David and I have hosted lots of parties, including dinner parties. Most of our guests think we are excellent hosts and they compliment us on our menu choices, meal preparation, and presentation. Even when we have guest for a simple meal of hamburgers cooked on the grill, we try to make it a special occasion for our guests. I enjoy setting a nice looking table, with pretty napkins (linen or fancy paper), silverware in the correct places, nice plates, and lovely glasses. I usually have a centerpiece, although I move it off center to allow everyone to make eye contact. I arrange seating according to the number of guests who will be joining us for dinner, ask everyone in advance about their dietary restrictions (I can even accommodate vegetarians and vegans by preparing meals they can enjoy!), and in general, I try to make everyone comfortable with everything I do. I usually prefer dinner to be served in the dining room, at the dining table, not to show off, but to ensure everyone has ample room to enjoy the delicious meal David and I prepare. As most people would expect, David and I function as a team at home, just as we do at the office, with each of us taking on certain responsibilities when it comes to dinner preparation. David is our grill master and he often cooks most of the meal on the grill, leaving the side dishes for me to prepare inside. We always serve appetizers and before dinner drinks, alcoholic or non alcoholic depending on each guest’s preference. Dinner parties also include having fresh flowers in the house, beautiful music set at a volume that allows conversation, and a delicious dessert in the living room after the main meal ends. David’s mom, my wonderful mother-in-law, Carole, gave me a book authored by Lily Pulitzer titled “Essentially Lily,” that provided me with countless ideas about the proper way to entertain guests. Having people over for dinner, is, for me, an important event and one that requires thoughtful consideration from beginning to end, to ensure everyone has a marvelous experience.
As we are now catching up on years of missed television in the form of Downton Abbey, I will start by saying our dinners are not like theirs! First of all, none of our parties require formal dress, butlers, footmen, or maids. Despite our usual casual attire, Melissa typically has a razor sharp focus on dinner plans when a dinner party is to be held. I go along with her plans as much as possible, and I help with both the planning and execution. Having attended meals where chaos reigned, our goal is to have a plan, work the plan, and then be able to enjoy the rewards of the efforts. Depending on the menu, this may mean most of the prep work and cooking are done prior to the arrival of the guests. But, more often, especially if the grill is involved, it requires multi-tasking to handle appetizers and drinks, all the while getting the fire ready for the meat, veggies, etc. Generally all of the prep work, such as chopping the salad makings, preparing the meat or vegetables, etc., is done hours before the party is to start. The table is set, appetizers readied, all awaiting the arrival of our guests. Music is selected, of course, and is playing well before the guests arrive. I find myself moving between the guest(s) and grill many times, while trying to remain aware of the conversations. This is something that sometimes pulls me in different directions, depending on the demands of the cooking, but with a glass of wine in hand, it has become something at which we are pretty good. Our goal is to keep things moving and to provide a good experience to friends and family; this helps channel our focus. The experience is much more than the food, but in our busy world, the opportunity to spend quality hours with others is priceless. Mom, and Lily Pulitzer would approve, I think, of the way we approach such events.