Entertaining during the holidays can be a daunting task.
There's the cooking and tidying, not to mention making guests feel at home and keeping the mood light.
I spoke with entertaining and lifestyle expert B. Smith when she came to Sacramento last month to speak at area events and asked her to share some advice on how to a be a holiday host-with-the-most.
Q: What are some ways to make people who may be visiting for the first time feel comfortable and included, while still keeping the mood light?
A: One of the things I do is make placecards, even if its just my small family. I put their name on one side and something about the person on the other. I ask people to look at the cards before they sit down so they get to know their table-mates. I also like to hand-write a pretty menu for the meal and place it on the plate ... It gets the conversation started.
Q: What do you do if you have relatives visiting who don't necessarily get along or guests who don't know one another?
A: It's important that the host know something special about each of their guests and introduce the right people to each other ... It's always nice when people can participate because it can break the ice ... Maybe have one of the guests do the bartender role. Let them be a part of the entertaining. (Smith also advises having non-alcoholic drinks available).
Q: What are some easy things folks can do to make overnight guests feel special?
A: I like to have a little decorative touch in the bedroom or bathroom they'll be using. Maybe have some cookies by the bed, or even offer hot chocolate (before they turn in for the night). It's a seasonal thing that makes people feel like you really care.
Need some recipe ideas for meals to impress the family? Check out Smith's new cookbook, "B. Smith Cooks Southern-Style" (Scribner, $35, 336 pages) or her Web site, which has several free recipes.