When and Why Not to DIY: 3 Tips from a Recovering Dinner Party Maniac

Gatherings from The Kitchn

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When I first started planning the menu for my All-American Beer Bottling Party, the plan was to keep it very simple and very easy. But when I couldn't decide between shrimp tacos or chicken, I decided to do both. And why have one side dish when I could have two? Then I set my heart on a pie with fresh summer berries for dessert — with homemade ice cream, of course. In short order, the menu started to feel...well, not simple or easy. That's when I had to have a firm talk with myself about what I could really do and where I needed to take a little help.

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I am a self-professed dinner party maniac — not because I throw parties every week, but because I get obsessed with making or cooking everything myself. Partly, I put this pressure on myself because I feel like people expect it from me as the resident food writer and a self-professed food lover. But I also genuinely like making everything! I love treating my guests to homemade pasta or a plate of carefully crafted pastries for dessert. I always end up thinking things like, "Why buy dinner rolls when I can just make them myself?"

But friends, this does not always make for a happy hostess. In fact, the opposite is usually true as I make myself crazy bringing all the different parts of the dinner together.

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When I realized this was happening with the menu for my Beer Bottling Party, I made myself take a step back and take a hard look at my plans for the meal. Here's what was on the menu:

I was really happy with the overall spread of dishes and the amount of food I'd be serving at my party. But there were a few things that I knew would put me over the edge when making everything — namely the pretzels, the pie, and the ice cream. I was especially excited to make the pretzels, but in the end, I had to admit to myself that it wasn't going to happen.

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And the second I let go, some interesting things happened. First, I discovered that I have an authentic German bakery right in my neighborhood. I had no idea it was there! I walked in and had to pause for a few minutes just to breathe in the aromas of yeast and malty bread. They were out of pretzel rolls by the time I got there (bummer!), but the very friendly baker convinced me that regular pretzels would be just as good for my party. I bought her out of the rest of that day's pretzels and made a new baker friend in the process.

With the pretzels purchased, I stopped by Whole Foods for the pie. After a few minutes of chatting with one of the bakers about my party plans, he interrupted me to say, "You want the huckleberry pie. It's the best. I promise." His eyes lit up as he described the flavor of the ripe huckleberries and talked about how short their season is. He insisted on going in the back to find the freshest pie for me to take home and patted my hand as he handed it to me. I left that Whole Foods feeling more warm and fuzzy than I can remember being after any other trip to the grocery store.

Choosing to buy these few things (along with some ice cream from Trader Joe's) lightened my load, made me feel less stressed in the days leading up to the party, and introduced me to some great local food makers. At the party, I shared my stories of finding the bakery and talking with my new pie buddy at Whole Foods, and that made these dishes feel special all on their own. I'm calling this exercise in letting go a total win.

What I Learned When I Stepped Outside My Kitchen:

  1. It's ok to ask for help when planning a dinner party, whether that help comes from a grocery store or asking friends to bring a dish. My guests chowed down on the pretzels, licked their pie plates clean, and enjoyed their meal with gusto — and so did I, especially because I wasn't stressed out.
  2. Connecting with local food makers can be just as meaningful as making it yourself. I love making things myself, but I realized that it can also be a little isolating. I never would have met these bakers (or even known about the German bakery!) if I had stayed in my kitchen. These two experiences are a reminder to me that supporting local business and connecting with local food makers is as important as making food myself.
  3. Sometimes other people make better food. I admit this with a little sheepishness, but I honestly think the pretzels and pie were better than what I could have made myself. After all, these people specialize in the food they make and churn out batches every day, while I make maybe a handful of pies in a year and make pretzels even more rarely.

Are you a fellow DIY-obsessed host or hostess? What stories and advice do you have to share?

(Images: Danielle Tsi)

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An All-American Beer Bottling Party

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