Nothing says fall more than gathering with friends, sipping beer and cider, and sharing a meal of hearty chilis, cornbread, caramel apples, and bourbon cupcakes, all while under the canopy of crimson-colored branches. This past weekend, Amanda Glendinning, a seasoned entertaining ingénue, hosted her annual Chili Party. I was lucky to have the opportunity to attend this year’s event; not only was it a perfect autumn afternoon, but Amanda went all out, with hay bales and pumpkins studding the patio, tables spread with delicious cheeses and homemade Tipsy Maple Corn, to masterminding harvest-themed games.
Aside from inviting friends, and debating over which dishes to prepare, hosting a chili party is quite easy (especially when you serve a mouth-watering beef and bean chili that people look forward to eating every year). The key is all in the planning: planning your décor, where and how the food will be arranged, and any activities you want to have going on. You don’t have to host an all-out affair like Amanda did to have fun. Take inspiration from her party and create an unforgettable afternoon of your own.
Determining the scale of your event:
If this is your first time hosting a party, or if you only have a couple of days to plan, we suggest keeping it simple, with a couple of appetizers, one hearty chili (with garnishes to liven it up or dull the heat, and a bread, of course), and a dessert or two. Host your event inside, so weather is not an issue, allowing friends to sit comfortably on the sofa, chairs, or floor. Beverages can be BYOB, if you wish, or simply supply an array of cold beers and cider.
If you are a seasoned pro, like Amanda, at hosting parties, have multiple hosts or hostesses throwing the event together, or have ample time to plan, you can also create a more elaborate affair. Maybe you invite more friends and have a couple of different kinds of chili for a chili taste test. Host your event in the fall, and have each guest bring their favorite six-pack, and a seasonal appetizer or dessert that complements the chili, and celebrates the flavors of the season. Or build a fire so you can host your gathering outside, as Amanda did. Yes, you have to worry about the weather, but you can also have fun decorating with hay bales and cornstalks. As well, you can set up fun outdoor games for children of all ages (yes, we mean adults, too), like bobbing for apples or eating cinnamon donuts off a string. The best part? Cleaning up is a breeze.
Interested in hosting your own chili party this weekend? Amanda has shared some of her party-planning tips with us to help walk you through hosting a successful gathering of your own.
1. Guest list: invite a variety of friends from various parts of life whom you know will enjoy the food and festivities prepared. Part of the fun of hosting a party is watching new friendships form.
2. Choose a date and a venue: if you are hosting your event outdoors, make sure that you have an indoor option as a backup, and can prepare for cool weather. Amanda rented a gas outdoor heater and had a fire going to ensure her guests were warm. If you’re hosting the event indoors, make sure you choose a space that can accommodate all your guests, and where you can lay out the spread of foods and facilitate mingling (though guests always do tend to end up gathering in the kitchen).
3. Plan your menu: first, determine if you want it to be buffet or potluck style. Maybe you assign specific dishes to friends, like the one who makes the most amazing Turkey Chili – ask him to bring that. At a chili party, let the chili reign as the focal dish, preparing an easy home side, like cornbread, in addition to a variety of store-bought garnishes. Amanda chose one from-scratch dish for each course, serving Tipsy Maple Corn along with a variety of cheeses with fruits, crackers, and chutneys to munch on while guests arrived. Keeping in line with a chili-theme, she also served chips and salsa (tortilla chips are a crunchy topping for chili, too!). For dessert, she stuck with something simple, Chocolate Chili Cupcakes with a Chocolate Bourbon Glaze, as people were likely to have gotten their fill of appetizers and chili. Plus, you also never know when a guest may bring along another surprise sweet treat, like caramel apples.
4. Activities: depending on whether you want your party to have a more active energy or not, offering games for your guests to play will keep them engaged and laughing. Amanda set up bobbing for apples, and strung cinnamon donuts on a string, two classic Halloween party games that even older adults have fun playing. Another fun fall activity is to host a paddle tennis round robin before sitting down to chili, if you have access to paddle tennis courts. Added plus? Playing a couple games of paddle tennis is guaranteed to leave your guests hungry.
5. Décor: when decorating for a party, the main goal is for your space to feel warm and inviting – lived in – so, if you’re working with a barebones space, or the outdoors, you will need more décor to achieve that goal. Entertaining in your own home? Little is required beyond small touches, like cocktail napkins and candles.
It is also good to remember that when hosting a party based around food, the decorations are, well, really all about the food. Visually, what you see, from green guacamole to red and yellow tomato halves tossed together with vinaigrette, will draw you in. And, with a chili party, you don’t necessarily need to beckon people in once they catch a whiff of the rich chocolate-y spice aromas coming from your stovetop; they will run in! But, you should think about how the food is presented, both in terms of vessels and arrangement. Amanda created a couple of stunning cheese platters, paying attention to the varieties of cheeses offered, and what kinds of garnishes she served them with, that were delightful to the eye (and the palate).
As we said, decorations can be something as small as themed cocktail napkins and plates, flowers or other plant material displayed as one or more arrangements, all the way out to wall decorations (like streamers), balloons, and more. Given her party was held outdoors in the fall, and she didn’t already have any landscape decorations, Amanda chose to pick out an array of harvest objects to bring color to her patio: hay bales, cornstalks, Indian corn, pumpkins and a colorful array of squash of all sizes and shapes.
6. A helping hand, or two: the one thing any host or hostess often overlooks when bringing together friends is having a couple of helping hands, whether it is two friends who come early to help set up the food and ensure that the drinks are chilled, and the bread is sliced. It can also be someone who stays later to help wash and dry the dishes, while chatting. More hands make the work lighter, and more enjoyable. Even if you have everything under control, it never hurts to have an extra set of eyes look over things (and to share that first glass of bubbly with once everything is ready to go).
7. Have fun: at the end of the day, you’re having a party and your friends are there. Even if some things run amiss, you’re all there to share in each other’s company and have fun. That’s what matters most.