La dolce vita, the sweet life as emulated by the Italian way of life, is to enjoy the everyday pleasure of living. To most of us, who don't live in Italy, such a notion seem like a luxury with an expensive price tag only to be experienced temporarily while vacationing in Italy, or it is of something dreamy in the future, to be lived when that dream mansion is acquired. But does the sweet life really naturally ensue only after the bank account is flushed with millions? As evidenced by one of the most outrageous phenomenon of the twenty-first century - the explosive birth of the ultra nouveau-riche, the sweet life doesn't ensue wealth. In fact, without the cultivation of good taste and elegance, big money will likely buy you big hideosity. The ability to purchase surely doesn't equal the ability to live beautifully.
The sweet life is yours to live right here and right now, in your twenties, thirties, and for the rest of your life. We face all kinds of choices everyday. What differentiates a stylish person from the rest is that, he or she chooses to do everything beautifully. It's that simple. You can eat a meal senselessly just to put food in your mouth, or you can light up a candle, enjoy your food, pour a glass of wine and pair it with an interesting conversation. In everything that you do, you can choose to do it without flare, or you can slow down, savour it, and amplify the experience with beauty. It could be a meal, a bike ride, or an afternoon stroll. Yes, in everything, you can choose the sweet life over the for-survival-only life. It may sound like an efficiency-crippling task to some people (the industrially-driven products of society), but it really is a habit that can be picked up, and this habit, once manifested, will stay with you. This habit will shape the way you live. This habit is the secret to la dolce vita.
Some Tips to consider at different stages:
In Your Twenties - celebrate what you don't have. Take dining or entertaining for example. You may think that you don't have the budget to buy designer plates and cutleries. Therefore, you have to wait 'til your thirties to begin your life as a hostess with the mostess. Not true! Be creative, mix and match fun vintage finds. Use wine or beverage bottles as your vases. Celebrate, or even showcase, the opportunity of having to do with little. The outcome can sometimes charmingly outshine one's abundance in resources.
In Your Thirties - streamline your personal style. If you are not a style prodigy like Yves Saint Laurent, you probably went through many style mistakes in your twenties. By thirty, you should have a better idea of what your personal flare and likings are. Invest in a few good pieces that will showcase your personal style. For example, invest in a good set of dinnerware and cutlery. Focus on developing one thing that you will be really good at in terms of style. For example, if you know you love "dressing up in style" over "entertaining in style," be an expert at it. I am lucky that I have a friend to go to for advice for different things. It's only fair in a circle of friends to be a contributor of something rather than being the receiver all the time. Plus, why wouldn't you want to be really good at one thing? How do you know when you are an expert? When people come to you for advice!
In Your Forties and onwards - be a collector in your own right. By then you are probably an expert of your personal style. You know exactly what makes life that much sweeter for you. Embrace this expertise you have developed over the years, and feel confident when splurging on things that will bring real value, or the other way around. Embrace your confidence when deciding not to buy the "it" luxury item, because you know yourself all too well to follow trends.
"Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening." - Coco Chanel
The Holiday season is coming close. Everywhere you turn, Christmas is in the air. If you are like me, who loves celebrating Christmas, hosting unforgettable gatherings for friends and families can be both a rewarding and stressful experience! To decrease the stress as much as possible so that you can fully enjoy the party and embrace every minute of your event, I have come up with a step by step timeline of entertaining preparation to share with you. I will also share some useful tips on making the party that much more successful and magical. Enjoy entertaining like a true hostess! Happy Holidays!
A Week Before the Party
Finalize your guest list.
Unlike entertaining during other times of the year, when you can send out invitation two to three weeks prior to the event, Christmas is a season when everyone has parties lining up to attend. It is best that you send out invitations a month to six weeks in advance, and finalize your guest list a week before the party.
TIP: Consider hiring help for parties of ten or more. You will have more time to enjoy your guests. For larger cocktail parties, hiring someone to bartend will be extremely helpful. The same person can help with cleanup afterwards! Help doesn't always have to be professional, you can hire your teenage nephews or cousins to be servers. Just have them wear their black pants, white shirts, and maybe bow ties!
Six Days Before the Party
Now that you know who is attending, select music that will set the right mood for the party, and maybe just get all the guests moving to the music!
TIP: I have a small party just for selecting my music. Invite one or two close friends over. Take turns nominating songs, go through them together over pizza or light dinner, and the songs that get majority vote in this small party will make the list for the real party! Count each song to last 3 minutes and calculate the number of songs you will need. For example, if your party is going to be 4 hours, you will need at least 80 songs. This is the perfect way to get yourself and your close friends excited for the event to come! And trust me this little party is a lot of fun!
Five Days Before the Party
Do a thorough cleanup of the whole house. Yes, including all the bedrooms. Sometimes you might want to showcase something you just bought in your closet, or kids may play hide and seek under your bed. Plus, you never want to block your guests from entering a room! You are not Bluebeard. Your house should be sparkling clean for the party. Do a main surface dusting one more time the day before. But get all other cleaning out of the way. After the house is cleaned, you can now start designing the style and decor of your event.
TIP: Sorry, there's no shortcut on cleaning. The only tip may be to hire someone if you don't have enough time!
Four Days Before the Party
Decide on the service style of your party and which rooms of the house to be used. Is it going to be a more formal RESTAURANT STYLE SERVICE, a more casual FAMILY STYLE SERVICE, a BUFFET SERVICE, or a COCKTAIL PARTY? After you have decided on the service style, you will have a better idea which rooms will be used for what, and how to move your furnitures around. (Now is a good time to decide if you will need catering or rental.)
Now that the service style has been decided, choose your dinnerware, glassware, flatware, and serving pieces. Have them washed and shined, and set them aside for the party. If you don't have everything, consider renting or borrowing from family or friends. Mothers have proven to be very resourceful in this department!
TIP: Mix and match your dinnerware! It creates a fun layering on the table.
Decide whether you will have the party catered. If you are cooking yourself, start thinking about your menu!
Three Days Before the Party
Two Days Before the Party
One Day Before the Party
Shop for everything you need on the menu. Don't forget your shopping list!
Wash, cut, and marinate everything and organize them by the dish in the refrigerator.
Give all the main surfaces in the house a good dusting one more time, make sure all the bathrooms have clean hand towels , scented candles or diffusers, and are sparkling clean.
The Day of the Party
"After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one's relatives."
Have you noticed that most Chinese, with a few exceptions of those who have been in the top tier for a long time like Sir David Tang, when we need to entertain or socialize in style, we rarely or never adopt Chinese style dining. Romantic dinners, wine tasting parties, business cocktails, theme parties, or even weddings, when style is an important element of the event, most Chinese sacrifice their heritage palate for style. When it comes to Chinese style entertaining, dining seems to be somewhat limited to the taste of the food, and when presentation is addressed, it’s often the kind of presentation that is very old school palatial, or done in true tradition to evoke whimsical memories of traditional Chinese upbringing and family values. Style and ambiance definitely do not go hand in hand with Chinese cuisine for most Chinese.
Living in Vancouver, Canada, where there is a big population of well-to-do Chinese immigrants, I first noticed this phenomenon when attending some of those well-to-do Chinese family weddings. When it comes to one of the most important events of one’s life, where style is definitely crucial for brides and grooms, parents and family members are forced to dine French, or Italian, or west coast fusion. What about the food that we grew up eating? The food that our families shared countless warm memories with? Sadly, when it comes to entertaining, you either choose popular style with non-Chinese cuisine, or choose your heritage and sacrifice style. I hope that this can change.
Yes, the foundation of modern civilization is one of the west. Western style inevitably prevails in the collective concept of modern elegance and decadence. But the queen and pioneer of modern style Coco Chanel herself, was madly in love with Chinese art and decor. Her apartment on Rue Cambon in Paris is filled with Chinese artifacts and treasures. Why should we as Chinese not feel all the more confident in our great heritage when it comes to decor and entertaining? I know there may be much deeper and intricate social complications on this matter, but I will not delve into that here since this is an article about entertaining not a sociology thesis. Don’t you think it’s about time that we start giving more thoughts to embracing and popularizing stylish entertaining with Chinese cuisine, even if for no better reason than it merely being so damn beautiful, sophisticated, and chic!
One of my favourite restaurants in Vancouver is Baobei, it has been featured in many different media including Time magazine. It’s usual patrons are not the typical Chinese crowd but the hollywood types and the hipsters. It is a great example of how Chinese dining can be authentic in taste, and stylish and creative in presentation. Their menu is filled with what I would call the Chinese equivalent of French peasant food like Shao Bin Yo Tiao, Manto, and Gua Bao, all of which are true to the authentic Chinese taste, and sometimes with a little culinary twist, but always so creative and chic in presentation. They don’t serve the fancy Chinese banquet dishes, but simply dress up our most simple and common dishes with a whimsical vintage sophistication. A refreshing change for the palatial banquet style dining with no real depth in design. Yes, I am talking about the marbles, the frosted glass art depicting phoenix and running horses, and the shiny chandeliers. It’s always a treat to dine there to enjoy the best tasting food I grew up eating and feel so proud at the same time to be a child of such a great culture.
To practice what I preach and to also satisfy my fantasy of a romantic and chic Chinese style entertaining experience, I threw a little party earlier this past Spring and simply called it "A Chinese Party" on my invitation. The decor was not over the top, but it was fun and romantic filled with little details like symbolic objects, such as Chinese figurines and fortune cookies. Peonies were my choice for flowers, a Chinese favourite in paintings. The result was great! My guests were thrilled to dine Chinese style with a romantic ambiance and all had a great time eating, drinking, and sharing. Some of my guests even refer the night to being dreamy. Really, Chinese parties can be dreamy and romantic! This is an experience I wish more people could enjoy, and a trend I would love to see popularized. A cocktail party or a romantic dinner? Let’s do Chinese!