If there's anyone who can throw down for the holidays, it's Martha Stewart -- and she knows more than just how to cook a turkey. See Martha's tips for navigating some of the season's stickier situations.
What is the correct way to lay out food on a buffet?
There are no rules governing the layout of a buffet, but an efficient setup and well-considered menu choices will keep food fresh and guests happy. Stack plates at the head of the table and silverware and napkins at the end. Arrange the table so guests can access food from both sides. Start with the main courses; for accompanying condiments, put one bowl on each side of the serving dish. Next come the sides; rather than using spoons and forks, provide nice-looking tongs, which will allow guests to serve themselves easily while holding a plate. For hot foods, heat platters first. Place cold foods on ice. (Don't put all the food out at once; refresh the buffet as needed.) Keep dessert in the kitchen until after the main meal.
Is there a polite way to encourage guests to take off their shoes in my house?
There's no need to be shy or apologetic about asking guests to remove their shoes. Lots of people follow a shoes-off policy in their home -- and not just in bad weather. So absolutely mention your preference to first-time visitors. When people arrive, say "We usually take our shoes off inside. Do you mind doing so?" You may find you don't even have to. When guests see others' footwear by the door, they may take the hint. You can also offer slippers or flip-flops. But if your guests seem uncomfortable removing their shoes, don't make an issue of it. Let them keep their shoes on.
What's a fitting gift to thank hosts for a weekend visit?
All tokens of appreciation should feel special and maybe even a little indulgent. But unless you know your hosts extremely well, they shouldn't be too personal. Consider something to eat or cook with. Choose something from a favorite purveyor in your town, such as preserves or local honey, or fill a basket with ingredients for a delicious yet simple meal. If you have a garden, bring some of its bounty. If you've known your hosts awhile and are sure of their tastes, pretty objects for the table, such as candleholders, are an option. Packaging should be beautiful but doesn't have to be showy or elaborate: Think parchment or tissue tied with twine. Then once you've settled in, pick a quiet moment to offer your present.
More from Martha Stewart:
19 Tips for Perfect Laundry Every Time
Instant Organization: Get It Together in 15 Minutes or Less
20 Super-Efficient, Super-Effective Ways to Clean All the Things
Don't Shelve These Clever Bookshelf Decorating Ideas
Bonus tip: Oysters make a festive (but surprisingly low-maintenance) addition to any party. Learn how to prepare them for your guests.