In WITF's Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

Food Wednesdays: Santa has elves…

Written by Donna Marie Desfor, Culinary Consultant and Chef | Dec 14, 2011 2:15 AM

I love that commercial.  If they’d stop right after the “Santa has elves” part, everything would make sense.  Who has the extra time, help, or even the money to invest in parties and holiday entertaining?  But still, this is the time of year we love to throw parties.  It’s the Holidays!  And, we probably should be celebrating.  There is much to be grateful for and rejoice in, even in years such as these, when our gifts may not be so apparent.  So we gather.  And, without a North Pole full of elves, or Martha’s crafting, decorating, and baking staff of thousands, we can still make our parties as festive and cheery or as elegant or relaxed as we choose.  We simply need to simplify. 

By simplify I don’t mean cheapen, or suggest that we ever lower our standards.  Heavens, no!  I mean we need to take the pressure off ourselves.  Does each room of the house need a themed-tree?  Probably not.  Will one small tree tastefully lit or decorated suffice?  Absolutely.  A buffet doesn’t need to be overflowing with an abundance of food, and the bar doesn’t need to be stocked like a liquor store.  When you get right down to it we entertain because we like being with each other and the holidays are a great way to celebrate a year of friendship.  Sure, even if you simplify it can still take a lot of work to pull off a holiday party.  I promise you, though, if you simplify even the tiniest bit, you ultimately get to enjoy the party you so generously chose to give.

For years it has been my job to turn my clients’ visions into their reality.  I always start with a plan.  And though most don’t want to hear it, the truth is: simplicity lies in a plan – a plan that makes sense given the time (and budget) you have to execute it.  Even the most elegant affairs can be reduced to a simple plan.  One in which everyone involved has a role, a budget, and a timeframe in which to execute their job.  And the easiest plans begin as a reflection of your personality and personal style. 

Whenever I’ve been asked for advice on entertaining, I always offer up my first rule, “Do one thing less.”  In essence, what I mean is simplify.  Entertaining is about pleasure – both extending it, and indulging in it.  When we are short on time (and who isn’t this time of year?), the first thing we tend to forgo is simplicity!  Instead of spending 15 minutes looking through our closets and cabinets to see what we have or what we can use, we rush off to the stores.  We buy everything to make our home look perfect without ever first considering whether our style is a reflection of that “perfect picture.”  Entertaining is about making people feel comfortable.  A picture perfect style that is someone else’s idea of “perfect” will feel uncomfortable to everyone. 

It really comes down to a plan.  There!  I said it!  The one thing every great hostess knows and everyone else wants to skip.  There is no way around the little fact that even the most spontaneous of gatherings, at some point, required a moment of reflection from which a plan emerged.  But it can (and often should) be only a “moment” of quiet thought.  Most likely, some of the most memorable events that you’ve hosted (or even attended) were ones that were the easiest to pull together, or the easiest to enjoy.  Now tell the truth.  It’s because you had a plan, right?

Basically, in order to create your plan, all you need to think about is when (the date and time), and what type of food and beverage you will offer, if you’ll offer any at all!  During the holidays, though, you can get really creative.  Invite people in when they are actually available (we all know how full our weekend evenings are from November through December, right?).  I like to invite people for breakfast on the weekend; dessert, or a nightcap and coffee later in the evenings, even weekend evenings.  A short period of time where the expectations aren’t for a full meal, and the bar offerings are either non-alcoholic or, by design, are only a few in choice.

Once you know what and when you want to offer, creating the plan is easy.  Simply close your eyes and think about your party in progress.  What do you see?  Try different scenarios out in your “mind’s-eye” until you find what feels comfortable to you.  When it does, chances are your ideas are aligned with your personal style.  Coming up with a realistic plan to pull it off should be a snap.  Most of all trust your instincts.  If you can experience the thought of a pleasant and memorable gathering, you are halfway home to making it real. 

The next step is to make a quick list of what you think you need, and then compare the list to what you have on hand.  If your house will be filled with people, you don’t need a lot of decorations.  A few greens (snipped from the boxwood in your garden?  Rosemary that’s still abundant in the herb garden?  Evergreens outside?) and a vase or two filled with ornaments (or try fresh cranberries and some candles) may be all that you need.  Earlier this month I hosted two parties separated by 24 hours.  The parties were as different as night and day, but the decorations were simple and worked for each affair.  For a centerpiece I used a silver platter with a single votive and two reindeer statues resting ontop; on either end of the table, small soup toureens held a spray of red flowers.  A small tree in the living room (white lights only) and a few more small sprays of red flowers and some votive candles throughout the house was all that I needed to create a festive holiday look. 

And, in case you are wondering, I too take my advice.  I am always looking for ways to simplify.  Right up to the moment of service, I am editing my plan.  What can I omit?  What doesn’t need to happen?  Is less more?  Sometimes I can let things slide (“do I really need 5 cheeses? Or, 3 different kinds of nuts?”).  Other times I’m exacting (“the basil oil is the perfect garnish to the duck and must be made”).  But, I’m always on the lookout for ways to make my work easier (ask your butcher to cut and tie your meat; ask the bakery to pre-slice your cake; hire high school neighbors to clear and clean), and, by all means, find the best pre-made foods that you can plate and call your own.

If you’ve already had your holiday party, think for a moment now on what you want to do differently next year.  Jot a few notes and fold it into an envelope and tuck it away with your greeting card list for next year. You’ll be happy you took the time to note what worked, and what you want to do differently. If you’re party is about to happen, take a moment and think through your plan.  See the party you want to have, then edit and simplify.  Sure, Santa has elves, but now you don’t need to!

Copyright © 2011  Donna Marie Desfor and There’s a Chef in My Kitchen, LLC.  All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2011 WITF, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

Published in Donna Marie Desfor

back to top

Give Now

Food Sponsor

Dutch honey Gold

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »