Grown-Up Get-Togethers

It’s time to step away from those devices, relax and enjoy some face-to-face time with people you care about. To get you out of the dinner-and-a-movie rut, we’ve rounded up some interactive options for a fun evening in with friends.

Game Night

Having friends over for game night is one of my favorite ways to entertain.

One of our favorites is Pictionary. Skip the tiny scratch pads and buy a couple sketch pads at your local dollar store. I’ve even done it using a big dry erase board on an easel.

Other great choices for a group game night are Cranium, Guesstures and an all-time favorite guaranteed to produce laughs, Taboo. (Recently, we’ve been playing “Chicken Foot” dominoes, which is fun but not as laughter-inducing as the other games mentioned.)

You’ll want even numbers of people so you can break into at least two teams. I’ve found eight people is a great number because you can usually fit around a big table if playing a board game, although games like Guesstures or Taboo don’t require a writing/drawing surface.

Because the focus is on the games, you don’t need a sit-down dinner, but of course, no gathering is complete without food. I always make a dessert and an appetizer, and then ask each person/couple to bring their favorite appetizer or finger food to share.

As host/hostess, you provide beverages and all the tableware. (Go with sturdy disposables to save clean up time.)

We’ve found it works well to socialize and eat first, and then play a round or two of whatever game you chose and take a break for dessert.

I’ve had more than a few game nights where my stomach muscles were literally sore the next day from laughing so much. A definite sign of a successful gathering!

Progressive Dinner

Round up your “foodie” friends for this one. Three couples is the perfect number for this evening. With a little pre-planning, you’ll enjoy a leisurely, memorable time together with great company and great eats.

There are two ways you can play it, and your decision really depends on the couples you involve. The idea is to eat a three-course meal together, but here’s the fun part: Eat each course at a different location. That means you’ll be eating at either three different restaurants or at each couple’s house.

You’ll start with an appetizer at the first location, have the main course at the second and finish the evening with dessert at the third.

If you prefer a no-effort kind of evening, opt for restaurants. If everyone likes to entertain, then divvy up the courses and progress from house to house.

So your husband is known for whipping up an amazing beef brisket, while your best friend is the queen of desserts. If someone has a specialty, this is the time to showcase it. The idea is for the evening to be fun for all—with a minimum amount of stress—so unless everyone is on board with cooking, pick three restaurants instead.

Should you go the restaurant route, choose a weeknight if at all possible to avoid wait times. Otherwise, be sure to allow enough time between spots and, ideally, choose restaurants that are all in the same neighborhood. (Hello, downtown!) You can simplify things even more by selecting restaurants that are all within walking distance. (Did I mention downtown?) You’ll only have to find parking once and will benefit from walking off a few calories between courses.

Yard Games & Cookout

Remember when you used to play outside until Mom called you in for dinner? Make the most of spring’s beautiful evenings by playing in the yard. All you need are a few like-minded friends, a good yard game, a grill and an easy-to-cook meal. (Another plus is that the entire evening can be spent outside, so you can skip cleaning the whole house!)

In my family, the yard game of choice has always been croquet. We tease my mother about being the “Croquet Nazi.” Young or old, you had to play by the rules, and she wasn’t going to let any of us win unless we beat her fair and square. (I still remember the delight my brother had at finally being able to best her.)

Croquet, bocce ball, badminton, horseshoes and beanbag toss/cornhole are all great options for yard games. Pick up the supplies at a sporting goods or “big box” store. If you already have the game, but don’t remember the rules, a quick Internet search will provide those.

If hosting families with children, the kids will enjoy having a separate part of the yard where they can play their own games (No lawn darts or horseshoes if kids are around, please!), and you can still easily keep an eye on them.

Plan a simple meal you can cook on the grill once you’ve determined who’s the king/queen of yard game competition. Think BBQ chicken, ribs, hamburgers, hot dogs or even pizza.

If you’re hosting the party, plan on providing the main course, dessert and beverages, plus all the serving supplies. Opt for sturdy disposable plates to lessen clean-up time. Ask guests to bring an appetizer or side dish and your meal is complete.

Plan your gathering to allow a couple hours of socializing and playing the game(s) before you eat.

Fire Pit & S’mores

It doesn’t get much more low key than this, but it’s a great way to socialize. My friends and I have “solved” all the world’s problems—or at least had a few good laughs—sitting around the fire on a starry night.

The requirements are few. You’ll need a chimenia, patio fire pit or, if you live outside the city and have the right spot for it, a safe place for a small bonfire. For seating, hay or straw bales are a nice touch, as are log seats, but lawn chairs are more comfortable and easier to come by. Be sure to have plenty of dry, well-seasoned wood on hand so you can keep that fire going as late as your guests linger.

Some friends will probably bring their own adult drinks, but you should have beverages available. Alcoholic or not is up to you.

I like to whip up a cobbler or similar easy dessert ahead of time and bake it so it’s still warm when we sit down and get the fire going. An even simpler option is to have the makings for s’mores on hand and let those guests who are so inclined make their own sweet treat.

Set out a tray with graham cracker packages, chocolate bars and a couple bags of marshmallows, along with napkins and long metal skewers or marshmallow roasting sticks so guests can help themselves.

Plan this gathering for after dinner. You want it to be totally dark so you can enjoy the fire. And if one of your friends plays guitar and sings a bit, all the better.

Craft Night

Unless your menfolk are really into their feminine sides, this one is for the girls.

As hostess, it’s up to you to pick a craft or two that can easily be completed in an evening for your guests to take home. Be sure to pick something that isn’t too complicated; you want to have time to eat, not just create.

Go online and peruse Pinterest to find great craft ideas. You can also find inspiration at local craft supply stores. I’ve done this numerous times having my friends make ornaments. Other ideas include making cards, a piece of jewelry, mixed media collages, painting ceramics or some kind of seasonal craft.

As hostess, you buy all supplies for whatever craft(s) you decide on. (When you invite friends, designate a firm RSVP date so you aren’t buying more supplies than necessary.) Before guests arrive, set up crafting stations with all supplies organized and sets of directions clearly printed on sheets of paper for each guest. You’ll want to make a sample ahead of time, so guests can look at the created item to know what the finished craft should resemble.

I’ve found tables that seat six people work well. Having two or more crafting tables set up is best, especially if you are doing more than one craft that evening. (To spare the table surface, slip a twin size fitted sheet over top if your crafting materials might get messy.)

Adult beverages can make your crafting session even more fun. Serving wine or making a single cocktail in a large pitcher is an easy way to do this. You can also create a coffee bar (make sure to have a pot of decaf, too) and include flavored creamer and liquor, such as Kahlua, Baileys and Amaretto as optional additions.

Appetizers and finger foods are the best option for a craft night. You can ask guests to bring a favorite or put out the whole spread yourself. People usually ask, “What can I bring?”, so let them contribute.

A cute gift bag to take home the crafts your guests have made is a nice touch.

Wine Tasting

A wine tasting isn’t as demanding as a dinner party and you’ll have as much fun as your guests. Six to 12 guests is the perfect number.

Four to five different wines is a good choice. You can pick a few of the best-selling wines from regional wineries or stop in a favorite local wine shop and ask for recommendations.

Be prepared with enough wine. One bottle can pour five regular glasses, but for a tasting, you’ll only pour 1 1/2 to 2 ounces, so each bottle will allow for six to 10 tastings.

Get the temperature right! Dry white wines should be chilled to between 50 and 55 degrees, while reds should be between 60 and 65 degrees.

You don’t want to serve food during the tasting (other than something to cleanse the palate), so time your party for late afternoon, after dinner or so that you can offer a hearty spread of finger foods following the tasting. Specify on the invites if you’re serving food later so guests know what to expect.

Good French bread, neutral crackers or fresh, lightly salted mozzarella are good choices to eat between wines, as they help remove flavors from the mouth.

Yes, you want to set a pretty table display, but avoid scented candles or floral arrangements: their odors can interfere with wine flavors. Arrange wine bottles on the counter or table, along with a wine opener/corkscrew, stemmed wine glasses, napkins, crackers, bread, water glasses and a pitcher of ice water.

At a traditional wine tasting, you taste the wine, then spit it out. If you go this route, you can have an actual spittoon (or a large bowl) in the center of the table, or small paper cups for each guest.

As you sample each wine, tell the guests what they’re about to drink and pour a small amount into each glass. You’ll want to swirl the wine in the glass to let it “breathe” for a few seconds, then inhale and smell deeply before tasting. The first sip should be a small one. Swirl it around your mouth to better judge the flavor. Then swallow or, if you’re the driver, make use of that handy paper cup and spit it out.

Provide wine tasting grids (you can find them on the Internet or at a wine shop), or small notebooks for each guest to jot their thoughts about each wine and take home as a memento of the evening.

Once the tasting is over, invite your guests to help themselves to food you’ve prepared ahead. Ideal choices include:

• Charcuterie platter

• Cheese straws

• Breadsticks

• Assorted olives

• Cheese (Asiago, provolone, or Parmesan are good choices)

• Melon balls wrapped with prosciutto

• Sliced pears

• Pistachios

• Squares of rich dark chocolate

Charcuterie Platter

Assemble beforehand and refrigerate. Take out about 20 minutes prior to serving so meats reach room temperature.

• Thinly sliced prosciutto

• Thinly sliced dried Italian salami

• Thinly sliced turkey

• Cocktail onions

• Gherkins

• Dijon mustard

• Marinated artichoke hearts, drained

• Baguette slices

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