Hailing the solo hostess - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Hailing the solo hostess

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Posted: Monday, April 30, 2007 4:56 am | Updated: 7:17 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

If the heyday of the fearless single woman is not yet over, I would like to suggest one more aspect of enviable elegance to add to her already rich life of well-paying job, priceless friends and beautiful clothes.

We want to be her for many reasons, but rarely has she been depicted before us as a great hostess, someone who offers her living room as a setting for delicious food, swirling glasses of wine and winning conversation.

We recall with little affection that scene in the film version of ‘‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’’ of Holly Golightly making her way through a maze of ginfueled revelers in her apartment, a Henry Mancini score competing with drunken laughter. Turning to reality, Martha Stewart hasn’t let her single status stop her from throwing parties. Her resources and space, however, are of another dimension.

Still, if the single people among us live full lives in every way, why shouldn’t one of those joys involve throwing delightful get-togethers?

Is it because entertaining is difficult enough for two people? Is there a realistic method for a single person to throw a dinner or cocktail party?

I couldn’t help but wonder why party-throwing isn’t more commonplace among singles.

‘‘I think entertaining is incredibly fulfilling and an exciting part of life. When you do it as a single person, you have a tremendous sense of accomplishment,’’ said Jennifer Rubell, author of ‘‘Real Life Entertaining.’’

‘‘Bringing people together and creating a special evening is a great feeling.’’

Lauren Purcell, who along with her sister Anne Purcell Grissinger wrote ‘‘Cocktail Parties, Straight Up!’’ and offer more tips at www.purcellsisters. com, says ‘‘no one should hesitate to throw a cocktail party. It takes nothing other than wanting to show friends a good time.’’

So, on with it. The following are strategies and tips from conversations with Rubell, who spoke of dinner parties of no more than 10 guests, and the Purcell sisters, who envisioned a cocktail party of no more than 25 people.

On planning: ‘‘It’s OK to ask people to help you. You can ask someone to bring wine, you can ask someone to bring dessert. Let people help you out on the accessories of the meal,’’ Rubell said. ‘‘To be a relaxed host, you need to conceptualize a relaxed party.’’

On decorating and setting the table: ‘‘We’ve never thought more elaborate makes for a great party,’’ Purcell said. ‘‘We don’t decorate. We use tons and tons of votive candles.’’ To that end, the sisters have the first guest to arrive light the candles.

Don’t set your table before the party, Rubell says. Ask two guests, preferably two people who don’t know each other well, to do it so they can get to know each other.

On music: Have a guest who’s into music bring a MP3 player, Rubell said. It’s really no work for someone, and they’re excited to share their music.

‘‘It’s a great thing to ask guys to do,’’ she said.

The Purcell sisters recommend buying cocktail party CDs often sold at coffee shops and home-decorating stores. ‘‘There are tons of party CDs that are already out there and they’re already picked to put people in the right mood,’’ Grissinger said.

Alcohol: In addition to wine, the sisters recommend a single signature cocktail that sits on a table in a large pitcher and guests can pour for themselves.

This also encourages mingling among people who might not otherwise know each other.

During the party: ‘‘Pressing your guests into service is something you should never hesitate to do,’’ Purcell said. ‘‘You can even put a tray in some guests hands and have them pass out drinks or appetizers — pick a shy guest; it solves the hostess problem of how do I get that one person out of a corner.’’

Bringing people to the table: While you’re in the kitchen with last-minute preparations, Rubell says to pick your most gregarious guest and have them tell others where to sit.

On the menu: Rubell serves one hot dish and everything else warm or cold.

‘‘It’s OK for vegetables to be at room temperature. It’s OK for the salad to be sitting in the fridge ahead of time. You’re not a restaurant, you don’t want to be a restaurant. That’s not the feeling you want.’’

And once you are confident about a dish, you can always serve it.

‘‘You can perfect one or two dishes and serve them at every party you throw. Let everybody crave that one roasted chicken with potatoes you make,’’ Rubell said.

To make preparation easy, the Purcell sisters serve what they call deconstructed finger foods.

For instance, instead of you taking the time to spread sliced bread with tapenade or another spread, set the bread out next to a bowl of the spread and have guests make their own.

For cocktail parties, the sisters say that dessert is optional. ‘‘Nobody expects something sweet at the end of a cocktail,’’ Purcell said.

Before and after the meal:

Have something for guests to munch on when they arrive, Rubell says. She serves olives tossed with fresh rosemary and orange slices. In the instances where she’s served her own dessert, Rubell buys high-quality chocolate bars, breaks them up with her hands and serves the shards alongside a single type of fruit.

On wine and glasses: Select a guest to pour wine for others and have all guests bring their glasses to the dinner table, Rubell said.

Cleaning up: This is tricky. Asking guests to do popular things such as pouring wine is fine, but you don’t necessarily want to saddle anyone with labor-intensive dishwashing work.

‘‘I don’t enlist anyone (to wash dishes) because I think that’s too much,’’ Rubell said. ‘‘But, if somebody offers, I say yes. It’s really a bummer when everybody leaves a party and you go to the kitchen and are drowned in dishes.’’

One solution is to ask a friend before the party to stay to clean up, she said. That’s a good setting for after-party conversation.

So, on with it. And don’t worry about hitting every mark.

‘‘Imperfection is one of the hallmarks of a great party,’’ Rubell said. ‘‘Every party I do is imperfect.’’

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