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Simply Entertaining: Too pooped to party?Get help!

Thursday, November 14, 2002

By Mary Miller

If you're planning a holiday party, I have one bit of advice -- get some help. How many of us have tried to do the shopping, arrange the decorations, cook the food, clean the house and set the table, only to be too exhausted (and too grumpy) to enjoy the party?

Some experts say just to relax and not to set the standards so high in the first place. Don't worry about a dirty house, where the spare toilet paper is stored, or about finding the prettiest serving dish for the pickled beets. At this time of year especially, I just can't do this. I invite people over because I care about them and want things to be beautiful and thoughtfully done.

For a flawless party consider using these holiday elves:

Caterers. Everything from the do-it-all company to businesses that can make just a few special dishes to round out your buffet table is easy to find. Ask friends or co-workers for recommendations. Some companies will order flowers, set up the bar and bring table linens. A lifesaver for many of my buffet-style parties has been a fresh fruit tray ordered from the Express Gourmet section of the Waterworks Giant Eagle. I drop off my favorite wicker basket and let the folks there fill it with fresh fruit. With so many people trying to eat more healthful food, this is always a hit.

Helpers. If you have the food preparation under control but need assistance in serving or bartending, give Great Gatherings Inc. (724-266-8920) a call. It provides top-quality people, who can do everything from set-up to cleanup for parties in Pittsburgh and surrounding communities. This allows you to enjoy your party. Be specific about your needs when hiring anyone, so that you and your helpers know what to expect.

Florists. Visit with a florist as early as possible and bring any special vases or items that need to be a part of the decorations or centerpiece. Discuss your color scheme, flower preferences and price range. Have the flowers delivered on the day of the party. Remember to tuck floral surprises into the powder room or other nooks and crannies.

Linen rental. Need a gold tablecloth and napkins for your dining room table, but don't want to buy one? Many party rental stores rent table linens. A few businesses specialize in just table coverings. You pick it up (some deliver), use it, and then drop the soiled linens off the next day or so. No washing, ironing or storing large quantities of fabric. Ask friends for referrals, or check the phone book under Rentals.

House cleaning. If you don't have a regular cleaning service, consider a one-time visit before a big event. It's not fun for the whole family to hear you griping for days before the party about cleaning and sprucing up. Let someone else do it. Before the party, do a quick clean-up of the powder room that guests will use.

Entertainment. Some parties call for more than music on the CD player. Hiring a band or an entertainer, such as a magician, can add excitement to your party. Some offbeat additions could include a handwriting analyst, a palm reader or a caricaturist. Consider calling your local high school for groups of students that might have special talents, too.

Begin this great autumn hors d'oeuvre ahead of time. Then allow your helpers to finish it right before serving.

Warm Figs With Gorgonzola And Pecans

Cut ripe fresh figs in half. Dust lightly with sugar, place on greased sheet pan and bake at 400 degrees for about 7 minutes, until the sugar begins to color. Remove from the oven.

Use the back of a spoon to press a hollow in the center of each half. Fill the hollow with crumbled gorgonzola cheese and top with a pecan half.

When ready to serve, return to a 350-degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until the cheese begins to melt.

Serve immediately.

"Secrets from a Caterer's Kitchen"

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