At a recent party I attended, a retailer friend mused that this holiday season is being referred to as “catch-up Christmas.” As soon as I heard it verbalized, I realized he was exactly right. With the timing of Thanksgiving being the last weekend in November, the holiday frenzy didn’t ramp up slowly, it burst to the scene on steroids. Some of the more organized folks had their trees up before Thanksgiving, but most of us are grabbing the tree, the wreath, new lights and working frantically to pull it all together before it’s too late to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
If your house is holiday-ready and the hard work accomplished, bravo to you! Now it seems fitting to throw a fun party to celebrate that you are “caught up” and proud of it, don’t you think?
With this thought in mind, we asked Amos Gott, one of our favorite Nashville event planners, to join in the fun. The challenge was to hit Trader Joe’s with a budget of $250 and plan a party for 20. Since Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell wine or liquor (in Tennessee that is, but the laws will change soon!), we didn’t include libations in our budget. The goal was to inspire through creativity via the presentation but not slave in the kitchen.
What is so great about Trader Joe’s is that they get the holidays. At every turn, you will find something delightful with a holiday theme. It may be their delicious holiday Oreo-like Joe-Joe’s cookies with peppermint filling, or a perfect bourbon cake, barrel-aged in its own customized box, or the plentiful frozen food section, stocked with gourmet appetizers. They also have mini wreaths and poinsettias, and a slew of garlands, larger wreaths and more. It is truly one-stop shopping at its best, especially if you’re lucky enough to score a parking place.
Both Amos and I did some preshopping to scope out what looked good. And both of us encountered record crowds, but still forged on. Trader Joe’s, even with tons of people crowding the aisles, is a ton of fun. (SB Tip: The best time to beat the crowds is Thursday afternoon. It is the day before payday for many folks and before the craziness of early Saturday and Sunday mornings.)
Since Amos’ business is all about entertaining, here are his thoughts on hosting a great party:
“A successful party is all about the guest list. Invite some old friends, as well as some new friends that have similar interests, to facilitate new relationships. Introduce them with topics they both have interest in or why they should know each other, and let them facilitate a new relationship from there. Like the warmth of friendship, plan your party around the comfort of the holidays. A large fire in the fireplace, a throw used as a tablecloth, cuttings from the yard, along with wood and gold tones on your table, create an inviting and relaxing atmosphere.”
On to the party …
The Table Setting
Rather than a traditional formal-style holiday table, which can be a tad bit stuffy, Amos created the look and feel of an English manor house — think plaid, dark wood, blazing fireplace and a couple of antlers, just for sport. What’s fabulous about country charm is that it’s casual and elegant in the same breath.
For serving dishes, Amos stopped by two of our favorite stores, AshBlue and Epergne, for serving platters and glassware. Nothing works better than the combination of pewter, white platters and magnolia. Throw in a red plaid throw that doubles as a tablecloth for the finishing touch, and you are off to the races! The greenery for your table can be found right out your back door if you have varieties of nandina, boxwoods or magnolia trees.
In terms of food, again, we were working with a $250 budget (excluding libations) and were planning for 20 guests. Here’s what we bought at Trader Joe’s, all of which rang in at slightly over our budgeted amount:
- Smoked salmon with capers, cream cheese and red onions with brioche toast
- Roast beef with mango ginger chutney on freshly baked croissants
- Tomato and roasted red pepper soup with chopped chives
- Seafood potstickers with shrimp and crab
- Shrimp & grits bites
- Butternut squash, beet and goat cheese ravioli with olive oil and fresh thyme
- Spinach artichoke dip with cheddar cheese sticks & pita crackers (seriously rivals Bricktop’s!)
- Cheese tray with assorted crackers (note the Sticky Toffee Cheddar Cheese, yum!)
The Bar & Desserts
No holiday party is complete without some delicious desserts and festive libations. Here’s what we scored at TJ’s:
- Macarons in festive colors
- Danish pancakes with organic maple syrup
- Kentucky Barrel bourbon cake
- Soy ice cream sandwiches with festive sprinkles
To drink? Here are two tasty ideas, one with alcohol, the other without:
- Hot chocolate with dark chocolate; the speared squares pictured above work perfectly! (You can add some zip with Amaretto, bourbon or other liquors, but it is certainly not necessary)
- Rudolph’s Nose holiday cocktail recipe (SB Tip: Trader Joe’s has incredible nonalcoholic juices and spritzers in all flavors.)
- 2 ounces vodka
- 1 ounce white cranberry juice
- Juice of one lime
- 1/2 ounce rosemary simple syrup
- Fresh or frozen cranberries for garnish
- Ice cubes
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, crushed to release essential oils
- For the simple syrup:
- Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Add the fresh rosemary and simmer for 1 minute.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the syrup stand for at least half an hour.
- Remove the rosemary from the syrup and pour the mixture into an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- For the cocktail:
- Mix all ingredients, shake with ice and pour.
See? A party for 20 at $250 is most definitely doable. All right, $254 and some change. Blame Amos. We hope that you have found some inspiration here. Now go throw a festive holiday party!
A very warm thanks to all who made this article come together:
- Amos Gott, Event Planner
- Ashley Hylbert, photographer
- AshBlue, platters, glasses and decor
- Epergne, platters and more