The bright greens, reds, silvers and golds sparkle, the smells of evergreen and baking cookies fill the air and then the doorbell rings. Are you going to be ready for the non-stop deluge of family, friends and co-workers you’ll welcome into your home during the six weeks of holidays between the middle of November and the start of the new year?
Whether you’re a seasoned entertainer or just starting holiday traditions, businesses in Cobb County are standing by to cater, decorate your home, teach you how to cook special treats or run errands and help you shop for those hard-to-find gifts for the friend who seems to have everything.
“The holidays can be overwhelming because there are so many parties, visits from family and friends, shared meals and things to do,” says Amanda Brown, co-founder of Absolutely Yours Concierge personal shopper service in Marietta. “According to the American Psychological Association, somewhere around 70 percent of people experience the biggest amount of stress during the holidays. And the most prevalent triggers are lack of time, money and the pressures of gift giving and getting everything perfect.”
Brown and her husband, Robert, created Absolutely Yours in 2012 to help people put more time in their day. “Especially in families with both spouses working, plus transporting children to school and extracurricular activities, picking up dry-cleaning and keeping their homes and offices organized, it just makes sense to delegate tasks when you can,” she says. “Add in the holidays and it’s easy to see how a little bit of stress can grow into a lot of stress.”
Absolutely Yours handles everything from grocery and gift shopping to decorating homes and creating handcrafted gift baskets. They can pick up food from caterers or restaurants, tables and linens from rental companies, wrap and mail packages — so that you can avoid the long lines at the post office. “We also provide servers to set up dinners and parties, replenish foods and then clean up. That way, you can simply enjoy your guests for the evening.”
Party With Food
Using a caterer for holiday meals and parties is another way to have more time to spend with family and friends. Sandra Cook, founder of Catered Southern Events in Marietta, has been sharing her culinary talents with clients for more than a dozen years. She’s transformed warehouse offices into festive venues and brought her variety of hors d’oeuvres, entrees, side dishes, cakes and sweets to dress in-home buffet tables and sit-down dinner parties of all sizes.
“One of the most popular items is to include an action station,” Cook says. “Mashed potato bars, shrimp and grits, pancake or chicken-and-waffle stations offer the chance for people to select their own combinations and quantities of food, and it’s a good way for people to interact as they serve themselves.”
Catered Southern Events can provide full-service catering, complete with set-up, service staff and cleanup. Cook can also prepare a holiday meal featuring turkey, dressing and all the trimmings; it can be dropped off at your home. The company’s menu selections include nearly 40 hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, 30 or so different meat, poultry and seafood selections, two dozen side dishes and a full complement of desserts, from cheesecakes to handmade cakes and pies.
“Over the past couple of years, more people are ordering dessert shots for parties,” she says. “Made with either a mousse base or cake, they can be made in a variety of flavors. And by offering your guests an assortment of these light bites, they can sample several without feeling guilty.”
Clients can also select culturally themed meals — Italian, Latino, Asian or luau. “Try a non-traditional theme for the holidays to give your friends and family a break from turkey or ham,” she says. “It can be memorable because it’s different.”
If you have the time, consider taking a cooking class to learn how to prepare special foods from your own kitchen this holiday season. The Cook’s Warehouse in Merchants Walk offers classes to create breakfasts, lunches, dinners or specialty items.
“One of the first things people do around the holidays is plan their meals,” says Wendy Allen, cooking school director at The Cook’s Warehouse. “Check into cooking classes to see if you can take a class to learn a new recipe. For instance, if you’re having overnight guests, think about taking a breakfast class for something new.”
The Cook’s Warehouse offers several classes focused on traditional and non-traditional at-home entertaining; Bake for Holiday Gift Giving and Cookie Swap classes are good choices, but register early because they are popular. Candy making and gingerbread classes are often filled early in the fall, so keep that in mind for next year.
Williams-Sonoma stores host demonstration classes showing how to create recipes by renowned chefs. This year, the store will present classes featuring recipes by Mario Batali and Alton Brown. “Weekend morning demonstrations for kids can introduce them to the fun of making their own food,” says Tahier Sariev, manager at the Williams-Sonoma store in The Avenue East Cobb. “Topics of our classes throughout the year include how to prepare soups and specialty craft cocktails. We’re also available to help people during store hours or by phone if they have a particular challenge in their kitchen while preparing their holiday meal.”
Great for Gifts
Gift giving can be challenging, but turn homeward for ideas. “Casual and themed entertaining is popular all year long, and hot gift items this season include a variety of accessories — marble cheese boards, monogrammed or etched bar ware, shakers and decanters,” Sariev says. “Copper is a big item for kitchen ware, not only because of the Moscow Mule beverage trend, but as an accent throughout the kitchen.”
Remember your host or hostess when you’re invited to a party, particularly a party hosted at home. “Southern hospitality typically means bringing a gift to the party’s host and/or hostess, but it doesn’t need to be expensive,” Allen says. “While many people bring a bottle of wine, think of other ideas, such as a pretty cutting board for serving cheese and fruit, or a pair of nice wine glasses.”
A cookbook, a box or two of a gourmet prepared baking mix or several dozen cookies from a family recipe — include the recipe in the basket — are also welcome hostess gifts.
As for family and those close friends, kitchen stores are often overlooked as a source for gifts. A nice beverage pitcher, a sampling of barware, specialty cooking accessories, like a wire basket for grilling vegetables or a new grill set will be appreciated by some of the toughest recipients on your list.
The kitchen appliance market has exploded with high-powered blenders, all-in-one countertop freestanding pressure cookers that can braise, can and slow-cook, or even fryers that use air instead of oil.
Additionally, giving a gift certificate for a cooking class can be a fun and active gift. The Cook’s Warehouse offers a Steakhouse Date Night for couples at its in-store kitchen. “It’s a perfect holiday gift that can be used around Valentine’s Day for couples,” Allen says. “Classes for children, those that pair a mom and daughter or son, or food and wine sessions can be really fun.”
The good news is that the traditional reds and greens of the holiday season have returned. For a time, the greens turned to chartreuse and reds became pinks. A dose of turquoise or purple also came to the party, too, but this year it’s back to basics — elegant and understated.
“The rich reds, true greens and burgundies are back in holiday decor,” says Loriann Thibadeaux, co-owner of Acorn Home and Garden on Due West Road. She and creative director Tony Whitlock opened the store more than a decade ago. “Silvers, golds, platinums and pewters are great accents, but we’re finding this year that less is more and these accents are being used minimally for a bit of pop.”
Thibadeaux says that many homeowners have invested in artificial Christmas trees and garlands. “The choices are excellent and these trees and greenery look like the real thing. And when you purchase high-quality lush items they can last for years.”
She considers greenery and trees “foundations” for holiday decorating. “Start with the classics then freshen the look each year. When you have the basics, you can add touches like fresh flowers and fresh greenery — the scent is amazing.”
Where do Thibadeaux and Whitlock come up with their ideas? “We haven’t even stored away 2016 before we’re thinking about the holidays for 2017,” she says. “The Atlanta merchandise mart takes place in January and we’re always there to preview what’s new for next year.” She and Whitlock seek out ideas all year long and incorporate them into Acorn’s fall holiday preview show.
“Over the years, we’ve found that holiday decorating continues to evolve,” she says. “However, we advise most of our clients who entertain more often during the season to decorate normally for the whole season, then add special touches, such as blooming amaryllis, paperwhite narcissus or orchids to accent a table, buffet or mantel for the occasion. “It’s nice to combine some fresh flowers and greenery, and when the flowers start to fade, they’re easy to replace if you want to.”
Acorn Home & Garden decorates more than 100 homes each winter between early November and mid-December across north Georgia. “We customize each home to capture the personality of the family and the season,” she says. “It’s a way to set the stage for this very special time of year when family and friends gather to enjoy quality time together.”