This is the time of year when people tend to entertain and visit more, but many of you may feel that hosting a holiday gathering at your home is too much work or simply too intimidating. My solution for that is the coffee mingle and keeping the focus on what hospitality is all about.
These tips help me keep my holiday gatherings in perspective, and maybe they’ll be a deciding factor in your decision to invite friends or family over to celebrate the new year or other occasion.
- Staying Connected – I never know what invitations may come my way. Hosting my own gathering means I’ll have at least one opportunity to celebrate the season with good friends. In deciding to host another mingle this year, I considered the lift I get from my home buzzing with the conversation and laughter of good friends and thought about what I’d be missing if I didn’t make the effort. And, some of my friends might not have enjoyed each other’s company if I hadn’t hosted this event.
- Do What’s Manageable for You – I used to throw big open houses, with 50 or 60 guests attending. That kind of big splash event just hasn’t been feasible for me the past few years. Instead, I’ve switched to a smaller weekday morning coffee gathering. It means I can’t include people in my circles who are working, which I’m sorry about, but it’s better to host a manageable event rather than no event.
- It’s Not All about the Food – You may have noticed I have a thing about food and cooking. But keeping it manageable applies here too. I keep what I’m serving simple; remember we each have to define what that means for ourselves. I like to bake, but there’s absolutely no shame in picking up some items — or even everything you serve — at your favourite bakery.
- Spend As Much Time as You Can with Your Guests – I want to enjoy my guests’ company as much as possible. I know I’ll be busy greeting and seeing off people as they come and go, so I serve the food buffet style and also set up a beverage station where guests can fix their own coffee or tea. I think my guests would rather see me enjoying their company than playing the waiter role.
The Holiday Coffee Mingle
I’ve found the coffee mingle to be a low-pressure way for me to have a group of people over. I send the invitations by email two to three weeks ahead. Although I make it known that last-minute drop-ins are fine, I also ask guests to RSVP If they can so I have an idea of the numbers. Here are some of the “rules” I follow to make my mingles a success.
- For a Christmas mingle, I set the date for at least a week after when I normally decorate my home for the season (for a “non-occasion” mingle this wouldn’t be an issue). I don’t want decorating to be part of the party prep!
- Keep the food as non-fussy as possible. Making coffee cakes or tea loaves is far less time-consuming than shaping individual cookies.
- Have at least one gluten-free offering. I find that meringues or macaroons are fairly simple.
- Many folks are cutting back on sugar these days. I have bowls of clementines available for anyone who prefers fruit.
- I don’t feel that a savoury offering is a requirement for a coffee mingle, but I did have gougeres (cheese puffs) in the freezer and baked off two batches of those once the majority of guests had arrived. They were the only food item that I took around on a serving tray. It was a nice touch that guests appreciated.
- Set aside a day for baking, one or two days ahead. I chose not to freeze my coffee cakes in advance, although I could have.
- As discussed above, set up buffet style.
- Set out as much as you can the night before. I no longer have cats, so I was able to put out the wrapped cakes and all the plates and cutlery the night ahead. This allowed me to be much more relaxed the morning of the mingle!
- For the coffee station, I bought a bag of my favourite beans pre-ground, and appreciated the convenience. I also bought a coffee carafe so I could have more brewed coffee on hand. Not everyone likes coffee or tea, so I set out a pitcher of orange juice too.
- It’s not necessary to make mounds of food. After all, if you met your friends at a coffee shop they’d likely have only a single muffin or scone. I was expecting 20 people this year, so I made two coffee cakes, one loaf cake and a batch of meringue bark. I had the gougeres in the freezer, as well as raw shaped cookie balls that I had made at the beginning of the month for another event. So, I was prepared for more guests than expected. Due to a snowstorm (always the Mother Nature factor!) only 15 people were able to attend this year.
- Don’t forget the music! I keep my holiday party playlist on low in the background to add ambiance without hindering conversation.
- Relax, have fun, and go with the flow. As the host, I know my attentions will always be divided between visiting with my friends and making sure everything is running smoothly. But I also know that when I enjoy myself, the gathering is more fun for my guests. Someone told me that I looked like I was in my element, so mission accomplished!
My 2016 Holiday Coffee Mingle Menu
- A Winter Favourite ❆ Applesauce Spice Cake
- Pecan Coffee Cake with a Cranberry Pecan Topping ( a variation)
- Cranberry Orange Walnut Loaf
- Pomegranate Coconut Meringue Bark
On standby in the freezer:
- Gougeres Variations ❉ Three New French Cheese Puffs
- Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies
- Sultry Gingersnaps for Leonard