Olive oil tasting

January 14, 2009


I know that on Monday I bemoaned that I hardly ever have time to socialize, but over the holidays I found lots of opportunities to open my doors to friends and family. One night I made dinner for my test kitchen colleagues. I kept the menu super simple: charcuterie platter, frisée salad, braised lamb shanks, creamy polenta and buttertarts. I knew the food would be tasty but not super memorable so I added an experiential element to the party: an olive oil tasting.

Each of the oils pictured above is from the Mandranova olive plantation; the fruit is picked from different olive cultivars at both different times of year and at various elevations. The result is a range of olive oils that, while similar, are quite distinct from one another, too.

The beauty of adding an activity like this to a party is that it doesn’t require a lot of advanced preparation and takes up only a few minutes of the event. Although tasting these oils wasn’t a wild, life changing experience, I think it was a great way to start the party since it moved us from small talk to sharing our insights about taste.

How do you like to get the party started? Do you think a glass of wine and a cheese platter within arm’s reach is enough to get your friends in the party spirit or do you have signature techniques for getting everyone into a social mood?


Perfectionistas anonymous

August 27, 2008

My name is Dana McCauley and I am no longer a perfectionist.

After a couple of weeks away from home and work, I realized that I make a big deal of too many things. Take entertaining for example: I’ve been known to obsess over every detail before a party, staying up to all hours to get my house, the food and the table ready for a get-together. Last winter, I worked for two days to get ready for my Christmas Eve cocktail party and then stayed up until the wee hours of Christmas morning cleaning up. Was the party a wonderful success? Absolutely. Did my guests ooh and ahh over the food and the table? Certainly. Did I enjoy Christmas day? Not really. In fact, I had a pounding headache and a crick in my back that hurt when I stood or sat.

Refreshed from my holiday, I have a new outlook and attitude and I’m going to do my best to keep it up. See that table above? That level of detail was the old me. The new me eschews such finery! From now on guests will get what they get:
• If I have time to make something fabulous, it will be served. If I don’t, I’ll buy something.
• If my linen napkins are ironed and folded, we’ll use them. If not, paper will do.
• If someone offers to help with the clean up, I’ll gladly accept his or her help.
• And, from now on my larger parties are going to include a new budget line; I’m going to hire someone to help serve and clean up so that I can have my party, a good time and a clean house, too.

Do any of you dread entertaining because of all the schlepping and cleaning? If so, maybe you should join my new club.

If not, what strategies have you developed to help you enjoy your parties from the planning stages to unloading the dishwasher the morning after?