As many of you know from my Instagram account, I love to read. And not just fiction and non-fiction books – although I find myself reading lots of business books if I’m not careful. I also enjoy devouring entertaining books, craft books and kids books.
It turns out that there are thousands of books with lots of ideas about how to entertain better. Some of them are great (such as Amy Atlas’ Sweet Designs) and some not so much (a vague recollection of Lithgow Party Paloozas! (affiliate) comes to mind). Not sure that everyone is meant to write a book about entertaining.
But, I am on a mission to find the best ones and share them with you. First up – Whiskey in a Teacup: What Growing Up in the South Taught Me About Life, Love, and Baking Biscuits (affiliate) by Reese Witherspoon.
I love Southern entertaining. But as a life long Northeastern girl, it did take a little bit to get used to.
Living in Washington, DC for 15 years introduced me to a whole new way of hospitality. It was the warmth (not outside temperatures) that originally drew me to the city in the first place. Turns out that warm spirit comes from the city’s more Southern roots. Overall, people in Washington seemed cheerier than New York or Boston – the other two cities on my list. And they sure did like to entertain.
But I wasn’t quite ready for some of the nuances of entertaining in the South. I quickly learned about the joy of monograms – on everything. I will be honest here. I had never seen a monogrammed towel in my life until I stepped into some of our friends’ homes in Virginia.
And, oh the pineapples. They are everywhere. A quick stroll through our old neighborhood in Alexandria revealed pineapples as door knockers, on welcome mats, mailbox hatches and laid as designs onto front steps. It wasn’t until the third or fourth year living there that I realized the pineapple itself symbolized hospitality.
Nor was I expecting handwritten notes of regret when a few of our friends couldn’t travel North to our wedding. These were such a sweet surprise that I still have them to this day. They were so touching.
I did enjoy the introduction to the horse racing tradition – especially the Virginia Gold Cup. Wearing decorative hats and sipping mint juleps just seemed right.
With all of this background in Southern entertaining, I was really excited to read Reese Witherspoon’s new entertaining book Whiskey in a Teacup (affiliate).
I have always been a huge fan of Reese Witherspoon since high school. Especially her film Sweet Home Alabama (affiliate). Something about the Southern hospitality in that movie always made me a bit dreamy about the subject.
It doesn’t help that I also fell in love with other Southern entertaining blogs over the years including Pizzazzerie and Lavin Label. I’ve always loved how Southern entertaining looks. It really is a completely different world. They are a lot more formal than I think we are in the North. At least formal with color expectations. They love to use different patterns, vibrant colors and majestic symbols. It’s pretty neat when you think about it.
So, I found Reese Witherspoon’s take on Southern entertaining quite enlightening. Throughout the book, she shares ways to achieve what her late grandmother Dorothea called “a combination of beauty and strength that made Southern women ‘whiskey in a teacup.’” Sounds interesting enough.
Reese combines recipes, family get togethers, party guides, hundred years old traditions and splashes of other things definitively Southern all in one guide. It was so much fun to read. Although I’m not sure how many of these elements I will be adding to my own hospitality – I live in the North mind you – I certainly enjoyed learning about them.
That being said, I am not sure how realistic much of the book is for everyday entertaining. The 300 plus pages of gorgeous photography, though, is really fun browsing. And sometimes you need a book (or two) on your shelf that are an inspiration just to page through.
I do think it’s more usable than most of my Martha Stewart books. And there are some wonderful recipes that I can’t wait to try that seem overly intimidating.
She even included short cuts for the modern day cook. Yes, Cool Whip does find a space on the page.
I personally can’t wait to try her grandmother’s Corn Salad or her recipe for Summer Squash Casserole this summer. Maybe I can bring a hint of the South back home with these recipes.
The Party Ideas
If you are looking for party ideas, Reese delivers with several party themed chapters. You can learn how to throw a Full Moon BBQ, Steeplechase Picnic, Book Club Party (I originally thought you just needed the book and a bottle of wine) and ideas for many different holiday celebrations.
There are even tips to hosting a Southern wedding and baby shower. She shares food to serve, decoration ideas and activities for guests. Just by using her guides, you can host your own similar affairs. This can be quite helpful for the more realistic party host. Sometimes it’s nice when people tell you how to pull an event off successfully. Although that’s what Pinterest is for, it’s great when all of the ideas are located in one book.
I did try not to get intimidated when she explains that most ladies she knows decorate for every season of the year. Sadly, even though this is a goal this year, I am still staring at the kids’ gingerbread houses in the dining room. No one has had the heart to say good bye.
And none of the Valentine’s Day decorations ever made it up this year. I must not be included in her “most of the ladies” category. She even says they switch out china. I’m happy to have one set and couldn’t even imagine storing a second.
Although some of her party guides might seem a bit over the top – hosting a Kentucky Derby party and Steeplechase get together seems a bit repetitive for one horse racing season – other celebration ideas were really simple.
For example, she suggests hosting a hot chocolate get together around the holidays. And serving exactly that. Hot chocolate. I mean you could add some Christmas cookies or punch. But, you can also serve only hot chocolate and call it a night.
Not every celebration has to include intricate details. You can keep them simpler and your guests will have just as much fun.
Art of the Introduction
One of my biggest takeaways from Whiskey in a Teacup (affiliate) was when Reese Witherspoon reviewed the art of the introduction. I can just imagine how many people she meets every day. And she seems so pleasant and kind. Her belief, though, is that people can’t always remember who you are. Nor should they have to. We all meet new people constantly. So, introduce yourself. And introduce yourself again.
This works up until a point. After reading this part of the book, I found myself introducing myself to the same person for the umpteenth time the other day. Finally, one person just looked at me and said, “I know who you are now”. Whoops! Maybe too much introducing is not a great thing.
But being polite in social situations is important. I have noticed over the years that no one introduces themselves at all any more. We all usually just stand there like statues. So, I am starting to step out of my shell and say hello first. It removes any awkwardness of the new situation.
Importance of Monograms
She also explains the importance of monograms. Actually, she dedicates an entire chapter to the subject.
It turns out that in the South, at least Reese Witherspoon’s South, monograms are on everything. Having never owned a monogrammed item in my life, I think Reese would believe I am missing out.
Not so sure about that. But, it was interesting how deep the monogram tradition runs. Not all is lost, though. I did purchase some monogrammed hooded towels for the kids from a friend a few years back. Of course, she was from Georgia and her whole house was monogrammed. But I feel better knowing that my family has their own touch of the South to remember their childhood by.
If you are looking for a hospitality gift for a Southern hostess, it seems that you can’t go wrong with something monogrammed. And Etsy is a great place to look for handmade monogram options. In a simple search for monogram hostess gifts, I discovered stationery, tea towels, coasters, cheese boards, wine glasses and many more choices.
One of the hostess tips that Reese shares from her grandmother I thought was quite interesting. She recommends inviting people of different ages and backgrounds to your gatherings.
This happened in Washington a lot. When we were young 20 somethings, we had become friends with an older couple. Seems this is normal in the South. I was pleasantly surprised when we attended these friend’s New Year’s Eve party. It turned out there were people there from all ages and backgrounds. And it lead to a most interesting evening. Maybe our hosts were just following this Southern rule of entertaining.
But there is something to be said about mixing it up when you can. I love to invite people from all different backgrounds. Especially to a dinner party. It keeps the conversation interesting.
Sadly, I don’t host a lot of dinner parties any more with our growing family. But when I do again, I will be sure to try and follow this rule.
Overall, I recommend Reese’s new entertaining book. If anything, it’s a beautiful book to page through on a rainy day. The vibrant colored photos and simple sayings from her grandmother deliver such nostalgia. It makes you want to embrace living in the South if you don’t already. Even for just a minute.
And the book doesn’t seem to try too hard. Reese is so welcoming with her writing and the layout is easy to read. You can try a checklist, recipe or craft with a simple flip of the page. Unlike other entertaining books where a lot of ideas seem out of reach, these are more reachable. Alright, I am probably not going to switch out my china for Christmas. But I will use the china that I currently have. Proudly.
If you’re looking for another point of view from this book, check out this review from the New York Magazine. Rachel Handler attempted to recreate parts of this book in her own life. Although she seemed to need a few more resources (and time), her attempts are worthy of a good laugh. She does try the part in the book I was staying far away from – hair rolling. Not sure Reese needed to devote an entire chapter to preparing your hair for the ball. But, you know. Not every entertaining book is perfect.
Next month we will be looking at a new entertaining book that I am REALLY excited about – Entertaining with Disney: Exceptional Events from Mickey Mouse to Moana. Who doesn’t like entertaining with the Mouse? I recently started paging through it and the photos are absolutely gorgeous. Can’t wait to check it out further.