Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Party Touches to Wow Your Guests

Speaking of jazzing up one's style of entertaining (I'm referring to yesterday's post on Peter Callahan), I found this timely article in the February 1960 issue of House & Garden. The article was titled "Party touches your guests will talk about". Truthfully, some of the suggestions were either corny or far too time-consuming. Case in point: "At each place set a tiny basket filled with a bouquet of radishes cut in the shape of flowers, plus watercress for foliage and stalks of celery and olives for added greenery. To be admired, then nibbled while the first course is being served." Um, I don't think so.

But some of the ideas weren't half bad. I'm especially taken with the idea of using vintage ice-cream molds to turn out a good looking dessert. (See below.) Anyway, here are some of the better suggestions that I can see using at future dinner parties. I even added my thoughts on how I might interpret these ideas for my own parties.

Cards or flowers to match up make a game of dinner seating. As your guests go into the dining room ask them to pick a playing card from one of two baskets- the men's containing Kings and Jacks, the ladies', Aces and Queens. Guests find their places by matching their cards to those you've put on the napkins, alternating ladies and men. If you are serving at small tables, ask everyone to choose a flower from a basket containing blooms in as many different colors as you have tables. Each guest looks for the table with a centerpiece in the same color as his flower.

Okay, it's a little silly, but I kind of like this tip. Since my dining room is small, I might forgo the cards in favor of a basket of colored flowers.

Picture markers for trays of sandwiches are both decorative and informative, guiding your guests to the fillings they like best. You can buy French parchment markers like these or make your own. If you're no artist cut out appropriate pictures from children's coloring books or seed catalogues. Or if pretty printing is your forte, skip the pictures and write out the contents of the sandwiches in colored inks. Fix markers to the sandwiches with long Japanese bamboo skewers so that they are easily visible.

For a tea or ladies luncheon, I would absolutely use markers like these. They're easy to make, and with the aid of a computer and printer, you could use all kinds of chic motifs. I'm just trying to figure out what drawing to use for Pimento Cheese sandwiches.

Molded ice with embedded fruit and leaves makes a romantic cooler for a punch bowl. Use any lidless mold, or, lacking that, a cardboard ice-cream container. Fill partly with water and freeze. Then place on top of the ice a layer of whatever you'd like to look at (we used strawberries and rose geranium leaves for this fruit punch), fill to top with water and freeze again. Here the design is repeated by wool felt roses and berries taped to cloth.

I'm not crazy about the way the ice mold looks in the punch bowl in the photograph, but in the right sized bowl, a bombe of ice would look really nice.

Flower-shaped ice-cream molds turn out your desserts in style, ready to be garnished with a chocolate leaf cookie. You can get many designs in old or new ice-cream molds, any of which will be a refreshing change from the standard scoop. Just pack the molds with softened ice cream or sherbet and re-freeze. Loosen the contents before you open molds by wrapping them for a second or two with a hot dish towel.

Yes, yes, and yes. I plan to find a vintage ice-cream mold in the shape of a flower or a fruit. I found one online in the shape of an asparagus stalk. How about molding some pistachio ice cream and then drizzling it with Crème Anglaise (to resemble a Hollandaise sauce.) Kind of weird but kind of fun.

Tiny cocktail trays are the simple solution to cocktail party juggling. On each tray place an individual plate of hors d'oeuvre, a cocktail glass and napkin and an ashtray with matches. Fly-weight Japanese lacquer trays come in just the right size- and in wonderful colors (have a different color for each guest).

This seems a little cumbersome and not as handy as the magazine claimed. But, if you're doing heavy hors d'oeuvres, it might work. Pearl River would be the place to go for small lacquer trays. Of course, most of us can forgo the ashtray and matches.

Italian brandy warmer on a liqueur tray adds an extra touch of pomp and circumstance to the brandy-and-cigars pleasance. You might include two kinds of brandy-perhaps a fine and an Armagnac- for discriminating brandy drinkers, and, for non-brandy drinkers, a white fruit liqueur like kirsch or framboise.

I might skip the brandy warmer, but I do like the idea of putting out a tray of after-dinner drinks. (Sometimes, I skip dessert in favor of a glass of B&B.) It's a nice way to keep the conversation going.


  1. You have amazing style. I just discovered your blog today and I am in love. You are now officially bookmarked. Love the classic tips.


  2. Bring on the fritos and onion dip. They were the highlight of 60's entertaining.

  3. Thank you so much, Paula! Very kind of you.

  4. Dovecote- Actually, that sounds good right about now!

  5. Love the ice cream shapes, great idea! Regarding placing at tables, we went to our niece's wedding this past weekend, and she had fifteen tables at least, each bearing the name of a vintage. The center of the table was a decoration with old vines and grapes. It was fun
    Of course, we are in France!

  6. Marnie, I love that idea! So charming! That would be perfect for a party in California too!

  7. So fun to see these old entertaining tips and how they can be updated to work for today! I've been very busy since mid-August with moving my home and studio, but I'm BACK this week with the Season Premiere of the new fall season of the blog ;) Hope you're having a lovely Autumn!

    Sandy at Ooh La Frou Frou

  8. I love reading old magazines like that. Some of the traditions back then were amazing.

  9. I grew up in the fifties and watching my mom entertain gave me a penchant for "proper". It takes more time, but I get high praise when I do manage a party. As for "advertising" the sandwiches I would write the name in a pretty hand or calligraphy. The drawings seem very casual to me.

    The view from Pontifical.s Porch~

  10. I love all the ideas - my favorite cookbok is The 1965 James Beard's Menus for Entertaining

  11. Beauty- I agree that the James Beard Menus for Entertaining is a terrific book. I have my mother's copy that she bought as a young bride.