Smart Solutions: Get-together offers change to exchange cooking, decorating ideas

By Jeanine Matlow

 Holiday gatherings often yield new ideas for the home, from decorating to dining that can inspire our celebrations throughout the year.

That was the case for me at a private event hosted by a local restaurant owner where a group of women get together to share great tips and good times. I was able to invite a friend and meet some new people.

None of us had to clean our homes or worry about any of the other necessary prep associated with hosting.

The fact that it was held on a Tuesday night meant people were more likely to be available during the busy holiday season. Having a later start time made it easier for those who have other commitments or work full-time.

Potlucks offer a change to exchange recipes.

We were all asked to share holiday survival tips, a favorite appetizer or dessert and a tradition passed down through our family.

Though I knew this group would be creative, some even made their own serving pieces including one of my friends who crafted a plate and bowl out of peppermint candies. She also brought a cookie sheet to hold her items and the leftovers we all took home which I thought was a clever idea.

There were so many choices, from a Middle Eastern dish to a spinach dip with tips for personalizing the recommended recipe to your liking.

One friend brought the German chocolate chip cookies she originally made for her book club when they read “The Book Thief.”

Another was inspired by a sandwich she had at a vegetarian restaurant, so she created a smaller version on grilled baguette slices filled with mozzarella, tomato and pesto.

Those who knew me were well aware that cooking is not my forte. In fact, when someone was explaining how to make her breakfast casserole, I jokingly said she lost me when I heard the word “oven.”

I brought a tasty combination of fresh brie and oatcakes from the Cheese Lady in downtown Farmington, where I first learned about the perfect pairing. In addition, I brought a bottle of champagne to share along with some copies of holiday hacks from a former Homestyle column.

Despite the vast amount of talent around the room, there was no pressure to be perfect among the busy moms that get together to share some food and some fun.

After we sampled each other’s dishes, we all stood around a big table to talk about what we brought and share some pointers. Someone even taught me how to open my champagne that night, which is a skill I should have mastered by now. The detailed demonstration made the process less intimidating.

On the decorative side of entertaining, one friend shared the beauty behind the design of her Nora Fleming triple dish with hand-painted minis for any occasion. At the end of the evening, our gracious hostess demonstrated another convenient tip by providing takeout containers for leftovers.

With the next gathering tentatively scheduled for February, the tradition of getting together to share ideas really appeals to me. Who knows? There might even be a peppermint candy bowl or some other concoction that requires an oven in my future.

Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at