10 (Non-Partisan) Party Tips for the Time-Pressed

So you’ve just skidded into town, you won’t be there long, and you want to see your friends, but you don’t have time to “entertain.”

Yes you do. At least that’s what I told myself as I boarded the red-eye in LAX headed back to New York, landing on Election Day. “Come on over and we’ll watch the returns,” I said. And they said, “Can I bring anything?” And I said “Dinner.”

Campaign posters for Elvis and Snooki
A cautionary tale: campaign posters for Elvis and Snooki

By the way, did you vote? Good for you. If you didn’t, you’ve no right to complain, and that’s all I’m going to say on the subject. Whoever said we get the government we deserve was right. Think what could happen if we don’t take responsibility. (See photo above)

The good news, I heard Jimmy Kimmel say, is that Snooki is not tall enough to vote.

Back to the party. I didn’t really ask my guests to bring dinner, but I did ask Bella Blu, the Italian place around the corner. For me, the ease makes up for the inelegance. I’m not trying to impress. The party’s for my peeps.

Election party menu
Election party menu

Here’s how it worked, and it can work for you, too. Substitute my dishes with your own. You get the gist. If you want more suggestions, give me a holler in the Comments. I read every single word you write.

1. Decide on a simple menu that can be seved at room temperature, that you can mostly assemble rather than cook, and spruce it up a bit. For eg., buy prepared broccoi and garlic, a common item. Trim the broccoli to the florets-only, sprinkle with lemon juice and olive oil, salt and pepper, toss, and warm in the oven. Get pre-washed salad greens, and make your own dressing – a Caesar or mustard vinaigrette. Takes 5 minutes and makes a big difference. Bite-size pieces and finger food is buffet-friendly and easily eaten with just a fork.

2. Quick and dirty decorate. Order a bunch of balloons and cluster them in one or two spots. By the entrance is good. Big effect, low-budget, and you don’t have to “arrange” them.  Would also work with big bunches of one kind of flower, or branches, or leaves.

Post-election party balloons
Post-election-party balloons, a bit less perky today. Portrait at left by Maureen O'Neill.

3. Do your shopping. Scramble around to buy inexpensive pizza pans or improvise with cookie sheets. You’ll use these to re-warm the pizzas. Buy pizza cutter if you don’t have one.

3a. Waste $40 on a pizza-cooking stone that you end up not using. (This step optional.)

4. Order pizzas two hours in advance and arrange for delivery time about 20 minutes before guests arrive.

5. Set up. Chill wine and beer, and set up bar. My basics are beer, white and red wines, vodka, tequila, soda, tonic, Pelligrino, Diet Coke, lemons and limes. Set out plates, forks, napkins; and serving bowls for salad and vegetables. Make salad dressing.

6. Organize dessert. Put chocolate pecans and toffee almonds in candy dishes and set aside. That can be it, or… set out a tray on which to put pints of ice cream (in their containers – get over it), cups or bowls, spoons, napkins, and ice cream scoop in cup of water. Remember to take ice cream out of freezer as people are finishing dinner, so it has time to soften. Put something under the tray to protect table surface from condensation. This can be set up away from the kitchen and entirely self-serve.

7. Change clothes if you’re going to, and put on your lipstick. (Lipstick optional for men)

8. When pizzas arrive, while still in the boxes, cut them into squares rather than wedges. These smaller pieces are easier to manage as finger food or with a fork. It doesn’t matter if they’re already sliced, just slice them again. 10. Slide pies on pizza pans or cookie sheets to heat on low oven (250), and store the rest in the dishwasher to get them out of the way until you need them. Toss boxes can so they don’t clutter.

9. When guests arrive, answer the door and act like you do this every day. Make it about your friends and everything’s fine. Get them a drink first thing, or point them to the bar.

10. Serve dinner. Put out broccoli. Toss the salad. Set the warmed pizzas on top of the stove, which will be handily warm from the oven’s heat. Consolidate the pizzas as they are consumed, so you free up a pan to warm the next pizza.

Post-election party balloons
Post-election-party balloons. Painting of New York skyline by Paul Balmer.



  1. ….and if your candidate didn’t win be sure and have a good supply of tequila on hand (add that to the shopping list!)

    1. Thank you Peggy. I know where you can get them if you need some… People were surprisingly not snarky, and we had both sides. Maybe because they were so knocked out by my cooking skills?

  2. Love this – especially that it undermines how we talk ourselves out of things we want to do. Everyone knows it isn’t a restaurant!

    A note on 3a: we leave our pizza stones (2) in the oven all the time – great place to store them AND much of what we use the oven for are not bothered in the least by them. Also, for keeping warm, they retain heat. Other things – warming bread and lots of other things – they are useful… And we buy the Pre-made but unbaked pizzas that turn out perfectly on the stones.

    Also – pizza stones are MUCH cheaper in the Santa Ynez Valley in California – so why not just move there?

    1. Well Randall thank you! And my goodness your pizza stone info is excellent! I’m marching right back in the kitchen, putting the thing back in the oven, and naming it after you. The Randall Stone.

  3. Love the ideas! We also create easy-to-make appetizers using skewars: take small wooden skewars and slide on cherry tomatoes, cubed cheese, sliced sausage,etc. (We used this on our sailboat (still floating after Hurricane) because it was easy for guests to handle. Bonus point – they can be prepared ahead of time!

    1. The is great, M.A.! I forget about those little skewers and they are very handy… So glad to hear your boat is safe, and may it remain so after this nor’easter.

  4. I’m loving this because a friend(?) of mine once said to me, “I love coming to your house for dinner because you really don’t care what you serve or what it looks like (or something like that). I think she meant it as a compliment, and I certainly took it as one either way. I don’t think it came out exactly the way she had wanted it to; but I knew what she was saying. I truly believe that when friends come to my house for dinner, they don’t REALLY care whether everything is homemade, or if you have just redecorated your house; they are usually just happy to be at someone else’s house and to be with friends!

  5. Loved the brief photos of “la casa” nyc. looks to be be very interesting. Bella is always a fav…..never considered doing take out…good thought!

  6. You are so precious. If I had only known that that thing in my alley kitchen in NYC was a pizza storage container, I would have had more parties! And what a great atmosphere to deal with the letdown after such anticipation for those whose candidate doesn’t win. Lipstick (and wine) help too. xo Pete

    1. Pete you are the precious one, and it is never too late to learn what that thing in your kitchen is for. I know of someone who stored her fur coat in her oven.

  7. Love your blog! I will be reading yours regularly now that I have found you. Just wanted to stop by to say thanks for the nice comment and gorgeous link you left on mine. Fellow Southerner here…should have known.

    1. Thank you Ellen and back atcha! I signed up to Color Calling today and am looking forward to it. Where are you from? I didn’t see a bio on your site. Best, Frances

  8. Mountain Brook, AL. I am somewhat new to blogdom and WordPress is not the most user-friendly place to start. Still trying to figure out how to do a profile page. Or, should I say, trying to figure out where access to the profile page goes!!! I do like WP, but there is a steep learning curve for non-techies! Best to you and will be a regular…. Ellen

    1. Mountain Brook! One of the prettiest places in the south, without a doubt, and with the nicest people. I wish I could offer you sound advice on WP but I leave that to the two 20-something-year-olds who are nice enough to put up with my questions and general dingbattery. Find you some of a ‘dem and make your life so much easier! I’m also happy to put you on to my guys – Mike and Don Citarella – in New Jersey, but they Skype, and they are great. Let me know how it goes, Frances

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