Hostess Hacks

Shortcuts for re-emerging entertainers


By Maria Johnson

It’s no surprise that Barbara Partlow — who organizes events for the Greensboro Newcomers Club — ranks as a party pro, given the hundreds of soirees, bashes, showers and get-togethers that she’s hosted over the years.

And when we say she “hosts,” we don’t mean she dials up a caterer and waits for the doorbell to ring while she lolls on a chaise and files her nails — which, by the by, were a kicking shade of green on the day we visited her.

We mean she makes most of the food, decorations and favors. Perhaps most important, she emits a playful vibe that sets the table for good times

In short, Barbara, who moved to Greensboro three years ago, is the party.

She can talk about dang near anything, having been a telephone operator, a pediatric nurse, a cattle rancher, a stained-glass sculptor, a basket weaver and a leather-bound motorcycle mama; she bossed a Honda Shadow 500 if you must know.

Oh, and she used to host a Christmas cookie-and-ornament exchange party that was once featured in Southern Living magazine.

Trust us. We cannot make up this kind of life.

Once divorced and twice widowed, Barbara is also the mother of two grown sons, both ex-Marines, and one quick-to-lick dachshund, Wee, short for Kenweeken. The pup’s name alludes to how Barbara’s second husband eventually allowed her to get a dog.

“Ken weakened,” she says, dissolving into contagious giggles.

If you can’t have a good time with this woman, you’d best stay home.

With a recent uptick in social dos, especially among the vaccinati, we thought it would be a good time to pick Barbara’s brain for some tried-and-true entertainment pointers. Here are some of her basics:

*Figure out the food a couple of weeks ahead of time. If there’s a theme, let the chow reflect it, but don’t go gourmet on everything. “Sometimes, the simplest is the best,” says Barbara, who deals cheese, crackers, fruit and baked hummus with the best of them. “A little shrimp goes a long way,” she adds. Ditto cucumber fans (see recipe below). For meatier chow, she makes big batches ahead of time, freezes manageable portions, then thaws and heats as needed.

*Easy on the equipment. Barbara uses white, king-size flat sheets as tablecloths. You can fold them to any size, she says, and jazz them up with runners of inexpensive fabric-store yardage. To add elegance and maximize serving space, use cake stand or tiered servers. No cake stands? Wrap a box in funky paper and stick a plate on top.

* Competitive games? No dice, Barb says. Someone’s gonna lose, which sucks the air out of the most buoyant guest. “And some people won’t want to play, so what’re you gonna do with them?”

* Music? If you must do audio, keep it low. You’re at a party, not a concert. The goal is to get people talking to each other. “The best parties, to me, are when you hear a lot of chatter and a lot of laughter,” she says.

Finally, take it easy on yourself if you’re hosting. Set up your serving area beforehand. Clean the house, but don’t go nuts. If you forget something “critical,” shush. Most people won’t know about it, and the ones who do know probably won’t care.

“They’re there to have a good time,” Barbara says.


A week before your party, take several slices of firm bread, such as wheat or rye, and remove crusts. Cut into 2-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter. Absent a cutter, slice crustless bread into 2-inch squares. Store in a bag. Two days before your gathering, slice a cucumber as thinly as possible. Lay the rounds on paper towels, on a flat dish or pan. Salt lightly. Cover with more paper towels, refrigerate overnight. The next day, spread the bread generously with herbed cheese spread. Barbara likes the Alouette brand. Fetch the cuke rounds. Fold them gently in half, then again into quarters. Stick three or four of the cuke fans, pointed ends first, into the center of the cheese-covered bread. “As they’re sitting there, they’ll unfold,” says Barbara. “They’re visually impressive.” Place the finished fans in a food container, cover with a damp paper towel, seal, refrigerate. The next day, serve at your party. OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. Contact her at



Photograph By Lynn donovan

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