Now that the friends and family of the happy couple have been steadily arriving to Vienna, many of them ended up at our place for a round of drinks and catching up tonight. I’m always happy to have people over, but not always organized enough to have a super-stocked pantry on hand a la Martha Stewart. You know, when she says things like, “When guests come over, I just bring out a loaf of freshly baked bread and some homemade chutney featuring herbs from my garden”. Yeah, I don’t know how to bake bread or make chutney.
But I alwasy have something I can scrounge up from the pantry, and no one has to be the wiser that I didn’t know they were coming. This is is also the time where I call on some cardinal rules that my grandmother taught me. She is by definition, the hostess extraordinaire, followed closely by my mother who seems to be able to whip out roasted pheasant for 17 on a moment’s notice. Not quite what I’m going for, but a few simple rules from my Babcia always salvage impromptu occassions.
Rule #1: Everything looks better in a pretty bowl
Now, my grandmother insists on silver or crystal, and has been giving me hers on every occassion since she’s alarmed by my lack of speed in collecting my own set. This message was promptly reinforced by my mother in law, who informed me upon checking out our wedding registry that “one can never have too many bowls” and suggested I register for more. As it turns out, you really never can have too many bowls. You can frankly drop in some Pringles in a pretty bowl and pour a glass of prosecco and call it a night. No one has to know you didn’t make everything yourself if you don’t show them the container it came in. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!
Rule #2: Stock up some basics and be creative
Again, I don’t keep a fully stocked pantry. Partially it’s because I’m not that organized. And partially it’s because in our space efficient European kitchen, it’s just not possible. But there are always things you can serve, even if you didn’t buy it for that purpose. Items in constant rotation at our house because we eat them anyway, and because they have a long shelf life are: walnuts (store in freezer so that they don’t go rancid – also a tip thanks to my mother in law), wasabi peas, Pringles (I wasn’t kidding) or Kettle Chips, pretzels, italian breadstick crackers (i.e. grissini), cherry tomatoes, salami, dried apricots, olives…If you’ve been to my house, chances are you’ve eaten most of these items over drinks with us.
Rule #3: If you don’t have enough, cut it up into smaller pieces
My grandmother is able to stretch things seemingly into infinity. The first time I saw her do it, she had heated up a frozen burrito from the grocery store (which was always amusing to me since I’m not sure my Polish grandmother has any idea what a burrito actually is if you were to ask her) and despite it being a 99 cent item from the freezer section, she cut it into ten or so pieces, put a bit of sour cream on top and stuck a toothpick in each piece and plated it on a little silver tray. Voila! This trick works with a lot of things – one of my favorites being to take a piece of brown bread, toast, top with some kind cheese and a cherry tomato slice and you have about eight cute canapes, even though you might started out with some dregs in the fridge.
Rule #4: Have napkins on hand
Again, this just ups the “pretty factor”. On the one time a year my husband will let me go to Ikea, we stock up on various colorful paper napkins in different sizes, and somehow having those out, or our monogrammed napkins if they’re ironed and ready to go, just brings the spread up a level.
Rule #5: Have a drink on hand
We typically, courtesy of my parents, have a stash of wines on hand that we pull from when people drop by, and always have a few bottles of prosecco in the fridge to go with it. It doesn’t have to be best, just has to be something that you like and that doesn’t break the bank. And when that fun runs out, have some tea on hand, it’s always a gracious and warm way to wrap up the party.
Photo from Martha Stewart Living.