Cold Weather Fiestas

The weather is cooling down, and for a lot of us, that means it’s dark before we get home from work and our night consists of changing into sweats and curling up on the couch. (Am I the only one who can burn through a season of The Office in a couple of weeks once the temperature goes down?) Instead of hunkering down, take advantage of the coziness of home by inviting friends over. You’ll save money at the bars, and you won’t even need to put on a jacket. But surely you can do better than having everyone over and popping in a movie, right? Right. We came up with three great types of parties that will beat your winter blues–and tips on how to pull them off.

Host a Tasting: Whether it’s wine or cheese or a chili cook-off, everyone loves food and alcohol. By hosting a tasting or food competition, you’ve created the ideal situation: everyone’s bringing a dish or bottle, so you don’t have to be responsible for all the food and drinks, but you look super organized, because the night has a theme. Here are some ideas:

  • Ask your guests to bring bottles of the same type of wine from different countries or regions, and you provide the snacks.
  • Challenge your friends to a pasta cook-off, and have salad, dessert, and a couple of bottles of wine there to reward them for their trouble.
  • If you have some creative buddies who are willing to prep for your party, ask everyone to come up with a signature drink on a theme (the holidays, a specific fruit, or even something a little weird), bring the ingredients, and host a cocktail party/best drink contest.
  • OK, OK, sometimes you do just want to curl up with a movie. Monthly movie nights beat book clubs any time. Assign one person a month to bring a flick no one has seen. Pop popcorn and crack open beers. It couldn’t be any easier than that.

You can be creative with your get-togethers, but the key is setting a specific day every month where you’ll all gather to beat the winter blues, enjoy each other’s company, and eat and drink for a fraction of what you’d pay at a restaurant.

Brunch It Up: The price and pressure of having a big group over for dinner–not to mention that, let’s face it, a lot of us don’t have enough table space for more than four!–can be discouraging. But you know what’s cheap and quick to make? Brunch! Thanks to its breakfast/lunch hybrid, you don’t have to have anyone over before 11 a.m., and a combination of quick cooking and ready-made items will mean your place beats a diner any day. Some tips for a successful brunch (where you can sleep in!):

  • Prep what you can the night before. Bake or buy muffins and pastries, set the coffee to auto-timer, and set up a buffet on a counter or table. Check and be sure you have the essentials–cream cheese, sugar, milk–so you (or your devoted significant other) can make a late-night run to the convenience store if something’s missing.
  • Decide what you want to make versus what you want to buy. Yes, I know people who make homemade donuts, but those people are not me. Make a list of what you’re going to serve, and then plan to make about a third of it. If people want to pitch in, assign them to bring bagels, donuts, or fixings for bloody Marys or mimosas the morning of the brunch so you don’t have to make a last-minute trip for fresh goodies.
  • Pull out all the stuff that’s been hiding in your cabinets. Brunch is a great time to use the electric griddle (for pancakes), pitchers (for mixed morning drinks), gigantic platters (to serve an array of breakfast meats), and cloth napkins (line baskets with them and place bagels or pastries in). It’s the stuff you never thought you’d use, but it’s perfect for feeding breakfast to a crowd.
  • Make it in bulk. Cooking bacon in a pan is fine when it’s just you, but when you’re busy talking to your friends and making pancakes, I can assure you: you’ll only end up with burnt bacon. Almost anything, even bacon, can be baked in the oven. It’s a low-risk, easy way of getting things cooked.

Capitalize on the Holidays:Of course, there’s always the option of planning a party around a theme or holiday. Lucky for you, parties with friends are usually far lower on drama, in-law tension and general running around than family holidays, so you can relax and enjoy!

  • Have an early Thanksgiving. Ask each guest to bring their favorite side and you provide the bird. (Or, you can give into the truth and just have a dinner of sides. Who really does Turkey Day for the turkey?) This is a great way to get everyone together before the holiday season and to give everyone a chance to eat their favorite holiday food…twice!
  • Take the pressure off Christmas. With a list of holiday gifts a mile long to buy, most of us don’t want to worry about which of our friends we should buy for or how much we should spend. Who wants to take another hour in the wall? Organize a Yankee Swap or Secret Santa. Tip: Be very clear about the parameters, setting a budget for the gifts and deciding whether you’re doing gag gifts or the real thing. It helps alleviate the awkwardness and/or anxiety people often feel about gift giving. Then, have everyone over for some egg nog, tree decorating and gift swapping–a great chance to pause and take in the holidays.

So back away from the couch and the remote and get party planning! Whether it’s a one-time celebration or a monthly gathering, the cold weather doesn’t meant we have to become a bunch of hermits.

Tell us: what are your best ideas for party hosting?


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