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Tips for hosting a stress-free party at the cottage

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Laughter and conversation erupt around the dinner table as the host sits relaxed at the head of the table with a glass of red wine in hand. Dinner has been served, guests are satisfied, and dessert just needs to be plated and brought to the table. A look of pride sits comfortably on the host’s face as they bask in the success of the party.

This image is often a fantasy for many who consider having guests over, but instead, the reality can often be a chaotic kitchen with pots bowling over, sauces spilled on the floor, and the host near tears as things seem to unravel. But it doesn’t have to be this way—achieving the fantasy is easier than it seems, even if you aren’t a character on Desperate Housewives.

Start early and stay organized
Don’t crack open a cookbook the morning of your party and pick a recipe at random—take some time early in your week to plan your meal and make a list of what needs to be done. Shop for hard-to-find items early so that if you can’t find them at your first stop, you have time to look elsewhere. If you’re considering using a new recipe, make sure you read it thoroughly so that you understand the time needed in prep and cooking. If possible, pick some items that can be prepared a day or two ahead of time to ease your load the day everyone comes over.

Strategically use store-bought items
The pressure to perform is often too much for some hosts. Meeting the expectations of guests with high standards can result in kneading bread, pureeing sauces, making cheese and curing meat, but you don’t have to make everything from scratch. The point of entertaining is to enjoy the company of your guests, and if you’re too busy in the kitchen to sit down and dine with them, then you’re more like a cook than a host. A popular item on any table is a cheese and charcuterie platter. By mixing great locally made artisan cheeses and meats you can create the illusion that you’ve made things from scratch by showcasing someone else’s great products. By complimenting the delicious food you make with a selection of store bought items, you can create a diverse menu that doesn’t rely on you standing in your kitchen for 12 hours.

Reinvent the potluck
Another great tip for creating a successful party is to include your guests. Reinvent the potluck. We’ve all been to the potlucks where the table is full of bags of chips, hummus, veggies, and dip. Instead of relying on your guests to bring what they think the party needs, create a theme like a pizza, taco, or crepe party, and tell each of your guests to bring a topping or ingredient. For the pizza party, you supply the crust, but you get people to bring different sauces, cheeses, meats, and veggies. Then lay everything out on the table and let everyone create their own pizza. This is also a great way to include kids in a dinner party, and you won’t end up trying to sneak half-opened bags of chips in people’s bags as they leave your house.

Manage your own expectations
Keep in mind that you’re not Martha Stewart. A glass of wine might get spilt, the roast might be overdone, or the sauce runny, and that’s OK. You’re human, not a party planner/chef/comedian/wizard. You should enjoy yourself too, and as long as your guests leave smiling having had a great time with you and your other friends, then your party was a success.