Activites are to a party what jumper cables are to a stalled car—they make it zoom. The mission: Locate your inner child and take her on a play date. The strategy: Hire a pro and serve up an evening or an afternoon of organized indulgence—like on-the-spot-manicures, pedicures, and massages; a mix-your-own fragrance counter; or sessions with a psychic.
A smorgasbord of indulgent ideas to get your next party party started
The Treats: French fries? Too fast food. Baked? Too virtuous. But mashed potatoes are both homey and wicked. For fun, we served ours in martini glasses: six sophisticated mixes ranging from classic cheddar, bacon and chives to a southwestern version with smoked jalapeños and lime butter.
The Raves: Top vote-getters were the black olive and thyme and the smoked salmon, crème fraîche, and salmon roe. "It's comfort food, but all glammed up," said senior copy editor Susanne Ruppert.
The How-tos: Mash up a batch of potatoes—or, better yet, hire a cook or a caterer to do it. Get recipes from any cookbook, or try the recipes we used. Lay in a supply of tiny throwaway spoons for tasting.
The Variation: A sushi feast. If you've never made your own maki, Sushi Made Easy by Nobuko Tsuda will help your party get rolling.
The Treats: Thai massage is ideal for a semi-public party scene because guests needn't undress—although their groans of pleasure might be audible to the whole gang. This graceful, yoga-based treatment is a workout in which you do none of the work.
The Raves: "I think I'm on another plane of existence," said associate editor Catherine Gundersen.
The How-tos: Set aside a quiet room or corner lit by rows of fat candles. Find a licensed Thai practitioner from the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTAMassage.org). You might want to do a trial run!
The Variations: For a sole-stirring affair, treat each guest to reflexology—a treatment in which the practitioner applies pressure to reflex points on the hands and feet in order to relax other parts of the body. A good source for therapists is www.Reflexology-USA.org. Or, throw an all-natural spa party: WomanHT.com has recipes for delectable facials (bananas and honey) and hair masks (heavy on the avocado).
The Treats: The olfactory equivalent of a very upscale salad bar, the fragrance table lets guests have perfume their way. "We will do fragrance fittings, like a dress," said Laurice Rahme, president of Creed USA, the English and French perfume house. Using test strips dipped in beakers of scent (everything from roses to tobacco), she sniffed out each woman's preferences, then mixed the elements into a signature fragrance.
The Raves: "This is the most sybaritic and haute couture thing I've ever done," said beauty director Valerie Monroe, while she blended notes of green jasmine, Sicilian lemon and bergamot. "It's my own unique scent—I call it Eau de Val."
The How-tos: Help guests follow their noses—find inspiration and scent recipes at PioneerThinking.com.
The Treats: If you're sweet on ice cream, here's a chance to let your inner kid get creative. We had tubs of vanilla ice cream, plus sprinkles, strawberries, walnuts, hot fudge, butterscotch, whipped cream, and, of course, maraschino cherries. Everyone built her own sundae, with only a brief pause before demolition began.
The Raves: "Ice cream, sprinkles and whipped cream—what could be more festive?" asked art director Suzanne Noli, scraping the bottom of the dish with her spoon.
The How-tos: Load up on the fixings, heat up the fudge, and invite guests to dig in. (Forget having dinner first—this is the main event.) Or, you can get a sundae party package (choice of three sizes) from BedfordFarmsIceCream.com.
The Variation: A cookie party could be as much fun as the sundaes, and cozier if it's cold where you are. You and your guests will mix up basic dough, then decorate like crazy and bake.
The Treats: O had wine consultant Jerri Banks set up a bar where she introduced guests to six different types of wine in all colors—white, rosé, red (try this tasting list)—that were light- to medium-bodied and "easy to drink."
The Raves: "I've always liked Cabernet," said Kori Scott, editorial business coordinator and office manager, "and it's nice to know that you can drink it with any food. No more anxiety about which wine goes with what."
The How-tos: Progress from lighter vintages to drier, heavier ones so your palate doesn't get overwhelmed. Between wines, rinse your mouth (and your glass) and eat unsalted crackers. For more ideas, go to www.Wine-Tasting-Party.com.
The Variation: Another kind of buzz can be had from a chocolate tasting.
You could also do a nail party (buy a wild assortment of colors; have a manicurist pay a house call); take a group lesson in belly dancing, square dancing, or any sort of movement that helps you get your groove (we used gifted sisters Veena and Neena—their video series, Bellydance Fitness for Beginners, will have you shimmying in no time); or invite guests to discover their destiny via a session with a psychic (or go to DestinyTarot.com to get an online reading). And to send your friends home with more than memories, fill goody bags with party favors—like the cookbook One Potato, Two Potato, by Roy Finamore and Molly Stevens; Andrea Immer's Wine Buying Guide for Everyone; a manicure-pedicure set; or a belly-dancing kit complete with veils and spangles.