When Martha Stewart published her first book, “Entertaining,” in 1982, she had big, wavy, Kathleen Turner-style tresses. She catered affairs in Darien calling for eggs in aspic. And she still called her Westport, Conn., farmhouse Turkey Hill home.
Almost 30 years on, she’s a one-word household name with a new book on the topic: “Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations” (see inset).
“It’s very different from the first book,” says Stewart. “This book is very personal — the parties, for the most part, take place in my homes using all my own things.”
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So personal, in fact, that in the “Christmas at Cantitoe Corners” chapter, there’s even a shot of the gorgeous Nativity set she crafted while she “was incarcerated in West Virginia,” according to a caption. And while “entertaining never goes out of style, lots has changed” in the intervening years, Stewart admits. And not just in regards to matters of taste. So, what can today’s generation of entertainers learn from the lifestyle guru?
“I think that people are going to start realizing that cyber-chat is not the most effective way of communicating on a deeper basis,” says Stewart.
“You have to sit down at a table, you have to talk, you have to see people face to face. It gets pretty lonely just texting people. It’s a silly way to live, actually.”
Avoid couples fights!
* “Do the things you like to do, but go over everything ahead of time. Who’s responsible for ice? For putting another log on the fire? For opening wine and taking the coats? You can’t just throw them in a big pile on the floor,” says Stewart.
* And don’t forget to work out your menu in advance. Tonight isn’t the night to experiment — so do a trial run of a new dish first.
Don’t ask about allergies!
* “Oh my God! Don’t ask! My rule is do not ask about dietary restrictions,” says Stewart. “We had a charity dinner — we had every single kind of restriction. It was horrible!” she laughs.
* That said, do try to offer a variety of foods. Stewart suggests whipping up a quick, on-the-spot egg dish for a gluten-free guest — or preparing a menu that can be simply adapted to appease vegetarians. “You have to be semi-prepared, but don’t fret about it. Everybody can miss a meal.”
* “There should be a rule. Leave your BlackBerrys in a basket at the door — like you used to leave your keys. It’s just so horrible!” laughs Stewart.If your guests have forgotten how to talk, make sure to invite a good mix of people — just one extrovert can make a big difference. “[At a recent lunch] we had a great raconteur, [the composer] Marvin Hamlisch,” recalls Stewart. “He was hysterical. He had all the young people in their 20s so interested in what he was talking about.”
Hold off on the cleanup!
* “Don’t wash your dishes while people are still there,” advises Stewart. If it’s a small dinner, consider placing two soapy tubs in the sink — one to put dishes in and another for silverware. “Leave them there and don’t worry about it,” says Stewart. “If it’s a larger party have someone there to help you clean up, if you can.”
* Can’t cook? Offer a cheese buffet or go to Chinatown and pick up a Peking duck and a stack of rice pancakes. Stewart suggests adding hoisin sauce, some cut-up cucumbers and a big salad or a bowl of noodles, and voilà! “It’s actually pretty cheap — and you have a very delicious dinner or hors d’oeuvres,” she says.
Lose the e-vites!
* “Rather than going through an e-vite service, it’s much more effective [to send an invitation] as an e-mail,” says Stewart. With e-vite services, guests have to go an extra step by clicking on a link to view party details. Or they may not be able to access the invite on their phone — and wind up forgetting to RSVP in the process.
* “You can upload a perfectly nice Christmas open-house invitation and send it as a picture in an e-mail. [Guests] need to save time — we do not need to spend time!”
* Still haven’t heard back? Perhaps your friend forgot — or just didn’t receive the invite. “You have to follow up with a phone call. It’s much more effective and persuasive.”