Thursday, July 9, 2009

The art of conversation

The secret is four words:
Ask questions.
Be interested.

I sat next to Henry Kissinger at a White House dinner party when I was 21 and I think I was a good conversationalist because my father taught me to "ask questions and be interested" in what the person had to say. Don't ramble on about yourself; your dinner partner will love it if you extract interesting information from them and are genuinely enthusiastic. My friend Kim is unbelievable because she knows how to get people talking about themselves; plus, she's so engaging that people want to talk to her!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hostess gifts for summer parties

Summer entertaining is fun because it's relaxed, casual and by the pool, beachfront, patio, deck, garden or even a kitchen party. When you're invited, remember to bring a hostess gift; it does NOT have to be expensive. Last week we had a welcoming party for relatives who live in Europe and throughout the U.S. for dinner on our patio. My sister-in-law is absolutely the best at gift-giving; goes to great lengths to give the perfect personalized gift. She lives in St. Louis and brought Bissinger Chocolates - popular in that city - and she knows I love chocolate. And, because I enjoy cooking she also brought special spices from Penzy. She was our houseguest and brought gorgeous serving pieces for entertaining. The other thing that is important is the presentation: how it's wrapped. I do not wrap; I should hire my sister-in-law. My house is filled with gifts from her from etiquette books she's sent me, monogrammed stationery, pottery she has made personally for all of us, personalized jewelry, etc. That's the only reason I married her brother. I like gifts from her. She's invited back.

Other summer hostess gift ideas
Here are my favorite stores:
Julienne Fine Foods and Celebrations, San Marino, California
Motif, Pasadena, California
Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena, California
Crate and Barrel
Pottery Barn

Always ask to have the gift wrapped or at least a bag with tissue and ribbon.

(1) Monogrammed cocktail napkins from Motif in Pasadena, California (already wrapped and everyone needs cocktail napkins - have them put tissue in their beautiful store bag). They also have a personalized wine stopper (already available with the host's initial) that I have given to clients and a monogrammed cheeseboard with knife which is very unusual. Allison is my personal shopper and she always knows what my needs are and has the best suggestions. She also mentioned the San Pasqual dressing they have which I love and you buy the candied walnuts to accompany it; they're from Marstons restaurant, Pasadena.
(2) Fun apron if your friends/clients grill a lot (we call it a barbecue in California but my relatives elsewhere call it grilling).
(3) Trays or glasses and pitcher for lemonade/iced tea. Non-breakable is great for outdoors.
(4) If it's a party at their home at the beach a cute frame with shells around it - take a picture that night of all of you and e-mail it to them for the frame
(5) I once gave beach towels for the family with each of their names on it and it was a hit
(6) If your guests are from out-of-town, a book on where you live. I have given a lot of copies of "Hometown Pasadena" written by Sandy Gillis and other writers. When you have visitors it's a great gift to guide them around the city.

What if someone invites you at the last minute?

(1) Ask if you can bring something for them to serve that night, i.e. a bottle of wine or dessert. If they say no, which I have said to guests (and my neighbor Caroline never lets me bring anything but of course I do) then just show up on time, enjoy the party and write the thank you note!
(2) If you want to bring them fresh flowers from your garden that is a very nice gesture but bring them in one of your vases already arranged; otherwise, they have to take time out from their guests and prepare them in a vase.
(3) Run to your nearest bookstore and get the Zagat Guide on the area they live in (Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Boston, New York, etc.)
(4) Go to your nearest market to get an hors d'oeuvres - even a vegetable tray but arrange it on a nice platter. Stop by Julienne and get their fabulous terrines with crostini to take.

Don't arrive empty-handed! And remember, write a thank you note!