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Throw a stress-free, fashionable holiday party

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Most of us career women probably harbor a secret desire to be a homemaker, churning out perfect meals and parties without strain or stress.

I am no natural in the kitchen. Yet, with a little bit of effort and preparation time, hosting dinner parties has become one of my favorite ways to unwind. I scour through cookbooks, websites and blogs to build a menu and theme. I like to pay close attention to presentation, table décor and background music. And not to forget, there’s my hostess attire for the evening. All of these must seamlessly come together for a chic and stylish gathering!

Looking through Jenni Epperson’s first-ever book, “Fashion + Food Entertaining at Home in Style,” got me excited about the holidays and the festivities that accompany them.  My imagination began to play on how to “Christmas-ify” my home and parties this year.

For women who must balance motherhood, being a wife, and a career like Jenni, this book reminds us to celebrate life and not rush through our daily routine. Allow ourselves life’s little indulgences. It shows us how to nurture and enrich ourselves by adding special touches to everyday life.

Set up breakfast as if royalty were coming. Unearth a fully beaded number, and tone it down with nude pumps and a dose of denim. I will surely be referring to this book throughout the rest of the year.

Jenni divided the book into very informative and useful segments or categories that cover everything from the setup, occasion and fashion (styling tips for your outfit), food (recommended dishes) and treats to make you the hostess with the mostest (even when your only guest is your husband), to the all-important Fashion + Food formulas that up the ante for these celebrations.

I decided to take this how-to book on a test run in preparing my own party to mark the most wonderful time of the year. I agree when she says we should maintain tradition out of passion, and not habit. As much as I do recycle decorations and materials out of practicality, I like to make each year different and special. I like to shake things up, but still keep and continue beloved practices that my kids can treasure as they grow.

Starting with the setup, Jenni points out the three Cs of Christmas: Christmas Tree, Carolers and Cookies.

Naturally, we are big on festooning our tree with pretty lights and ornaments for my three children. I’m a believer in working with what you already have and being resourceful in order to give it a new look each year.

So this year, we went for a minimalist but youthful red and white theme. I maintained most of my shiny red balls, added a few clear glass and white ones, and spruced it up with some of my children’s own handmade ornaments. This emblem of the season has served as the centerpiece of our home, where my kids and I gather each night. I look forward to seeing it evolve as I collaborate more with my kids in the coming years.

To continue the theme, my kids and I also restyled last year’s wreath by replacing acorns with shiny red balls and tied on silver bows.

Scented candles

I’m also definitely following Jenni’s advice on infusing the home with the sweet and scrumptious smell of cookies. I don’t really have the time and expertise to bake. So instead, I light cinnamon and vanilla-scented candles. I also plan to tie cinnamon sticks together and incorporate them in the décor.

I’ve found that using scents that remind you of Christmas is a small, easy but important detail for making your home ready for the merry season. For another special touch, I fill a Christmas ball-shaped cookie jar with store-bought cookies and chocolates for my kids and guests to feast on!

As for carols and carolers, parties are never the same without a “soundtrack” you can play to set the mood and enhance the overall atmosphere of the gathering. My Christmas playlist (a mix of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Diana Krall and Zooey Deschanel) has already been on autoplay for the past month.

Jewel tones for that perfect sexy Mrs. Claus outfit (which the author and celebrity stylist recommends) can be extended to the table setting for dinner. I’m going for a rich emerald green for my dinnerware (something that I have on hand), elegant water goblets and an overflowing bowl of shiny red balls (again for continuity) as a centerpiece.

Using fabric napkins as opposed to paper ones is not only more formal, but is also environment-friendly. Jenni suggests using a French fold for the napkins; it’s a good choice, being a no-special-skills-required technique. But I may also opt to use a bejeweled napkin holder instead, which is just as easy.

“Fashion + Food” really contains everything you need to throw a party; the author even put in two recipes for a mouthwatering menu: a Honey-Glazed Spatchcock Chicken and Christmas Pasta.

Jenni says it’s difficult to challenge traditional favorites during this particular occasion. These staples are what build memories and tradition. So along with her recommendations, I will add my tried and tested Osso Bucco Milanese and my grandmother’s Fabada Asturiana, finished off with a family favorite of Lemon Walnut Torte.

Finally, we have to look the part, don’t we? We need to be picture-perfect for that annual Christmas family portrait. So I’m not just going to be dressing myself, but also my husband and the kids. For that, I’d like to go with Jenni’s pick of jewel tones, but in classic Christmas hues. I’ll be in an emerald green jumpsuit, and I found the perfect long-sleeved white and ruby red dress for my daughter. My boys will be in matching gray dress shirts with printed neckties and khakis.

With “Fashion + Food Entertaining at Home in Style,” any woman can become the quintessential urban hostess she’s always wanted to be.

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