GREAT MEMORIES ARE PRICELESS (SO THEY SAY)
This Cozy Fall Dinner Party Was Surprisingly Affordable
BY VERONICA VICCORA
It's true, autumn is the season of change. But there's a hum of transformation alive in the air from something more than the just leaves this year. It seems like all around me, people are making space for one major lifestyle shift or another: a move, a new opportunity, the closing of an old door and the opening of a new one. So for Halloween this year, as much as I was going to miss seeing all the slutty versions of various woodland creatures teetering around the Lower East Side, I wanted to do something a little different. I decided to host a simple, cozy dinner party at my childhood home on Long Island as a way to bring us all together before the roots of change really settled in.
While the mission for so many parties is to let people mingle, I wanted this to be a night of gathering. I imagined something more intimate and inviting, where we could all be in on the conversation. An autumn harvest themed dinner party was the perfect way to go. There's something about the flavors of fall that just make you want take life at a slower pace, in fact many of the ingredients themselves require patience. Try roasting a pumpkin for example, and see how many other things you get done. Still, a hearty soup or a warm dessert is just the things to get people talking.
HOSTING TIP: Try thinking outside of the box when it comes to your theme. A Halloween party doesn't necessarily have to include eyeball-filled punch and candy corn flavored everything. Sometimes kitsch is great, but sometimes the unexpected can be more fun.
I've learned after many hard years of taking too much onto my plate, that sometimes it's okay to ask for help. I already knew it was going to be difficult enough getting from my apartment in Manhattan to Long Island for the party, so in effort to minimize the stress, I asked everyone to bring a dish that focused on fall flavors. This is a great way to not only cut down on your pre-party workload and help you stay within your budget, but it can also introduce you and your other guests to recipes you never would've thought of. Even so, it's always a good idea to plan for plenty of food just in case of hiccups.
-a fall themed charcuterie board
-sausage, white bean & kale soup
-kielebasa & sauerkraut (a celebration of our Polish heritage)
HOSTING TIP: Don't try to do everything yourself! Have guests bring a dish. It'll keep you from getting too stressed and it's a great way to share recipes. (Not to mention, it frees up more of your time to focus on the decorating, heh heh)
I didn't have a huge budget to work with for this party but casual, cozy dinner parties don't often require much. The money should really stay within the food for a gathering like this, but of course, I can't help myself when it comes to decoration. Thankfully, like the cheapskate Capricorn I am, I've found countless ways to cultivate an ambiance on a dime.
WHAT TO BUY
If you're planning a party on a budget, there are three main decorating elements that you'll want to focus the money on, none of which are terribly expensive: string lights, candles and cheesecloth. These three things alone can make any party look great. Candles and string lights make the space cozy and warm, while cheesecloth can be used as everything from a table runner to napkins and it's something a lot of us already have for baking. If you don't have any on hand though, it's only a couple dollars at most grocery stores.
BUDGET FRIENDLY MATERIALS
WHERE TO SOURCE MATERIALS
Some of the most beautiful parties are created with things you already own rather than by running out to Michaels and buying seasonal bunting and pumpkin themed paper plates. Especially if you're on a budget, look around for ways to use what you have. Repurposed wine bottles are the perfect candlestick holders while old milk bottles and mason jars make excellent tea light holders. I'm aware that not everyone hoards vintage milk bottles the way I do, so just keep in mind that any clear vessel will do. Try repurposing jellies, sauces, yogurts, or anything else that comes in a jar!
Thrift stores are another place to find glassware, plates and all the other little odds and ends that can tie your theme together. Nearly everything at my party was thrifted from the baskets on my serving table to the wineglasses at each place setting.
You can also try your local grocery store for cheap decorations that don't look cheap. A cheesecloth table runner decorated our table, and only cost a few dollars. A pack of long taper candlesticks was infinitely cheaper at the grocery store than at a fancy home store. And of course, being that it was an autumn harvest themed dinner party, we decorated with pumpkins which are inexpensive and can be used in a recipe after the party. In fact, the most expensive decoration at my party was a pack of string lights I found on sale at Michaels for $10.
HOSTING TIP: instead of wasting money on decorations you'll just throw out, repurpose things you already have and focus more of your budget into making a great meal. And when in doubt, candles, string lights and cheesecloth are your best friends.
It's always nice to have a little bit of a showstopper at every party, something that makes it that much more memorable, but that doesn't mean it needs to be something crazy or expensive. It's a Halloween tradition in my family to watch Harry Potter, but we've certainly never watched it outside before! After everyone was finished eating, we lit a fire, made s'mores and cozied up to watch our movie under the stars. It was just unique enough without being over the top to make an old tradition a little more special.
HOSTING TIP: making your party memorable doesn't necessarily mean making it over the top.
There you have it folks! I hope this helps you host your own autumn harvest themed dinner party on a budget. If you try out any of these ideas, let me know how they work out for you! And if you'd like to see the behind the scenes of how we brought everything together, check out the video here!