My newsletter last week talked about socializing and how this is surprisingly, yet commonly, one of four items to drop off a person’s calendar.
This fact would make one think an evening spent with people you don’t know well, and some you’re meeting for the first time, could not be relaxing and enjoyable. I’ve had the good fortune to learn that that is completely untrue.
A couple of times I’ve been invited to an annual dinner party given for 10 women that host Sherry calls “Girls Night In.” This evening is such a beautiful example of loving hospitality and I think the outcomes of the night are what the authors Judith Kolberg & Kathleen Nadeau, are referring to…and we need more of these connecting experiences. In today’s hurry up, quick-quick-quick world people simply don’t take the time to plan and create an evening like Sherry does – one that provides a true pause and in one word can only be described as special. I think I speak for all the guests when I say we leave so relaxed and so fulfilled.
I thought I’d go straight to the source and ask Sherry some questions to learn more about her process for planning and executing this beautiful event:
How long have you been hosting “Girls’ Night In”?
Sherry: I’ve hosted “Girls’ Night In” for about 10 years, I guess.
Where did the idea come from?
Sherry: It wasn’t initially intended to be a repeat event. At the time, I had a young son and I traveled a lot for work so I didn’t take time for socializing or going out with friends — at the same time, I had several friends who also shared my love of cooking so the idea to invite friends who love to cook to help plan AND prepare a dinner together came to life. We did it one year and about 6 months afterward, several of the attendees asked when we could do it again. So the event became an annual event.
What’s behind the name?
Sherry: Enjoying a night in with the husbands and the kids gone so we could cook and laugh and linger rather than picking a restaurant and going to dinner just seemed more intimate.
Does the evening always have a theme?
Sherry: I suppose loosely, every GNI has a theme. It’s interesting when I think back to the planning of a theme, it is more than a “physical theme” to me.
If so, how do you select it?
Sherry: Well, my friends absolutely encourage me! When the girls arrive, they notice and comment on every detail. That just makes me want to exceed their expectations every time. Admittedly, it adds pressure, but I love it! It challenges me to find the right theme for every year. I spend a lot of time thinking about each guest and how they will engage with the other guests, the menu and how much attention it will need so I can socialize as well. I think about the mood that I want to create – the feelings I want to be on display just as much as the table décor. If I do it right, the table décor (the physical planning) lays the foundation for a delicious menu and a relaxing mood (the emotional planning.)
How do you plan the menu?
Sherry: The menu is special as well. There are three basic principles that I follow when pulling the menu together:
1) It has to provoke conversation and anticipation – basically be a work of art
2) It has to include recipes that allow for advance preparation so the evening looks effortless, and
3) The final prep work must be shareable with others so the guests can join in the kitchen time / cooking experience.
Have you ever had a “Girls Night In” kitchen disaster?
Sherry: Of course! Every year there is something that doesn’t work just as I want it to, but as they say, you never let them see you sweat! Honestly, there are very few dishes I put on the table that I haven’t made before. We have lovely neighbors that dine with us regularly and I always experiment on them. The girls who attend are incredibly gracious and I have no doubt that any past catastrophe has been a clink of the glasses and move on – don’t sweat the small stuff.
Gigi: What’s a favorite memory that stands out with one of these events?
Sherry: There are so many. Usually they are the moments when everything just flows effortlessly. The first year we did the trio of mini desserts and two of the girls had never made homemade whipped cream. There were lots of jokes around that! Then there was the year when we had the large pink flower napkin rings and they became instant earrings for those sitting around the table. I would have never met you if not for GNI. We had a last minute cancellation and Susan said, let me call Gigi and see if she can join us. When I opened the door and saw you, I knew you were a woman that I wanted to get to know and spend more time with and we have done just that! In the end, I think the true value of Girls Night In is celebrating joy in learning from and laughing with nine amazing women that I respect and admire. I feel truly blessed to call so many amazing women close friends.
Do you entertain frequently other than GNI?
Sherry: Yes, we do entertain frequently, but not necessarily for 10 people. My favorite is a dinner party for 4. Intimate conversations with small groups make the food creativity and prep easier. When I have more time – as in later years / retirement, I most certainly will entertain even more. Parenting and full time work does create some time crunch.
Hosting seems to come naturally for you…what advice would you have for someone wanting to have a dinner party – and not have take-out!?
Sherry: Start simple and go with what you know. Often the biggest challenge with hosting is balancing the conversation with all the things you have to do to get dinner on the table. Spend time when you’re planning a menu to think about the timing of the prep so that the cadence of the meal flows and you have time to enjoy your guests. If you are hosting, remember to pause, look around at the people you are spending time with and give thanks for the moment.
I have some things to learn from this great hostess…the first time she came to my home was dinner for 10. I had everything planned (so I thought) but the appetizer. So all the guests are there, dinner is ready and I’m in the kitchen taking way too much time (as my hungry guests are waiting,) to make some silly complicated appetizer.
Lesson learned, buy the brie.