Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday Party Chitchat and the Art of Smalltalk

  The holidays are now officially upon us, and doubtless you will be attending at least one party where you need to make "small-talk" with people you don't know, or don't know well.  We've all had those moments when you're at a work party or a neighborhood gathering, and you are all of sudden facing the task of starting a conversation.  Fear of party chitchat can wreck your enjoyment of the party (it IS a party, after all!), and lead to future avoidance of social situations that can benefit you socially, and career-wise.  I have a few simple tricks that can help make these holiday gatherings easier:

1. When talking to others, don't think of yourself.  Focus on the other person.  Think of yourself as Merv Griffin (now I'm really aging myself!).  Merv was a true conversational connoisseur.  He made others open up to him and feel at ease because he was genuinely interested in them.  This is very flattering to most people when another person shows an true interest in what they have to say.

2. Find commonalities.  You can find something you have in common with almost anyone.  It's true.  And when in doubt, discuss the weather, the local highway construction, how they know the host of the party, when did they move to the area, .....   Stay away from obvious topics of possible contention.  Example - politics!

3. If the other person seems uneasy - don't take it personally.  It almost always has nothing to do with you.  Maybe they are shy.  Maybe they are uneasy starting a conversation.  Perceive of yourself as someone who is helping them feel more at ease.

4. Smile.  Smile.  And smile.  People automatically react more positively to individuals who smile.

5. Be helpful.  Offer to get the other person another glass of wine when you get yours.  Tell them what hors d'oeuvres are especially good.

6. Talk about yourself, but not too much.  Be open, yet be aware of the other person and keep tip #1 in  mind.

7. Remember, starting conversations is like riding a bicycle - the more you do it, the easier and more natural it becomes!

8. ENJOY YOURSELF!  Life is for living and for joy.  Don't waste your precious time with unnecessary worries!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Part 2 - Cocktails - The Flying Pilgrim

   This year I've decided to fore go the traditional wine prior to the Thanksgiving meal, and serve a signature cocktail instead.  Signature cocktails are beverages that you specifically concoct for the express point of commemorating a certain event.  I've named my signature cocktail, The Flying Pilgrim.  The recipe is as follows:

one part beer (I used a Belgium Ale, but you could use anything)
one part hard apple cider
one ounce Applejack (an old recipe for a liquor that is part whisky part cider)

   Before pouring the liquids in the glass, dip the rim of a heavy mug or beer glass in some Applejack. Then dip in a saucer of raw sugar.  This makes a pretty presentation and adds a little more sweet flavor to the drink to combat the bitterness of the beer. 
   Pour the beer, then the cider, then the shot of Applejack, and serve. 


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thanksgiving Part 1 - The Kids' Table


  Although I should start with hors d'oeuvres and cocktails, I think I shall start my Thanksgiving series on the kids' table.  Sometimes this is at the back of your mind, but the addition of a "kids' table" makes all the difference in the world, in my humble opinion.  When the kids are entertained and happy, parents are happy, and can thus enjoy their Thanksgiving meal (with a glass of wine.)  
   First things first - don't even try to use your fine linen.  Make things simple and fun by using plain brown wrapping paper for a tablecloth.  You could also use a more colorful paper tablecloth with Thanksgiving decorations (I found a very cute one at Target..)  For place mats, find large sheets of coordinating construction paper.  Tuck a set of crayons inside each folded napkin, or provide a metal tub full of crayons for everyone.  
  As soon as you sit down, while the little ones are having their plates filled with food, it's a good idea to have something they can nibble on in the meantime.  I found this cute idea to make edible turkey decorations.  Depending on the ages of the children, you could even have all the supplies out ready to go, and they can make their own turkeys.  I like this idea versus many on the web because you can use all healthy non-candy items.  If you give kids chocolate peanut butter cups prior to dinner, you will never get them to eat their peas!!

   For an extra treat, grace each place setting with a paper pilgrim hat from Amazon.com.  You can turn it upside down and place the crayons inside, or place the utensils and napkin inside.  

   Books make great favors. Here are a couple of my favorites.  Even for toddlers and babies, they make great gifts that their parents can read to them and save over the years.

teachablemoment on Etsy.com
    There is a great book called, "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie"  On Etsy.com I found a felt board set that goes along with the story.  (Felt boards are easy to make.  Just cover a individual chalk or wipe-off board with felt.  Felt pictures can then be attached easily to the board.)  Felt boards are a great Thanksgiving activity for little ones, even babies, as well. 

  You might want to include some special drinks and desserts for the kids' table.  Drinksmixer.com has some simple non-alcoholic apple flavored drinks that you can dress up.  Around the rim of each glass, dip in lime juice then brown sugar (or even Pop-Rocks, if you dare!).  For dessert, kids will delight in their own caramel apple versus the grown-up slice of pumpkin pie.  See Our Best Bites for an easy recipe for gourmet style caramel apples.  Attached to each stick, stick with a glue dot a Thanksgiving die cut from your local craft or scrapbook store.  

  For after (or before) dinner fun, check out Family Fun's website (here) for some printable parade and football bingo games.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tiki Turkey Anyone?

Charles Phoenix's Turkey Tiki Dinner!
   A big thanks to Charles Phoenix (of CharlesPhoenix.com) for providing a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner inspiration!  This isn't your typical gravy, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.  It is a Tiki extravaganza!  So pull out the cocktail umbrellas and your grass skirt, and check out Charles' instructional video on how to make Thanksgiving this year a memorable one!  (Oh, and what better way to use those old Trader Dick's glasses that you collected while in college!)


And now for a Flaming Zombie.  

The Zombie Ingredients

1/2 oz light rum
1 1/2 oz golden rum
1 oz dark rum
1/2 oz Bacardi 151 rum
1 tsp orange juice
1 tsp sour mix
1 oz lime juice
1 tsp fine sugar
Pour all ingredients (except the Bacardi 151) into your favorite ice-filled tiki mug or collins glass.  Pour the 151 on top of the cocktail with a spoon, letting it rest on top. Garnish with mint leaf or fruit.  For added fun and singed eyebrows, simply add an open flame to the above recipe and stand back.

Wouldn't the Pilgrims be jealous!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Learning How to Not Sweat the Small Stuff

   It's taken me over 40 years, but I think that I've finally learned how to not sweat the small stuff.  By small stuff I mean, dirty dishes in the sink, the baby has a runny nose, the pooch that will never go away after two pregnancies, etc.  This is not to say that I am neurotic-free.  Oh, I have a plethora of neuroticisms that could fill a small college stadium, BUT they will longer will fill the state of Alaska.  Maybe it's having children, maybe it's growing older, maybe it's the addiction to box wine, maybe it's having survived as many Republican administrations as I did - who knows.  All I know is that I'm reaping the benefit now.  And really, what does constant fretting over fraying towels give us?  Concentrate on the things that mean something to you.  And yes, of course, I mean your loved ones.  But sometimes those loved ones can drive you crazy. AND THAT'S OK!  Go take a half an hour and work on that beloved paint by numbers puppy painting that you've been dying to do. (Just don't give it as a Christmas gift when you're finished.)  Make a total fool of yourself, don the baggy ski pants and the Ed Hardy stocking cap, and snowboard, even if it's just for a precious 2 hours or so.  Or you can do like me and indulge in over-emotional cooking competitions on Bravo and then try to emulate Parisian pastry puffs with rosemary and a fleur-de-sel crust.  Hell, even if no one eats it, it felt good making it.  Not to get too serious on you, but life really is too short.  And you know what, your kids will thank you for it.  Quite honestly, they are not going to be on the psychiatrist's couch whining about how you didn't feed them a perfect combination of the four food groups at every meal.  They'll be paying 200 bucks a week for therapy because you drove them crazy with your constant obsessions over wrinkled chinos, not being 2 minutes late for soccer practice, and making sure that there was not a speck of food on the carpet.  And it's not only a life-long gift to your children, it's a gift to yourself.  Turn off that damn NBC news and tell your local anchor to shove it when they go on and on about the dangers of too much Splenda or the link between caffeine and an unusual love for poultry.  Do like I do and listen to something that makes you laugh.  And don't sweat the small stuff.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Election Night Dinner Party

  While you have the TV tuned to the on-going election results this Tuesday night, why not invite some close friends and neighbors over to celebrate.  Chances are the cool crisp air of autumn has arrived, and what better to warm you up (and possibly comfort yourself over potential candidate losses), than to serve up a tasty down home pot roast with potatoes, carrots, and onion. County Living Magazine has a great recipe for Old-Fashioned Pot Roast which can be prepared in the pressure cooker within an hour.  For your pot roast, search for ingredients that are from sustainable U.S. family farms and ranches.  What a better way to show your patriotism and support for our country!
  For dessert, apple pie, of course.  And for a beverage, who can go wrong with beer - try Samuel Adams. Their Honey Porter goes well with pot roast.

   For some colorful disposable dinner ware, try Plates and Napkins on-line.  I love the cute donkey and elephant napkins.  
   Speaking of party mascots, Fantes has patriotic cookie cutters in the shapes of donkeys and elephants for some red, white and blue treats.  For a twist, make the cookies out of gingerbread and leave them un-iced. 

  When carrying out an "all-American" theme, think beyond just the food.  There are several places on-line you can turn to for American made decor items that will fit the bill.  The Vermont County Store offers some very affordable reproduction glassware in patriotic colors.
Primitive sign from Tinkers Cottage on Etsy
   Shop Etsy for some unique items that can be used in centerpieces or propped up on a buffet table next to a jar of flowers.
   To add a pleasant homey scent to the air (especially if you don't have a wood burning fireplace), try Maine balsam fir incense sticks from The Vermont Country Store.
   Peterboro Baskets offers some wonderful products with a patriotic flair.  Not only can you change out the fabrics in the baskets, you can purchase clear plastic liners that can hold appetizers, cookies, you name it.

   The Sturbridge Yankee Workshop has some great products for home decor. Don't just hang buntings outdoors.  They can be attached to the edge of  tablecloths or draped over buffets.

   For another centerpiece idea, why not break out the Lincoln Logs?  Your kids can help you build the perfect log cabin.

The Dog Coat Lady on Etsy

   Last of all, remember that every good host and hostess is polite and diplomatic. If you have guests of all political persuasions, remember to stress the commonalities of beliefs and the celebration of our right to vote!