Sunday, November 24, 2013

12 Tips for Simpler Entertaining

Does the word "entertaining" conjure up visions of pristine tablecloths and sparkling silverware, cocktails and canapes? Well, in our home we entertain almost every weekend, and you'll see none of those things, ever. The only thing we guarantee is a warm and welcoming home and plenty of food on the table.

When I was talking about cures for life's big and little ailments last week, Anu asked,

"Between working full time and managing a preschooler and a baby, I feel the last thing I want to do is cook for people on weekends. But, I want to have people over too, any tips on how to get over this mental block? Is there a book to cure this? :)"

While I can't think of a suitable book about the warm fuzzy feeling of cooking for friends (if you think of one, leave a comment, please), I do have a lot to say on the subject and thought of writing this post instead of writing the world's longest comment.


I have people over for meals because I like to feed people. Also, I'm a homebody and I'd rather have my fun at home than go out on weekends. Beyond the simple pleasure of sharing food, it is how casual acquaintances grow to become close friends, when the small talk continues to deeper conversations about our hopes and dreams and fears. This is especially important for expats who live far, far away from family. Our friends become the family we choose. Over the years, we have realized that formal entertaining is not our style, but that casual meals fit in well into our lifestyle. This beautiful meditation on formality echoes my thoughts on the matter.

I truly believe that entertaining is not just for socialites. However, with all the juggling that people are required to do- working full time, caring for kids and other family members- it also should not become one more thing that adds to your burdens. So here are my top 12 tips for simpler entertaining, a pep talk of sorts. There's nothing new here, but sometimes it helps to be reminded. It requires a mindset of being at peace with yourself and embracing your own entertaining style, never comparing yourself to anyone else, of knowing that your goal is not to impress anyone but to build a happy community around yourself and share your home and bounty with others. 

From a memorable lunch that I was
invited to
1. Think beyond "dinner" parties. Hosting a full-fledged dinner can seem daunting. A great way to start small is to invite friends over for tea, cocoa or lemonade in the afternoon. Serve some cake, sandwiches, or snacks and you have yourself a party. Other ideas for not-dinner parties could be an ice-cream social on a hot summer afternoon, a wine & cheese party for grown-ups and a cookie party during the holidays.

Choose the best time of day for your schedule and serve some meal that fits that time. My personal favorite is to have friends over for brunch at 10 or 11 AM- I'm a morning bird and it is easier for me to put together a meal in the morning than in the evening. Brunch dishes are easy to make and almost everyone I know enjoys them. Then, host and guests get to have the rest of the day to do whatever they please.

Part food with help from the store:
crackers, fruit, cheese
2. The whole menu does not have to be cooked at home. You could order in food from a favorite restaurant. You can get pizza delivered and make a salad to go with it. Dessert can be a favorite store-bought ice cream or pie or simply a bowl of fresh seasonal fruit. In short, there are countless ways of filling in a menu with favorite store-bought or restaurant-bought foods. Once I really wanted to throw a birthday party for Neighbor Girl but couldn't do any cooking because it was a busy weekday, so we invited a bunch of friends and ordered in Thai take-out from our favorite restaurant. I made a birthday ice cream instead of cake where the recipe consisted of mixing a few things and pouring the mix into the ice cream maker. It was so much fun and very little work.

3. Accept a dish if it is offered. If your guest asks to bring  a dish, accept graciously. It is a win-win situation. It gives them a chance to contribute to the meal and they don't have to go looking for another hostess gift like wine or flowers. And one thing on the menu is taken care of.

In the same way, when I'm invited as a guest, I always offer to bring a dish. The key is to make a fairly specific offer: "May I bring over an appetizer or the dessert?" to which it is easy for the host to respond, "Dessert would be lovely, thanks" rather than the vague, "Can I bring something?" which invariably compels the host to say, "No, you don't need to bring anything".


Part of a taco bar
4. Try a "build your own" food bar. One of our best parties recently was a grilled cheese bar (some details in this post), and taco bars always go over well. I once attended a holiday party with a chili bar- big pots of meat and vegetarian chili with a bunch of fixings: cornbread, spaghetti, cheese, lettuce etc. The prep for these meals is fairly quick and it is a great way to cater to people with different dietary needs. Think of ways to simplify the menu.







5. Potlucks are popular for a good reason. They make it possible for large groups of people to get together while sharing the responsibility.

6. A quick tidying up is all you need. We live in a real home, not in the pages of Better Homes and Gardens, and there's no sense in pretending otherwise. Not to mention that a toddler and a dog call it home too. We just put out fresh towels, scoop up scattered toys into bins and vacuum the floor. 10 minutes and we're ready for company.

My philosophy is that the kind of home I want for my family is the same kind of home I want for my guests- reasonably tidy and clean. So there's no special cleaning for company. I will say that it helps tremendously that we don't have a lot of stuff- there is minimal furniture and no knick knacks whatsoever. If you have too many things which results in clutter and makes it hard to do a quick cleaning, you may want to subtract but perhaps that's a discussion for another time.

If you have a friend who peeks under the sofa looking for dust bunnies, I would recommend getting rid of the friend even before you get rid of the dust bunnies. Seriously, we need to surround ourselves with warm, gracious and forgiving friends, not mean-minded people who are looking for ways to bring us down.

7. Organize get-togethers outside the home: If you're still feeling stressed about inviting people into your home, consider meeting outside, perhaps for a picnic in the park when the weather is nice.

8. Make it a movie night or a game night. Sometimes it can help to move the focus of the party away from the food. How about a movie evening where you serve popcorn and snacks? Or a game night where you play scrabble or cards or antakshari and serve some chaat to nibble on.

I forgot to put sugar in the muffins.
We survived.
9. Mistakes, missteps and mishaps are a learning opportunity. Sometimes, you make too little food, or the entree burns or gets over-salted. Or maybe two guests get into a heated argument about politics. None of this is a crisis. None of your guests are at risk of starving to death. Take a deep breath and try again. Of all the things that can go wrong in life, these are the most insignificant ones.







10. Communicate. If you're wondering if friends are expecting a full-blown home-cooked meal of korma and biryani while you're planning to order in pizza, don't sit and wonder and worry. E-mail them or call them and say, "We found this great pizza place- how about coming over for some  take-out pizza and salad and ice cream on Sunday night?" and see what they say. If you're worried about the reaction to something that you're planning, just ask ahead of time so friends know what to expect.

11. Relax. Think about the times you've been invited to someone's home and what you've enjoyed, then you know what your guests will enjoy. Me- I love it when my hosts are happy and relaxed and let me feel at home. I like when I'm offered seconds but don't like when I am forced to eat more than I want to. I feel anxious when the host hovers and fusses over me. It is not fun when the host apologizes for every little thing and you are compelled to protest again and again, "No, no, everything is great, really". Just kick back and enjoy the moment and the company. The food and the venue is secondary.

12. Being a good host comes with practice, practice and practice. Start small, take baby steps, see what works and do it again. Note the missteps and try to avoid them. Having friends over is a chance to be creative and show someone a good time and the friendship you get out of it is worth the extra dishes you have to wash!

I'll leave you with a recipe for your next party: my version of sev-puri.


Simplifying is all very good but I fear that my recipe for quick sev-puri is a bit too simple and quick. Because I can assemble a plate of sev-puri in under 3 minutes using stuff I have on hand and that can lead to some disastrous snacking. Consider yourself warned.

Things you need to stock up on:
1. A bag of tortilla chips, I use these in place of the traditional flour puris simply because they are easier to source.
2. Buy plain sev, sold in Indian stores.
3. Keep a boiled potato or two in the fridge.
4. Make a large batch of date tamarind chutney and store in jars, one in the fridge and the rest in the freezer.

To make sev-puri at a moment's notice:
1. Mix diced boiled potato, minced onion (a very small amount) and lots of minced cilantro.
2. Spread tortilla chips in a platter.
3. Scoop a bit of the potato mixture on each.
4. Sprinkle with salt and cayenne pepper to taste.
5.  Add dollops of the sweet chutney.
6. Top with sev and enjoy right away.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends in the US- I hope you have a wonderful holiday! I'll be back next Monday with the list for November 2013.

Meanwhile, tell us in the comments: Do you enjoy having friends over in your home? Got any tips to share?

70 comments:

  1. Great practical tips for hosting people over! I love the tip about asking if you could bring a specific item instead of a general question. I think that is a general guideline for all types of communication.
    I didnt realise you had done a nacho bar too when I did that. It is so much fun to have "build your own" bars.
    I also had a appetizers and desserts party last christmas. People love them and its great for a casual fun party.
    I dont really have a lot of friends. Both me and my husband are kind of loners. So we hardly ever entertain these days although I love to cook for people.

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    1. An appetizers and desserts party is a fantastic idea, especially around the holidays! In fact...maybe I can do that for this new year's eve- hmm...you've got me thinking now.

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  2. In London we were total entertainers. I love nothing more than a house of laughter. In Singapore it's been a slow start but now we are off and who know where it shall take us! We do simple entertaining best, the kind where our friends feel comfortable in our home and meals are interesting but uncomplicated.

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    1. That's what we love best too. We are also in a new places, making new friends and getting to know neighbors and co-workers and inviting people for a meal is a nice way of getting to know them.

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  3. Hi Nupur, I live having people over too, and we end up entertaining almost every weekend. I'm all for keeping it simple - this weekend I had a big pot of chili with different toppings and yogurt rice to a feed about 6 families. Ice cream for dessert. I also think it's a great idea to have some kind of game or activity for after dinner - again keeping it simple, Guesstures is one of our favorites!

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    1. I'll have to find guesstures- in fact, I need to stock up on a few board games- we don't have any! Your chili party sounds like lots of fun.

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  4. What a lovely post! I also love entertaining. A few years back, I used to plan a complete meal with appetizers, vegetable curry, puri, rice dish, dessert. While cooking, I would expect my husband's help. I would often stress a lot. We later realized that we would sometimes eat more than our guests and that it is totally unnecessary to cook such elaborate meals. I started simplifying.
    A few things that I always follow are: plan ahead, start cooking early, and visualize what I need to do on the day that I expect guests. If I am cooking an elaborate meal, I will also write down all the prep work and things I need to do in a certain order.
    I often put my husband in charge of the tidying up. But I always make sure that we have enough clean plates, bowls, and spoons. I also check on clean hand towels and if there are plenty hangars in the coat closet (for winters).

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    1. Great tip about the planning- and that's how I do it too, by writing down what can be made a day or two ahead and working backwards to what has to be done last minute. And you're very right that the elaborate dinners of pulao and curry are unnecessary and also a bit predictable, it is fine to try other things.

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  5. A lovely lovely post. Specially for a shy introvert perfectionist like me. I would try for a get-together soon without having a nervous breakdown. :)

    Thanks

    Iniya

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    1. Iniya- I hope you do it and that you enjoy it. And it never has to be a large gathering if that makes you uncomfortable. In fact, I love it best when we have only 2 or 3 people over at a time.

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  6. Thanks for this post Nupur! I have to confess, there are times when I want to entertain but I am so consumed by the planning of it, it takes away from the fun. And you said it... practice, practice, practice only will make you a good host.

    I look forward to your posts very eagerly... do keep posting! :)
    Wish you a happy holiday season!
    Surabhi

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    1. Surabhi- Thank you for this nice note and happy holidays to you too! I've found that the planning gets easier the more you get used to having people over. As in, if something works, you can just repeat the exact menu for another set of friends.

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  7. A very nice post Nupur. I like to have people over for food and I believe that is how friendship will grow. One can get to know people better and make you feel good about all the friends you have. As you have said potlucks are a very good way to take off some load. One thing I mostly do is to tell the guest what I am planning to make so that they can decide on what they want to get. They can also tell me about allergies etc.
    Happy Holidays to you and you family.

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    1. Exactly, Anjali, most people I encounter would be nothing more than hi-hello acquaintances if we did not take the time to sit and talk to them over a meal. And whether one is an introvert or extrovert, it is nice to be part of a community where people can help each other.

      It is a great idea to give the guests an idea about the menu and ask about allergies. Happy Holidays!

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  8. Loved everything about this post and found myself agreeing with a smile because it's all so true, so real and so doable. You really have figured it all out. A big hug for this amazing post! :-) I am going to read it again.

    I have one tip on party food and one on cleaning. :-) Please serve the food at proper temperature. It really brings out the best in even the simplest preparation, for all the effort and time you put into the food, please give this little detail some attention. On cleaning, this tip comes from someone like me who likes a clean home but doesn't enjoy cleaning it, I am truly a minimalist in this area 'clean enough to be healthy, messy enough to be happy' types but I have realized that a clean and functional restroom says welcome more vividly than a welcome mat by the door. :-)

    - Priti

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    1. Priti- those are great tips and I couldn't agree more!! I think I myself need to pay attention to your two tips!

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  9. Such wise and helpful advice, Nupur. I used to have friends over for stressful (for me) dinners for our birthdays before but lately I have changed it to cake and coffee (and snacks). Much more relaxing. I have also had tapas or appetizers instead of dinner. Your sev-puri will be a terrific recipe to try. I have also frozen (you wrote about it before) meals in advance. Recently I had a large amount of birthday cake left over and tried freezing it, instead of throwing it. We had it a week later for our coffee and cake party. It tasted and looked very fresh! I have been also meaning to try the crock-pot recipes from your round-up challenge. From a guest's perspective, I don't like it when the hostess starts doing dishes (not just one or two, but all of them) while the guests are still there. Also sometimes people keep the guest list secret (esply. on Evite). I like to know who else is coming, and how to dress for the event. Happy thanksgiving to you and the family including Duncan. :-) R

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    1. Hi R- Cake and coffee is such an awesome menu as far as I am concerned! As is an appetizer-heavy party. Yes, birthday cake freezes beautifully- I froze extra cupcakes from Lila's birthday party and we enjoyed them for weeks.

      I so agree with you that it is nice to know what a party is going to be like, what one can expect. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving too!

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  10. Great article, Nupur. I love hosting and feeding people as well. Over the years, I've gone from being the only one to cook and clean to keeping simpler gatherings. Big, lavish meals are reserved for more formal and special occasions.
    I just hosted an informal Chaat party for a few of my girlfriends last night. We had bhel, pani puri, and falooda on the menu. It required minimal efforts as most items were store bought. But everyone ended up getting something or the other. We had LOTS of snacks and desserts. Our chaat party was very successful - no one had to slog in the kitchen for hours, we got time to sit and chat, and there was very little cleaning required afterwards.

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    1. Snehal- your chaat party sounds like SO much fun! That's truly idea of a good time- food that everyone enjoys without anyone slaving over a heavy menu. Most of all it is great that you have a nice group of friends.

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  11. your entertaining tips are spot on. I don't entertain as much as I'd like - mostly for the same reasons as the original commenter. Overwhelmed with my day-to-day life. I do entertain a little and I'm all about quick meals and easy entertaining.The company is the star!
    Sometimes, if something looks like a lot of work to my guests, I let them believe I labored over the food, just because I want them to feel like I appreciate them enough to make that effort.

    Not much of a tip this one, but I always try and make "bulky" appetizers. I think people are hungry when they get there and enjoy filling appetizers. It also takes the load off of the main meal.
    I recently used awesome Costco bought small samosas and made chole and chaat fixings to make samosa chaat. It was a hit and the chole were make ahead so it was very quick to put together.
    I've also used Costco's peach mango salsa and added black beans to it make it a heartier dip for chips.
    I use store bought idli mixes to make idli as appetizers or anything that bakes in the oven - which makes it a hands free dish.

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    1. Archana- great tip- in any case, appetizers are something most people enjoy the most, so why not make it the star of the show? Thanks for sharing your ideas!

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  12. I loved this post Nupur! You really sound like the host I would want to have when I am visiting anyone!
    At our place, both me and my husband are outdoorsy people. So during summer times, our meetups consist of a hike with friends, followed by lunch at our favorite restaurant. During times when we cannot go out, we invariably have friends over (or we go over to someone's place) for a games night. Most of our friends are big into board games and I am crazy about them too, so its a lot of fun staying up till midnight over games and finger food like popcorn, chips and of course maggi!
    Sometimes we do have people over for food other than maggi and popcorn ;) and during those times, its just casual getting together over dinner where the food is non fussy (think dal, chawal, veggie). I am not much into cooking and my husband loves to feed a crowd, so he generally cooks some of his famous and loved-by-our-friends dishes like grilled paneer, fish and grilled veggies and I hover around the house doing some minimalistic cleaning or baking some dessert! When invited to anyone's house I almost always take a dessert (a cake or something baked). I love baking and our friends are always happy to be the guinea pigs! So this is the hosting scene at our place!
    I totally agree with you about being a relaxed and warm host. It scares me a little bit when I am eating at someone's place that is spic and span and the food is served in sparkling silverware where the plates, bowls and glasses belong to the same set and the host to 'too' eager to make sure everyone is comfy.

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    1. Neha- that's so wonderful to get together with friends for hikes- to enjoy the outdoors, get some exercise while still hanging out. Grilling is an excellent idea for relaxed entertaining too. I love the hosting scene at your place :) I for one would love to be a guest at any of your events!

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  13. Great post as usual Nupur. I go pot luck because although I love cooking I tend to go overboard always and end up tired of cooking. So I tend to supplement my dishes with a few of theirs too. Works a treat.

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    1. I love potlucks too- you always get to try some interesting dishes as well as share your favorites!

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  14. Great suggestions...thanks for sharing them. We learned much of this from friends in Australia who effortlessly shared their lives and homes with their friends.

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    1. Frances- you're already a fantastic hostess as I've seen for myself! And one of these I will catch you guys for a weekend brunch, mark my words ;)

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  15. Shubha from SydneyNovember 25, 2013 6:56 PM

    Nupur - yet again, a post from your heart to the hearts of your readers. Loved it. Nothing to add because hey "one can't improve on perfect". We entertain a lot and simply too! I am going to make that sev puri for myself this weekend. Thanks and warm regards - Shubha

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    1. Dear Shubha- there's no such thing as perfection and especially not on this blog! But your encouragement is always appreciated! I do hope you enjoy a big plate of sev puri.

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    2. Going to be in US in June 2014. So can we invite ourselves to a dinner party at your place, pretty please :)

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  16. Nupur, as one shying away from obligatory holiday parties, this was ver confidence building. Thank you! I would like to hear more about being minimal with young kids. Since our son came along, my house is over run with stuff.

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    1. I believe that kids thrive in an environment that is not cluttered- where they have enough books and toys to keep them engaged but not so many that they're overwhelmed and distracted all the time. My solution is to simply give away all extra stuff, keeping only what we truly love and use. You might like to read these two articles:

      http://www.becomingminimalist.com/why-fewer-toys-will-actually-benefit-your-kids/

      http://www.livingwellspendingless.com/2012/09/14/why-i-took-all-my-kids-toys-away-why-they-wont-get-them-back/

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    2. You are so right, Nupur. These articles are great too, especially the one about the woman's "experiment." Thanks! Another benefit of not buying too many toys is all the money saved. I cringe to think of the hundreds of dollars that have been literally turned into junk in our house. Would have been much better spent on their education. You are truly wise to have realized this while (or before!) your child is so young. Just enough and Not Too Much by K Zemach is a nice book that explains this concept to kids in story form. But the best way to teach them, of course, is by living that way. R

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    3. R- you know, my kid mostly ignores toys and prefers playing with other things like bowls and spoons anyway. I'm going to look for that book! Saving for college is a priority, and also the money saved from not buying plastic junky toys can be better used to buy concert tickets, a vacation, craft/dance classes and so many other memorable experiences.

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    4. So true! Experiences make people much happier than possessions. (I read a reformed hoarder's statement yesterday: Happiness is my favorite possession! I am going to use that as a decluttering mantra. ) Another children's book that stresses the importance of people over things is Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. A lovely, lovely book. R

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  17. "a suitable book about the warm fuzzy feeling of cooking for friends" = "Home Cooking" by Laurie Colwin. I can't say enough about the warm feeling you will get when you read this book AND you will want to entertain. Run, don't walk to your closest library and get this book.

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    1. Thank you, thank you! This one has been on my to-read list for way too long!

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  18. I love having friends over (the husband not so much) and so I do not entertain as much as I would like, but when I do, what I keep in mind is, my friends cultural background, for example, if they are from Maharashtra or North, I plan a South Indian meal - not just the usual idli/dosa - sambar- which is always a hit, but also some not typically heard of dishes. So far (touchwood) it has always been a hit.
    I also often make tortilla chips shev-puri ( I use those Tostitos cups sometimes) and add a dash of sriracha along with the regular chutneys.
    I was planning this thanksgiving dinner, but sadly, i have developed plantar fasciitis, which makes it difficult for me to be on my feet for a long time :( I am nt sure I can pull it off, I may postpone it just a bit , till I am at least comfortable standing for an hour at least :(

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    1. That's a great tip, Manasi- to treat your guests to a cuisine that is different from what they usually eat. It is always such fun to see people's delight in tasting something new.

      I'm so sad about your feet :( That must be very painful. I hope you can literally put your feet up and relax this whole holiday weekend and then plan for festivities next month.

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  19. You always have such wonderful tips and recipes. I love that your blog keeps us in touch even though you are far away now! We just had the fall Charity Stitch event and I always think of the beautiful things you made for us! :)

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    1. Hi Holly! I miss you and STL and Charity Stitch! Thanks so much for reading my blog, and Happy Thanksgiving.

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  20. Thanks Nupur :)
    We do get together with close friends and order pizza etc. I have been hesitant to venture into the world of inviting acquaintances that I want to get to know better.
    This post was very encouraging and I will keep you posted on my entertaining future. We are going to India next week for 4 weeks so hopefully next year will see us having people over a lot more.

    -Anu

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    1. Anu- I hope you have a most wonderful time in India, and I hope 2014 is the year of many fun gatherings for you.

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  21. A warm and honest post. Its all about the warmth and love while entertaining that counts. I totally agree with you bcoz I am also not the one to be bothered about the creases on the sofa cover or the dust on the window pane. I would rather have my guest put their legs on the sofa relaxing and the kids running around than have them sit prim and proper sipping their drinks like in a 5 star hotel. Cheers!

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    1. Thanks for the note, Jisha- yes, formal parties are not that fun for me- give me casual gatherings any day.

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  22. Another fantastic post!

    We usually have potlucks most of the time. Since the goal is to get together and have a nice relaxing time - we all stick to simple meals since we don't want anyone slaving in the kitchen. We plan in advance so there is a proper spread of food.

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    1. Anu- it is great to plan ahead for potlucks. However, I quilt with a small group of friends and we never plan what we're bringing for the potluck lunch following the quilting. It is funny- some days the meal works perfectly with a variety of dishes. Other days, there are 4 egg salads and nothing else!

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  23. You are wise beyond your years, Nupur :) Yours sound like just the kind of dinner parties I'd love to attend.
    Today's New York Times had a nice article on just this. Well worth the read:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/27/dining/in-the-end-its-not-about-the-food.html?ref=dining

    Kamini.

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    1. Kamini- I have to tell you- I completely enjoyed reading about the salons you've hosted. That's the sort of gathering I can only dream of!
      And thanks for the link to the article- I enjoyed it.

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  24. I loved your post Nupur. Really hit home because I would love to have more get-togethers over meals at home. Happy thanksgiving to you and the family!

    Simi

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    1. Simi- I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving! And I hope you can enjoy wonderful get-togethers this holiday season.

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  25. Love all of your tips, and they are very timely too with the holiday season upon us. I am a homebody too and I'd rather entertain at home than go out. I used to want to do everything just so but over time I have learned to graciously accept offers of help, potlucks, and keeping in mind that enjoying the company of your friends is more important than stressing over doing everything just so. The sev-puri is making my mouth water.

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    1. That's just it, Vaishali- I like hosting because then the entertainment comes to me and I can stay home ;)

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  26. great post as always Nupur, one thing i admire is how you simplify your life to focus on only the most important. I was a very anxious host till i (quickly) realised it was just not worth the stress. I've had friends over who relish even khichdi ghee and pickle.... If I am not sure of the food preferences, I order in, or my guests are not comfortable with the resident dog, I suggest a restaurant. No more sweating over entertaining. I wear clothes covered in dried dog drool, forget stressing over dust mites!

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    1. How true, Arundati, the simplest homely meal is such a treat when someone lovingly cooks it for you!

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  27. oh also, one party tip I suggest is to have appetisers that can be served cold or at room temperature. no need to keep running to the kitchen to make / heat stuff before designated dinner/ meal time

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    1. Very true! In my new home, I am able to relax this rule just a bit because the kitchen is open and we tend to gather there while I make a hot appetizer. But yes, when the kitchen is closed off, you don't want to be in there away from your guests.

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  28. Great post. Thank You for sharing these tips.

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  29. Lovely post Nupur. Happy Birthday to darling Duncan!
    And thanks for introducing me to Kamini's blog. Those essays are indeed delightful. I need to seek out that ghee shop- I will be in Madras for 2 days this December. Nice to know there are abroad packers in Madras! I wanted to raid Grand Sweets. I was aware of this feature in Andhra since my husband is from Andhra and have benefited from just such a feature during grad school days. Glad to know of its existence in other parts of the country!

    Oh and I will be mostly in Bombay this december. Since you have lived there- any recs for must see or must eat places that you love?

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    1. You're going to be in Bombay- fun! Everything I know about this city is a decade outdated so I'll happily mention things but you should know it may have changed since "my time" :)
      I loved the theater scene in Bombay, especially in these two venues:
      http://www.prithvitheatre.org/
      http://ncpamumbai.com/

      Foodie stuff:

      Gujarati thali and Indo Chinese for sure- there are many good places for both of those.

      Go to chowpatty beach (South Bombay) and eat pav bhaji at Sukh Sagar and then walk around the corner to eat mixed kulfi at kulfi center.
      Falooda at Badhah (Crawford market)
      Batata vada in Dadar
      Tibbs Frankie (stalls in various places)
      Natural's ice cream- tender coconut flavor (stalls in various places)

      Anjali lives in Mumbai and posts once in a while about her eating-out adventures, ask her :)
      http://annaparabrahma.blogspot.com/

      Meera might also have good suggestions for you:
      http://enjoyindianfood.blogspot.com/

      Have fun!!

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  30. I so strongly agree with the part about causal acquaintances becoming great friends over warm meals. When I moved to a new city and made a few acquaintances, I started having people over for a cook-in party which soon became quite the ritual and the people involved became treasured friends. Everybody participates in these cook-ins, starting from planning what to cook in an email thread, contributing ideas, traditional recipes to the actual cooking - chopping vegetables etc. All I have to provide is a clean kitchen and cookware (specialty cookware is sometimes brought over too) ans something to sip on while cooking. A different person takes charge of the main recipe each time and everyone else helps out/follows instructions. We hang out in the kitchen and chit chat at the end of which we have a warm, home-cooked, delicious meal on the table :) People often bring tupperware for leftovers - they are the best part :) I loved your grilled-cheese-bar idea. I think I'll have people over for tomato soup and grilled cheese before a Christmas-special cookie baking night.

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    1. What an absolutely fantastic tradition you've started, Priya! I'll have to rope in my friends and do something like this. Thanks for this wonderfully inspiring comment.

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  31. oops posted the comment under the wrong post- could you 'relocate' it? :D

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    1. Sorry- don't know how to relocate! But I replied to it :)

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  32. Hi Nupur,
    You might also like "Bread Katka" : street food from Saurashtra region.
    I grew up eating it :).
    Hope you will enjoy it !!!
    Lot of love to Lila !!! and
    -P
    http://www.onlinerecipe.org/bread-katka-rajkot-street-food-recipe/
    http://www.indiabackpackmotorbike.com/my-favourite-street-food-in-gujarat-bread-batata-katka-a-photo-story/
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnHXmztMpzk ( Dont like the underage kid working ...)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZspZBLXkcI

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  33. Thanks for these ideas Nupur. Neatly listed down. I love to have guests over but I am always very nervous on how everything is going to turn out. Baby steps is all that is needed...

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  34. Hi! Thanks for the great post, I agree with you, it's important that it's not too stressful to have people over. It doesn't have to be perfect: the most important thing is that you and you friends can relax and enjoy yourselves. Your recipe for sev puri looks delicious, I'm definitely going to try it soon!

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