Lessons Learned from the Worst Party Ever

I'll never forget the worst party I ever gave. It was 1969, my husband and I had just gotten married, and we were living in North Carolina. I decided to have a big Sunday brunch, and I wanted it to be fabulous. My first mistake was to invite 20 people I hardly knew. The second mistake was to spend a week getting ready, so I was exhausted before the first guest arrived. Worst of all, I decided to make a fresh omelet for each guest. Was I crazy?

As each person arrived, I had to run to the kitchen to fix a drink. Then everyone sat in a big circle in the living room while I spent what seemed to be hours at the stove making omelets, one at a time. There wasn't a sound from the living room -- no talking, no laughter. But how could there be? I was the hostess, but I was in the kitchen! It seemed like the longest day of my life, and I think it took me a year to build up the courage to give another party.

I knew immediately what I'd done wrong. A good party is not about the food, it's about the people. Now, I invite friends I really want to see. I make sure the music is fun, to get things going. I plan a menu that is more about assembling food than cooking. And finally, I make sure everything is ready before my friends arrive so I can be a guest, too.

That fancy brunch has evolved into Sunday breakfast. I have hot coffee in thermoses out where people can help themselves. The table is set with baskets of fresh bread, sour cream coffee cake, and raspberry and honey butters, and there are big platters of fresh fruit. Scrambled eggs and asparagus are passed, and we're all together at the table. We have a fun, relaxed morning, and I'm happy to have the time to spend with people I love.

Excerpted from Barefoot Contessa Parties! by Ina Garten Copyright 2001 by Ina Garten. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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