1. Take a trip to a nearby botanic garden and spend the afternoon enjoying the sunshine while walking among the flowers and trees. This is a nice twist on giving Mom flowers on Mother's Day. Plus, the weather this time of year is absolutely lovely.
2. Swing by your favorite bakery to pick up a selection of pastries and then brew a pot of Mom's favorite tea at home. Linger over afternoon tea without the crowds waiting impatiently for your table. Dresses and fancy hats are optional!
3. Picnic in the park with a blanket and a simple lunch of baguette, brie, grapes, and italian soda. This is perfect if you want to include the family dog in the Mother's Day festivities!
Mother's Day is on Sunday so you don't have much time left to shop, so why not give Mom the gift of your presence this year? Now, I know that brunch is an ever popular Mother's Day activity, but getting a reservation can be a nightmare and don't even get me started on how crowded the restaurant will be. Instead, try one of these activities that require very little planning and give you both an opportunity to relax and enjoy each other's company:
4. Head to your local garden store to pick up some bright annuals and then plant them in containers on Mom's front porch. Don't forget to stick a bottle of prosecco in the fridge ahead of time so you have something delicious to enjoy after finishing your hard (but fun) work!
Hosting a party brings to mind days of prep, long (and expensive) grocery lists, and fretting over the guest list. That level of work is not realistic everytime you want to host your friends at your place, but you can still put out a spread that will maintain your reputation as a great hostess. Although an informal gathering is about the people, it is nice to offer more than just a bag of chips and a 2-liter of soda, especially if you think the group will keep the conversation going late into the night.
Set expectations. If you are known for making wonderful cocktails or elaborate meals, it can feel like that is expected of you everytime you invite people over. Make it clear exactly what your guests should expect. For example, earlier this week I invited a few friends over for cake and beer to belatedly celebrate a birthday. I didn't worry about providing a selection of wine or liquor besides what was already in my fridge. When extending invitations, keep it simple. Promising one drink and one type of food is more than enough. If you are concerned that your gathering time is too close to a meal, clarify by saying, "I hope you'll join us for wine and cheese before dinner!" If you decide later that you want to provide more, that is a bonus.
Cheese plates make a big statement. There are lots of guides to the perfect cheese plate on the internet, but for an informal gathering, you don't need to strive for perfection. Instead choose items that you would be happy to eat as leftovers. I always keep crackers and cinnamon almonds in the cupboard and a bunch of grapes on the shelf of my fridge, so those were easy additions to the spread. I also set out two types of mustards (already in my fridge) and a jar of my mom's homemade peach-rhubarb jam to add a bit of variety. So far, nothing on the cheese plate was beyond my normal grocery list. Choosing the cheeses can be nerve-wracking, but unless you are hosting a bunch of cheese snobs, people will just be happy to have something to snack on. Brie is a popular cheese and at Trader Joe's the domestic brie is less than half the cost per pound (at $4/lb). This means you can get a big hunk for about $3 that will take up a lot of space on your platter. A hard cheese is a nice addition and the one pictured above is a syrah-soaked Tuscano (also from Trader Joe's). It tastes good and it adds a bit of color. My third choice was a gouda, partly because I was looking for variety and partly because I could get a decent wedge for about $3. All in all, the cheeses came to under $10 which is not much more than a few bags of chips would run you. I also picked up a packet of sliced salami and a baguette, which only added another $5 and had the added benefit of being my dinner that night. But when my friends walked in, they all commented on how nice the cheese plate looked.
A homemade dessert is always appreciated. Everyone should have a go-to baked good that they feel confident making. It doesn't matter if you serve the same thing everytime you host friends. Something sweet and homemade automatically makes a gathering feel special, even if you are just getting together to catch up. One of my favorite baked goods is a sweet potato and bourbon bundt cake sprinkled with powdered sugar (adapted from Bakerella) because it works equally well with brunch or dinner. But for this gathering I made cupcakes (using a no-fail recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook) because we were celebrating a birthday and chocolate-irish cream cake balls (a mix of recipes from Bakerella and TheKittchen) because I was in a baking mood. If you are serving other food in addition to the dessert, one serving per person plus a couple extras should suffice. If the dessert is your only food, aim for making two servings per person plus a few extras. I love to have people over because it gives me a reason to bake. Since I live alone and don't have a lot of self-control around delicious desserts, I rarely bake something just for me to enjoy.
Remember to have fun! When you host a large or food-intensive party, it is easy to get caught up in taking coats and refilling plates. When you are hosting an informal gathering, choose a menu that won't need any attention once the first guest walks through the door. Snag a seat for yourself and don't be afraid to direct your friends to the fridge instead of refilling all the glasses yourself. After all, the whole point is for you and your guests to enjoy each other's company!