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Hostess with the Mostess: A Few Tips on How To Host The Perfect Holiday Dinner Party

   The perfect holiday party must be beautiful, elegant and festive. It should be fun as well. I imagine a large brick farmhouse in the country with snow softly falling on the ground outside, a large pine wreath with a red velvet bow hanging on the front door, a fireplace crackling in the den and the hostess beautifully dressed in a fitted silk crepe and satin gown by Carolina Herrera. I see a long mahogany dining room table (complete with a white lace tablecloth) set with fine bone china, crystal stemware, red and white tapered candles, silver dinnerware and exquisitely folded cloth napkins. The centerpiece should include red roses and lush gardenias.

   The scene I have just described is, of course, a fantasy. It would surely cost a fortune to pull together a party like that, and it is not at all practical. Besides, who really has the time? What I can share with you, dear reader, are a few tips that can make any holiday party, however modest or decadent, a very special and memorable one. An old-fashioned idea that I truly love (for a centerpiece) are oranges decorated with cloves. It’s incredibly easy to do, inexpensive, and truly beautiful to look at; also, the smell is divine. Holly leaves and sprigs of fresh pine will also add a festive touch to any holiday centerpiece or bouquet and will fill your home with a lovely perfume. Music is essential for any dinner party; for the winter holidays some of my favorites include: “Purple Snowflakes” by Marvin Gaye, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Judy Garland and “Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley.

   For dinner, a goose is a wonderful traditional main course, as is a paella dish with seafood. Options for healthy side dishes include yams, root vegetables, sautéed green beans and Chinese broccoli. A pineapple upside down cake is a simple and traditional homemade favorite for a dessert, as is Watergate Salad, individual chocolate mousses with whipped cream and a cherry, and purple yam cake, which is a classic Filipino dessert.

   When it comes to presents, instead of something big and elaborate, how about small stocking-stuffers? They are a great idea for your friends and loved ones: I’m thinking of miniature bottles of champagne, individually wrapped chocolates, rollerball perfumes, a pair of gloves perhaps and, on a practical note, how about a weekly subway Metrocard for the urban dwellers in your life? Trust me, they’ll love it.

   The most important part of your holiday party are the people you invite; surrounding yourself with love at the holidays is what matters most, even if all you want to do is forego all of the hassle of shopping and cooking and have a cozy dinner in Chinatown with a few friends and then curl up on the sofa in your pajamas and slippers and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. If it makes you happy, do it. The Holidays are about feeling the love, not the stress.

By Angela Sloan