Ask Ali: Entertaining | Gimme Some Oven


Ask Ali Q&A: Entertaining


Hey guys!  I’m back with this month’s Q&A, and I’ve totally been looking forward to it because today we are chatting about one of my favorite things on earth…

…entertaining. 

Now of course, I am by noooo means any kind of entertaining expert.  Martha Stewart would most certainly flip if she saw our pile of wrinkly cloth napkins all shoved in a drawer, or learned of our deep affection for stackable wine glasses, or discovered just how often we serve people what’s essentially grown-up mac and cheese. But that’s just the thing — I think that Barclay and I have come to love entertaining so much because it’s never been about perfectionism or performance or people-pleasing for us.  We love entertaining because we get to do it our way.


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I actually started this blog because I’m such a deep believer in the magic that takes place when people gather together around a table to share a meal.  And as the host, I think there’s also something profound about having the opportunity to quite literally feed those you love.  But while I can happily nerd out all day about how to fill a table with everything from cheeseboards to chips and salsa, sizzling stir-frys to creamy linguines, fancy-pants filets to gussied-up frozen pizzas, ice-cold bottles of beer to craft cocktails — in the end, the food is always secondary.

Entertaining is all about people.  

It’s all about you — being fully yourself in your own home, creating an experience that feels natural and authentic to you.  It’s all about your guests — giving them a chance to hit the “pause” button on their busy schedules and just rest and enjoy being hosted for awhile.  And more than anything, it’s simply about togetherness — being as fully present as possible with one another, and enjoying time together face to face.  Those moments spent lingering around a table together feel so sacred nowadays, especially amidst the swirl of our busy lives.  And when you get to be the one hosting them in your very own home, I’m convinced it’s one of the most special things in the world.

That said, though, I also know that entertaining can also feel like the most intimidating and stressful things in the world, especially up against the pressures of our Pinterest-perfect screens.  So today, let’s talk all about it!  You all sent in hundreds of great questions.  And I have done my best to answer as many as I can here below, plus I will also pop over to answer a few more live on Instagram stories this afternoon.  Hopefully there’s a nugget here that will be helpful for you.  But as always, if you have more ideas or suggestions or questions to add, please chime in the comments below.

Alright, let’s do some Q&A!

Ask Ali Q&A: Entertaining

Margarita Monday!

The Hosting

I always love the idea of hosting.  But as an introvert, having a house full of people (and having to navigate small talk!) tends to really stress me out.  Any tips?

Oh girl, I feel you. ♡  A part of me has always wished that I had boundless extroverted energy for entertaining.  But the reality is I’m a total introvert at heart, and being with any group of people (no matter how much I love them and our time together) just requires a lot of social energy.  Here are a few small suggestions that have helped me!

  • Invite extroverts to your gathering: Even better, extroverts who are good conversationalists.  It’s a total win-win!  They will naturally do what they do best, and then you don’t have to feel as much pressure to carry the conversational load.  (If you’re especially anxious about a particular crowd, don’t be afraid to also ask your extroverted friends in advance to help start conversations or to connect people who might be new.)
  • Schedule little breaks: Especially if you’re hosting a large crowd or people you don’t know very well, don’t be afraid to plan little moments to duck out and take a breather.  Whether that means escaping to the kitchen for a sec to prep some food, getting up to refill everyone’s drinks, going into a quiet room for a few minutes, or (my personal fave) taking the dogs outside, I find that just taking a little break here and there can be incredibly helpful.
  • Set an end time: As an introvert, I’ve found over the years that it can also be a relief to have a non-ambiguous end time to gatherings.  So don’t be afraid to tell people in advance what time you need to wrap up!  It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out, awkward explanation.  Just casually mention when people walk in, “Hey, I’ve got an early morning tomorrow.  So I just wanted to give you a heads up that I’m totally going to shoo you all out tonight at 10.”  😉  Your fellow introverts in the group will probably thank you.
  • Wear comfy clothes (and shoes): This may sound silly, but if you know in advance that being around a group of people wears you out, make sure that you go into your gathering feeling — quite literally — as comfortable as possible.  Don’t dress to impress.  Wear whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident and fully like yourself.
  • Try to keep the rest of your day fairly low-stress.  I know this isn’t always possible.  But when you can, try not to jam-pack the rest of your day with stressful projects or tons of people time so that you can reserve more energy for your gathering ahead.
  • Ask questions: Finally, I know this is Introverted Survival Code #1, but it applies to entertaining in your home as well.  If you get overwhelmed, ask good open-ended questions.  It’s an easy way to throw the baton to another person, and of course, also has the added bonus of getting to know them better too.

I just moved into my first apartment and can’t wait to start hosting, but I’m just learning how to cook and the whole food thing feels intimidating.  Any advice for beginner cooks?

Yay, congrats on your new apartment!  And yes, definitely. 🙂  My best advice would be to pick one dish to focus on for your first gathering, and then don’t stress about the rest.  For example?

  • Bring home a a hot rotisserie chicken, hummus and pita bread from the store.  Then you focus on roasting up one or two vegetables to go with it (such as Brussels sprouts or asparagus or cauliflower).
  • Order in a big pizza (or bake a good frozen one).  Then you focus on making a simple green salad to go with it (such as this one).
  • Pick up a handful of cheeses, fruit, nuts, and crackers to make a simple cheeseboard.  Then you focus on making a pasta salad to go with it (such as this one).

Each time you entertain, you can start to build up your recipe repertoire and find what rhythms work best for you.  The most important thing is just to start and have fun with it. 🙂

I love entertaining but find it can get so expensive so quickly.  Ideas??

So true.  I definitely recommend doing whatever you can to stay within your budget so that the cost doesn’t stress you out.  (And if you ever start to feel the need to impress, remember that your friends love you and wouldn’t want it to stress you out!)  To keep costs down, I recommend:

  • Asking people to bring a dish/drink: Everyone’s always happy to contribute to a potluck, and it can go a long way in keeping costs down.
  • Cook vegetarian: This is of course a broad generalization, but I find that cooking vegetarian is almost always less expensive when you don’t have to purchase meats/seafood.
  • Shop at a discount grocery: Gotta love a good ALDI receipt.
  • Make pasta: It’s one of the cheapest meals I know, and who doesn’t love pasta?!
Ask Ali Q&A: Entertaining

Thanksgiving vibes

The Space

I also love to host, but my apartment is small!  Is it terrible / not adult enough to have a dinner party on the floor?

Not terrible at all — floor parties are super fun!  I actually just had dinner at a friends’ house the other day where we were all clustered around the coffee table, and it instantly made the night feel so cozy and casual and comfortable.  The two keys I would suggest are simply to make sure that (1) everyone has some sort of comfy pillow or blanket to sit on, and (2) whatever food you serve is conducive to the setting.  For example, if you’re squeezing 8 girlfriends around a coffee table to have dinner and watch “The Bachelor”, don’t serve hot bowls of soup that everyone will have to try and balance in their laps.  Go for sandwiches, or easy finger foods, or whatever won’t stain your rug if there are a few accidental spills.

What is your pre-party routine/checklist?

For sure, every kind of gathering is different, and I rarely have as much time as I would like to prep.  But in general though, when I do have the luxury of some lead time, I’m a big believer in doing as much as possible in advance before having people over.

The day (or two) before a gathering, that often includes:

  • Setting the table in advance.  Or even if you don’t lay out place settings, just setting out all of the plates, silverware, napkins and glasses on the table the night beforehand always makes me feel a bit more relaxed.
  • Prepping as much of the meal as possible.  Totally depends on the menu, of course.  But any veggies that can be chopped, sauces or salad dressings that can be mixed up, ingredients that can be set out, or dishes that can fully be made in advance will be a big help.
  • Tidying up the house.  At least the areas where people will be hanging out.  (Sidenote: Our household finally joined the Roomba Party this year and we are obsessed.)
  • Doing the dishes. We always, always make sure to run our dishwasher the night before a party to give us a clean slate for dishes the day-of.

Then the day of a gathering, I prioritize:

  • Getting myself ready.  Back in the day, I always used to prioritize getting all of the food ready before I would finish getting dressed, doing my hair, makeup, etc.  But nine times out of ten, that situation would end up with me in the bathroom, frantically trying to blow dry my hair in the two minutes before my guests arrived!  Lol, not a recipe for stress-free entertaining.  Now, I get myself ready first.  Because hey, even if that means the food is running a bit behind when people arrive, I’ll at least feel cute finishing things up.
  • Drinks and apps.  The two most important menu items to start a party!  I always make sure that we have glasses, a pitcher of water, and any wine or cocktails already laid out and ready to go when people first arrive.  Plus some sort of appetizer or snack for them to munch on while dinner is prepared.  Guests love it, and it relieves the pressure on you as the cook if things are running a bit behind.
  • Meal prep.  I always crank up the music and light a candle to get in party mode, then do as much of the food prep as possible people arrive.
  • Greeting people.  No matter how busy I am in the kitchen, I feel like it’s important to always make a point of greeting people and saying hi when they walk in the door. ♡
  • Finishing up the cooking.  And finally, wrap up the food prep while people are sipping on drinks and chatting.  And if guests offer to help, you make the call — feel free to put them to work if you’d like, but also don’t worry about turning them down if it feels less stressful to just finish cooking yourself.

Any tips for other details (beyond the food) that will make a home feel more inviting?

Oooh yes.  Music for sure (to set whatever vibe you’re going for).  A couple of candles (even just one or two will instantly cozy the place up).  Munchies sprinkled around the house (people love to graze).  A nice warm house in the winter (plus blankets available if people get chilly, or a fireplace going if you’re lucky enough to have one) and open windows if it’s warmer out (oof, I’m dreaming of those days right about now).

Also, if you happen to be a household that doesn’t do shoes inside, I always appreciate when a host gives a heads up in advance so that people can come prepared.  You know, so that I don’t wear that one pair of hole-y socks or stress about super-chipped nail polish all night long. 😉

Ask Ali Q&A: Entertaining

The Prep

How do you time preparing food for a lot of people and not be stuck in the kitchen when they arrive?

Oof, yes, I feel like this is always one of the trickiest parts of hosting.

To be honest, nowadays I pretty much only plan menus that can be made 90% in advance.  When I’m cooking for just the two of us at home on a regular weeknight, I’m totally down for a more complicated meal that requires me babysitting the stove for 45 minutes.  But when people are coming over, I just really want to spend time with them!

So to avoid getting stuck in the kitchen, I try to plan menus that only require up to 10 minutes (max!) of active prep time just before serving.  Often that means that I will prep a pan of enchiladas a head of time, and then just need to pop it in the oven and sprinkle on some cilantro before serving.  Or I’ll prep a salad dressing ahead of time and then just need to chop and assemble the salad at the last second.  Or most often this winter, I will have made some sort of soup or chili or curry in the Instant Pot, and just need to chop up a few toppings.  (Or if it’s a super last-minute gathering, 10 minutes of prep time often means a gussied-up frozen pizza and this 5-ingredient salad!)

Basically, my best advice is just to keep things as simple as possible.  I’m convinced that people would far prefer having you (their host, their friend, someone they love!) make a simple batch of chili, versus having you stressed out over some fancy 4-course meal in the kitchen all night long.

How do you know how much to prepare for the crowd?  I never know how much food to buy.

Also tricky!  In my experience, I find that most people usually go back for seconds of the main course, so I usually plan for two servings for everyone.  Then I always make sure to go big on one side dish as a filler, just in case we run out of food.  (Like with Mexican food, I’ll make sure that there are tons of chips and salsa on hand.  Or with Italian, lots of extra bread or salad.  Or if we’re grilling out, lots of extra pasta salad.)

Lol, I should disclaim that in all of my years of entertaining, we have never run out of food.  The only time we came close was on Barclay’s birthday last year, when we had more guests show up than anticipated and only had two pans of lasagna to serve.  But hey, we just brought out all of the leftover crackers and cheese that we happened to have on hand, and everyone was just fine. 🙂

How do you handle the mess before your guests arrive?

Lol, our kitchen is often a hot mess when people arrive.  C’est la vie when you come to dinner at our house. 😉

In general, though, we do try to clean up as much as we can while we’re cooking, especially when we have the luxury of some extra prep time.  And I have a habit of always loading and running the dishwasher while everyone is eating.  (That way at the end of the night, we don’t have to start from scratch washing all of the cooking dishes plus everyone’s eating dishes.)

Also, now that we’re living in an apartment that’s not “open concept”, I try to encourage people to hang out more in the living/dining room versus the kitchen.  Ha, it doesn’t always work.  (People have a way of always migrating back to the kitchen!)  But at least if the drinks and munchies are out in the other room, it can help a messy kitchen from getting too overcrowded.

Ask Ali Q&A: Entertaining

Barclay’s famous roasted artichokes

The Food

I feel like people have so many dietary needs now.  How do you accommodate?

So true — between people’s food allergies/intolerances, special diets, 30-day challenges, and just general ingredient preferences, there are a lot of things to consider nowadays when planning a menu.  Especially when you’re cooking for a large group.

I always make it a point to text people ahead of time and ask if they have any dietary needs or if there are any particular foods that they don’t like.  But instead of seeing ingredient restrictions as a hassle or inconvenience, I like to think of them as an opportunity to love on people really well.  ♡  Like truly, it makes my heart really happy when I have vegan friends over and see their eyes light up when they realize that they actually can eat everything on the menu.  Or when a friend sees that we baked up that special batch of cookies that he loves.  Or when a meal is 100% nut-free, so that a mom friend doesn’t have to worry about the little one sitting in her lap with a peanut allergy.

Sure, it can take some extra work and creativity to make a meal work for everyone.  But I think that any host wants people to feel really well-known and loved in their home, so paying close attention to dietary needs is a specific way you can do so.

What do you always have on hand for impromptu visitors?

Barclay and I are obsessed with salads, so we pretty much always have a bag or two of greens in the fridge.  We will often use those to make our favorite everyday salad.  Then if I happen to have some veggies in the produce drawer, I might whip up a simple stir-fry or curry to go with the salad.  But most often, my super-easy fallback is semi-homemade Italian, such as:

  • Tortellini: We always keep a few packages of store-bought tortellini in our fridge, which only take a few minutes to cook.  Just toss them with a jar of sauce or — my favorite — make a quick butter-and-herb sauce from scratch, and voila.  It feels like a nice meal but can literally all be made in a snap.
  • Gnocchi: Also cooks super quickly and can be tossed with store-bought or homemade sauce, plus any veggies you might be able to sauté while the water heats.
  • Frozen pizza: Our fallback that’s always a winner.  Sprinkle on some arugula, freshly-shaved Parmesan and crushed red pepper flakes to gussy it up once it comes out of the oven, and it instantly feels fancy pizza.  People love it.

Oh, and if I happen to have some frozen chicken in the freezer, this speedy 5-ingredient soup is also one of our go-to’s.

Vegetarian dinner party entrees that meat-eating guests will enjoy?

Some of our faves this winter have included:

How do you keep multiple hot dishes warm while people are arriving and mingling?

I generally try not to plan meals that have too many hot dishes happening all at once.  But on occasions like Thanksgiving and such, it’s inevitable.  On those days, my best advice would be to…

  • Have a plan.  Seriously, I find that even just taking an extra 5 minutes to write out a detailed plan can make a world of difference.  Like, make notes about the timing of each dish, where you plan to keep it warm, and what dish you will use to serve it.
  • Put every warm spot in the kitchen to use!  When we hosting Thanksgiving this year, we had dishes warming absolutely everywhere.  Each burner and oven rack was completely filled, plus we also put our Instant Pot, crock pot, microwave, and heat vents (ha, yes) to work.  Even if a dish didn’t cook in the Instant Pot, for example, it can still be a great place to keep stuff warm!

All that said, don’t stress out if everything doesn’t come to the table perfectly hot outta the oven.  You party will still be awesome even if the roasted asparagus is lil’ lukewarm.

What about when people ask what to bring?  Do you cook it all or assign dishes to guests?

Totally depends on how I’m feeling!  I really love to cook and often really enjoy doing the full meal myself when I have the time.  (If I do, then we’ll usually ask people to bring drinks.)  But if it’s been a long week, or I don’t have the time, or if a potluck just sounds like more fun, I’ll set the theme and throw out ideas to people for what they can bring.

In my experience, everyone is always happy to be able to contribute a dish and/or a drink to share.  So don’t hesitate to make the meal a team effort!

What are your top 5 dishes for easy dinner parties?

Currently, I would say:

  • Thai Curry Hot Pot: We’ve had so much fun having hot pot dinners these past few winters.  They’re super easy to customize with whatever ingredients you like best, and everyone always has a blast “cooking” their own food together.
  • Cacio e PepeThe grown-up mac and cheese that’s always a winner.  And bonus, the sauce can come together in the amount of time that it takes to cook the pasta.
  • Roasted Cauliflower Enchiladas: We make these often, and serve them with a big green salad, plus chips and salsa (and/or guac).
  • Japchae: Our current favorite stir-fry that’s super easy to prep in advance.  (Just chop the veggies, mix up the sauce, and go ahead and cook the noodles ahead of time.)  Then heat up a big skillet and sauté everything together at the last minute before serving.  It’s easy to customize with your preferred protein and veggies, and also tastes great with a quick batch of egg drop soup.
  • Cozy Autumn Wild Rice SoupOur friends are absolutely obsessed with this one.  It can be made 100% in advance in either the Instant Pot or crock pot, and pairs beautifully with an easy green salad.

*All of these dishes can also be made vegetarian and/or gluten-free if you prefer.  And to make them vegan, just use tofu for the hot pot, vegan cheese for the enchiladas, and coconut milk for the wild rice soup. 🙂

Cheeseboard essentials?

Ooooh, so many options!  We make a ton of cheeseboards in our house, usually just cleaning out the fridge with whatever we happen to have on hand.  But in general, I would say that our cheeseboard for 4ish people typically includes some combination of the following:

  • Various cheeses: An aged cheddar, a soft cheese or two (maybe goat + blue), and then one other fun one (usually manchego).
  • One or two kinds of nuts: We’re big pistachio people, but almonds or walnuts are also great.
  • Bread and/or crackers: Spain has a terrible cracker selection, ha, so we usually just slice up a baguette.
  • Olives: One or two kinds.
  • Fresh fruit: Either sliced apples, grapes, berries, clementines, or whatever’s in season.
  • Jar of mustard or jam: Usually I just grab whatever we happen to have in the fridge. 😉
  • (Optional): Some kind of sliced meats, such as salami or prosciutto.

Quickest go-to, crowd-pleasing snack for entertaining without notice?

Nooch popcorn!!  Oh my goodness, we make it all the time when friends come over, and everyone’s always obsessed with it.  (Bonus, it only takes 5 minutes and the ingredients are all easy to keep in your pantry.)

Ask Ali Q&A: Entertaining

Random potluck with our neighbors 🙂

The Togetherness

This question may sound all summer-campy, but seriously, do you have any good ice breakers to get conversation going?  Especially when some of your guests might not know each other well?

Ha, maybe I got burned out on them at summer camp (or too many baby/wedding showers over the years), but I’m not usually into ice breakers or conversational games at parties.  That said, they definitely serve their time and place (especially people don’t know one another well, or when conversation gets tense).  A few faves:

  • ask people about their next bucket list travel destination: everyone always has one to share
  • two truths and a lie: somewhat cheesy game, but it’s always entertaining
  • have people share one thing for which they’re grateful: especially good for Thanksgiving

Ideas for how to distract guests while you’re finishing up in the kitchen?

I find it’s usually pretty inevitable that people want to hang out with you in the kitchen.  But I remember Erin Loechner once gave a great suggestion — have a puzzle out on the coffee table!  It’s a fun and easy way to keep people occupied for awhile.  (My grandma would be so proud.)

What to do when the conversation gets heated?  (Hello, Christmas and arguments about politics with my in-laws.)

Yep, it definitely happens.  And often (especially around the holidays), there’s only so much you can do.  So give yourself and your guests some grace if things get hard. ♡

Still, it’s your house.  And if the conversation spirals into tense territory, I’m all for at least trying to redirect it into safer waters as quickly as possible.  Sometimes you can do that subtly.  And sometimes I think it helps to just name the problem aloud.  (“Whew, ok, I love you all.  And I vote we change the topic to something totally different.”)  Then you can move onto the ice-breakers mentioned above. 😉

Any tips for how to kindly wrap up a dinner party at the end of the night?  (A.k.a. — what to do with the stragglers when you’re ready to go to bed!)

Ha, we have quite a bit of experience with this one now, especially living in a culture that likes to stay up way past my bedtime. 😉  As mentioned above, don’t be afraid to set an “end time” for your party if you would like.  But if you find yourself ready to wrap things up at the end of the night, and everyone seems happy to hang out longer, my best advice is to:

  • first, take that as a compliment: because it means that your guests are having a good time!  also…
  • just be honest: and tell people that it’s time to wrap things up.  Just be sure to do so casually and confidently.  If you make it things all extra-serious and apologetic and awkward, your guests are going to feel the same way.  Instead, my friends would be the first to tell you that I have no qualms about being all, “Ok guys!  I love you…and…I’ve gotta go to bed.”  Then they usually laugh and tease me about being an early bird and they’re all out the door in 10 minutes.  😉

I’m sure Martha Stewart would tell you that there are much more subtle signs you can send, such as casually starting to clear some of the dishes or turning down the music or such.  But your family and friends are there because they love you, so I vote just be real with them.

Ask Ali Q&A: Entertaining

The Clean-Up

Ugh, DISHES.  How do you deal after a long night when you just want to go to bed?

Agreed, they are officially The Worst.

Everyone feels differently about leaving dishes out overnight, so you do whatever you need to do to have post-party-peace of mind.  But in general, Barclay and I always at minimum try to load as many dishes as possible in the dishwasher after a party, and let it run overnight.  Then if we feel like we have the energy to do more, we’ll turn on some music, maybe pour ourselves one final glass of wine, and try to knock out the rest of the clean-up together before bed.  Or, if we’re pooped, we will just save the rest for the morning.  The introvert in me is almost always the latter (I tend to crash after a party), so we do a lot of morning-after dishes around here.

Any tips to make dishes go faster?

Yes!

  • Invest in stackable wine glasses.  I don’t know how these aren’t more popular yet in the States, but these stackable modern wine glasses (affiliate link) are everywhere here in Spain!  They’re super cute, inexpensive, don’t tip over easily on coffee tables, stack easily in your cabinets, and can be popped easily in the dishwasher.  Total win.
  • Suds it up.  I’m not usually a fill-up-the-sink-with-water kind of dishwasher.  But for dinner parties, it’s a must.  Suds up that sink and let dishes soak as they accumulate during a party (or sit there overnight).  I promise you’ll be thankful when it comes time to wash them.
  • Put on some music.  Or a murder mystery podcast, or an episode of The Daily Show…whatever works for you.  I do soooo many dishes in a given week that some sort of entertainment in the background is a must. 😉

Do you ever have people help with the dishes?  I feel like people always offer and I always feel obligated to be polite and turn them down, but sometimes lol I’d love the help!

My friend Rachel has this brilliant thing called the 10-minute blitz that I love.  On those nights when she wants help cleaning up at the end of a party, she will be like, “Ok guys, real quick!  Let’s see how much we can get done in 10 minutes!”  She will put some music on.  Everyone will pop up and buzz around to clean this or that.  And I’m telling you, it’s amazing how much people can accomplish with all hands on deck in ten minutes.

Give it a try!

How do you handle leftovers?  Any easy ways to send food home with people?

We try our hardest to get rid of them…mostly because we literally have no space to keep them!  Living in Spain, our fridge is now one of those half-size European models, and it’s usually already full of leftovers from lots of recipe testing during the week.  So when we have leftovers after a dinner party, I do my very best to send them home with our guests!

The trick I’ve learned with leftovers is that you literally need to just package them up and put them in people’s hands.  If you ask, people will generally hem and haw and say that they don’t want to inconvenience you.  But if they food is already all tupperware-d up and ready to go, they are usually happy to receive them!  Just know that 50% of the time, you’re never going to see your tupperware again.  So either invest in some inexpensive containers that you don’t mind losing.  Or (my favorite) pick up a package of good-quality, hefty, eco-friendly paper plates that will travel well.

Ask Ali Q&A: Entertaining

Miscellaneous

How is entertaining in Spain different than in the US?

We thought things would be similar, but it’s actually surprisingly different over here!  First of all, it took us awhile to learn that it’s not nearly as common over here in Spain for people to host dinners in their homes.  Most people’s flats are really tiny, and chairs and table space especially are limited, so it’s much more common for people to go out if they want to hang together.  (Which is why servers at restaurants will never bring you the check unless you ask for it — they want you to feel like you’re at home and can relax and stay the entire night, if you’d like.)

All meals here in Spain also take place considerably later than we were used to back in the States.  So lunch begins at 1 or 2pm, and usually lasts 2-3 hours.  And dinner doesn’t begin until 9 or 10pm, and almost always extends past midnight, even on weeknights.  It’s been a bit of an adjustment for this early-to-rise, early-to-bed girl!

The main difference that you can’t help but notice in Spain, though, is simply how much people love spending time around the table together.  Literally the entire day here is structured around meals (there are five a day in Spain!), and when people sit down to enjoy a drink or a snack or a dinner together, they are 100% present.  There are rarely phones out on the table.  People pay close attention to the quality of the food and the wine, and love to discuss and savor both.  The plates and glasses are never cleared until you leave.  And meals are never ever rushed and usually go on for hours, simply because people have such a deep value for time shared around the table with people you love.  They even have a word — sobremesa, which literally means “around the table” — for that magical time at the end of a meal when people are done eating and everyone just sits around chatting, and digesting, and enjoying their time together.  We love it so much!

Any good recommendations for hostess gifts?

Flowers are always lovely (especially when they’re already in some kind of jar or vase, so that the hostess doesn’t have to stop and go hunt one down in the midst of preparing dinner).  Or I really love to bring people tea towels.  They’re affordable, it’s easy to find cute ones that will match the hostess’ style, and they’re always a legit helpful gift in the kitchen!

Have you ever had any epic cooking fails while you were hosting?

Haha, ooooh yeah.  From setting off the smoke alarm in the entire building in my old Kansas City loft when a pie accidentally caught fire (everyone had to evacuate in the middle of winter, whoops!), to trying to impress Barclay with this fancy chicken dish the first time he ever came over for dinner (someone failed to mention that he was a vegetarian), to making my usual tortilla soup and homemade salsa for our very first dinner party here in Spain (didn’t realize at the time that most Spaniards have zero spice tolerance, and what seemed “mild” to us was completely inedible for them — tortilla chips and elote to the rescue!) and on and on — entertaining is always full of surprises.

But that said, you just learn to roll with them.  And if all else fails, you cut bait and order pizza. 😉

How do you keep from getting stressed out when entertaining?

As far as logistics go, I’m all about doing as much as you can in advance, and keeping things as simple as possible.  Like seriously, plan out your menu, and then go back and cross one thing off your list that you can either delete or buy pre-made.  You’ll be glad you did. ♡

More than anything, though, I think that the key to not stressing out is to simply remember — this is not a performance.  Your family and friends are not coming over to judge you, or how perfectly roasted your chicken might be, or how perfectly spotless your floors might be, or how Pinterest-perfect your table might be.  They’re there because they love YOU and they’re excited to just hang out together and spend time with you.  So soak up that time together, and remember that any awesome food or cute table decor is just icing on the cake.

As one of my favorite authors says, present over perfect.  I wholeheartedly agree.

Ask Ali Q&A: Entertaining

How about you?  Any good entertaining tips or ideas to share?



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