DIY Friday: Easy Entertaining Tips from Jeanne Benedict

DIY Friday: Easy Entertaining Tips from Jeanne Benedict
Rachel Young (Gladly Gluten Free) and Jeanne Benedict

Do you have people coming over in a few days to celebrate the 4th of July and have no idea what to feed them or how to entertain them? Short on time, money, and still want to pull off a polished get together? Today’s DIY post is just for you.

Summertime is a time for backyard gatherings, impromptu parties, and celebrations from Memorial Day, to Fourth of July and Labor Day, birthdays, graduations, you name it. Keeping a few key principles in mind can help you take your gathering from mediocre to memorable, as I learned last week from party planner extraordinaire, Jeanne Benedict.

Jeanne first got her start making a Gingerbread House how-to video that was featured on millions of C & H Sugar boxes. From there, Jeanne went on to publish several cookbooks and entertaining guides, host Weekend Entertaining on the DIY network, serve as a spokesperson for several successful product campaigns, as well as regular appearances on the TODAY show.

I had the opportunity to spend some time with Jeanne, asking her advice on behalf of all of us hoping to pull off a fabulous fourth. As I learned in our conversation, it’s all in creating a cohesive theme, adding creative touches, and focusing on good food and friends that can take your get-together to the next level.

Gladly Gluten Free (GGF): Do you have any suggestions for accommodating guests with allergies or living gluten free?

Jeanne Benedict (JB): If you are the party host, it’s important to educate yourself. Five to ten years ago, it was all about vegetarian options. Three years ago, the focus moved to diabetic options. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I actually had gestational diabetes and experienced that first-hand. If you are going to be a good party host, you need to think about this.

I also wish attendees would be more forthcoming about their needs. You can make pasta salad with rice pasta or polenta with shrimp. You can satisfy your guests without any compromise – there is just a tiny bit of research involved.  Presentation is really key for me as well. You have to make it look pretty, whether doing it with vegetables, herbs, etc.

GGF: What is your version of an ideal summer gathering?

JB: In a garden setting. You can’t beat that because you’ve got instant atmosphere. When you are outdoors, you are automatically going to feel relaxed too. Also, I love including an activity. For instance, decorating pots as we are doing here this evening. You can have guests put stamps on clay pots, take them home, and put their own sealer on it. It’s so simple, so easy. I definitely like to have some sort of activity to keep people busy.

My favorite party of all though, is an afternoon tea. You can apply any theme to it. You can go casual or as elegant as you want. There is a formality and a ritual to it that I really, really enjoy. There are so many possibilities – a Japanese tea or Moroccan tea (for example).

Ideal for me is an outdoor gathering, a lot of color, keeping it casual…..but I always get a little fussy with the food.

GGF: Where do you find those creative inspirations?

JB: I’ve been doing it for so long and when it’s your passion, it really comes naturally. I get into a creative space, and it’s really a dichotomy of thinking about it linearly and getting into “dreamland”. For instance when I think of the color yellow, my mind immediately goes to things like putting Lemonheads in vases, carmelized bananas. It just happens like that. I just love it because it makes people happy.

GGF: How about people that are entertaining on a budget? What are your top 3 ideas for entertaining without breaking the bank?

JB: Water. Anything floating in a glass vessel, whether it’s drinking glasses, can be decorative. You can color the water with food coloring – red, green. You can create a million different centerpieces by floating a fern, garden clippings, a single flower, or a candle in water.

Cookie cutters. You can really make great use of cookie cutters and mini canape cutters. Presentation is key. You can serve anything, for instance PB & Js that are cut into star shapes. That’s another big, go-to entertaining idea.

Lights. Make the most of your holiday lighting and use your holiday lights year round. Make use of what you have on-hand.

One more thing. Really look to your glassware. Take a martini glass and make that a serving vessel. It is perfect for pasta salad, desserts, even ceviche.

 GGF: How about when you are crunched for time, e.g. guests arriving in 10 minutes?

JB: Let yourself off the hook a little bit. Make sure that when guests come in, they have a drink in their hand. If they ask how they can help you, accept the help. All they really want to do is spend time with you. Don’t fall into the trap of “but it doesn’t look perfect”. I let my “perfect” go a long time, and believe me, I think I’m a much better hostess because of it.

If someone wants to come in and chat, be with your guest. You can be honest that you are in a time crunch, and if they want to help, say I’d love for you to help me. I love when people show up early when I’m not quite ready. I love having that 5 minutes with them, because I know I won’t have it for the rest of the night [once the party gets going and I’m running around].



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