Caroline Huddleston Haley and her husband, Brian, recently purchased a quintessential Travis Heights home, complete with 1930s charm, sophistication and plenty of friendly neighbors. Even at 8 1/2 months pregnant, Caroline takes full advantage of the new space by hosting relaxed, seasonal and fun dinners for friends and family. After working in New York City for House & Garden magazine, she learned “how important it is to set the stage even for a casual weeknight dinner.” Working under amazing mentors and tastemakers, Caroline learned a thing or two about putting together eye-catching tabletops and unforgettable get-togethers. Her love for entertaining runs deep, as she and her roommate entertained parties of any size in their small loft apartment during Caroline’s NYC days. “It didn’t matter that we didn’t have enough china, chairs, or table to go around, we put people anywhere. Prepping would sometimes take days, and we would swear each other to secrecy because part of the magic of a party is a relaxed, happy hostess,” she says. Take a look inside her adorable Austin home and by the end, you, too, will be effortlessly whipping up Caroline’s signature champagne cocktails and appetizers for your friends on any night of the week!
photos by Kate LeSueur
Who do you usually have over for dinner parties?
I love having my friend Maile because we both love the details so she’ll notice even the smallest touch.
What has been your most memorable night of entertaining guests?
I remember my dramas best, and they are usually around cooking, but I embrace the quotation from Horace: “A host is like a general: calamities often reveal his genius.”
What is the one entertaining rule you never break?
My grandmother says that to be a good guest, you should entertain at least once a year, and that’s my favorite entertaining rule. Throwing a party — whether a few people or a huge event — reminds you how much time, effort, and expense goes into entertaining, and how discouraging it is when people don’t rsvp or flake. Entertaining makes me a better guest.
What scares you about entertaining?
I have two: running out of food and being too adventurous in the guest list. I always over-buy and over-cook, but I’m working on this. With guest list nerves, I love meeting new people and a mix of strangers but that throws a lot of people into a decline to walk into a party without knowing everyone.
What is your current favorite color palette for parties?
Staying seasonal is important to me and keeps things fresh, so now it’s fall – golds, reds, and browns. No Christmas colors are coming out until December 1st!
What are your must-have entertaining tools?
Vintage embroidered cloth napkins, a supply of tea lights, and dishwasher-friendly plates and glasses. I also love using whatever is around the house to spruce up the table, like wrapping paper as a runner and leaves from my mother’s magnolia tree. My other “must-have” tools are my friends! They are so talented, and we exchange ideas.
Your entertaining style in five words or less:
Fun rates above flawless.
What is your signature cocktail of the night?
Champagne – it’s easy, chic and simple. When I was an art student in Paris, I discovered that it’s what the French have been serving for an aperitif for forever. Tonight, I’m adding candied ginger with a splash of the Libor grapefruit mix-in.
What is your standard hosting outfit?
At eight and a half months pregnant, my choices are slim. Comfortable shoes and fun earrings are essentials.
What is your perfect dinner party playlist?
I usually outsource the playlist to Pandora and our Sonos system — we love country. My brother is a wonderful techie and gifted the Sonos to me for Christmas. It makes surround sound and dinner party music truly idiot-proof.
Who are your dream dinner party guests?
Ever since reading Unbroken, I wanted to meet Louis Zamperini, but having lived all over before Austin, my friends are scattered around the county. My dream dinner party would be to have everyone together and then figure out how to cook for that many people. I love a good entertaining challenge.
What is your signature entertaining dish?
I most enjoy decorating the table. I have food so that people will come over, but my favorite part of a dinner party is setting the stage and enjoying a mix of people. There’s a long list of people who have been my party co-conspirators who are much better cooks than me, which includes my friend Allison, Maile, and husband Brian. I also have the best family for recipe brainstorming, especially my grandmother and cousin Brittany who worked at Martha Stewart for years and is a treasure!
Always in your refrigerator:
Fig jam, string cheese and Parmesan cheese.
What’s on tonight’s menu?
Brian and I love to entertain but part of entertaining for us is to make it fun, easy, and seasonal so that we’ll do it as much as possible. Tonight we are serving two appetizers: Parmesan and rosemary popcorn and green beans “fries” with paprika and Parmesan.
Get the recipe for Caroline’s favorite appetizer: Green Bean “Fries” with Paprika and Parmesan.
Brian usually handles the main course and tonight it’s fish encrusted with pistachios over quinoa. Brian’s fish is always SO good that it’s worth copying. I’m more of the recipe “rule follower” and Brian experiments and plays with whatever we have on hand. I wish I could be more like that, but instead I get to be married to him, which might be even better!
Get the recipe for Brian’s Pistachio-Crusted Salmon.
What is the taste you are always craving?
For dessert, it’s “make your own sundaes” with fall-themed pumpkin and vanilla ice cream over gingerbread cake, spiced nuts, candy corn, whipped cream and Barton Table’s hot fudge sauce.
What was your most unforgettable restaurant experience?
When I was living in New York, three friends and I scored a table for Tuesdays with Tom. Tom Colicchio cooked once a month for one night for 20 tables. He was literally at the back of an open kitchen plating our meals. The company of friends was perfect and so was the food, and Tom himself went out of his way to be friendly … and Julianne Moore was at the table next to us.
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