So You Want To Throw The Perfect Holiday Party …

Q's NutsPhoto courtesy of Q's Nuts.

No one wants to be responsible for throwing a stale, boring party. With the holidays right at hand, it’s the ideal time to throw the perfect holiday party … and you want to make sure you get all the details right.

Relax. You’ve got plenty of help.

Setting The Scene
Creating An Atmosphere

Denize Ramos, manager and design consultant at Setting the Space in Assembly Row, says two of the most important factors in party planning are lighting and scent.

“You should have some soft lighting, and areas where the food is going to be should be brighter,” Ramos says. “A soft, golden light like candlelight is very welcoming and very warm.”

When adding aroma to your home, she advises to avoid floral scents, which can be overpowering. Instead, look for seasonal smells like fir tree or clean linen, and use a diffuser or soy-scented candles.

Ramos also recommends keeping the food centralized, which helps with flow, and to present it with some height on the table.

“You should have different-height candles, and laying out appetizers you should have a three-tiered or a tall platter,” she said. “Things that are crystal or glass add height but won’t take up opaque space. It makes room to put something out without being crowded.”

How To Pair Cheese

When it comes to the food, choices can be daunting. Lauren Ritter of The Wine and Cheese Block on Washington Street says the first step is to find a good cheese counter and talk to a cheesemonger like herself. And the second is not to go overboard—three or four options are plenty.

“I’d ask what cheeses they’ve tried and loved, and start from there,” she says. “I’ll usually pick something adjacent to the styles they’re already familiar with.”

For a fan of sharp cheddar, Ritter might offer up a great English or Vermont cheddar, or perhaps pivot to a two-year old gouda from Holland like L’Amuse, or a year-old Italian cow’s milk cheese such as Piave. For a veined cheese, she suggests Point Reyes Bay Bleu from California or a German bleu called Cambozola.

And if your guests are already adventurous eaters, Ritter advocates serving a stinky cheese.

“What we mean by ‘stinky’ is it has a distinctive appearance, like the tacky orange rind, and smells stronger than it tastes,” she says. “Some can be runny, like a ripe Époisses; it’s great with beer, actually, like Belgian beers. You need something strong and assertive.”

It’s important to remember that cheese is best served at room temperature. Ritter advises taking soft cheeses out of the fridge about half an hour in advance, and hard cheeses an hour or two.

You can also take the familiar bowl of nuts to a new level. Beth Quinn and her husband Brian make about 18 different sweet and savory flavors at their Highland Avenue shop, Q’s Nuts—all of them vegan, gluten free, and dairy free.

“For holiday flavors, we make an autumn roast pecan with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, allspice, orange peel, and Brandy,” Quinn says. “That’s really good, as well as the maple-bourbon pecans.”

Her personal favorite is probably the banana-rum almonds or pecans, but for a savory treat she enjoys the lemon grass and sea salt cashews. Quinn adds that their nuts aren’t just for out-of-hand eating; she cooks with them, too.

“Our rosemary cashews, I’ll make stuffed mushrooms with them,” she says. “Chop the nuts and add a little dill and feta cheese and fresh breadcrumbs, then stuff the mushrooms and put them in the oven with a little olive oil.”

Picking Wine and Liquor

Your guests, of course, will need something to wash down their appetizers, and for many people that means wine, which can be another intimidating acquisition. But Dan Lech, wine manager for Ball Square Fine Wines, says not to worry about beggaring yourself in order to keep your guests happy.

“I think the sweet spot for wine is between $12 and $25 a bottle,” he says. “In that range you’re getting real quality wines that just don’t have a lot of prestige or rarity built into the price.”

You can expect to get five or six full glasses of wine from a bottle, perhaps a few more with sparkling wine since that’s usually a smaller pour, says Lech.

“In general, I advise simplicity,” he says. “Don’t try to have six different kinds of wine—it will just cause confusion. Just find a versatile white and red to please everyone.”

He suggests an un-oaked chardonnay like Macon-Villages or an Oregon pinot gris for the white wine. For reds, you can try a pinot noir from the south of France or an Argentinian malbec that will not only be affordable but go well whether by themselves or paired with food.

If you’re serving spirits, a 750ml bottle should get you 17 drinks, at 1.5 ounces each. Always buy a little more than you anticipate serving, he suggests, so as not to be caught short. And don’t feel obligated to provide a full bar.

“Provide the makings for one or two classics—Manhattans, martinis, or gin and tonic—or a signature drink or two that you research a recipe for,” Lech says. “And don’t go for bottom-shelf brands. There are generally good quality whiskeys, gins, tequilas, et cetera, available for around $20 per bottle, and it makes a big difference.”

Finally, don’t fret if you don’t have the perfect stemware or shot glass for everything you serve. You just need something serviceable … and maybe a little accident-proof.

“You can generally find inexpensive wine glasses at department stores,” says Lech. “The stemless, tumbler-style glasses are fun and versatile—and also harder to knock over!”

This story is a part of our Celebrating The Season package, the rest of which appears in the Nov/Dec print issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

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