Creating a ‘Mini-Oasis’ Small Dinner Party!

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Do your “open plan” spaces sometimes feel a bit TOO open for intimate dinners? Feel like just being cozy for a night? I have just the solution!

Sometimes my house is too full of LEGO and Nerf Bullets and I really don’t want to clean it ALL just for one dinner, or I’m just too busy cooking to really care… or maybe I just want my guests closer to the Kitchen where I’m stationed – either way, a Mini-Oasis has become my NEW FAVORITE THING!

I had a dinner scheduled for 6 people, and even though our Dining room is open to the Kitchen I felt like it was too far for me to be involved in conversation as guests sat, chatted and enjoyed the courses I was planning. Full disclosure – the Dining Table was FULL of crap I didn’t have the energy to attend to, either. In a moment of SHALL I SAY GENIUS problem-solving haha I thought ‘what if I use the ’empty’ space between my Island and the Dining room?’!

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It started fairly humbly – an IKEA fold-up table with one of my pre-cut plywood tops was perfect for a small party of 6. But what of the mess around the rest of the house I had neither the time nor the inclination to clean?

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SO inspired to do this again AND SOON!

HOUSE PLANTS! I’ve kept larger house plants for years originally for air quality with all our allergy-sufferers here, but now mostly because they’re less likely to die than smaller plants. In their pots, they’ve also proven portable, so they were the perfect solution for hiding the rooms we weren’t using while creating a beautiful, intimate space right next to the Kitchen.

PRO tip

If you have the space to extend your table, keep it simple with a sturdy fold up table and a plywood top cut to match the width of your Dining table.

VOILA! Extra seating space on demand.

BONUS: You can use your fold up / plywood on it’s own for smaller parties!

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It turned out so beautifully, I’ll definitely be repeating it for small dinners to come. I’ve also since propagated my Monstera and Banana Leaf plants, so now I have 5 more larger plants (for FREE!) to add to the Collection.

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Happily a guest brought this tall pink plant (??) to plant in our yard, so for dinner it contributed perfectly to the screening of the adjacent Living Room (also messy… #sorrynotsorry

For a larger summer party last year, I took the big plants all outside to create an outdoor oasis and it was perfect – but next time I have to be sure to bring them back in doors by the next am or they start to die, apparently LOL…

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Can you say YARD GOALS?! I may or may not have a few of these Hydrangea snippings to start in pots in my own garden!!

It was such a good idea indoors, I’m even going to try to carry it outdoors this year by putting gorgeous Hydrangeas and Lavender in pots that can be – by someone much stronger than I LOL – moved to surround the table when desired.

What do you think? Would you try this??
What would you add to make your mini-oasis dinner that little bit EXTRA?!


about last NIGHT | 19.12.31 New Years Eve

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HAPPY New Years 2020!!
Who else is excited for a whole new decade?!

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Tablescape with vintage silver chargers and “base plates” to carry all the plated dishes to come!

My 2019 ended with another e p i c a l l y delicious NYE dinner with fellow cook, El Jefe Chef Fong, and our “sous-chef’s” May and Jenny.

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Lobster claws getting prepped by El Jefe Chef Fong for Bisque

The “NYE Cookathon” tradition began when we had small boys at home and didn’t want to pay for babysitting AND dinner out. And so, with me looking for a cooking challenge, we spent our first NYE at home, with Hubby putting together IKEA furniture and my beloved Nana helping in the Kitchen. We’d sit every hour or so, once I’d finished cooking a dish, then go back to boys/chores or cooking the next course. In between, we’d write a list of all the ups and downs the previous year had brought us.

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Dehydrated Blood Orange slices for Whiskey Sours

As the years wore on, the food became more complex – and more delicious! Or not – after an evening of wine, one out of 10 dishes ends up biting it… On the whole, though it was actually BETTER food than eating out at most places anyhow, so it became a tradition. At some point friends with their kids starting joining in and it’s grown to about 10 of us who gather each year, kids upstairs with a giant batch of mac + cheese, adults at the table eating the “good stuff” haha.

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Beef Tartare from the Tenderloin “off-cuts” – simply beautiful

This NYE the Menu wasn’t as complex as previous years (8 courses of French Laundry and 3 days of cooking, anyone?!), but still DELICIOUS – and more relaxing! It’s a mix of French + Italian, and all over YUMMY. I think all the guests were pleasantly full and fully pleased.

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NEW YEARS EVE

Whiskey Sours w Blood Orange

Beef Tartare, Smokered Salmon

Scallop Brown Butter Risotto w
Black Truffle

Lobster Claw Bisque w
Creme Fraiche + Caviar

Beef Tenderloin w Jus

Wild Mushrooms + Broccolini

Crispy Duck Confit + Blood Orange Salad

Cheese Course

Chocolate Souffle w Eggnog
Creme Anglaise

incl Wine Pairings + Champagne

19.12.31
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akHOME MYakHOME theakHOMEkitchen akCOOKS Food Home Cook Entertain Tablescape Tablescapes Entertaining Style Tablestyle New Years Eve Dinner Brown Butter Scallop Risotto with Black Truffle

Personal touches included Salmon that Kid Tt smoked out in my new Weber Smoker, and Risotto and Bisque from my end-of-summer Stock cook. I also took a half of blood orange for the salad and dehydrated slices for the Whiskey Sours – UM, YUM! None of the recipes were new, which made it fun to play with some new ingredient additions instead.

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The whole family got involved for the first time, with our eldest making some amazing Whiskey Sours, the younger daughter taking charge of the tablescape, and one of our sons doing the smoking – such a fun event to host as a family!

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How did YOU ALL celebrate the closing of the ’10’s, ringing in the roaring 20’s?!
However you did, I’m wishing you an incredible 2020 and decade ahead!

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10 TIPS on How to Entertain Big Groups (in Small Spaces)

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I serve a lot of dinners for just the fam (of 6), and I often entertain in small dinner parties for 6-12 people, but 4 times a year it’s a literal big group free-for-all in my home. Open invitation to family, friends who think they’re family, and friends who don’t have family locally (typical in bigger cities) – even friends who bring THEIR whole family!

I like to know everyone has at least ONE option for Easter/Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and end-of-Summer, even if that means they have to hang out w me!

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the CREW

Some of these started pretty humble and small – and many ‘original’ guests from 15 yrs ago yearn for those quieter days back – but adding new people also keeps things interesting and lively! Since we see some of the same people consistently throughout the year, it’s nice a few times a year to really MIX IT UP with a crazy crew of humans we call friends.

These lovely humans range from newborn to 90; from Designers to non-Designers (haha – yes there IS a such species – who knew?! But I’m sure they all WISH they were Designers…); from single to married or divorced or widowed; to kids or no kids; from straight or gay; Christian or athiest; and to anyone and everyone in between.

The crew has grown up to 65 people – so far. For the record, I do NOT have a big, or luxurious – or even clean – home. I guess people like food and wine in tight knit spaces, so they cram in anyhow haha. At least sometimes w Easter and always for Summer, we can expand or set up outdoors, but Thanksgiving and Winter is ALL INSIDE. And it gets hoooooot inside, Baby.

As you can imagine, I’ve learned a FEW things over the past 15 years of entertaining to a larger scale in a pretty small space (my Kitchen/Dining/Living is only about 700 sf total (thanks to hellish VANCOUVER REAL ESTATE prices!!), so here goes!


10 Tips for Entertaining
Big Groups in Small Spaces

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Push all the major furniture to the edges of the room. It gives you the most flexibility with walking through, standing room, seating, etc. Also, extra tip here, if you use a long table cloth you can push all your loose crap under a table pushed against the wall and no one will know. Not even me.

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Once all the big tables and sofas have been pushed, fill the nooks and crannies back in with small 2-3 seat vignettes for people to sit and chat. It helps disperse the crowd, rather than have 30 people in one spot.

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Prepare at least one big, fat, main protein (whether meat or not – a main course that’s warm and sustainable) and a couple of sides to feed the whole group at ONE helping – then you don’t have to stress over what the guests bring (unless it’s ALL dessert LOL).

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Serve only dishes that can be served at room temperature, like Turkey that, once sliced, can be used for mini-sandwiches. Then you can be done and out of the kitchen before guests even arrive, glass of wine in hand as you float about the room!

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Let your guests bring everything else. At our big parties, no guest arrives without a meal item and bottle of wine to share. Takes alllllllll the pressure off the Host(ess) – me -, and now everyone can socialize – even me. Guests are usually happy to contribute, and if not, they’ll still do it if you ask – and if they want to be invited back!

LET THE PEOPLE DO THE THINGS. Let go of control. 90% of the people who are coming know us well enough to just walk in, meaning I don’t have to rush to the door every time the bell rings. If someone needs a ladle or a platter, I tell them where to find it so they know their way around my Kitchen, vs me always getting up to do it. Not only does it relieve my stress, people actually feel more ‘at home’ knowing their way around.

Feel free to keep decorations and flowers at a minimum. With crowds this big, no one will really notice, and room for plates / wine / food / WINE etc will be of utmost importance. I limit it to one small display on the main food table. That’s it.

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Encourage guests to take lots of photos – and send them to you! Even with all the pressure off your plate, simply going around to say HI to everyone will fill your evening and you won’t do it.

ASK FOR HELP! I’ve gotten pretty good at nailing down early-comers with a “can you put out the cutlery?”, “grab some boxwood sprigs please!”, or “can you run for ICE?!” (every time! when will I learn to keep ice on hand?!).

Don’t bother w the good china. This is not the time. Paper plates (albeit PRETTY ONES) are just fine this round, unless you want to do dishes for 65 people. I don’t. Keep your stress down, even after the party!


Got a full house this Holiday Season?
What tips / tricks do you use to entertain with ease??

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ENTERTAIN | Elevating your Food

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It can’t be just me – you know you’ve done it, too!

Back in the day (maybe two whole years ago) there was a time when a box covered in cloth (Guilty!) or the ubiquitous round cake stand were the two most popular options for creating height, interest, drama for and easy access to food on a tablescape.

Not one to be drawn to anything I saw mass produced in the shops, and being a big dinner party / party host, I started to design the Food Trays – and all of lifes problems were suddenly SOLVED! Well, ok, it wasn’t quite that simple. The designs evolved, artisans were found, and almost 18 months later…

Food – ELEVATED.

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The first artisan on board was Birdman the Welder who helped out with the bent steel and beautiful goes-with-everything — champagne gold — powdercoating. It was important to me that the FOOD stood out, but could be easily accessible on a crowded table, and that the two sizes nested JUST RIGHT into each other. Love! They nailed it.

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Yep, more Garden Parties!

Next up was Kristine Webber c e r a m i c s! OH how I love this lady – and her dedication to my little project. Apparently “let’s just cut out rectangles and fire them up!” is not how ceramics work (yes, I’m learning a LOT about materials LOL).

Kristine worked tirelessly to create a ceramic base that would lay flat on a tray, was the perfect color and texture – LOVE texture – and could even be put in the dishwasher!!!

They turned out beautifully, and were eventually short-listed for a ceramics award 🙂

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Trays beautifully hold up food & herbs

PRO TIP

You can also add various heights with plants/flowers, candles, pretty water jugs, and food like whole lemons.

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They turned out so beautifully, in fact, that stock sold out – TWICE – and I added wood trays by the uber-talented Willow & Stump (Western Living’s Furniture Designer of the Year 2018) as well as some etched marble trays for some beautiful mixing and matching on any variety of tablescapes and dinner themes.

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The cascading charcuterie is always the perfect use of the nesting tables

Perfectly suited for cascading charcuteries, no?! It’s been an amazing experience to work with so many talented local artisans – every piece is unique and absolutely made with love!

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Bridal Shower goodies! YUM!

The best part is seeing how YOU all use the Food Trays! Like this bridal shower above. I use the trays for everything from Taco Tuesday (what better way for everyone to reach the hot sauce?!) to ‘the holder of my office trinkets’ on my desk.

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The work desk in my house <3 I smile at the little salvaged bits and pieces every time I sit – what a great way to start some work…

Do you entertain a lot? What would you use the “Food” Trays for? Tag #MYakHOME and @alisonkent_home on your Insta to share!

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