BALTIMORE — It’s safe to say Kathi Gromacki knows a thing or two about hosting holiday dinners. The owner of Nest on Main says she has held about 20 Thanksgivings at her home over the years. And her shop in Bel Air, Maryland, is brimming with everything an aspiring host — or guest — could need for a party, from luxurious hand soaps for the guest bathroom to a new gadget that you can use to grate garlic cloves.
When it comes to dinner parties, Gromacki says her own policy is to do as much as possible ahead of time. A day or two ahead of time, she does all the prep work, from cleaning to cutting green beans and placing them in bags for easy access. “You have to be organized,” she said. She keeps a mental schedule of everything she needs to do the day of and when to get ready.
When guests arrive, she’s not afraid to put them to work. “Always have something in your head, what kind of job you could give someone to do,” she said. “Because they always want to help.” She will put aside nuts and ask guests to place them in bowls, or seek their assistance with arranging a veggie tray.
As a party guest herself, Gromacki always brings a gift. Her favorite is a beautiful plate topped with homemade cookies, or elegant cookware filled with a side dish. “I like to bring something that they can use again,” she said. On the bottom, she even writes a personalized message — ensuring it’s an item with memories built-in.
Paper (almost) everything
Paper table runners and place mats are an affordable way to add some elegance to your place settings. Gromacki is particularly a fan of the colorable mats — just the thing to entertain guests at the kids’ table.
When it comes to the guest powder room, Gromacki likes to set up paper tea towels that guests can use and then toss. In terms of decorating, she’ll light a candle and fill a vase with holly.
But she has her limits. She never uses paper plates. “I never use paper,” she said. “That’s what my husband’s there for — I do all the cooking, he does the dishes.”
If you’re hosting guests for a meal, it’s best to keep things simple in the appetizer department: Think yummy dips and crackers with celery or an assortment of cheeses. Try baked brie, one of the easiest (and crowd-pleasing) appetizers around. You can dress it up with fancy preserves or chutney — or keep it simple. “Store-bought is fine,” Gromacki said, echoing her personal hosting hero, the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten.
Many of us have spent a lot of time without much social interaction the past year. Trivia games can be great for breaking the ice at parties. “The best kind of games to play are the games that you just pull off and play for like 15 minutes,” said Gromacki.
Hosting books, including “The Friendsgiving Handbook” by Emily Stephenson, or “Host: A Modern Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Feeding Your Friends” by Eric Prum and Josh Williams, offer advice. The latter book includes recipes and three principles to help guide your next get-together: Keep it simple, use fewer, better ingredients, and make people happy. “Put your guests first, keep things fun and throw in a surprise (or two) whenever you can,” they write.