A Guide for Millennials and Zoomers
Why hello there! I’m Julia Child on the French Chef. We’re going to throw a little social event today, a “soirée” as the French say. It’s a small, intimate gathering of anywhere from say four to ten people, and it’s a lovely way to spend an evening. Be it Friday or Saturday or Sunday, or even just any old weekday if you plan it right. I love having friends over and I’m sure you will too.
What it is, really, is just a small informal get-together, where people can chat and socialize, over refreshments, some snacks or even a whole dinner. Now you may be thinking you need a particular occasion or special event, but in fact you can do this any time you like. Though it helps of course if you have some activity planned to help things along. This could be something small, like playing a game together, or watching a television show. You could also just enjoy a sunny evening outside if the weather is nice. If there isn’t an occasion, you can just make one.
It may seem like a lot of work to organize successfully, but the trick is to prepare ahead of time. If you gather the right ingredients and have them ready, you can throw together a quick mixer in no time.
For starters, the location. I like to use comfortable indoor couches for this, a “salon,” with a nice coffee table, so the guests can be seated for the duration. But in this day and age often living space is at a premium. In a pinch, you can substitute with some folding chairs, a beanbag, or even just a blanket and some pillows arranged on the floor. A kitchen counter can provide handy standing room. If you’re particularly short on space, you might look out for a nearby park and make a picnic or a barbecue out of it. Any neighborhood nook or square will do. I suggest you keep some cups and paper plates around the house, you’ll never know when you need them. Though do keep in mind that reusable cups last longer and are better for the environment. Mind the weather if you’re outdoors too, and pack an umbrella and a sweater if you think it might turn.
Next, the beverages. This depends on the company you’re planning to have over, as you will need to cater to various ages and tastes. Of course everyone drinks water, and it’s a good idea to keep a jug or two in your refrigerator, filtered if you like. You will likely want tea or coffee for an afternoon visit, as well as cream and sugar, which you can get in any good grocery store. Your nieces and nephews will appreciate something sweet and bubbly, though their mother may not, so do be careful with letting them have soda and juice.
For the adults in the evening, some alcohol is generally appreciated. I myself am quite fond of craft beer, and keep a selection around for any occasion. For the uncle or grandmother who prefers something stronger, perhaps a bourbon or a mixed drink, providing an occasion to practice your bartending skills. As you get to know the tastes of your family and friends, you can better anticipate what to serve, though don’t be afraid to introduce them to new things as well.
Now let’s discuss food. Your guests will arrive hopefully well-fed, but soon they will start to feel a bit peckish. In order to entice them to stay, you can serve some snacks, like chips or salted nuts. For the heartier hunger, I recommend sliced cheese and salami, in small portions, perhaps some crackers, olives or even bread. Don’t forget the napkins.
If you are feeling particularly eager, you may even try some oven-baked nachos and cheese. They’re delicious with some smoked paprika, chili powder and chopped green onions. My own special twist is to add a few spoons of plain hummus. Make sure you mix it up well so the toppings are evenly spread between the chips, and bake them for about 5 minutes at about 400º F. If some of your guests are partial to THC, these nachos will be the perfect remedy for their cravings.
If you need to throw a whole dinner party instead, that does mean some more planning on your part. Luckily, you can ask some of the guests to help out and make a potluck out of it. It helps spread the work, and reduces your grocery and liquor bills as well. Don’t be afraid to set a theme and ask for specifics, such as an appetizer that would go well with your vegetable stir-fry, or a good dessert to go with your lamb chops.
If your cooking options are more limited, you can’t go wrong with some pasta and wine, or a more self-serve arrangement, like hotdogs and beer, with a side of greens and potato salad. Even some soup and country bread will do nicely. Your guests may have unique dietary restrictions or particular tastes, so it can be useful to prepare your sides separately and serve them buffet-style. Inform yourself ahead of time in any case.
I also very much recommend trying new recipes yourself before making them for others. Some dishes require preparation the night before, and you may need to defrost meat and vegetables several hours prior. It never hurts to practice and it avoids embarrassment and possibly congestion at the restroom.
On the day of the actual party, I always go around the house and clean up the common areas. Gather up any shoes, bags, laundry in a cabinet, and clear off the counters and tables. Use a damp cloth to wipe the dust too. Place flowers or another house plant on the table as a centerpiece. If you have any unique pieces of art or mementos, they can spark interest and discussion, though a good host should practice modesty. Ensure that your guests have a clear place to sit and place their drink, and place coasters. The object is to provide a pleasant room to be social in.
When you’re ready to begin, lay out your glasses and napkins in a central place, on a table cloth or towel, close to where the guests will sit. Place your cold appetizers there as well, along with cocktail sticks or cutlery, and a bowl for the used sticks and pits. A roll of paper towel is also a good idea, in case of spills. If you wish to create a pleasant mood and pad out the silence, you could play some music, though you should be careful to maintain a respectable volume and avoid anything particularly disruptive. I myself have a pair of Harman/Kardon speakers in my drawing room which provide a wonderfully rich and crisp sound, but I make sure not to play any Carpenter Brut when guests are over, and instead choose something more soothing like Frank Sinatra or Goldfrapp.
Now you can begin cooking dinner while waiting for the guests. As they arrive, take their coat and introduce them to each other. Invite them to sit and let them help themselves to a beverage while you work. Remind new acquaintances of something they can easily talk about, like an interest they share, or a funny story that happened to them. If nothing comes to mind, a recent news item might invite some commentary, though you should be careful with politics and theology, particularly early on.
Early guests also make excellent assistants to help you with the arrangements in and around the kitchen. If there is someone who isn’t mingling, this will also help them join in. Ask your sous-chefs to serve warm hors d’oeuvres and drinks, collect empty glasses, chop vegetables, mix salads, even blend soups and sauces, and portion out plates.
While you’re cooking, take your time and don’t rush the steps. It’s best to chop all your ingredients ahead of time, the so-called “mise en place,” so you can concentrate on the pots and pans. Measure twice and taste along the way, and ensure everything is sufficiently cooked through. You can use a meat thermometer to cook the perfect roast. You should also add your fresh herbs and spices near the end, to preserve their flavor, instead of early on. Plate the dish carefully for that special touch, and garnish with chopped parsley or chives for a bright spark of green.
When dinner is ready, invite everyone to the table, and let them seat themselves. This is a good time to serve everyone a refreshing glass of water, before opening up another bottle of wine or beer with your main course. It helps hydrate and moderates the pace of inebriation.
Let dinner flow naturally, though make sure to offer seconds to anyone who wants any. Provide a place for smoking and vaporizing breaks for guests who need it, and an ashtray, though don’t be afraid to ask them to do so outside and away from a door or window. Other guests and neighbors will appreciate it.
On rare occasions a dinner party can start in the late afternoon and take the whole evening, spread out across hors d’oeuvres, a salad or soup, a main course and a dessert. These take more effort to organize, but will be fondly remembered by all.
When everyone has eaten their fill, you will hopefully also have left-overs. For these I like to use reusable Tupperware, and guests can take some home if they like, with anywhere from one to three portions per box. Young college students in particular will not say no to this, and will return the boxes at your next dinner party. You will find nevertheless that some Tupperware boxes and lids will be lost, in a manner similar to socks, and this will be a cost of business for your household.
The end of dinner does not mean the end of the evening. A late night coffee or tea can help with digestion, as can an after-dinner walk. If the evening does quiet down, you and your guests may find yourself drawn into an electronic device, wanting to spice up the conversation with YouTube videos and funny pictures. If you see guests doing so, I suggest drawing them back into the fold. The main ingredient in conversation is not information, it’s people, and they are right there in the room. Avoid having a screen playing media in the background, as it will distract from the gathering.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of how to entertain guests. That’s all for today. Enchantée et Bon Appetit!