Is anyone a complete, hysterical maniac because they've planned a Christmas party and managed to invite twice as many people as they did last year? Anyone else besides me, that is?
Although Xanax is probably your (my) best bet right now, I've got a few books to recommend that might actually help you (and me) through the party-planning and -giving process. You'll need that maid though, to help you afterward.
I turned first to Amy Sedaris' new book, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, because it's brand, spankin' new, and Amy Sedaris is a complete nutcase. In a good way. Sort of that deep, unexpected type of funny Stephen Colbert practices, and in Sedaris' case, lives. It's no coincidence they collaborated on Sedaris' Strangers With Candy; these are people who share the same strange language.
Her pages are full of odd, almost hallucinogenic photos evoking the early seventies in all of it's kitschy glory. It's as if Amy Sedaris somehow found a way to regurgitate her unconscious preteen imprinting right onto the page without any kind filter at all. In fact, the pictures of Sedaris putting on pantyhose (pages 266-269) speak so profoundly about how un-sexy the the whole concept of pantyhose is, it's really worth buying the book just to get an automatic laugh when you need one or whenever you'd like a little jolt of self-esteem.
Yet her book is chock full of sincerely helpful advice in between pictures of Kleenex ghosts, meat loaf wreaths, and wine bottle rolling pins. Things like keeping notes (why, why, WHY didn't I do that last year?) about your party and an entire section on guest etiquette (i.e. never bring a guest without asking, bring what you said you'd bring and arrive on time with it, and don't come early) seem obvious on the surface, but somehow people don't think of these things on their own. I love the idea of converting your shower rod into a coat rack, and although I probably won't set up a indoor garage sale table by my front door ("Everything Must Go, 25 Cents"), I will try to pre-plan and to make as much food ahead of time as I can, so that I too can "take my time bathing, check for lumps, and dress leisurely."
Deep South Parties: Or, How to Survive the Southern Cocktail Hour Without a Box of French-Onion Soup Mix, a Block of Processed Cheese or a Cocktail Weenie by Robert St. John is a straightforward cookbook of Southern party food, some recipes updated and others classically preserved. He divides his books into sections, with titles like "Buffet Table" or "Out of the Freezer" with nice, large, reassuring quantities like "40-45 pastries" or "25-30 toasts" or, when referring to dips, an impressive "1 quart." This keeps math anxiety to the minimum. His recipes run the gamut from shrimp empanadas to pimento cheese, and that actually, is my problem with this book. I've been to a lot of parties with truly eclectic food choices tied to the ease of preparation instead of to the appropriateness of flavors, and St. John mirrors the Southern predilection for this kind of party. However, he also provides some great recipes to cherry pick: things like Tasso and Smoked Cheddar Savory Cheesecake or Creole-Mustard-Crusted-and-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin or a truly winning (no irony implied) Black-Eyed Pea Dip (it has Velveeta and Pepper-Jack and bacon fat!). Although not essential, St. John's book is nice to have around for a little culinary inspiration during the planning process. Oh, and there are some great pictures from the fifties and early sixties scattered throughout.
Now we need to get down to the nitty gritty. The scariest and perhaps most useful book of all, and if you're going to force me to admit it, the only book you really need is Nicole Aloni's Secrets from a Caterer's Kitchen. I hate this book. I'd much rather flip through Amy Sedaris's "Blind Date" chapter ("How to Remove Vomit Stains") or "Entertaining the Elderly," written in an extra-large font ("It's important to interact with the elderly after a big meal. This is touch-and-go time and they need all the stimuli you can muster.") Why confront the reality of giving a party when you can waste time flipping through amusing books instead?
See? I'm doing it right now! It's easy, and it's wrong, wrong, wrong. You didn't think parties were fun, did you? Those are other people's parties. Yours is lots of work, should involve lots of lists, and now that the invitations are in the mail, you're just going to have to live with that. Aloni, a real, actual caterer, has entire chapters devoted to how much food you'll need, given the number of guests you're expecting (i.e. 2.75 gallons of tiramisu for 75 or 12 lbs. of potatoes for 50). She shows you how to set a table, order from party rental companies (and how much stuff you'll need to get from them), and provides a lot of recipes which aren't quite as helpful as Robert St. John's because they only specify quantities for 6-8. She has a great planning timeline and an extremely useful little formula for choosing what to serve I've completely ignored. This book contains all the information you need--all of it--and it terrifies me. 14-16 lbs. of ground meat! 5 1/2 lbs. of couscous! One extra of everything for every ten guests! I can't even get people to RSVP, and I only have a week to go!
So practice the deep breathing you learned in that yoga class you took that time and read Secrets From a Caterer's Kitchen with pad and pencil in hand. And when it gets to be too much for you, fix a stiff drink and spend a little time with Amy Sedaris. As she reminds us, "(h)aving a party is one of the most creative and generous activities that every person can enjoy and indulge in, if you're on the list. Remember, by inviting someone into your home, you're saying 'I like you'." Even if you're actually hating all of your guests right now.
Amy Sedaris' Li'l Smokey Cheeseball
2 cups of shredded smoked Gouda cheese
16 ounces of cream cheese
1/2 cup of butter
2 1/2 tablespoons of milk
2 1/2 teaspoons of Steak Sauce
1 cupped of chopped nuts