How to Throw a Party With Supplies Sourced From the Corner Store

December 10, 2015

Entertaining on the fly can be a frustrating ordeal—the checklist of needs feels insurmountable (flowers! dessert! take-home gifts! decor!), the maze of places to stop on the way home, daunting. And all those errands have to be run while you brainstorm a meal that doesn't offend your temporarily gluten-free, vegetarian BAE.

But we believe in your spontaneity. Your ability to make do—and better. You can throw a party anytime you get the itch, even if you only decide to do it while you're heading home on the subway. By making one strategic stop at the corner store, bodega, or pharmacy, you can pick up all the supplies you need to pull off a great dinner party with no planning at all. Interior designer Cate Caruso (you might remember her pink velvet couch) is known by her friends as the kind of person who tricks you into staying for dinner every time you see her—and she let us in on the essential supplies she scoops up on the way home to make it possible.

Cate surveying a selection of bodega flowers.

Last-Minute Party Supplies:

Buds and Unscented Candles (For Decorating)

Cate's local bodega is admittedly flush with flower options that your local CVS might not have—but she specifically chose inexpensive types that seem to pop up everywhere during colder months: magnolia leaves, ornamental cabbages, and thistle. "Look for flowers with structure or volume," she suggests, since they're easier to arrange simply. If your store is low on inventory, you could pick up hydrangea or pale roses, or forage sprays of ferns from your planters.

Ornamental cabbages have inherent volume, like roses or peonies, that makes them easy to arrange.

"Don’t get overwhelmed by all the possible iterations of table decor," Cate says. "Instead choose one colorful thing and let that guide the rest of the palette and tablescape." To keep the thistle from feeling stiff and prickly, Cate cut the stems at a variety of heights to give dimension to the arrangement.

Trimming thistle, which isn't actually prickly.

Cate bundled the stems of the magnolia leaves with twine and tucked the thistle into tall silver containers she pulled off a shelf. Realistically, shopping for a vase is going to be a waste of your time on the day of the party; Cate encourages hosts to be creative with what they've got on hand.

Play with scale. Small bud vases go a long way. Tall narrow vases are easy to arrange. If you don’t have any, use a tall water glass and wrap the stems in twine or ribbon for a more decorative touch.

Bundled magnolia branches become sculptural on the table.

To keep cut flowers fresh for longer, Cate spritzes a little Windex in the water before adding the stems. "It kills any bacteria in the water that might cause them to die sooner," she says. "Use bleach if you have it, but countertop cleaner will work in a pinch."

How to keep your flowers alive for longer.

She also picked up some tall candles that seem to be sold at every bodega in New York: "Cheap candles will do the trick for the night—as long as they aren’t scented!" Votives are nice and twinkly, but something taller will feel more elegant.

Left: candle shopping, right: grabbing twine and washers to wrap the take-home presents.

Nuts & Chocolate (For Appetizers, Take-Home Gifts, and Dessert)

Cheese dip is amazing and all, but a jaunt to the specialty store for Emmenthaler and Gruyère might not be an ideal pit stop on your way home. Instead, Cate suggests making a nut mix—because even nuts and herbs are something you can find at the corner store (maybe you even have the latter growing at home?).

Cate had Parmesan cheese and a few links of salumi that bulked up this appetizer plate, but just the nut mix would be plenty. "I recommend doubling the batch," she says, "because then you can send each guest home with some after the party."

A quality piece of chocolate is dessert in and of itself—but also the start of so many simple pantry dive desserts (we like melting it down to mix with nuts and marshmallows to make Rocky Road). Plus, it's something that even a corner store stocks.

Shop the Story

Cate also keeps carafes of infused vodkas in the freezer—"Basically everything infuses for two months and then you have a beautifully colored, playful punch at the end of the meal!"—which feels very special but doesn't include a lick of night-of prep time to serve.

Chocolate and rhubarb sipping vodka with a side of thistles: remedy for a cold day.

Parchment & Ribbon or Twine (For Gift Wrap)

To gift wrap the leftover walnuts, Cate used parchment, holiday ribbon, and little gold and silver washers that she picked up at the hardware store. Instead of trying to pick up little gifts to give at the end of the night, just plan to send your friends home with extra appetizers, dessert, or even a bottle of whatever you were drinking—done up with extra ribbon you've saved from presents for this purpose (that's what Cate does).

Festive DIY doggy bags use parchment, ribbon, and washers.

Eggs (For Dinner)

If you don't have a carton of eggs in the fridge, we can't help you. (Just kidding!) But truly: Don't make yourself crazy by trying to source a responsibly raised chicken or a marbled cut of beef at the last minute. If you don't have eggs, the corner store will—and it doesn't hurt your guest list that they're also vegetarian. Cate made slow-baked frittata, since it can be cut into portions and keeps for some time. "Right when you get home, knock out the frittata," she says "and then don't worry about dinner again until you set it on the table."

Putting it All Together

Don't try to compete with the color of your flowers (or candles, or your main course if that's what you consider the best centerpiece—like us). "The thistle’s heather blue, cabbage’s amethyst, and green from the magnolia leaves provided a cheery punch of color," Cate explains, "so I just added some barely-colored glasses and an otherwise neutral collection of dishware."

Play off the colors you've already got in the space; with lavender chairs and a leafy green plant, adding purples and greens made sense for Cate.

By keeping the backdrop simple, even bright colors feel welcoming rather than competitive—and it didn't hurt that the golden afternoon light gave everything a warmer glow.

Neutral dishware, bright flowers, parchment-wrapped walnuts, and tall white candles make a festive table.

Cate Caruso is an NYC-based interior designer; she founded Studio C in 2014 and received her design degree at Parsons School of Design.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sam1148
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    Amanda Sims
Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


Sam1148 December 11, 2015
Go to home depot and get black slate tiles. 2 dollars each. Look for the ones with chips and bumps. Rinse them. wash them dry them. Use a tea towel and put a coat of food safe mineral oil (walgreens) on them let it dry a day. Then use dust free chalk to label cheese and meats displayed on the tiles.
Amanda S. December 11, 2015
Love this. Instant cheese board!