It's easier than you think to plan an elegant celebration that is sure to impress friends and family. Here's how to get organised before hosting a fabulous party this holiday season.
One of the many advantages of living in the UAE is that just as the weather gets cold and dark in Europe and North America, our climate comes into its own. Combine balmy temperatures and permanent sunshine with the fact that this time of year is prime holiday season in many parts of the world and it's hardly surprising that friends and family flock to the UAE like so many migrating birds shaking the snow off their wings. So if you're having people to stay in the next few weeks, or planning a party, here's how to get organised.
Get the house ready in good time (so much more restful than doing it half an hour before your mother-in-law's plane lands). Make sure that bathrooms are sparkling clean and check that you have enough spare towels for guests and enough toilet paper: guests seem to get through inordinate amounts - I don't know why. Air bedrooms that have not been used for a while by opening the windows, something we often forget to do after months of living in air conditioning.
Dust and then sweep or vacuum the floors. Make sure the bedside lights are working and that you have enough bedding and enough cupboard space and hangers for guests to hang their clothes. Check that the room is cool enough. It may seem balmy and temperate to us, but visitors coming from an icy European winter may have trouble adjusting to the warmer temperatures.
If you are planning a big celebratory meal, give the dining room a special clean, too, so that it is ready and welcoming. Make sure all cutlery, crockery and glassware are clean.
Tip: to ensure glasses are sparkling clean, wash, then rinse in water to which you have added a splash of vinegar. Leave to dry on a clean tea towel, then polish with a soft cloth.
If you have silver cutlery that has become tarnished, put crumpled aluminium foil in the bottom of a saucepan large enough to immerse the cutlery. Put the cutlery on top, fill with water and boil for about 10 minutes. The tarnish will transfer from the silver to the foil, turning it black but leaving the cutlery shiny. Remove from the saucepan, wash in hot, soapy water, rinse and dry.
Note: do not try this method with wooden- or bone-handled cutlery.
Clear out kitchen cupboards to make room for all the food you will be buying, and throw out anything past its use-by date. Clean and dry the shelves before putting food back in. Do the same with the fridge.
Make a list of store-cupboard essentials that need replacing, along with any special ingredients.
Buy non-perishable party food things - biscuits, mixers, nibbles and so forth - over several weeks to spread the cost and avoid a mad Supermarket Sweep-style dash on the day of the party.
Make sure you have enough large platters to serve party food. Lulu Hypermarkets sell foil platters, which saves on washing up. You will also need: paper napkins, paper or plastic glasses, bin bags, cling film and, because so many people smoke in this country, plenty of ashtrays.
The freezer is incredibly useful when doing mass catering, so make sure you have room inside it.
To defrost: switch off and unplug the freezer. Empty the contents and throw away anything past its use-by date. Put the rest in cool-boxes or cool-bags with ice packs. It is best to leave the freezer to defrost naturally overnight (put a pan of hot water in the bottom to aid thawing), but if you have a lot of food that might spoil, use a fridge and freezer defrosting spray. Whatever you do, don't hack away at the frost with a knife. Clean with a solution of bicarbonate of soda.
When sorting out the spare rooms (see above), get rid of unwanted clutter and make up a parcel for a local charity.
If you are having lots of people to stay or holding a large party, assume that things are going to get spilt. As well as making sure you have plenty of your usual cleaning products, it's useful to assemble a little stain-cleaning kit to tackle harder-to-remove stains on upholstery and carpets.
The most useful products are white kitchen towels and white cotton cloths (coloured towels and cloths can transfer dye, creating more stains); mild, uncoloured, unperfumed detergent for washing woollens; mild washing-up liquid; soda water; white vinegar and couple of proprietary stain removers. For fruit and other red stains, such as wine, I recommend a product called Wine Away, which is available from Lakeland (Mirdiff City Centre; www.lakelandlimited.com). For upholstery, buy a proprietary upholstery shampoo.
In case of emergencies or if you have no proprietary carpet/upholstery cleaner to hand, try the following home-made cleaner.
Make a solution of water and mild washing-up liquid in a deep bowl. Swish the water round with your hand vigorously to create a mass of foam.
This will be your cleaning agent. Take a white cloth and scoop up some of the foam with it. Work the foam into the stain. When you are satisfied it has gone, rinse with a solution of half and half water and white vinegar and blot well. Then rinse with plain water and blot well with a white kitchen towel to remove excess moisture.
Place a large wad of white kitchen towels on top, and weight them down (this draws the moisture into the paper towels and dries the carpet/upholstery quicker). When dry, vacuum the upholstery or brush carpet gently to bring up the pile. This cleaner works very well and has the added advantage that even the most chaotic household is likely to have a bottle of washing-up liquid to hand.
The Housewife's Handbook (Bloomsbury) by Rachel Simhon is available on www.amazon.com