I Tried To Follow Nigella's Tips For A Perfect Christmas Party. Here's What Happened
The Debrief: Even when I served avocado on toast as canapes, things didn't go very well
I have a mild horror of throwing parties, mainly because I worry doing so will expose the gulf between the person I want to be (laidback, graceful, relaxed about Class A drug use) and the person I am inside (neurotic, lightweight, generally law-abiding).
Still, every year as Christmas approaches and the party season descends, I long to hold a party. The sort of party that more than five people attend and to which guests wear coats that have cocaine stitched into the linings (although I’ve never held one, I have reliable intel on what a cool party is like).
Even if that’s a bit of a stretch for someone who owns the full Inspector Morse box set, I’d at least like to hold a gathering enjoyable enough that people won’t mistake it for, say, a funeral wake. I pursue nothing if not the achievable goal.
Thankfully, one night on the sofa a few weeks ago, when I was mourning my lack of occasions to which I could wear my new velvet playsuit, a woman with perfectly coiffed brown hair and a winning smile minced onto the television screen. Nigella.
Now, if there’s one person who can help you to hold the perfect party, it’s Nigella. Nigella, a woman who reassuringly identifies the madness within me when she writes that Christmas is the time of year ‘when people who aren’t party-givers give parties.’ A woman who can title a chapter about mass catering and canapés ‘The More The Merrier.’ In light of this, I decided to follow her tips for my festive entertaining. Here’s what happened:
Tip One: Invite everyone you know
In Nigella Christmas, Nigella writes: ‘Invite everyone that you can think of, as worrying about people being cross with you for not being invited is more anxiety provoking than having too many people in the house’.
In accordance with this, I send pleading messages outlining my plans to nearly every human being I know. Unfortunately, this is only a few days before the event and barely anybody can make it. Many tumbleweeds blow in Facebook messenger groups to which I belong.
In the end, I manage to marshal a five-strong all-female dinner party composed of people who don’t know each other. My boyfriend will also attend because he lives in the flat too and often eats dinner at the table on Saturday nights. The gender make-up of the event means it strongly resembles my girls’ school Year 11 prom.
Despite forcing me to accept that I’m deeply unpopular, I suppose that if I hadn’t followed the advice no one would have turned up at all. I salute you on this one, Nigella.
Tip Two: Do not micromanage the seating plan
In an interview with Elle Decor, Nigella says that to avoid people thinking there’s a ‘hierarchy’ she advises hosts to buy ‘pairs of tickets and put one set on a seat and another in a bowl. Everyone picks their own ticket. It’s completely random. I don’t care about girl, boy, girl, boy.’
I shudder with relief at the promise of such social levelling (surely a necessary consideration even if you’re arranging six guests around a table that seats that precise number?), and promptly set to work making my own tickets.
It’s a slight shame that my mind sees ‘tickets’ but understands ‘name cards’ and then immediately halts all further thought. Guests are thus confronted with a series of chairs on which their names are placed and a mug stuffed with entirely superfluous corresponding monikers.
‘Shall I just sit on the chair that says “Sophia”?’, asks Sophia, after fishing around in the mug and getting the name ‘Rose’. ‘Ooh, I’ll pretend to be called Jonas, shall I?’ says Kasia supportively, parking herself on the chair meant for my boyfriend.
We snicker about Nigella’s clearly below-par advice and I vow to expose its flaws when writing this article the next day. Which is when I glance over the Elle interview again to ‘just check I haven’t mixed anything up’.
Tip Three: Provide a lot of the same type of food
‘Better a lot of a few things, than a little of too many,’ is Nigella’s mantra when it comes to mass catering (when planning the food I’m still cleaving to the idea of mass catering after refusing to acknowledge that no one wants to come to the party).
In honour of all of the fuss Nigella sparked a few weeks ago on her current series Simply Nigella by audaciously mashing an avocado on television, my first canapé is avocado-smeared slices of toast. I follow her recipe from the show, remembering to add ‘a little fire to the engine’, as she puts it, by dotting the green gloop with chilli seeds. It is delicious, although probably not enough for guests to be tasked with eating 10 slices of it each.
This turns out to be true for the rest of the canapés. My second choice is Nigella’s Party Parma Ham Bundles. These are again tasty, but my companions don’t seem to want to eat more than a few of them. Which is a pity, seeing as there are 50.
I also provide Nigella’s Double-Blue Crostini, which is basically blue cheese dolloped on top of tortilla chips. And for pudding comes Nigella’s Salted Chocolate Tart. This is redeeming, mainly because it is not crisps, cheese or toast.
My advice? Go over the meaning of the word ‘mass’ before holding a party.
Tip Four: Get your guests involved in ‘DIY’ at the table
Simply Nigella has emphasised the Domestic Goddess’s penchant for table DIY. When she makes fish tacos, for instance, she encourages her guests to get involved in stuffing the tortillas. Her table companions trill with happiness throughout this process, the bonhomie being punctured only once when a blue-shirted woman chides Nigella for being able to eat the taco more gracefully than her (has she ever met her host before?).
However, this approach shouldn’t be taken for all dishes. My research has found that it’s not wise to ask guests to do the following:
1) Meticulously spoon tiny quantities of cheese mixture onto 100-plus tortilla chips in a bid to make the Double-Blue Crostini. I watched a friend do this to about 50 chips before she exploded with passive aggression and said, ‘Wow, I’m really being made to work for my dinner.’
2) Trim chives straight from the plant – ie a pot covered with dusty soil that’s likely to fall on top of and become sickeningly stuck to the cheese mixture – on to the canapés below.
Tip Five: Decorations should be edible
Nigella says: ‘Use food, and non-fancy food at that, as decoration. A mantelpiece looks beautiful with a few clusters of red grapes hanging over it, as do clementines when tumbled on shelves.’ This is definitely the most straightforward of Nigella’s advice so far, seeing as it’s quite easy to plonk some fruit on a mantelpiece.
Except that I do not have a mantelpiece. And my shelves are flimsy white things and not the polished pine I imagine Nigella to have. Still, I drape some grapes in front of the television and ‘tumble’ clementines on to the bookshelves. The overall effect was quite pleasing.
Tip Six: Dine in a silent room that permits you to hear your guests stuttering with social anxiety
Nigella finds it difficult to talk over music, consequently stating: ‘What I don’t do is background music.’ Instead her dinners are peppered with what Nigella refers to as ‘old people dancing’. ‘I put on music — Blondie or the Rolling Stones — and everyone dances while still sitting. You just move the top half of your body,’ she says.
The friends who have never met each other before are therefore herded into a silent flat. By the time the seating plan fiasco has happened, and the guests have realised that they’re doomed to spend a night spooning cheese onto crisps and doing what is essentially indoor topiary with the chives, someone suggests that we might have some music on.
It’s very audible, seeing as there’s no other sound. The table hisses in agreement.
At no point after this was it appropriate to suggest ‘old people dancing’.
Overall, I feel that Nigella’s hostessing advice is sound, although reliant on one interpreting it correctly. I did not, and am too humiliated to ever have a party again. Until next Christmas, of course.
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