(Note: This is a repost from last year – but since I had like 5 followers at the time, I figure for most of you it will be brand new!)
We are reaching that magical season. It is a season for giving. It is a season for sharing. It is a season of trashing your kitchen to create that perfect meal for family and friends.
Personally, for me the first couple weeks of November has become the time when I start planning for those upcoming holiday parties. One thing that has really become a lifesaver for me over the last several years has been my Hostess Journal.
I know what you are thinking, what is this? This is something that you need to create for your own sanity. I got the idea from an old back issue of Domino (RIP) and it is seriously a lifesaver. (If you are a devotee who also cannot stand parting with any issue, it is in the December 2007/January 2008 issue on page 102. Sniff sniff – I miss it so!)
I use just a basic journal and I make notes before and after any big get together. The purpose of this to let you record an idea of what you wanted the event to be like and what ended up happening. It is also a great way for you to get yourself organized and avoid running into last minute emergencies. If you like most of us and only host a couple of big events every year, it can be hard to remember what went well and what did not. A Hostess Journal solves all of that and gives you a place to perfect your game plan. You can use it to be as detailed as you want! I will explain below how I use mine so that you can see one way of doing this – but to each his own! You have to find a way that works well for you!
Before the Event
In the before, I write down the number of guests and general theme. Next, I outline a rough menu. This is really an area where you can look at ideas and debate the time and cost of creating it.
Once I have a rough idea of the menu I start a cooking timeline. Here you really want to focus on what you can do the day (or two days before), what can you do the morning of and what has to be done right before. On the right before (since that is where a lot of your cooking and prep time lies) the cooking timeline will help you figure out how to time everything to come out hot and ready at the right time. I like to start with the time I like to eat and work back from there. For example, in the case of Thanksgiving, I would start with dinner at 5:00. The bird needs to set for 30 minutes so it will have to come out of the oven by 4:30. Based on the size of the bird, I can then back it up to when it needs to go in. At that point, you can start planning your sides to make sure that you have time to actually fix everything you want to for the meal within the allotted time.
The next gut check of your plan is to fill in a cooking and serving dish outline. This helps me figure out if I am going to need two things at once so I can potentially rearrange or if I am going to be short a large bowl so I can either improvise or get another. Personally, I like to lay all this out in two columns. One column that breaks down the cooking timeline and the other will keep me straight with the cooking and serving dish required.
By the time you actually draw up your timeline and dish needs, you will have narrowed your menu down to what is achievable based on your timeframe and resources. It is always a time, money and drama saver to understand what is ACTUALLY possible given your allotted time. From here, you can use this to build your shopping list. If you plan this out far enough in advance, you can shop for your pantry type items well in advance of the holiday rush to make sure you get the best price.
I also like to use the journal to write down my decoration needs (do I need to iron the linens prior?), music ideas, and any other random thoughts. This will at least get you up and ready to go for the day of your party.
After the Event
I like to sit down the morning after, with a cup of coffee, and go over how the plan actually worked. Did I estimate the right amount of time it would take to peel and cut up that pile of potatoes? Do I need to adjust my expectations on how many sides I needed or how big they need to be to serve the number of people at the meal? Did we run out of anything? Was there one dish that everyone picked at and one that people all took seconds on?
This is also a great time to note anything you needed that you didn’t have! Did you run out of plates, forks, glasses? Did anyone break anything? Were your short napkins or storage containers? (Note: I did not anticipate the number of storage containers I would need after Thanksgiving a couple of years ago! Something to consider this year - especially if it is your first time.)
The after takes much less time, but it really lets you evaluate and make changes for next time. The first time you do this it will seem time consuming and pain in the you-know-what. But I am telling you, the next time you need to plan a big get together, having your notes from the last time will save you all manner of drama!
I also use this when we just have people over for watch football or have a movie night. Obviously – it is not as detailed for a smaller event – but it helps me remember if I had too much or too little of something which can save major dollars on your next party!
I hope this was helpful! Do you currently do something like this? Is this a new idea you think you could use? Or does it just overly obsessive? Please share your thoughts!