Socially Savvy: Lisa McDonald and George Soule – Holiday Entertaining on a Grand Scale
It’s a bold proclamation to claim the first Saturday in December for your annual holiday party, but George Soule and Lisa McDonald have done just that for the past 22 years. This is more than a sweater-laden get-together with punch and cookies; more than 250 guests squeeze into their home on Lake Harriet, ringing in the season in a grand way.
Lisa and George credit their large guest list to George’s work as an attorney and Lisa’s political background (she’s a former Minneapolis City Councilmember and candidate for mayor). Originally designed to entertain clients and co-workers, the party is now a mix of folks from the legal, political, judicial, and creative worlds. “People love this party because they can catch up with folks they might not see all year,” says Lisa. “Our guests have a chance to reconnect with dear friends and meet new faces.”
Even in a good-sized home, when you have that many guests, space is at a premium. To take the pressure off, Lisa and George began renting a tent for the backyard a few years ago. Connected to the living room via a breezeway, the heated tent is complete with carpet and decorations. It also holds an additional bar, keeping service moving. Steps from the tent on the patio are a roaring fire pit and comfortable furniture, all under the sparkle of holiday lights. Marshmallows are available for toasting!
Lisa and George send out invitations the second week of November, three weeks before the party. Often, the invitation is a simple flat card with a photograph of Lisa, George, and their beloved two dogs, but don’t let the casual picture on the invitation fool you: Lisa has elevated entertaining to the martial arts skill of a ninja.
Food is especially important. Drawing inspiration from her vast cookbook collection and her skills as a former professional pastry chef, Lisa tries something new each year. Half of the food is prepared by the hosts, the other half by a local caterer (Rudolph’s). Lisa makes sure everyone gets a bite of her new recipe for the event. Lisa’s fortunate friends and family get to sample new menu items throughout the year as Lisa tests them for flavor and ease of preparation. The buffet always includes old favorites, as well as the new items: baked ham, cheesy potatoes and a tasty sausage roll. George is known for his famous chocolate chip cookies. He begins baking days before the party to produce hundreds of these palm-sized beauties. This year’s party also featured a traditional layered trifle of fresh fruit and ladyfingers. Lisa credits much of the success of her party to great staff, including the steady oversight of Jerry Beltt, who makes sure things run smoothly in the kitchen so George and Lisa can enjoy their guests.
Lisa selects her holiday décor from a massive collection of items she keeps tucked away on the third floor. Neatly organized by color, theme and year, no theme is done twice. In 2009, the all-white theme gave the feeling of being inside a snow globe, with floating candles and homemade ice lanterns lining the front walk. Last year, the party was a fantasy in red from the ornaments to the lighting. This year, Lisa and George were inspired by cases of Old World ornaments and nostalgic lanterns they’ve collected over the years.
Although the décor is beautiful, decorations are kept up off the surfaces in order to save space for wine glasses and guests’ plates. Missing from the party is a traditional Christmas tree. “It just gets in the way,” says Lisa, “and too many of my favorite ornaments were getting broken during the party.” She and George set up their tree during the week after the party. With four Saturdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the pressure to have the party requires the full package: a home people love to see, food you look forward to all year, and a guest list no one would want to be excluded from. Good hosts can make guest feel comfortable and welcome, whether it’s a small group of intimates or 250 of your closest friends. Lisa and deliver the full package, year after year.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup Blue Bonnet margarine, softened
1/3 cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1?2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 package (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cream the sugar, margarine, shortening, egg, and vanilla together. Stir in remaining ingredients until combined. (George prefers to mix this dough by hand.)
Form balls with the dough using a tablespoon. Place balls on an ungreased cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. (What makes George’s cookies unique is their size, so feel free to go larger with the dough balls.)
Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes until light golden brown in color. Allow the cookies to cool on the sheet before removing.