Top Tips for Holiday Entertaining

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This story appeared in our November 2014 issue.

It’s the time of year for parties, big family gatherings, decorating and gift wrapping – but don’t sweat it! Local experts are here to help. Here are their best tips:

“Candlelight. I learned this when we were living in Copenhagen – in Danish there’s a concept called ‘hygge’ (pronounced hue-gah) that roughly translates to ‘coziness and conviviality with friends and family.’ Food, drinks and a generous amount of candles are usually involved. Candlelight adds such a lovely glow and instantly enhances the look of your meal and everyone around the table.”

Ivy Simon, who co-owns Palette & Parlor, a Danish modern furniture and design business in East 54, with her husband, John. They are parents to Jack, 10, and Sydney, 5.

“Two Christmases ago, after to-ing and fro-ing to our famiilies for years, my husband and I decided to decamp to London for a seven-day stay. No baking, cooking, prepping, mothers or mothers-in-law! Christmas morning we opened our gifts, stopped in for drinks at a friend’s – and then jumped on the nonstop to London. Arriving home on New Year’s Eve, we were ready to take on the New Year.”

Steven Petrow, who lives in Chapel Hill and writes the “Civilities” advice column for The Washington Post and “Your Digital Life” for USA Weekend.

“When it comes to holiday entertaining, my big tips include creating a timeline and staying on task. Know your limitations – have your children/family help; if they aren’t able/ willing to help, ease your burden and find someone who can. I love to use a timer to keep me on task when getting ready for an event. It keeps me focused and allows me to check things off my list! My clients often tell me they feel silly setting a timer and then realize how much more efficient they are when they do. No need to overstress during the holidays. It’s a time to enjoy family and friends!”

Mary Seagroves, a native Chapel Hillian and mom to three teenage children who owns Go2Girls, a small business that offers personal assistance for the home, family and office.

“On the ‘Xth day of Christmas,’ celebrate with a friends and family party. Before the kids go back to school – in the lull after Christmas and New Year’s but while the house is still decorated – host a party to extend the holiday season. Even though many people want to return to normalcy in their own homes, everyone is happy to continue celebrating in someone else’s home! Make it easy for yourself. Accept offers of food and drink, but keep track of items that guests are contributing. … This party has really been so much fun for our friends and our family. Falling after New Year’s and before school starts, it seems to eliminate the post-holiday blues!”

Amy Daubert, who was born a Mayflower Yankee, but is genetically Southern in all things relating to home, garden, kitchen and family. The mother of four lives on Hillcrest Circle.

“Get everyone involved in the food preparation. I don’t know about you, but the first thing that I do when I walk into someone’s home is ask: ‘What can I do to help?’ People love to be involved in the party preparations. Put together stations that will encourage your guests to work together on producing a part of the meal. Better yet, make it a competition! Let some guests cook and some guests judge. This is a great source of entertainment.”

Heidi Werner, who started out her career in hospitality as a pastry chef at The Woodstock Inn and Resort in Vermont. After spending most of her catering management career in New England, she took a position as the tour caterer for the Rolling Stones and U2 and eventually landed in Chapel Hill, where she is the director of catering at The Carolina Inn.

“Hosts are remembered by generosity, warmth, comfort and fun. Realize what holiday traditions won’t change and what new traditions you want to start.

When your list includes new linens, dinnerware, serving pieces, barware or accessories, explore the possibilities with people who offer imagination and understanding.”

Betsy Hayes, who owns Peacock Alley in University Mall.

“Take time to stop and pause. When you slow down, you can actually enjoy the conversation, savor the taste of delicious food and see the beauty of the season. When we can appreciate what is right in front of us, we often find that we have so much to be thankful for.”

Lori Burgwyn, a UNC graduate, who owns Franklin Street Yoga Center.

“Remember that the whole point of entertaining is to enjoy visiting with your guests. So make checklists to avoid last-minute forgotten items and simplify food and decorations by preparing ahead as much as possible. Lastly, consider piggybacking events such as entertaining work colleagues one night and neighbors only one or two nights later. Serve the same menu to each group so that you need to clean and decorate only once and can prepare double dishes to freeze.”

Sylvia Sloan Black, a long-term resident of the area, currently residing in Chapel Hill. She is the president of Black Star Strategies, Inc. and an active community volunteer.

“When you buy the food for your holiday feast at the farmers’ market, something about your celebration changes. Sitting around the table to give thanks and count your blessings, you’re reminded of all the hard-working individuals in your community who contributed to the meal you’re about to enjoy. This holiday season, make it a goal to get to know the farmers at your market, and be sure to share their story with your guests and family.”

Ali Rudel, who manages the Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market.

“My top tip for holiday entertaining is abundance. The holidays only come around once a year, so embrace them! No one has ever said, ‘That party was OK – but there was too much food or too many drinks or too many decorations.’ But abundance doesn’t have to mean expensive or fancy. A spicy sausage dip that we serve at every party is always the hit of the night. One of our other favorite things to do is make a big bourbon punch – everyone loves a good party punch, and it can be less or more expensive to make depending on your choice of bourbon! Serve it from a gorgeous punch bowl, and it feels over the top.”

Brendan Cox, who is the chef of Oakleaf, a Pittsboro farm-to-table restaurant that he owns with his wife, Leslie. CHM

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