HOLIDAY ENTERTAINING WITH LESS HASSLE Cynthia Ross Gives Us Some of Her Secrets by Virginia Haynes Montgomery

Cynthia Ross Gives Us Some of Her Secrets

Because Christmas is a festive time of year, I like to celebrate with a party. Sometimes it’s dinner, sometimes it’s just cocktails or a brunch. Or, maybe a dessert party. But whatever — it always becomes a hassle.

This year, I turned to Event Planner Cynthia Ross, president of CP Ross Designs, whose expertise in giving successful events is well known, to help me get past some of the obstacles. Cynthia says that as soon as you decide you want to entertain during the holidays, start planning right away. Below are some questions and answers from our conversation that I hope will be helpful to you.

VHM: What is the most important element to consider first in planning a party?
CR: The first thing is to decide what kind of party you want to have and then plan a budget. It usually costs more than you think so allow for a contingency. Is there space for guests to move around from room to room if you have a cocktail party? Or, would you be better off with a small holiday dinner or brunch? Will you have it catered or will you do the cooking yourself? If you have something mid-afternoon, chances are your guests will not be as hungry so you won’t have to have as much food. If you have a cocktail party, starting around 6 pm, guests will eat more as it is close to dinnertime. Your guests will expect something substantial at brunch. If you have a dessert party, you will find that most people do not eat a lot of sweets so a few sumptuous desserts — some on risers and some flat for interest — will be inviting.

VHM: What are some suggestions if you are having a buffet dinner or a cocktail party?
CR: Scatter your food around the room for flow purposes. Have the bar in a separate room or area and try not to have any bottlenecks. If your budget allows, hire a server and come up with a signature cocktail for guests when they arrive. This becomes a good talking point to begin conversation. Soup is a great item for cocktail parties or brunch. One time I went to the Dollar Store and purchased mugs to serve soup in. With that, I served a variety of breads. Whatever kind of party you have, don’t serve too much. People really like to nibble and enjoy taste sensations.

You can have a mashed potato bar, grits bar, etc. To add fun, these items can be served in martini glasses or small wine glasses. This is also a good conversation piece.

VHM: How do you go about planning for a brunch?
CR: There are so many options. Offer Mimosas, Bloody Marys, a coffee bar with a variety of flavorings and alcohol. If the weather outside is cold, include hot chocolate, spiced apple cider or a wassail bowl. Plated items like quiche, casseroles, fruit compote, croissants, work well at a brunch. Recipes also depend upon the region. In our area in the South, shrimp and grits are a big hit. If I am looking for a new recipe, I go to the Food Network. I love the Barefoot Contessa, Pioneer Woman, Bobby Flay and Giada. There are so many desserts you can serve but a plateful of Christmas cookies is always a big hit. I serve Brandy Alexanders as a dessert with loads of whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Always use glass or china as opposed to plastic if you possibly can. I like Smarty Had a Party for party items if I am having a large crowd.

VHM: What about decorations?
CR: In the evening, the more candles the better. Take a glass, brush it with glue and roll it in Epsom salts. It will sparkle and look like ice. Tulips are great this time of year and stand alone in containers. Mix greenery with berries and apples. With a little imagination you do not need a florist to make a centerpiece. Float cranberries, apple slices, and oranges in cider. The aroma is fabulous. Or put greenery in glass containers with floating candles. Containers are best done in odd multiples. Candlelight is the least expensive way to have a centerpiece but have your candles enclosed in something to avoid open flames.

One time I did a centerpiece for St. Valentine’s Day for a seated dinner. I coated cake stands with sugar and put chocolates on them. That served as a centerpiece and dessert. You can do the same with a holiday party. A centerpiece during the holidays does not always have to be flowers. Do something that reflects your personality.

VHM: What kind of music do you recommend?
CR: Once guests start talking, most music is lost in the background. When guests arrive, have an artist playing music in the foyer for a while. It will make guests feel that they have arrived someplace special. Music should always be upbeat to help keep guests in a happy mood. After all, it is a party!

VHM: Do you have any other tips for readers?
CR: Decide on your recipes early and freeze ahead any items that you can. If at all possible, hire or have someone on hand to help you and be in charge of serving. They will keep dishes and guests’ glasses filled without your worrying so you can enjoy your own party. If you are having a sit-down dinner or brunch, set your table several days in advance to relieve some pressure.

Since it’s the holidays, I like to give my guests a gift. You can give anything: jam, cookies, ornaments that you made, bottle of wine, condiments, etc. It’s always nice to invite those who have invited you to their house. If you are having a themed party, try and follow through in imaginative ways. For example, a Nutcracker party has added fun if you include the Nutcracker Suite in the background.

I love creating a party of any kind and never tire of talking about it. If I can help you, my email address is Cynthia@cprossdesigns.

Happy holidays!

All books available at Click on title for more information.
The BEST Holiday Cooking Recipes: Easy Party Recipes for Special Occasions
by Emma Buckley
Ultimate Holiday Party Finger Food and Drink Recipes
by Louise Davidson
Favorable Occasions: Favors for Parties, Weddings and Holidays
by Beverly Clark
Friends at the Table: The Ultimate Supper Club Cookbook
by Debi Shawcross
The Party Planner
by David Tutera

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