her the chance to "shine" when we have company ... I like that! Especially when we have friend without children over - gives them something to talk with her about. And it saves me one task!! :)

P.S. LOVE Simple Mom and am excited to find this site through Tsh!

Kelly said...

Great tips! I love Jack Johnson for background music too. Also, there are a couple of different people who have done acoustic-instrumental albums of Beatles music - they're really nice too!

The only thing that woudn't work for me is setting the table early.... setting the table at all really. With two hairy cats it's just not a good idea, unless you like to serve cat hair! No matter how well you clean, there's always some in the air. We're a put the food on the plate in the kitchen kind of household lol.

snaphappee said...

Great tips! My "fall back" recipe is lasagna. I have a recipe that doesn't require that the noodles be cooked ahead of time, and I use prepared sauce. It takes me less than 30 minutes to put that together, so it's one of my favorites. With 7 kids in our house, I don't do long, complicated recipes, for sure!

I love all the suggestions for background music!

Sarah Jane said...

Awesome reminders. We had a dinner party on Sat. and I can suprisingly say I did all these things. Not my usual routine. We baked salmon for the adults and the kids had hot dogs. Everyone brought something. So nice even with all the madness of the kids running around.

Tootie said...

My fall back recipe that always impresses is the Lime Cilantro Chicken Salad from my Nordstrom's at Home cookbook. A Key Lime Pie from Publix is always a good ending to this meal.
I put on the Eva Cassidy Live at Blues Alley CD.

Sarah said...

I am definitely going to look at this again before having friends over next time! I tend to go overboard on the menu but then get frazzled that day.

Favorite dinner music: Phil Keaggy - his Acoustic Sketches, Music to Paint By: Splash or Beyond Nature are subtle/quieter, Lights of Madrid is festive.

Food: Depends on the season... anything that scales up well... Pasta w/pesto, homemade pizzas, grilled meat with bread & salads tend to go over well. (We usually eat teeny steaks ourselves, but for guests we usually make plenty so there isn't a feeling of meagerness. Leftovers are fine with me!)

Marci @OvercomingBusy said...

Your first paragraph used to be me! By the time the guests arrived, I was exhausted and my family was stresses! Not anymore. As long as the eating area, living room and bathroom are clean, I'm good. We had new friends over this weekend, so I opted for some ready-made beef kabobs from the local meat market and our old family standby of potatoes and onions in foil on the grill. Fresh salads and watermelon go great with this. I served it buffet style and everyone ate outside. Easy and relaxing.

JanMary said...

Great list of tips - adding this to my Tumblr!

Raquel, The Glamorous Life said...

great tips! when we have friends over we usually grill it gives my hubby something to do and gives me more times to get everything else done. we usally serve salad, baked potatoes and i usually have the guests bring bread and dessert which they are always happy to do.

i normally dont play music becasue we cant hear over the kids and then we are trying to talk.

nicole baird said...

Fall Back Menu: Chicken Kabobs and Rice. You can make the ahead of time, they look super pretty and your husband can grill them. I find that having my husband grill takes a load off me and also gives the guys something to do. The kabobs are the meat and veggies, and simple rice on the side make for a complete and tasty meal.

Shannon @ AnchorMommy said...

I was just debating whether I should go ahead and host a sorely overdue get-together with friends this Friday night. I was leaning toward no, but with this advice I'm thinking YES! Thanks Tsh! And I'll be coming back to 4RE -- I need to stop holing up with just the fam every single weekend and spend more time with friends.

Sandy said...

Thank you everyone, for your great comments! I think we all can agree that Simple Mom's tips are insightful and we should all be ready to roll for summer entertaining, right?

Thank YOU SIMPLE MOM! I appreciate you!

Aimée said...

Tsh, you have this down to a science! All great tips. Thanks for sharing.

just me said...

Just on making dessert ahead and the 'individual molten chocolate lava cakes' comment - I actually use a Nigella recipe for these in which you can make the batter earlier in the day and keep in the pans/ramekins (I just use a large muffin pan) refrigerated until ready to cook for 12 minutes. They come out perfect.

Jason and Tammy Sabourin said...

Background music we enjoy: Michael Buble
Diana Krall
Nora Jones
Harry Connick Jr.
Nat King Cole
Soundtrack to The Big Chill
Soundtrack to A Beautiful Mind

And if we've known the company for many, many years?

Thriller by Michael Jackson! ;)

Bethany Fegles Photography said...

This makes me want to have company over this week! Thank you! I'm excited to make my home a cozy atmosphere for dinner tonight, even without guests. :)

Our favorite fall back dinner is baked salmon, with rice pilaf and steamed veggies. So fast and easy!

Also, for music we usually connect our laptop to our stereo system and use pandora.com. It's great too, if you don't have an ipod.

Thanks for making such a true and practical list!

The Berry Clan said...

Poppyseed chicken, brown rice and some sort of veggie. Kids love it.

I have theme playlists for different meals- like "Spicee" for Cinco de Mayo or Mexican Night or Chili night and "Wake-up songs" (with cartoon theme songs) when we do Breakfast at Night.

Emily said...

Great suggestion to set the table early. Maybe my toddlers will leave it alone?

Recipe: simple, homemade meatballs with pasta or ricotta/spinach stuffed shells

Music: I like to play songs sung in foreign languages. That way, you don't get distracted from your own conversation. The soundtrack to NEXT STOP WONDERLAND is great.

Or, we'll break out an eclectic mix:
FLEET FOXES
BLACK JOE LEWIS
SHE & HIM
JENNY LEWIS & THE WATSON TWINS
good, good stuff!

Sharon said...

I love this post. I love having friends in my home to share a simple meal. As a mom of 3 little ones, I sometimes find it difficult to get it all ready!!! Thank you for helping me remember that it's all about the relationships. Can't wait for these cool fall evenings with some warm soup, fresh bread, candles and conversation.

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