The Imperfect Hostess

The best parties I ever attended were at my friend Sam's house. I remember her hosting one every year during middle and high school. We took a dip in her family's backyard pool, roasted s'mores over a bonfire, ran through the corn field behind her house, and ate loads of pizza bagel bites. All of this was before Pinterest and the only form of social media I occasionally used was AIM (but only if someone wasn't on the phone).

I've been thinking a lot about hosting recently because it has just continued to come up in various parts of my life. I've been asked to host this and that, and my attitude hasn't been the best. When the ask is made or I offer to host something for a group, I nod and put a smile on my face and hope that the other person can't tell that my pulse is racing and I'm already making mental to-do and grocery lists. Then I go home and grumble to Jay or call my mom because there's something else that's been added to my overflowing plate.

It isn't that I don't like having friends and family over to my home or spending time with loved ones over a lingering meal. It is just that I'm not content unless everything is perfect. I recently read this piece about hosting a crappy dinner party, and it really resonated with me.  Aren't our favorite gatherings the impromptu ones where we order take-out with our friends and laugh for two hours straight? Or the ones where everyone is pitching in to make the meal and some of the best, most heartfelt conversation happens in the kitchen before anyone sits down to eat? 

No one cares if your house is meticulously cleaned or if there are vases of fresh flowers or if all of the decorations are perfect. Yet, it is so hard to let go of that. Despite having some of the most gracious friends and family who don't care if there are tumbleweeds of dog hair rolling through my house, I struggle to let go of striving for perfection. 

As we move into the season of holidays and celebrations, I'm working to practice hospitality over perfection. I hope for your sanity, you do too.

 
 

How to Throw a Keeneland Tailgate (and Look Like You Have It Together)

We’re well into April, and as any good Central Kentuckian will tell you, that means it’s time to pull out your seersucker and Lilly for Keeneland’s Spring Meet.

Of course, enjoying bread pudding and a Keeneland Breeze while watching the races makes for a fun day, the ultimate Keeneland experience calls for a tailgate. Since we have the opportunity to tailgate for college football games AND Keeneland’s spring and fall meets, Lexington is home to some serious tailgate enthusiasts. Last fall I even saw a family roll up to the local pumpkin patch, open their back hatch, and pull out some lawn chairs and beverages to enjoy in the parking lot. Like I said, people take tailgating seriously here.

 My favorite place to find bright Equestrian tablecloths and other tableware perfect for keeneland is  pomegranate.  they are known to have great sales, so check in regularly. 

My favorite place to find bright Equestrian tablecloths and other tableware perfect for keeneland is pomegranate. they are known to have great sales, so check in regularly. 

I have one friend in particular who is a tailgating extraordinaire! She always has a perfect menu, a coordinated table theme, and basically has tailgating down to an art. We’re not all natural born tailgaters, but it’s easier than you might think to throw together a decent tailgate. Last April, a good friend asked if I could help put together a tailgate for some of her out-of-town friends the night before we had plans to go to Keeneland, and after a quick trip to the grocery and a half hour gathering things from around the house, we were ready to go. Here are a few tips and tricks I've picked up along the way.

  • Food: Tailgating is all about the food and drink, but it doesn't have to be complicated. The best tailgates at the track include traditional Kentucky fare that can be eaten with one hand (because you'll most likely have a bourbon beverage in the other.) My go-to dishes are country ham biscuits, beer cheese, and either cookies or lemon bars. For the country ham biscuits, I buy mini-frozen biscuits from the grocery, so all I have to do is bake and assemble them. I usually mix blueberry preserves with some spicy mustard that people can spread on their biscuit if they want to add a little kick to it. I normally pick up Olivia's beer cheese and scoop it into a nicer dish along with pretzels and some raw veggies. Super easy and always a crowd-pleaser!
  • Drink: Bourbon and mimosas, enough said. Our tailgating friends are known for being some of the first people to pull into the parking lot, so mimosas are normally my go-to drink at 9:00 AM. Depending on the crowd, sometimes a bourbon punch is a good idea, and we normally have some sipping and mixing bourbon as well. 
  • Tablescape: Keeneland tailgates tend to be slightly more classy than football tailgates, at least on the surface. It is imperative to have a cloth tablecloth and decent serving dishes. I'm all for swinging by the grocery store for some ready-made snacks, but by displaying them in a nice dish, you instantly elevate your tailgate with minimal effort. 
  • Finishing Touches: It is easy to spot the "best" tailgates when walking the hill at Keeneland because they have all of the above plus a couple extra touches. While you're at the grocery store, pick up a $5 bunch of flowers and throw them in a sturdy vase that won't tip over in the wind. I also like to have napkins with horseshoes or bridles on them, and I try to pick those up in May when they are are on post-Derby clearance and save them for Keeneland. 
 
                      THis StoneWare  Julep Cup  is the perfect vessel to hold flowers or utensils.

                     THis StoneWare Julep Cup is the perfect vessel to hold flowers or utensils.

 

Don't stress, and enjoy the races!

 
 

Holiday Hosting and Raspberry Trifle

2015-11-19 11.40.36 This weekend, we hosted some of our extended family for a Christmas lunch. The first holiday meal I ever hosted was a Christmas gift exchange with my high school girlfriends. Of course, my mom did most of the the planning and grocery shopping, and over the years I’ve learned much more about hosting meals, parties, and tailgates thanks to LOTS of advice from my mom and LOTS of trial and mostly error.

I’m by no means an expert, but here are the key tips I’ve learned from hosting - whether it is a smaller dinner party or a large bash.

  1. Keep the menu simple: I like to plan my menu around food that I’ve made several times before. This way, I know the food will taste good, and I won’t have a melt down minutes before guests arrive since it's harder to botch a familiar recipe.
  2. Do as much work ahead of time as possible: Two nights before the event, I created my tablescape, set out my serving dishes, washed the holiday china, and prepared any food that I could get a head start on. The day before, I cleaned the house (minus the kitchen). This meant that on Sunday morning, I was only responsible for popping a couple of dishes in the oven, doing a light spot cleaning and vacuuming, and putting final touches on everything.  
  3. Delegate tasks if it makes sense: Since this was a smaller family gathering, I didn’t feel bad asking people to contribute. My brother-in-law brought the wine and each couple brought a side dish. Generally guests want to bring something or help in some way, so if the situation is appropriate, I encourage it and give them a guideline, such as, “It would be great if you could bring a salad.” Then I know that I don’t need to prepare a salad, and the generous guest knows they won’t be duplicating a menu item I’ve already made. Being fairly general also gives them autonomy to put their personal spin on the dish.

Here’s the menu I planned for our Christmas lunch:

Appetizer: Beaten biscuits with country ham

Main: Beef tenderloin, salad (brought by guest), green vegetable (brought by guest), mashed potatoes, and rolls

Dessert: Raspberry trifle, assorted homemade Christmas candy

Raspberry Trifle Recipe

This is the same dessert I made for my girlfriends in high school. It is a go-to recipe because it looks pretty and festive,  is easy to assemble several hours before guests arrive, and is practically no-fail.

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 (10.75 ounce) package prepared pound cake*
  • 2 (10 ounce) packages frozen raspberries, thawed**
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting
  1. In a medium bowl, beat cream with 1/4 cup sugar until stiff peaks form. In another bowl, cream together cream cheese, lemon juice, vanilla and 1/2 cup sugar. Fold 2 cups of whipped cream into cream cheese mixture. Reserve remaining whipped cream.
  2. Slice pound cake into 18 - 1/2 inch slices. Drain raspberries, reserving juice. Line the bottom of a 3 quart glass bowl or trifle bowl with one-third of the cake slices. Drizzle with some raspberry juice. Spread one-fourth of the cream cheese mixture over cake. Sift one-fourth of the cocoa over that. Sprinkle with one-third of the raspberries. Repeat layers twice. Top with remaining cream cheese mixture, whipped cream and sifted cocoa. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours before serving.

*I love to bake, and I would normally make a homemade pound cake if I was serving a more simple dessert, such as pound cake with fresh berries. However, since I had a busy weekend and the trifle had plenty of flavorful ingredients, a Sara Lee pound cake from frozen foods aisle worked great.

**I bought a 26 ounce bag of frozen raspberries because it was a better deal at the grocery store and ended up using the entire bag. If you and your guests like raspberries, you may want to use a few more than the original recipe suggests.

I hope you're enjoying your holiday festivities!

Cheers!

Laura

Christmas Ornament Exchange

 
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As I mentioned in one of our previous Friday Favorites posts, my girlfriends and I love any excuse to get together even though the majority of us have scattered throughout the Bluegrass since college graduation. For Christmas, we decided to do an ornament exchange, and thanks to the careful planning of our friend Audrey, the event went off without a hitch.

I love the idea of doing events around Christmas where everyone contributes a single gift. Whether it is some sort of exchange or Secret Santa, it eases the pressure of feeling like you have to buy something for each of your friends, and you can take more time to just enjoy each other's company. I especially liked the idea of an ornament exchange because it was simple to find an ornament to contribute and easy to stay on budget.

If you're hosting a Christmas or holiday get-together, here are a few tips you can consider:

  1. Pick a central location. Because we all live in different Kentucky towns and cities, we decided to meet in a location central to all of us, Elizabethtown. This meant that the drive for everyone attending stayed under an hour.
 
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  1. Choose: Someone's home or a venue. We chose to meet for dinner and dessert at a local restaurant called The Whistle Stop, technically in Glendale just outside of E-town. While I love home-hosted get-togethers, meeting at a local restaurant was perfect for us because of the convenience factor. A lot goes into hosting an event at your home, so if no one in your group is prepared to take on that duty, restaurants or coffee shops work just as well!
  2. Set a budget. Budgeting is extremely important around the holidays, especially if you're in your early 20s like me and just getting started in your career. I don't pretend to know anyone else's financial situation, so setting a modest budget allows everyone to participate and be stress-free. While we didn't technicaly set an exact dollar amount, we made sure to emphasize that our exchange was about finding a cute ornament, not an expensive one. If this was a Secret Santa event, I would encourage setting an exact amount as gifts could potentially vary in values.
 
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On top of getting to see some of my best girls, it's safe to say I came home with a pretty cute ornament as well! (Thanks, Logan!)

How are you and your friends celebrating the holidays?

Cheers!

Sarah