So. Pippa Middleton has a new book coming out. It's called How to Be the Perfect Party Hostess and she was paid a $622,000 advance for it. Apparently it's going to include "amusing anecdotes."
Now. I'm not saying she's greedy and I'm not saying that she's crap at titles. I'm just saying that I could come up with a better title if I were trapped in the Labyrinth of Crete and the Minotaur were close on my heels. (Or, for the less classically minded among us, if I were being chased by murderers with knives. Or possibly bears.) And if I were to write such a book, no way in heck I'd ask for that much money for it.
In fact, to demonstrate my generosity, here's the first draft of Do You Think They'll Notice the Chicken's Raw? And Other Adventures in Entertaining, which I offer for absolutely no money at all.
Chapter One: An Abundance of Booze
A few months after I was married, my new brother-in-law described my wedding as "an epic drinking fail." From this I learned the first rule of entertaining: always provide alcohol. Little umbrellas are appreciated but not required.
The way I provide alcohol is this: I inform my husband that we need wine, or beer, or cider (for people like me who don't really like beer but don't want to look weird and have wine instead), or delicious mixed drinks. He goes to the store and comes back with something cheap and delicious. He has an unusual talent for finding quality drinks in a reasonable price range--a talent I do not share. Once I went to the store to buy bourbon and ended up spending eight bucks on something the hubby described as "nail polish remover." This is why I'm not allowed to buy alcohol anymore.
If you are without an informed party to buy your alcohol and uncork a bottle of wine without giving himself a hernia, find one immediately. Do not attempt to entertain without one.
Chapter Two: Ambience, Or, Why No One's Talking
There are two essential elements to setting the mood for your party: decorating and creating your iTunes playlist.
To decorate, first shove all your laundry in a little-used room. Close the door and do not allow guests to enter. A quarantine sign on the door would not be amiss. Next, purchase several large swaths of batik fabric. Artfully arrange the fabric over every piece of furniture you got at a thrift store while you were in college. Finally, gather several stubby beeswax candles and position them on the table. Do not worry if they melt all over the tablecloth. This is art.
When choosing the music, it's best to start with something artsy. Something that makes people think "Hmm, my host is one classy dude." Philip Glass is a good choice. Transition into something with a discernible beat, and finish up with Shakira or Lady Gaga. By the end of the evening you want people dancing, or at least swaying their hips with a thoughtful expression on their faces.
Chapter Three: Wouldn't It Be Easier to Get a Party Platter at Costco?
Food provides not just something to chew on during those awkward pauses in the conversation, but sets the tone of the entire event. A casual gathering? A big pot of chili with mountains of cheese! A weekend brunch? Coffee cake and fruit salad. A formal dinner? Three different appetizers, brightly colored cocktails, and salmon arranged in a spiral and slathered with creamy dill sauce.
When planning the menu for your party, be flexible. Allow for the possibility that your guest of honor will inform you, as you present him with a side of barbecued ribs, that he became a vegetarian last Tuesday.
Expect compliments. These are your friends: they should tell you you're the best cook in your generation. If they don't show the proper appreciation for your garlic shrimp cocktail and pesto-parmesan straws, don't invite them back. Life is too short to make delicate appetizers for people who prefer Doritos.
Chapter Four: Isn't It Time You Found New Friends?
The guest list is the most tedious--and the most crucial--task on any host's to-do list. Who to invite? How many? And if Karri comes you can't invite Brad, because they have that history, but Josh probably won't come without Brad because he doesn't know anyone else, and if Josh doesn't come Alli will get upset because she totally has a thing for him...
And so on.
Don't invite any of them. Once you've gone to all that work planning the menu, decorating, selecting tasteful music, even lighting candles, for heaven's sakes, why would you want to spoil any of it with other people?
However, as Alton Brown quipped, "There is no meal that can fix bad company, but I've seen great company fix meals." And so, on those occasions when you simply must entertain, invite the friends who won't hold it against you if the meat is still bleeding and the enchiladas burned and the broccoli is all gray and slithery. Similarly, don't hold it against them when they offer to spring for pizza.