It goes without saying that the Founding Fathers were wise dudes. One exception: “Snap Dragon” — an 18th-century party game in which holiday revelers filled a punch bowl with walnuts and booze, set it ablaze and then attempted to fish out walnuts with fast fingers.

The fete plans of modern hosts, though less overtly dangerous, are often similarly misguided — and just as prime for, er, flare-ups. “People think they need to go over the top, but simpler is better,” says Amanda Weaver-Page, who teaches party-planning classes at CulinAerie cooking school (1131 14th St. NW; 202-587-5674).

Cue make-ahead appetizers and drinks; easy DIY decorations; and simple-yet-memorable details (think to-go cookies as parting favors and wine glass charms made from leftover Kwanzaa cards or vintage postcards). Initiate a festive mood, Weaver-Page says, with a sparkling “starter” cocktail such as cranberry juice charged with sparkling wine (or teetotaler-friendly seltzer).

Stick to recipes with fewer than 10 ingredients (five or fewer is even better), and avoid anything that involves what she calls “in the nude” cooking, such as sauteing vegetables.

But the No. 1 trick to being the host with the most Weaver-Page says: “Minimize time in the kitchen; maximize time with guests.”


A Sparkly Light Board
: Jenn Lore, creator of D.C. home blog Department of the Interior
Why: “I got the idea from an old issue of Blueprint magazine,” Lore says. “It’s an eye-catching backdrop for a bar cart or table at a holiday cocktail party — glitzy enough for Christmas and New Year’s, but since it isn’t season-specific, it can be reused throughout the year.”

Large stretched
Mini-roller for applying paint
Awl for making the pattern
Craft paper (to draw your design)
White Christmas lights
Extension cord

» Cover a work space with a drop cloth or newspaper to protect the floor.
» Paint the canvas; let dry completely.
» Roll out craft paper sized to fit the back of the canvas, and sketch out a dotted design.
» Use an awl to poke holes through the canvas as you have sketched it.
» Push Christmas lights through each hole.
» Attach to extension cord and plug in.

Holiday Wine Charms
» Cut circles out of leftover cards, decorative cardstock or vintage postcards (try antique shops or Eastern Market vendors).
» Poke small hole in circles using a pin.
» Loosen a key ring.
» Attach circle.
» If desired, string beads, charms or costume jewelry on either side of paper circle.
» Secure with a dot of hot glue on either side.


Crostini with Blue Cheese and Fig
1 baguette
1 1/2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp honey
8 oz blue cheese
1/2 cup dried figs
1/2 cup red wine or port

Serves 6
» Soak the figs in the red wine until rehydrated, approximately 20 to 30 minutes.
» Remove the figs from the liquid and thinly slice.
» Preheat oven to 365 F. Slice the baguette on a bias into 1/4-inch thick slices. Drizzle enough olive oil on a half-sheet tray to lightly coat it. Lay the baguette slices on the tray, forming a single layer. Drizzle olive oil on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
» Bake for approximately eight to 10 minutes, until golden brown.
» In a bowl mix together the blue cheese and honey until smooth and soft. Spread the blue cheese mixture evenly on top of each crostini. Top with a few slices of fig and serve.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Pears with Balsamic
10 to 12 thin slices of prosciutto
3 Bosc pears
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar

Serves 8
» Simmer the balsamic vinegar and sugar together until it reduces about half and has a glaze-like consistency, about six to eight minutes.
» Cut the slices of prosciutto in half horizontally.
» Clean the pears, then cut them into ¼-inch thick slices. Wrap the bottom half of each slice of pear with a piece of prosciutto. The unwrapped half serves as the end to pick up each slice.
» Arrange on a platter and drizzle with balsamic glaze.

Recipes courtesy Amanda Weaver-Page, Culinaerie

Baked Brie
1 large sheet of puff pastry dough or 4 sheets of phyllo dough
1 round of Brie cheese
Raspberry Jam or your favorite jam or chutney
Brown sugar
1/4 cup of maple syrup
Sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a baking sheet, lay out the puff pastry or layers of phyllo dough; put brie round or wedge on top. Spread jam on brie, and place a handful of brown sugar on top. Fold over dough and flip folds to the bottom. Brush top with maple syrup and sprinkle the almonds on top. Bake for 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with crackers and fruit.

Recipe courtesy Lauren DeSantis


C.A.R. Punch
32 oz. of fresh apple cider
10 oz. lemon juice
1/4 powdered sugar
2 cup of fresh cranberries
1 (750 ml) Old
Overholt rye
10 oz. Dolin Sweet vermouth
3 whole orange peels
3 sprigs of rosemary (4 inches long each)
10 dashes of Fee Brothers bitters
20 oz. sparkling water
A cranberry-apple-rye combo

In the punch bowl, mash together whole cranberries and powdered sugar; combine lemon juice, apple cider, rye, vermouth and bitters, stir. Top with sparkling water, then garnish with orange peels and rosemary sprigs. Add an ice block to chill.

Recipe courtesy Gina Chersevani, PS 7’s

Atholl Brose
1 750 ml bottle good blended scotch (such as Dewar’s White Label)
2 cups honey
10 oz. heavy cream
3 rounded tbsp

Add enough water to the oatmeal to form a fine paste. Cover and set aside for at least 30 minutes. Warm honey in a saucepan until it is a liquid consistency. Stir in scotch. Let cool, then stir in cream. Press oatmeal paste through a fine mesh strainer with the back of a spoon and add resulting liquid, discarding oatmeal.

Recipe courtesy Dan Searing, Room 11

Written by Express contributor Katie Knorovsky
Photos by Scott Ely for Express