Ringing in the New Year calls for a celebration. For advice on throwing a fun but fuss-free New Year Eve’s party at home, I turned to Elisa Marshall, party planning guru and co-founder of cafe and restaurant Maman.
At Maman, which has locations across New York City and Toronto, the aesthetics are at once chic and elegant and homey and welcoming; I asked Marshall how to bring that same style to our holiday party planning.
The Epoch Times: How would you describe your approach to holiday entertaining?
Elisa Marshall: For me, holiday entertaining is all about making memorable experiences, keeping traditions alive, and enjoying time with friends and family. My priority is being able to spend time with those around me, so I like to ensure my holiday events are prepped well in advance and don’t require too much “hosting.”
The Epoch Times: What are your best tips for throwing a simple, elegant New Year’s Eve cocktail party—without the high stress and extravagant budget?
Ms. Marshall: My first tip is to recycle holiday décor. I love repurposing items within my home and will always look for ideas around the house as opposed to running to the store. An old vase can make the perfect ice bucket for the champagne, while a cluster of bottles from the recycling with candlesticks can create a dynamic centerpiece. Not only will this save you time and money, but it can also make for a great conversation starter!
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed because you don’t have enough matching sets of flatware or glassware, don’t fret! It’s OK to mix and match and use what you have. Make it look like it was done intentionally and find a common theme. For example, use glassware that is the same size or flatware that has similar color tones.
Music is also a very important element to any party. I always break my music and playlists into three parts. For the beginning of the party, I play loungy, chill cocktail music to use as a “background” so everyone can socialize and catch up. The middle, which is when the party gets started and drinks have been flowing, is a great opportunity to play fun, upbeat music to ring in the New Year! And finally, the end: This is a chance to either keep the party going and play music with a more upbeat vibe, or play slower music to politely tone down the party and encourage guests to start making their way home.
Last but not least, prep your meal ahead of time so you can enjoy your company and not stress about being in the kitchen. Remember, it’s important for the host to have fun, too!
The Epoch Times: What’s on the menu?
Ms. Marshall: First, choose a menu that can be prepped in advance and that just needs to be heated up, for example, so you are not spending your time in the kitchen while your guests are over.
I also like to keep all my food in two bites or less. Grazing platters are also one of my favorite options for keeping food social. These are very easy to prepare, can be made in advance, and don’t require any onsite work—just leave them on the table for guests to enjoy.
When cooking, it is also important to me to revisit my family recipes. I love pulling out some of our grandma’s holiday classics that ignite wonderful memories and conversation. It fills my family with fond memories and gives a great chance to tell friends some stories.
The Epoch Times: What about drinks?
Ms. Marshall: For New Year’s Eve, I like to go full bar. I love DIY concepts and creating an accessible bar consisting of a handful of classic crowd-pleasing spirits, an assortment of mixers, and non-alcoholic options, too. This way, everyone is responsible for creating their own drinks and the host doesn’t have to stress about making sure everyone is topped off.
And of course, you can’t forget the champagne! For a more cost-effective option, there are other beautiful French sparkling wines out there. My current favorite is Domaine Rolet Père Et Fils, Crémant Du Jura Blanc Brut 2010, which costs around $50 per bottle.
The Epoch Times: How much food and drink should you plan to prepare?
Ms. Marshall: It depends on how many people have RSVP’d for the event, but I like to not put out too much food at the start of the night. For New Year’s Eve, things typically end much later, so I want to make sure I have a sufficient amount of food to last throughout the evening.
Also, don’t forget to keep to-go boxes on hand with you as well! This way nothing goes to waste and your guests can go home with delicious leftovers.
The Epoch Times: What are some of your favorite easy but elegant decorating ideas to make your home feel extra festive and welcoming?
Ms. Marshall: Nothing sets the mood of a cozy holiday party like candlelight. I opt for tall, various height candlesticks for my bar and food station, and leave small votives and tea lights to dot around the house on my shelves and other surfaces. To add a little more light and sparkle to the table, I also love repurposing my holiday tree lights. I give them a simple makeover by spray painting the cords with metallic gold paint and draping them over linens and around the bar.
Flowers are also an absolute must at any holiday party. If you have leftovers from Christmas, substitute the reds for some creamy whites and pluck some stems of greens from your holiday arrangements or wreaths. Mist a few sturdy stems with a can of gold spray paint to give your florals a little extra sparkle!
The Epoch Times: Do you have any tips for getting young children involved in the festivities?
Ms. Marshall: Offering non-alcoholic beverages is a good start. A sparkling beverage is a great option to keep things festive. At my bar station, I make sure to have lots of fresh fruit juices (that can double as mixers) and a little sparkling water to make delicious mocktails. Putting the mocktail mixture in champagne flutes gives the drinks a more festive feeling.
I also love creating activity stations for the kids. Decorating sugar cookies is always a crowd pleaser for all ages of kids, and fun for the adults to get involved in, too! Some sprinkles, icing, and fun-shaped cookies can keep anyone entertained for a long time.
The Epoch Times: Do you and your family have any special New Year’s Eve traditions?
Ms. Marshall: We typically spend our New Year’s with close family and keep things pretty low-key, focused on food and drinks. It involves lots of cooking all day, a beautiful themed table setting, and wonderful time spent together in the kitchen and around the dinner table.
The Epoch Times: How are you planning to celebrate this year?
Ms. Marshall: This year, we will be ringing in the New Year in France, with our new son Yves, three months old, who has not yet met the family over there. We will be hosting a ”New Year’s Yves” dinner [Editor’s note: “Yves” in French sounds like “eve” in English] with our immediate family and close friends celebrating the newest member of the family, and all the adventures for us to come in 2020!
The Epoch Times: Any final advice to share?
Ms. Marshall: Most importantly, focus on creating a welcoming atmosphere and memories. During the holidays, you are likely surrounded with friends and family and those you love the most, so don’t stress about perfection or try too hard to impress. The way the napkins were folded will be forgotten, but the conversation of memories shared while eating grandma’s cookie recipe will last a lifetime.
Mini Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Tarts
Makes 15 tarts
- 3–4 medium or large white onions
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons butter
- Balsamic vinegar (optional)
- Brown sugar (optional)
- 16 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
- 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary, de-stemmed and finely chopped
- 15 mini tart shells
Peel and slice the onions. Heat extra-virgin olive oil and butter in a sauté pan on medium heat. Add onions and salt and sauté for 10 minutes until onions are translucent. Add balsamic vinegar and brown sugar if desired. Let onions continue to cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In a mixing bowl, combine goat cheese, cream cheese, and chopped rosemary. Mix well until thoroughly combined. If making hours in advance, put the cheese mixture into the refrigerator to cool. Take it out an hour before assembling the tarts so it can come to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Fill your tart shells with the cheese mixture. Top with caramelized onions and place in oven to warm for 5–10 minutes. When warm and melty, take out of the oven and garnish with rosemary.
Tips: If you want some more flavor, add ham or prosciutto into the onion mixture. If you don’t have tart shells on hand, use a sliced baguette!
- Dried lavender
This is a simple yet memorable and beautiful cocktail. Pour champagne into beautiful glasses and garnish each with a pinch of dried lavender buds. Let the lavender sit about 10 minutes so the aroma can release. Serve and enjoy!
Recipes by Elisa Marshall