Now that the Openhouse is over, the place is cleaned up I have a few moments to answer some of the questions that folks asked.
1) How did I manage to get so much done while working?
There isn’t any answer that I can offer that doesn’t sound original. Ultimately I am just anal-retentive enough with project management balanced with it being a cultural norm for me. Growing up group meals were just part of life so some of the things I do to plan and prepare come naturally.
That being said here is my top 10 tips;
1) I make lots of lists. From the concept to the menu to the items needed to the timeline. I am also a big believer in “crossing out” once an item is done. Even if its for the moment, say in the stage of purchase, prep then cook, then adding it back on as an action item.
2) Have a menu that has no more than 2 new recipes. The dishes I can depend on means I am more willing to take a gamble with new ones. In this case that was the Crockpot bbq Meatballs and the Honey Baked Spiral Ham
3) Plan the shopping in several small trips over a few days, instead of a huge trip. I find it overwhelms me less to shop in the
order that I prepare and then gives me “space” to think (or take advantage of the sales)
4) Invest in “post-it’s”! Actually I do love my post-it notes. They help to make the process clear. I essentially storyboard myparty.
From the menu items to the preparation steps, to the cooking order & times and lasting, and here is where my anal-retentive stuff comes in – I use post-its to indicate where I want the dishes to sit on the table.
5) Revise the plan as needed. Never get so wedded to the timeline you can’t adjust, but know the constants. How long certain things need to cook, etc. Since I tend to start with the dishes that need to be prepared before cooking or can keep – I start that the day or two before. Then I make sure to mark them what they are and what then go into. This also makes cleaning up so much easier. For instance while prepping the peppers, onions and herbs for the Turkey (link), I also minced up the herbs, onions, tomatoes and peppers for the bean salad. Then simply package them in either containers or plastic baggie for storage until I am ready. I have done the same with baked products – if I know for instance I want to make a drop biscuit or muffin. I will pre-measure and combine all the dry ingredients earlier in the week, then label with what liquid needs to be added, and cook time and temp. This means less mess and measuring on the cooking time. I have been known to then place the baggie of mix on the intended serving platter on the space it will go on the table (if the table is up already) and use it as a 3d-visual timeline of activities. Works well as a way to get a quick status.
6) What Can I Bring? Now while I like casual and sit down meals, for a crowd the buffet works best. When guests ask when can they bring, I find that for me, its appreciated but stresses me out since I can’t control when they plan to attend etc.. If its an all day type thing and people have a start time – that’s one thing, but I have had more than one openhouse type event where folks came with a hot dish mid way through.
My a stock reply, when asked is – “Thank you for asking! So far I have the main foods covered but you are welcome to bring whole fresh fruit, any favorite or preferred beverages or some kind of sweet treat to add to the line up” In those cases when someone is insistent or in fact makes something I know would be perfect – when I do accept, I follow with asking when they will plan to arrive or will they want to drop it by before it starts.
7) Can I help? When I was younger, I tended to just want to do it all myself – but now I am eager to say “yes of course”. But I know I need to have specific activities in mind, and also know that once I turn it over, I must let go of it being “my way” and instead focus on the pleasure of the doing with someone. This is another reason of the lists – much easier to show folks what still has to be done and gets then engaged without feeling like they have to wait to be told. Sometimes I will label activities with folks names so everyone knows who is on what, and they can share if help is needed.
8. Don’t add anything! Try as I might – I will sometimes get an itch and decide to add something last minute. I find this is usually not worth it and in the end it’s not needed.
9. Have a “Plan B” – for instance when I do a baked pasta type dish, I double the amount of cooked pasta. Then I keep ½ in a large ziplock bag to have on hand if I need more. It’s easy to reheat and I can make it super quick by mixing the pasta with some microwave “back up sauce” and toss on grated cheese. Now if it’s not needed, the next day I make up another baked pasta since I have all the ingredients, and freeze it for another time.
10. Enlist a clean up crew. I know for me – somewhere about an hour after the last guest leaves, I finally hit the wall. Experience tells me that – its been a great asset to have folks who are more than happy to help with the minimal clean up. Since most of everything is cleaned before the party starts – the after clean up is really doable with a few folks. So if someone asks what they can help with – tell them!