People always tell me they’d like to invite friends over more often for a weekend brunch or dinner or a casual get-together after work. But there’s always a “but.”
The “but” usually goes something like this: “I’d love to have a dinner party, but I feel like it’s just too much work to pull it all together.”
My solution starts with just four little words: Create a party pantry.
What’s a party pantry?
It’s a place in your home — a closet, a cupboard, or, in the case of my space-challenged apartment, a few shelves — where you can gather things to help you entertain more easily.
What sort of things should you keep in your party pantry?
Objects to inspire and delight you, and ingredients to help you pull things together quickly when the need or desire arises. Start by stocking platters and large bowls for things like cheeses, chips, and hors d’oeuvres. Buy colorful napkins on sale to suit the upcoming seasons, and collect fun mix and match napkin rings. Whimsical cocktail glasses and a good cocktail recipe book will serve you well, as will one bottle each of a good vodka, gin, and whiskey.
Look for decorative items on sale and if you’re unsure about your palette, start with a base of white (food always looks great on white, as any chef will tell you), with accents in just two or three materials and colors. Think about what matches your home and your style.
Another must for any party pantry: lots of white, unscented candles (votives, pillars, and floating candles, for example). They add instant ambience to any gathering, and fragrance-free candles won’t interfere with food flavors or overwhelm guests.
As I mentioned, my own party pantry is a shelving unit, and I’ve actually made it the centerpiece of my living room, showing off my pretty glasses and objects. Why keep them hidden away? When I need inspiration, I look at what I have and ideas just pop up.
If you want to make things really easy for welcoming last-minute guests, keep a few long-lasting food items on hand. Start with marinated olives, spiced or herbed nuts, an artisanal honey, dried figs and sausages, fruit jams, dips or salsas, crispy flatbreads and crackers, and some special chocolates or mints. When you have a few great things on hand, you can supplement with a quick trip to the store on the way home for fresh things like cheese and produce.
With a little attention up front, you can assemble an arsenal of inviting flavors, textures, and details to enhance all your at-home entertaining. In no time you’ll find yourself saying, as I often do, “Why wait? Let’s celebrate!” (Photos courtesy of William Geddes)