Yes, fancy crackers are involved.

I’m like a happy puppy when it comes to social contact. I work solo in a quiet (I’m not complaining) house all day, then spend several hours of pure chaos acting as a line cook, chauffeur, tutor, and referee for three people under the age of 11. If an opportunity exists for meaningful adult interaction, let’s just say my door is always open (insert enthusiastic wagging and panting here).

Like any nice Italian girl raised by nice Italian parents, this means always having something to offer guests in the way of good food and drink. IMPORTANT: Unless you live alone, this also means HIDING said provisions—and checking inventory from time to time—to make sure you’re not left with a biscotti tin full of crumbs when you’re expecting someone any minute.

Here are some of my secret pantry tips to being the best last-minute host ever. Or at least make your last minute guests think that you are.

Crackers

Fancy crackers and jams

      Stick with one impressive-sounding brand like Stonewall Kitchen and find a couple of go-to recipes or serving suggestions on their website. Or, check out Jet’s new brand of Uniquely J crisps. When you put out Sea Salt crackers with blue cheese and Fig & Ginger jam, it sure looks like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t.

Box of chocolates

      A box of chocolates

      We can all agree that the boxes themselves usually make you think of your old Aunt Gertie’s house. If you opt to switch up the presentation (recommended), keep the nut-free ones separate in case someone is allergic. Better yet, buy a second, completely nut-free box of candies and serve on a different plate.

Wine bag

A case of wine

      The good thing about having a whole case on-hand during the holiday season is that you can also head for the closet when a neighbor shows up with an unexpected gift. Stash a few wine bags along with so you can believably pull off “Oh, I have something for you, too!”

Uniquely J coffee

Assorted teas and coffees

      It’s worth having a Keurig even if you only use it to simplify entertaining. You can always take out the fancy french press, but sometimes it’s just nice to individualize everyone’s after dinner drinks. Stock plenty of fancy teas and coffee options. 

Christmas cookies

Cookies

Add some easy style to your usual cookies  by setting them out on a marble and wood cake stand or metallic plate.

Toothpick holder

A medley of olives

All you really need to say is “olive medley” and you’ll have a bunch of happy guests. Just serve them with toothpicks in a chic holder.

Cheese plate

Cheese, cheese, cheese

      Mark the “use by” date on your calendar. If company doesn’t come by then, plan a romantic wine and cheese evening with your SO.

Pot stickers

Frozen appetizers

       Tai Pei Potstickers and Eggrolls look like they just rolled out of cocktail hour with a few creative presentation tricks, like arranging on clean white plates in a bed of colorful veggie slaw. (Note to self: buy some clean white plates and veggie slaw). A little frozen protein (chicken bites, angus meatballs)  on its own is also never a bad idea.

Last thing: If you’re on the opposite side of that door, don’t show up empty handed. Bring what you want to eat and drink, bring what you know your host enjoys, bring a Whitman Sampler or unnaturally colored carnations grabbed in haste from the only open drugstore. Just always bring a little something—in addition to your amazing self, of course.

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