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the party-ready pantry 
by Yee-Fan Sun
1 2 3 
The boy and I have always been exceedingly bad about planning ahead. It's one of the hazards, I suppose, of not having normal jobs; with the boy immersed in the academic life and me being blissfully self-employed, we've never had to deal with pesky grown-up matters like negotiating vacation time. Sometimes, this lack of organization on our parts is a bad thing (like when each Christmas, we find ourselves stuck paying way too much money to fly back home because we've waited until two weeks before to start researching plane fares for the busiest travel period of the year). On the other hand, one of the perks of being woefully unable to think about anything that's happening more than three weeks from the present is that I've developed a certain talent for pulling things together at last-minute's notice.

In the realm of hosting folks chez nous, it's been particularly handy. I love having friends over, but big elaborate parties tend to require big elaborate planning, and consequently, they're the sort of thing I manage to throw only once in a blue moon. But smaller, fuss-free gatherings organized on a whim? Way more doable on a regular basis. Especially now that experience has taught me that it actually is possible to assemble a presentable party spread without going out on a mad supermarket rampage or obsessing endlessly over the perfect menu.

Of course, knowing a few tricks helps, as does ensuring that the cupboards always have a few key ingredients lurking around. Here are a few ideas for stocking a party-ready pantry, and turning ingredients you probably already have sitting around in the kitchen into tasty, inexpensive nibbles on less than an hour's notice…

the deep freeze…

  • Ice cream: With a tub or two of good ice cream kept on call in the freezer, you'll always be ready to serve up a no-culinary-skills-required dessert for last-minute guests. Dress it up with whatever fresh fruit you can scrounge up, a sprig of mint from your windowsill herb garden, that leftover Easter (or Halloween, or whatever) candy perhaps. Alternatively, zizz it up with milk to make milkshakes, or add to cola or root beer for a refreshing round of floats.
  • Frozen fruit: Whether you buy the ready-frozen bags or freeze up your slightly over-ripe fruit as it accumulates (spotty bananas and too-squashy strawberries might not be good for eating straight, but can be chunked up, frozen and used in all sorts of recipes), frozen fruit offers a host of minimal-effort dessert possibilities. Toss them in the blender along with some ice cream or yogurt and ice for frosty smoothies in the summer, or try throwing frozen berries into a saucepan along with sugar, a smidge of water and cornstarch, then cooking it down to make a fruity sauce (the sauce can be poured over ice cream or, if you're game for a little cooking, served with crepes).

mosey along pardner...

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