Carmen Miller

You could say I am a Party Girl.

Well, wait a minute - let me re-phrase, or at least qualify that.

I am just a bit too old to be any type of a "girl," and "Party Girl" has connotations that might not be the most flattering - again, at least at this stage of my life.

What I really mean is that I love a good party.

In particular, I love to host a good party.

Parties big and small, parties with themes, parties for no good reason at all - during the past 15 years, I have hosted and fed, literally thousands of people in my home, everyone from close friends and family to complete strangers. For a while, it was a bit of an obsession, and I have spent what many would consider way too much time, energy and brain power plotting, scheming, and planning parties, themes, events, menus, and guest lists.

I came by this fairly honestly, because I am actually a third-generation party-thrower.

My parents had lots of parties, as did my grandparents, who hosted a large wild game dinner well into their septegenarian years.

In my family, parties are just part of life.

It turns out I am part of a dying breed.

I think the ratio of parties I have hosted to parties I have attended is about 6:1.

This is not a complaint or criticism, but merely an observation.

Fellow party-throwers, you know what I mean.

Hosting is one of those things that people either love or hate.

Or you might be somewhere in the middle, sort of a party-throwing purgatory, where you like the theory, but are completely overwhelmed by the reality.

It appears that hosting is right up there with public speaking - one of those things people fear more than death.

The festive holiday months of November and December are filled with hosting opportunities.

Here are some tips to ease your party anxiety:

* Think ahead: Try to find menu items (like the one below) that can be made in advance and frozen.

In fact, this is something you can do year- round, which means at least the start of a great party is always in the freezer.

* Don't be a martyr: Make some, buy some, and assign some.

Too many people have an all-or-nothing approach to entertaining, thinking that they either have to cook everything, or have the whole thing catered at tremendous expense.

As with most things, reality is in the middle.

Play to your strengths, and make the things you know and love, then fill in the blanks with purchased and/or catered items.

* Get creative with timing: Not all parties have to be in the evening.

Embrace brunch, lunch, or after school gatherings.

* Don't worry if your house isn't spotless: Seriously, nobody will notice or care.

In fact, if you are having a large party in the winter, you might even consider waiting to scrub the floor until after the party, unless you really want to do it twice.

* Run the dishwasher when your party starts: This gives you a head-start on cleanup later in the night.

So here's my Holiday Be Home Challenge: THROW A PARTY.

It doesn't have to be big or fancy, and being home doesn't have to be boring.

Your house is first and foremost your home, but it is also a great venue for hosting family and friends.

Basic Cocktail Puffs (Gougere)

Makes about 20-24


1/2 cup of milk

1/2 cup of water

1 stick of unsalted butter

1 teaspoon of salt

1 cup of flour

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups grated gruyere or good-quality swiss or cheddar, or a combination

1. Preheat oven to 400. Combined the milk, water, salt and butter in a medium saucepan, and bring the mixture to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, and add the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon until a firm dough is formed. Add the eggs, one at a time, and stir vigorously until thoroughly incorporated. (This is a bit tricky - the consistency is slippery and weird, but improves with the addition of each egg.) Mix in the cheese.

2. Lightly butter a baking sheet, and spoon the dough into tablespoons-zied balls onto the sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, then decrease the oven temperature to 350. Bake until puffed and lightly browned, about 20 more minutes. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Gougere can also be frozen in single layered freezer bags for 203 months, and reheated in a 350-400 degree oven.