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Another Year with Sophisticating Living

Fran Berger 2018 Welcome

What I’ve learned about sophisticated living – and how I’m taking it to the next level in 2018.

A friend of mine is fond of saying, “We only get one ticket to the big dance.  Make it count!”  I get that. I’m all for enjoying life. There are a lot of ways that you can live, why not do it while leading an exciting and flavorful life?

The big question is, “how?”

If you’ve been following my blog or my videos on YouTube, you know that this question is the very heart of what I call sophisticated living. There’s a very fine line between just living and living fabulously. – and I choose fabulously.  It’s certainly more than spending a ton of money – you definitely do not have to and just the spending does NOT make the difference. It’s an attitude – yes – but it’s also a state of mind. Why not live to the fullest? Why not draw out as much joy as you can wherever you can? And, what makes that life even more incredible is how you share it with family and friends.

This is where I come in.  I love to share tips – be they in the kitchen, recipes for easy and delicious dishes, tips on décor, travel, on being a fabulous host, tips for easy entertaining at home, and fun ways that can enhance your lifestyle. Not only am I in search of whatever makes life enjoyable, but I’m also looking for things that bring us together – all under one roof, happy, and thoroughly entertained.

When I share, I hope that people take these ideas and do more with them – put their own ‘spin’ on them.  Incorporate them into their own lives in their own way. Even things that seem insignificant to one person can be a huge deal to another. They’re conversation starters and idea makers. And, bravely incorporating them into your world is all part of what it means to live a sophisticated life.

Back to the question – how? How do we find those “small things” that can really make a difference? Come with me and I’ll share what I know works –  you just need to be open to the suggestion. And here’s another thing that decades of experience in the restaurant business has taught me: you don’t find “secrets of success” by being overly careful.  If you don’t ask or don’t try – the answer will always be ‘no’.

Part of the experience is trying many things in all sorts of situations. You’ll have some flops – things that don’t work no matter how hard you try.  But, part of the success is in the trying and it’s a great feeling when you find the one something that makes a room full of people happy. Go ahead, smile. It feels great, doesn’t it?

Here’s to 2018 and another year of sharing!

How about a New Years’ Day party?

Fran Berger - home decor

An excellent way to balance a great NYE party is an excellent NYD Open House.

New Year’s Eve is a great time to celebrate, don’t you think? What better time to party than to ring in the new year? And I have to say – it’s a lot of fun to host. I should know, I’ve done quite a few. Many of my New Years’ Eve parties have turned into big events with the house packed with 100-plus guests.  Most of the time for these New Years’ Eve parties the last guests are leaving way past 1am!

Sometimes with all the excitement of New Years’ Eve, we forget about New Years’ Day. In some ways, it’s an even better day to celebrate – with family and close friends. Even friends of mine who are not big football fans love to hang out together for a little NYD gathering.

Everyone who comes to my New Year’s Eve party knows that I also love to host an Open House on New Years’ Day. Yeah, I love it that much I have both NYE and NYD! They also know to be prepared for me to show up VERY CASUAL. No makeup, dressed down, and looking for a pleasant way to chill out. It’s the perfect way to have an Open House on New Year’s Day.

I start off the day before the first kickoff of the first Bowl Game with the Rose Parade. And usually, it’ll go on until the last minute of the last game of the day.

Here’s how I plan my Open House.

  • Set the timer on that large pot of coffee to start brewing first thing in the morning so it will be ready for YOU when you open your eyes.
  • People know that the parade starts early so if they’re coming to watch it then your day will start even earlier!
  • Get deli trays: bagels, smoked fish, capers, cheeses, and veggies. Make sure you have a variety of flavors – onion, cheese, pumpernickel, everything – even if your favorite is a plain water bagel. Make sure that you ask the deli to slice them.  That way you don’t have to AND if they aren’t all eaten you can put them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer!
  • Set the trays out with the coffee, cream, sugar, juice etc. to get everyone’s day started.
  • Decide on a great stew or chili for the afternoon. Make it a day ahead – that way you just have to put it on the stove and reheat.
  • Aside from the veggies on the deli tray, bring in a simple mixed green salad and some great crusty bread. This’ll go with the stew or chili, and you’ll have a meal that can stay warm on the stove for whenever your guests arrive and are ready to eat.
  • For plates – think about the cleanup. I recommend very sturdy paper (easy to dispose of) or any of the great plastic plates and bowls you can find from Yoshi. They have wonderfully designed plates, bowls, and strong plastic utensils (spoons, forks, and knives). Check out the really cute accessories they have that add to a light party atmosphere.

By the way, if you opt for paper plates and bowls, the emphasis is on “very sturdy”. Nothing worse than flimsy paper plates and bowls that spill on laps and couches while people are gawking at games! A friend of mine had a party a while back and gave everyone small serving trays. Worked pretty well as a way of catching spills, but also offers guests an easy way to plate appetizers and rest their utensils and such. You can find stylish rectangle plastic trays from Yoshi as well.

Last word. In many Asian cultures, New Year’s Day is actually one of the most important days of the year. Who you talk with and what you do will set the tone for the entire year. Talk about commitment! But it is a nice thought – what better way to ring in 2018 than hanging out with friends and family?

Hosting a Stress-Free Holiday Party is easier than you think!

Stress Free Parties!

The best part about a Holiday Party is a Relaxed Host – seriously!

I’ve seen it more times than I care to remember: I attend a party or gathering, and there’s a host who looks like she’s been put through the wringer – she’s harried, hassled and a complete mess. One host – and I’m completely serious – had such a scary look on her face that guests cringed every time she popped out from the kitchen. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, dared ask her a question.

Okay. Everybody who hosts a holiday party won’t make it through without at least a little stress. It goes up a notch when deliveries are late. Up one more notch when guests you thought weren’t coming – suddenly appear at your door. And think about how it cranks up when – just before guests are to arrive – your teenage son decides he’s not going out with his friends but they’re ALL coming to your house to play video games!

I’ve seen it all of course. Twenty years in the restaurant business and I’ve seen, first-hand, how stress can ruin a party – not only for the host but for the guests as well. Maybe you think that you can hide your stress by controlling your body language and the tone of voice? Well, perhaps you can, but most people aren’t that talented. The most important thing to remember about stress is that you’re not the only one feeling it. Everyone around you knows it – especially your friends and family. They can feel the adrenaline seep through your pores. It’s not fun for anyone.

That’s why I created my “Live and Die” list of seven things that I do for every event that I host – even small gatherings.

  1. Plan ahead and delegate, delegate, DELEGATE! Everyone has a special talent or unique thing they do really well. Give up some control and let them do it. Doing this will help you in two ways. First, it lets everyone feel involved in preparing for the party. Second (this is pretty good for some of you out there – including me), you relieve yourself of the feeling of having to keep total control.
  2. Do as much of the cooking well ahead of the event as you can. Plan your menu accordingly. Get out your slow cooker (I love my Cuisinart) and make a soup or stew . I might opt for a fabulous tomato sauce with Italian meat balls, in which case I reach for my Calphalon Elite Soup Pot. For a smaller group I might pull out my Staub Cocotte to roast a simple chicken with root vegetables. Or host a “potluck” and assign dishes to guests. Stop feeling as though you have to make everything! See? Giving up control is good!
  3. Keep drinks, and everything you need to make them, on hand and ready to use. Think about the mixers, juices, sodas, and soda water. Keep some vodka in the freezer (you will always find my favorite Chopin in mine). Put out the whisky (I love Maker’s Mark with the distinctive red wax on top) and gin (my new favorite from London is Ford’s) Pre-make coffee, teas, hot chocolate (like this one from Ghirardelli that you can make with hot water) – and hot apple cider for New Years!
  4. Don’t go nuts with the décor. Remember, anything that goes up must come down. So, keep it simple. Focus on a centerpiece that’s easy to make. Weeks before the party, visit flea markets or a good thrift shop for vintage ornaments and stack them in clear bowls or baskets. Or, get some bare branches, put them in a vase (no water) and hang the ornaments from the limbs. Then wrap it all up with twinkling lights and candles and you instantly create a simple but elegant centerpiece that will set the mood perfectly.
  5. Remember that buffets are the easiest way to feed a group – and they’re especially perfect for “potluck” parties. Arrange for one table to hold as much of the meal as possible. I have a video on how to set a buffet – take a look The best part about buffets is that they allow guests to mingle and talk to more than the person seated next to them so make sure there are plenty of places to sit.
  6. Of course, you will have music. Make sure you have a great playlist that will set the mood for your party. Copy your playlist to any mobile music device – like an iPod Shuffle. Be sure that there’s plenty of it – enough to last the whole evening. Set the device to playback on shuffle and – voilà, you’re a master DJ.  Keep it soft though – conversation is where it’s at. Right?
  7. Consider hiring someone (or more) to help! Even if your party is a potluck, get some help with setting out the buffet. Don’t hire a bartender unless you need one, but have someone around who will make sure that the bar stays well stocked. And, definitely get some help with the clean-up! You can call a local caterer whom you trust for suggestions on where to find help, but you can also reach out to party helper websites for pricing and suggestions.

Finally, and this is not on the list because it’s actually the whole reason for having a gathering in the first place: keep it as easy as you can. Even an elegant New Year’s party can be a laid-back affair. Unless you’re a master host and you envision a grand event like something out of the pages of the Great Gatsby – keep it easy on the host (that’s you) and your guests will appreciate it and then everyone will have a great time!