Friday, March 30, 2012

Food on Friday: dinner parties

I have always been inspired by the 2006 Sofia Coppola film, Marie Antoinette.  Regardless of historical accuracy (or character development, or plot or whatever else critics say) the film is an absolute feast for the eyes.  As a lover of all things aesthetically pleasing, wistful and romantic, every scene in this movie moves me.  From the lazy garden scenes--where you can practically feel the soft breeze and warm sunshine yourself--to the lavish party scenes, everything is gorgeous, luxurious and seems to drip from your lips like honey.

While we cannot all be infamous queens from the 1700s (or spend like one), I am a firm believer that living a "Marie Antoinette" lifestyle is possible on a daily basis.  The key is to surround yourself with things you find beautiful, add small luxuries into your life and to linger in the moments that make you happy or calm.

On that note, I thought today would be a perfect day to give you a few of my favorite (affordable) tips for dinner parties that even Marie would be envious of.    After all, more than half the fun of cooking is sharing something special and delicious with the people you love.
from My Fantastically Good Life.

1.  Dim the lightening-  No one wants to sit down for a leisurely meal under the bright fluorescent lights of the kitchen.  It reminds you of being in a cafeteria and makes people feel like they have to (and want to) rush.  Use dimmers, lamps and candles to get "mood lighting." It should be light enough that everyone can see/cut their food, but dark enough that no one can see that huge, ripe pimple on your nose.  When possible, I stick to only candle and/or soft natural light (for example if the dinner is before the sun sets).

2.  Play music-  Unless your meal is outside and you are being serenaded by frogs, crickets, nightingales and Mother Nature's other music-makers, putting on a little music will help to relax your guests and set a slow and lazy tone.  Personally, I am a fan of upbeat but slow-paced music while dining.  I also tend to like instrumentals, as they give you something interesting to enjoy during lulls in the conversation, but don't compete with talking or draw too much attention to themselves.  Turn the volume down low to keep it mellow--the music should be an almost unnoticeable--yet integral--part of the "scene".  (I love Explosions in the Sky.)

3.  Set the table beautifully-  Use a table cloth and be excessive with your dishes.  I am talking chargers (if you have them), dinner plates, salad plates, water glasses and wine glasses, forks, knives, spoons, baby forks and baby spoons, cloth napkins, tiny salt and pepper shakers, things you haven't seen since you opened your weddings gifts and things you didn't know you had.  Pretend like the queen is coming, because, my friend, you are the queen and you deserve to eat like one.  Worry about the clean up later (or better yet, wrangle your boyfriend or husband into doing it for you).  No one ever looked at a picnic table full of soggy paper plates and felt fabulous.  But, using your best china and water goblets (even if your dinner party is outside) will make you feel like a million bucks.

4.  Encourage people to slow down-  Some people eat seriously quickly.  Some people have trouble sitting around a table for hours and having a nice, relaxing meal.  Encourage your guests to slow down by serving something complicated to eat or by serving separate courses (with a little time in between).  The mark of a great dinner party is two empty wine (or juice;-) bottles on the table, two hours later and people are still talking and laughing.

5. Get dressed up- Put on something that makes you feel great.  Do your hair up in something romantic and add a flower from your garden.  Feeling great about how you look when you host guests allows you to enjoy your party that much more.

6. Move it outside- If you weren't already planning on your dinner being outside and if you have the space, move it outside.  It's so much nicer to dine al fresco.

from Blooms Blog

COSTS A LITTLE (but with a big impact):

1.  Cheap champagne- Unless you are a wine snob--in which case, you probably aren't reading my blog anyway--go to the supermarket and buy the cheapest bottle of champagne, sparkling wine or prosecco you can find.  While at the supermarket, buy some fresh (or frozen, I won't tell) berries (I like raspberries).  Got them?  Good.  Proceed to serve your guests a beautiful glass of bubbly and berries when they arrive.  You sip one, too.  I am pretty sure you feel amazing now.

2. Flowers- A dinner party is not a dinner party without them.  Seriously, you need a lot.  They don't have to be expensive, you can pick a ton of dandelions and daisies from the empty lot across the street for all I care.  In fact, I am partial to messy bouquets that (look like they) are made up of flowers picked from a field.   Just fill up the table with flowers, cut short (preferably in juice glasses or jam jars) so that your guests can see over them.  Instant luxury.

3. More candles- Think you have enough candles?  Add a few more, just for good measure.  Put them in jam jars or juice glasses, too.  It's cheap, it's recycling and it's glam.  Who would have thought?

4. Have dessert- Here's the thing: most people don't let themselves have dessert on a regular basis.  And, when they do, it's often something easy and effortless like cookies from the pantry, ice cream or a popsicle.  So, give your guests a chance to indulge.  Make dessert, preferably something über chocolatey, but anything rich will do.  Then make it look pretty.  Serve and watch as people feel pampered and totally high on life.  Aren't dinner parties all about indulging anyway?


1. Throw a dinner party for just anyone.  You won't have fun.  And, then, what's the point.

2. Think a "dinner party" has to be a Dinner Party.  Seriously.  You're the queen of your life, not the president of the United States.  It should be fun and not stuck up. It's a Tuesday night?  Your boyfriend is coming home early from work?  Break out that bubbly and set the damn table already.  Anytime is a good time for a luxurious meal.

3. Get caught up in making it perfect.  Even after all my advice, ignore anything the brings more stress than pleasure.  Don't focus on any detail that doesn't have a big impact.  Are place cards, napkin rings or hand-stenciled invites going to add to the beauty of the party or change the mood?  Probably not.  Stick to worrying about more important things like looking like a Greek goddess and lighting some candles.

A little spring dinner I had with my boyfriend and best friend last year!

Well, that's about it for my guide to a everyday-luxurious dinner party.  I love slowing down, enjoying the moment and surrounding myself with beauty and hope these tips help you to do the same.  Sometimes, there is nothing more satisfying than a really long, beautifully done meal with people you love.  I hope you get to have one this weekend!