The holiday season is fast approaching! For us, the excitement of holiday gatherings comes part and parcel with the pressure of hosting and cooking for large groups. So… queue Kara Dykert, renowned party hostess! In addition to artfully curated parties and events, she hosts the blog Kara Elise | The Art of Hosting. She was graciously willing to share with us some of her tried and true tactics to take the intimidation out of hosting. Below, find her 9 practical tips to make holiday hosting a bit more easeful.
The holidays are upon us and this means endless celebrations, family and friends, and often – hosting!
When I moved to Los Angeles, I started a dinner party company with the intention of creating a space for people to authentically connect. I am a massive believer that magic happens over food. When we slow down, get present, and welcome people into our worlds, we create a space for genuine conversation to thrive. I love hosting for just that reason – it is the ultimate art of welcoming someone in. Some of the most pivotal conversations in our lives happen around a dinner table. As our consumption of social media and engagement in online content continues to grow, dinner parties prove to be a powerful practice. They give us the gift of face to face interaction and connection. Ultimately, they empower true community.
Hosting can be such an intimidating word! Having people over, welcoming them in, and creating space can cause anxiety for many of us. We often feel ill-prepared, overwhelmed, or exhausted at the thought of all that comes with hosting. The shopping, preparing, cooking, decorating, etc., can cause immense pressure. And yet, hosting others well is one of the best gifts you can ever give someone. Because true hosting, welcoming people into an authentic and safe space is sacred! It creates space for conversations to bloom and authentic connection to happen. By hosting someone, you essentially give them a space to be seen, heard, and known – and we all can use a bit more of that in our lives.
This season, I’ve come up with some of my favorite tips to make the art of hosting a little less intimidating. I hope these practical tools offer you a bit of ease as you welcome people in this holiday season.
1. Your presence is everything.
Did you know that when you host, your presence sets the entire tone for your guests? If you’re stressed, the people in your space sense that. This holiday season, prioritize you! It will make you a better host! For me, that means making sure I have time alone to recharge and rest, so that when guests arrive I feel equipped to host them well.
2. Shortcut central.
It can be overwhelming to create a meal and think that you need to do it all from scratch! But sometimes the best things in life are simple, and it’s no different with food. I love using shortcuts that are worth using. For example, anytime I make a charcuterie board, I am ultimately just assembling. I often purchase my dips and spreads pre-made because it lessens time in the kitchen and affords more time with people I love. Make note of what shortcuts are worth it for you in the kitchen! Is it helpful to buy pre-cut veggies, dips, etc.? If so, do it! Anything that doesn’t rob the experience of the meal and allows you to be more present wins.
3. Start well and explore your inner artist.
A good charcuterie board or appetizer board can blow your guests away! When I create charcuterie boards, I genuinely think about them as a piece of art. Think about where can you add more color, texture, and dimension to give something an extra touch of beauty. Get creative and playful – and don’t worry about making it perfect. Sometimes the mess is just as beautiful!
4. Good bread and good oils.
This may sound simple, but never downplay the power of good bread and good olive oil. I love setting freshly toasted ciabatta on a beautiful cutting board and serving it with a delicious, robust olive oil. Sprinkled with some quality salt and pepper, this bread and oil combo serves as a great table setting that you can set out in advance. That way when your guests sit down to eat, there is already something delicious in front of them that they can begin to nibble on!
5. The power of three.
If I’m going to cook a full meal for a large group of guests, I always love to think in 3’s: Main, Salad, Side. Then, I supplement with a delicious toast or loaf of bread. When you work in threes, it makes the kitchen a little easier because you know exactly what you’re navigating! Choose a good main like a quality salmon or steak recipe. Then, find a salad that will complement it. I like rich salads with nuts and quinoa to add a bit more depth to the meal. Then, choose an accompanying side. What side dish sounds good with salmon or steak? You can be simple about this as well! A nice grain, rice, or couscous are always delicious options.
When I started my dinner party company, I fell in love with toast so much that I wrote a book about it. Toasts are simply a base with beautiful toppings. They are accessible, easy, versatile, and fun! And the best part about them is that you can make a large batch at a time! One of my favorites during the fall is a walnut + goat cheese + fig + honey toast. I make these as little appetizers, or sometimes as part of the meal! You can find this simple recipe in my book, or try it here:
Walnut + Goat Cheese + Fig + Honey Toasts
makes 8 slices
8 slices of a good baguette
2 Tbsp chopped walnuts
3 oz goat cheese
1/2 cup dried figs (you could also use fresh!)
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp California Olive Oil
Preheat your oven to 375°. Arrange your slices of bread on a baking sheet coated with non-stick cooking spray. Spread each slice with goat cheese. Top the toasts with sliced figs and chopped walnuts. Drizzle the toasts with olive oil and honey. Bake for about 8-10 minutes or until golden!
7. Table questions.
Table questions happen to be my favorite part of every dinner I host. A table question can be any question that engages each person and sparks conversation. I like to ask fun questions that evoke laughter, but also bring out meaning for people. For example, “What is one of your most memorable holidays and why?” or, “What is something you’ve accomplished in the past month that you’re proud of?” These kinds of questions create meaningful conversation among all the guests at your table and are a fun way to reflect as we approach the end of the year.
8. Allow people to help you!
Asking for and accepting help as a host can often be a challenge. Sometimes we refuse help because we want our guests to carry no burden. I’ve found, however, that if someone offers to help, it can be both honoring and empowering to let them! Sometimes I’ll even think of tasks (chopping, setting the table, folding linens, opening wine bottles, etc.) that I know I need help with, so the moment someone asks, I have something tangible to give them. Sometimes, these moments of a person helping out can be the most intimate and special part of the entire night.
9. Enjoying the meal with your guests.
Lastly, sit down. Be present. And enjoy. This is perhaps the most difficult practice as a host because we’re constantly aware of all the things that need to happen behind the scenes. But when you are present and enjoying the evening with your guests, that far exceeds a little delay on the food. Take time to really enjoy yourself, the company of the people around you, and the sacredness of this season with the people you love. That is what you’ll remember the most.
Thank you, Kara! If you’re looking for more of Kara’s recipes and party tips, check out her blog, here!
Wishing you many holiday gatherings filled with joy, comfort, and ease, from all of us at California Olive Ranch Team!
all photos courtesy of Kara Dykert