Colourful platters filled with delicious and appetizing food. Tables laid out with aromatic dishes and things you’ve never tried before. Several candles are lit all over the house giving off a lovely aroma that makes you feel welcome. This is the ideal dinner party!
Candles, flowers, napkins, cutlery, dinnerware all add personal touches that are very unique to you. Over the years you will gather items that will help you entertain better such as a cutlery caddy, better dishes, table cloths in various colours, chafing dishes for large parties and glassware for different occasions. You will also learn methods of serving and plating which will work for you. As you can see from the pics, I had a theme for the dishes, napkins, plates and platters. I used a red table cloth, with a black basket for naan. I used red and white napkins, red, green, black and white dishes. There was a white cutlery caddy, with black and white plates and red or cream candles lit up all over the main floor. This made everything look seamless as it was well put together. You don’t have to have a lot of dishes or dinner sets to make this happen. However, it is very important to always buy things that coordinate with your existing collection.
If something isn’t working, try to figure out a better and more efficient way of doing it. For example, I do not prepare dishes after my guests have arrived. Therefore anything that requires baking, assembling or cutting is already done beforehand. Some people can manage this, but I am not one of them. I like to have everything food related ready before my guests arrive. I don’t like being an unprepared hostess. I find it very odd when I go to someone’s house and they are cooking while I am there. It makes me feel like I showed up too early!
It’s wonderful having people over for dinner, but it takes a lot of prepping and planning. My style of prepping works for me, but it isn’t the only way of doing things. Various factors have to be taken into consideration. Are you going to be doing the grocery shopping and cooking? Are you having the food catered? Are you prepping, cooking, cleaning and tidying up the house by yourself? Do you have house help? Do you have an extra family member who can help you with cutting and washing pots and pans while you do the cooking? Will there be someone to help you when you are serving? Do you have a dishwasher in your kitchen? Is there a cook or a maid who can do all of the cleanup for you and put away all the clean dishes in the kitchen cupboards? Do you have a spot where you can “hide” your pots and pans as you reheat food in them? Is your kitchen in an open space or is it in one corner of the house behind closed doors? Yes, there are many factors to consider! Do not compare yourself to others and do not allow others to do it either as your situation is more than likely different from others. Keep your current situation in mind and do the best you can.
Experience has taught me that what others think suitable might not be suitable for you. Do whatever works for you by thinking everything through. Plan ahead where you are going to place your food on the table. Each platter or dish should have a designated spot so that you don’t have to think about where to place the piping hot dish while it is in your hands. Please refer to the other blog posts on party planning as I have gone into more details there. It should all look effortless where in fact you have spent several hours preparing yourself and your home for your guests.
In the past I used to be very concerned about having everything piping hot. Now, I have discovered a way of avoiding stress by having a couple of items that can be served at room temperature such as appetizers, salads and yogurt based items. Also, I always cook on the day of the party. As I am done with a dish, I plate it and let it cool. Then I cover it tightly with aluminium foil and leave it on the counter. An hour before I am ready to serve dinner, I preheat the oven to 350F and place all the dishes in there for 15mins. Then I lower the temperature to 200F and leave the food in there until I am ready to serve. Naan bread is a bit tricky to warm up. I find that it dries up in the oven if you place it in there directly. I usually warm up it up on a frying pan on the stove and keep it in a hot pot or I wrap 5 naans in foil and keep it in the oven along with the other food.
Here’s an example from the last dinner I held at my home. There were 16 of us and half the guests were children. When there are several ages at a dinner party, lots of factors have to be taken into consideration. Some of the dishes were spicy, while others were very mild. As usual, I had a table for dinner items and another table for dessert, tea, juice, water and pop. This way there was something for everyone. The same goes for desserts. I always make a fruit platter and on this day I used honey dew melon, pineapple, green seedless grapes, strawberries and kiwi. Fruit is always a great idea as almost everyone will eat fruit. I had brownies for the kids which I had prepared in cupcake liners. I had laid out several colorful bowls for homemade mango icecream. Tea was in a thermos with tea cups, milk and sugar right there for whoever needed it. Lemonade, pop and water were on a tray with lots of glasses and ice. This is the menu we had.
Dinner Party Menu
Macaroni, vegetable and cream cheese puffs
Sweet chill Thai sauce
Cucumber and mint raita
Mexican cob salad
Hara masala chicken
Home made brownies
Home made mango ice cream
As you can tell from the menu, 6 items needed to be warmed up. I prepared the biryani using the oven method for steaming in two separate oven proof dishes two hours before dinner was going to be served. I took them out of the oven and left them on the counter tightly covered with foil until I was ready to serve dinner. I then placed naan, hara masala chicken, tandoori chicken, tuna kebabs and seekh kebabs in the oven. When I was ready to serve dinner, all I had to do at that point was wear my oven mitts and place the dishes and platters on the designated spots and dinner was served. This method has created controversies in the past as some people think that it makes the food dry or that the flavours might disappear. Ideally the kebabs will be barbecued by one person while the curries were being heated by another and everything being served by another. This is not the case in my house, so I do what works for me and so should you. It’s nice to be a relaxed host who doesn’t need each and every guest helping out. That takes the fun out of being a guest. We all work hard in our kitchens in our own homes. We want to be pampered and enjoy dinner when we are invited somewhere else.
Make your guests have a pleasurable experience when they are at your house by having everything ready beforehand so that you can spend maximum time with them. Obviously this isn’t always possible especially when you have an occasion at home with more than 30 guests. Then you surely need the help of whoever is willing to help you.
Ramadan is an Islamic month of the calendar and is a time when Muslims practice one of the five pillars of Islam, which is fasting. The fast lasts from sunrise to sunset so in northern countries, in the summer, that can be incredibly long. Yes, Yes, I know your first question is “But how do people fast in the Northwest Territories in the summer with 24 hours sunlight?” There is a solution to that too. You follow the country/city closest to you that does have a “night”. There are some cases in which the fasts are 21 hours long regardless. In Toronto, our fasts this year are about 18+ hours a day. It is not an easy one, but it’s absolutely doable for those of you who ask “But how!?” You realize people stay hungry for a lot longer than that all over the world right and it is without choice? Just pretend you’re even poorer than you are. Hah!
So what kind of fasting is it? We don’t eat or drink anything during the 18 hours, and we abstain from being intimate as well. Relax yourself over there Anxious Jane, you have 5 to 6 hours to eat and drink and cuddle your brains out if that’s your sort of thing. People who don’t need to fast? Anyone who is physically unable to; such as, the elderly, sick, children, travellers, or pregnant women. Who wants to mess with a pregnant woman’s food anyways? Can you imagine? Women also don’t fast during that oh so special time of the month, but wait- you have to make up those missed days any time after Ramadan. A-ha!
With regards to the effect fasting has, you may shake your head thinking, “But aren’t we supposed to eat multiple small meals a day because that is healthy for our bodies? Why are you sending your body into starvation mode only to eat all together twice and that too, late night?” It is ONE month out of an entire year. Do you really think your body won’t be there to support you when you have put it through so much? Don’t tell me you’ve never gorged on an entire packet of chips at 3 am or eaten a whole pile of butter chicken on your own. How about those chocolate bars you’re hiding in your office? In fact, fasting for part of the day allows you to eliminate toxins from your body and if you eat well/right at Iftar and Suhoor, you will feel great! The fasting time is just enough that your body first turns to glucose for energy and then to your fat stores, then to protein/muscle mass but by that time you’ll have eaten and probably started the cycle again. So the key? Eat the right things.
There are many tips on how to eat healthy and make the most of Ramadan- just do a quick google search. I personally think the easiest and most practical way to eat during Iftar and Suhoor is to cover all food groups: Vegetables, Fruits, Grains, Protein, Water, Dairy, and Healthy Fats. It is easier to keep track of. Here is a good article on Suhoor foods for those of you who are not sure what to eat at 3 am. All over the world people (I didn’t say I haven’t done this) tend to feast at Iftar right up until Suhoor. What is the point then of fasting all day if you break your fast with deep fried spring rolls, fried dumplings, 10 kinds of meat, and all the desserts you don’t even normally have.
Eat real food and don’t waste your time making all those snacks and fried treats. We all plan to eat healthy but when Iftar time rolls around, oh man it’s tempting to eat the unhealthiest deliciousness first and then look at the fruit or something of the sort. To prevent this, you have to be organized. If you find it’s not easy for you to cook during your fast, cook right after Iftar! It will mean you’re not just lying around after eating. Use that time to prepare your Suhoor and Iftar for the next day. Also, just don’t dish out the other food unto your plate with your salads and vegetables. Eat your greens separately and first. It will fill you up and you won’t eat as much of that scrumptious lasagne or steak. I know some of you are looking at your phone or computer screen going “What do you mean no samosas or sambousek?” Look, you’re going to be invited for at least a couple of Iftars at someone’s house, eat that stuff then. At home or at the mosque, go for the healthy items first. It will be worth it. If I can change how I eat in Ramadan, you definitely can!
But the fast is not just for the body, it is for the mind as well! In fact, for me, it is definitely more about the latter. We’re supposed to be patient, kind, thoughtful, charitable, friendly and all things sugar and spice. That is infinitely harder to do when you are hungry, thirsty and possibly low on sleep but are working hard regardless at your job and/or at your home chores. This allows you to practice self restraint and to take everything good that you have turned into a habit during this month and carry it through the rest of the year. “But aren’t we supposed to be like that all year around?”- yeah I heard you say that. Duh. It is a month long training session to remind us what we should be like and doing it under tougher circumstances enables us to focus. It is a time to reflect on your character, behaviour and relationships, especially with God. You will notice that you’re more honest with yourself and are able to reflect on self improvement even more.
So use this time to train your mind, body and soul to learn and reinforce the right habits for your day to day life for the rest of the year until next Ramadan when you’ve forgotten it all and need another reminder. Think THIS:
Now, mandatory shameless plug please check out our recipes to see what suits your needs during this month of fasting.
P.S: Somewhere around 2025 onwards Ramadan will be super short in Canadian winter months. WIN!
It’s always a pleasure having families over for parties. There are grandparents, parents, children, uncles, aunts, friends, classmates etc. People of all ages are usually invited for family gatherings such as these. Such events take lots of planning, time and effort, but don’t let them scare you. The smiles on the kids' faces makes up for everything. After the party, my younger boys said that they want their next birthdays to be at home as well.
Decorating the living room was a lot of fun. We used streamers, banners, balloons, mobiles hung from the ceiling, disco balls, signs and tissue paper accessories. I could have gotten more creative, but the room needed to look welcoming, not overcrowded. I placed the loot bags in two baskets and they became a part of the décor.
Lots of factors had to be taken into consideration when deciding the menu for this special occasion. One of the most important ones was food for different age groups and dietary needs. In order to make this easier for myself as well as my guests, I set up three tables. The first one was a kids table, the second for drinks and desserts and the third was the adults' food table.
I also don’t like it to get too crowded around one table with all the food and drinks. Entertaining about 50 guests can be overwhelming as it is, so I wanted to be really organized about the whole presentation. Planning requires lots of effort and thinking ahead. It’s always a good idea to have some items on hand that don’t need to be cooked, or heated before serving. It’s best to have a mix of room temperature, cold and hot menu items so that everything doesn’t have to be warmed up when dinner is served.
We had lots of kids games at this party. This came with lots of fun, laughter and noise. In order to contain the kids in one room, I made sure that everything that they wanted was nearby and easily accessible. After all this was a kids birthday party, so they were the focus of everyone’s attention.
I was taking the photographs, my brother was making the video, someone else was conducting the games and my sisters and sister in law were in charge of serving the pizza and making sure that it didn’t get burnt. It’s a blessing to have a family that helps you willingly. I was very lucky to have them when the party was done. They helped me with the dishes and we lay out a clean towel on one of the tables and let them dry there. I put away everything the next day.
Plan your next party and let us know how it turned out. Remember, you don’t always have to make all the food yourself; that’s what kitchencultures is for! Also, refer to our other blog posts about party planning and I am sure you will find lots of other ideas there. (Look under the tag tools & tips or use the search bar in our header for keywords; such as, easy entertaining etc)
Below is the menu I served.
Salsa + tortilla cups
Veggie platter - baby tomatoes, celery, baby carrots, mixed peppers, onion dip and ceasar's dressing
Two bite brownies
Adult Food Table
Dahi Bardey (Dumplings in Yoghurt)
Street Style Chickpeas & Potatoes (recipe coming soon!)
Tamarind Chutney (recipe coming soon!)
Green Peas & Rice (Matar Pulao)
Chicken Karhai with Gravy
Veal black pepper (recipe coming soon!)
Mixed vegetables (recipe coming soon!)
Tangy Minced Beef (recipe coming soon!)
Marcaroni, fruit and vegetable salad (recipe coming soon!)
So it's grocery day... YAY! A chore that many of us really dislike. How can you make sure your groceries last longer and yet nothing goes to waste? Well, before putting everything away, try doing the following:
Vegetables and Fruits:
After coming home from the grocery store, wash and cut all the vegetables the way you like. You can store them individually in airtight containers. For example, sliced carrots, sliced cucumber, celery sticks, and baby tomatoes make the perfect after school snacks with dip or hummus. I find that when vegetables are already prepped, it makes it easier to reach for them. The same goes for fruits such as diced pineapple, washed grapes, sliced papaya and watermelon slices. If you store each type of vegetable or fruit in individual containers or Ziploc bags, they last longer.
Also, you can freeze vegetables such as diced peppers, chopped spring onions, sliced cabbage, broccoli florets, cauliflower florets etc. Once you start doing this, you will always have vegetables handy for quick soups or casseroles.
Wash and marinate meats and place in Ziploc bags. Label and freeze until you need them. For example marinating chicken breast in whatever sauce you like will make it easier for you the day you are preparing that meal. All you have to do is take out the chicken breast and let it defrost in the fridge. This gives it a chance to marinate some more. On that day, you will only have to prepare the side dishes.
What are some of your grocery day tips?
I am writing this to help all moms and dads. Managing a household is not an easy task especially when parents are working full time during days, evenings or weekends. Whether you have a work from home job or you go out of the house to work, some things have to get done around the house. There are daily, weekly and monthly tasks/chores that we cannot afford to ignore or else they will pile up and become daunting. It’s important to prioritize what has to be done when. For example, a load of laundry has to be done every night before bedtime, the dishes have to be taken out of the dishwasher in order for the dirty ones to go in and kids’ clothes have to be sorted monthly so that you can give away, donate or keep for another child.
The most important thing to remember is that everyone should be aware of what is expected of them even when you’re not around. This means that when mom or dad is working late, the kids and the other spouse at home can manage and keep the house tidy. It’s not fun coming home from work at 12.00a.m. to a dirty pile of dishes! Thank goodness, this does not happen in my house.
Every household has different methods of doing their chores depending on the number of people living in the house, their ages and their abilities to help out. I’m going to let you in on the way we do things around my home. I may not provide you with the perfect solutions to your problems, but these methods are what are working for us at the moment.
In my family there is myself, the hubby and three boys ages 10, 7 and 5. Everyone has their own set of responsibilities. For example, all three boys can empty out the dishwasher within 5 minutes. They have done it so many times that it doesn’t seem like a chore to them anymore. Loading the dishwasher or washing pots on the other hand is not age appropriate for them at the moment so that’s not something I would ask them to do. Sorting the socks is something my 5 year old can do and then the 7 year old can then go ahead and roll them up into balls. While sorting laundry, all shirts are hung and my 10 and 7 year olds do that while I fold everything else and put into piles for each person. While I’m doing that, they take the hung items and hang them into each person’s closet. I am perfectly capable of doing all these tasks myself, but I want them to learn to help out around the house as it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep it organized and tidy. If I don’t teach them how to do these everyday tasks, they will have a hard time doing them as teenagers and an even harder time as husbands!
Cooking, cleaning washrooms, vacuuming and mopping are chores that need a bit more time and attention, so they are usually done by the adults in the house. This is not to say that if someone drops cereal on the ground, mom’s going to sweep it! Even the 5 year old is able to do that and thoroughly enjoys helping me out. When it comes to cooking, there are simple things the kids can do to help you. For example my 10 year old can make salad as he is now able to use a knife. The 7 year old can help make a dip or mix cake batter. I find that in the evening when its dinner time, everyone is hungry and tired. In order to keep Mr. Hungry and Mr. Grouchy away I like to involve the boys in small tasks in the kitchen. It could be something simple like setting the table, wiping the cupboards, making salad or a dip. Once their hands get busy, they get happy and feel involved. The end result is a calm and happy family having dinner together which is very important to us.
The following are a few of the things that I do to maintain organization around the house.
If the parents do the ground work in each area of the house for the children, then things aren’t as daunting to the little ones. You cannot keep telling your child to clean his or her room when you haven’t done the basics for them. This could be as simple as labeling bins for them on their toy shelf so that they know where what goes. For example on the Ikea Expedit in the kids study/playroom we have various bins labeled with wooden train set, balls, pirate set, dinosaurs and play dough. In their coat closet, they have bins labeled swimming, winter accessories, library and rain gear.
You could buy a kitchen utensils tray or a drawer organizer and set up all their school supplies for them. Each of my boys have their own set of school supplies in their desk drawers in the study/playroom. I keep brand new extras in the closet in the same room.
In order to keep things organized around the house, everything has to have a place of its own. For example, when the kids come home from school, they come in through the garage and into the laundry room. Our laundry room has large black mats to hold all the salt and dirt that comes in with their boots during winter. I’ve also put a large plastic boot tray there for them so that they may take off their boots and let them dry there. There’s a winter accessories bin in their closet and that’s where they put their gloves and hats. When they take off their back packs, they know that they have to first take out their homework and lunch bags. Then they put their bags under the counter on a designated shelf. The next task is to hang their snow pants and winter jackets. There are plenty of sturdy wooden hangers hanging in the closet in the laundry room. In fact I’ve designated that entire closet for the kids to use for their own shoes, boots, sandals, swim wear, winter accessories etc. After doing that, they wash their hands and then walk to the kitchen with their homework, homework caddy(a post for another day) and lunch bags. After that, they place their lunch bags on the counter and immediately head to the kitchen table for snack time. After snack time, they do their homework on the same table as everything they need to complete their homework is in the homework caddy. Sometimes my eldest child has some research to do so he goes into the study/playroom which is upstairs. He can then go ahead and use the computer, printer or anything else he might need to complete his homework. All this may sound like a lot to do within the first hour of getting home from school, but I find that because it’s become their daily routine, they don’t need as many reminders anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I do have to remind them about a few things now and then, but you know that is a part of being a mom.
New Toiletries Shelf
Another tip I’d like to give you is for toiletries. I have two linen closets in the upstairs hallway. I store towels, tablecloths, napkins and the kids’ bed sheets in one of them. The other closet has spare blankets, king bed sheets and an entire shelf designated for new toiletries. It has things like body wash, hand soaps, bar soap, razors, shampoo, conditioner, toothbrushes, gel, toothpaste, lip balm etc. If anyone in the house needs any of those items for themselves, they are able to go in there and help themselves. I tried putting the new toiletries under the washroom counters, but they got mixed up with the ones being currently used. This method has created a mini Costco in my own house and a new item is taken out only if the old one is finished.
Now you’re probably wondering what we keep under out washroom counters. Kind of personal, but I’ll tell you anyway. I use lazy susans in all my washrooms. Yes, that’s my little secret! Each washroom has one under the counter. It holds things that are being used by whoever uses that washroom. For example in my washroom, I have two of them as my hubby and I have our set of things we use daily. His hold things like shaving gel, deodorant, face wash and perfume and mine holds cleansers, toners and moisturisers. They keep the washroom tidy and organized. It’s easy to access what you need as you just have to turn it around to get to the item you need at the moment. There’s no moving things around or digging into a drawer to search for something.
I have a shelf outside the kids’ bedroom that has three levels to it. At night before going to bed, I take out each child’s clothes and put them on the shelf so that there’s no wasting time looking for socks in the morning. As they get dressed in the morning, they fold their pj’s and place them on their own shelf. I wash their pj’s every two days as they only wear them at night. This way they need minimal supervision while getting dressed.
We all have laundry baskets in our homes, but how do we all use them efficiently? I have placed a huge one outside the kids washroom and they know that any item of clothing that they have worn for the whole day must be washed. They take off everything from head to toe, take a shower and put on their pj’s before going to bed. This way the dirty laundry is where it’s supposed to be (in the basket) and ready to go downstairs for washing. My entire family understands that clothes belong in two places only; in the basket if they are worn and dirty, and in their closets if they are washed and clean.
Everyone has different closet designs and storage space. Every closet in my house is different with its own set of shelving or drawers. I use the same method for organizing everyone’s clothes no matter who it’s for. Pants are folded, shirts are hung, pj’s are folded, socks are rolled and put into a bin or a drawer, underwear is folded and stored in a drawer or basket. These methods have worked for me since I got married. It’s easy and keep the closet organized. I never and I repeat never have to “clean” anyone’s closet as there’s no chance of it getting messy since there’s a spot for everything.
Less is More
Due to the changing seasons, wear and tear, outgrowing clothes, we end up donating a large garbage bag of clothes every month. That may seem like a lot, but I inspect the clothes when I take them out of the drier. If there are holes, or the clothing is worn out, it immediately gets thrown away. It’s best to be on top of this a load at a time so that it’s done monthly and you only have what you actually wear in your closets.
Garbage bin in car
We have a red garbage bin in our van. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done to keep the van clean. Things like juice boxes, wrappers, tissues, coffee cups always need to be thrown away somewhere and the car can get messy very quickly if that’s not done immediately. I keep extra bags inside the bin so that I always have one handy.
I have lots of other methods of keeping my family organized, but we’ll save them for future posts. Let me know what topics you’d like me to write about. I could write about the refrigerator, the laundry room or the freezer. Are there any challenges you are facing in your own home at the moment?
hAPPY eATING & kEEP sMILING
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