5 Tips For Stress-Free Holiday Entertaining + Giveaway

This contest has officially ended. A huge New York thank you to all who participated, and congrats to our winner, HS! Stay tuned for more exciting giveaways!

With the holiday season comes a lot more entertaining, am I right?  Whether you’re hosting a full on dinner party or simply having friends over for a few festive cocktails, here’s a few tips that can make your holiday soirees a little more merry and a little less stressed.


1. Keep Well Stocked

This time of year, I always try to have a few essential things on hand: bottles of wine + champagne, Bounty, and a go-to app such as cheese and crackers.  This way, you’re prepped for spur of the moment visitors, and also the cleanup that comes with.

2. 15 Minute Pick-Up

A big-ol’ cleanup before guests arrive can take the joy out of the experience, and let’s be real…coming from work, there’s just not always time.  So here’s my little trick: I set the timer on my phone for 15 minutes, blast some Christmas music, and in that time run around like a crazy person cleaning the area of the house I know the guests will be in.  Meaning: kitchen/living room/bathroom get a proper clean, but I’m not so worried about the bedroom.  When the alarm goes off, I’m done.  You’ll be surprised at how much is accomplished!

3. Go-To Playlist

Spotify has taken the stress out of playlist creation (yay!), so now it’s as simple as typing in “Dinner Party” or “Christmas Cocktail Party”, and voila!  A fully stocked playlist of music, at your service.

4. Scented Candles

Probably my favorite gift to receive ever is candles.  Seriously, I go through them like nobody’s business.  Not only does it add a festive scent to the air (Pumpkin Spice + Fir Tree are staples this time of year), but also do wonders for ambiance.

5. Seasonal Outfit

Ok–I realize this tip is not going to be taken seriously by the fashionistas, and probably doesn’t apply to a big chunk of NYC women, but…here’s the thing.  If you’re going to be doing a lot of seasonal entertaining, you want a cute outfit.  I am trying super hard not to clutter my closet with things I will wear once, and to stick with garments that will get plenty of use (we’ll talk more about this in the new year!)  So at the beginning of the season I purchased a red plaid shift dress which has already been worn like, 7 times.  I also make sure to dry clean it immediately so it’s ready for the next wear.  Only downfall?  You’ll be in the same outfit in all your pictures:-)


And a special holiday treat for our readers!  We’re partnering with P&G and hosting a giveaway valued at $55, including full-size P&G samples plus a $25 AMEX gift card!  Exciting right?!  Simply leave a comment below telling us your tips for prep or cleanup for your holiday parties.  Bonus points for tweeting out your response using the hashtag #NYTough (just be sure to tag us so we see, @UsedYorkCity.)

The giveaway will end on Christmas, and winners will be notified via email.  Best of luck!






Cheap Date: Gingerbread Extravaganza At Le Parker Meridien


It’s always fun to stumble upon an unexpected treat, particularly when that treat is made entirely out of gingerbread!

I popped into the Le Parker Meridien Hotel lobby to check the menu at Norma’s, and low and behold was greeted with the sweetest display of gingerbread houses, bridges, and Broadway extravaganzas I ever did see!

The theme?  Why, “Made in New York”, naturally!  Bakeries from all over the city put their noggins together and create delicious displays they feel represent the theme…all of them wildly different and innovative, as you’ll see!

unnamed-9I snapped photos with my phone (hence the so-so quality), and did a bit of recon when I got home.  Turns out this edible extravaganza is hosted by City Harvest annually, as a way to feed hungry New Yorkers.  Okay, not feed them gingerbread, but to have you place $1 vote on your favorite house, and then THAT money goes to feed those in need in the city.  (It’s all in the details!;-)

This is such a festive way to round out a Midtown dinner date in NYC, don’t you think?

Which one is your fave?

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By: Jessica Tiare Bowen




7 Ways To Spread Kindness Around NYC

Tis the season to be a little bit nicer, a little bit more giving, and a little more focused on others.  This may seem simple in terms of your actions to your immediate family and friends, but I say go further and spread that cheer through the city!  A little bit of unexpected kindness can go a long way, especially during the holidays.

I promise I’m not going to tell you to stand in Central Park with a “Free Hugs!!!” sign, (yeah, you’ve see them too?), but here’s a few super simple ways to brighten a random New Yorker’s day.

free-hugs-campaign-international-englandGo on out there and spread some cheer.

1. Accept the flyers.

You all know what I’m talking about…those folks standing in the middle of the sidewalk in the freezing cold handing out flyers for pubs and pedicure places that nobody really wants?  Don’t be a Scrooge, make their job a little bit easier and take the flyers this season.  (And if you’re worried about killing trees you can always turn them into scrap paper back at your office/apartment!)

2. Give up your seat on the subway.

To someone who is not elderly, disabled, or pregnant.  Because I’m going to assume you do that everyday, anyway, right?  Right??;-)  Trust me, an unexpected seat on a crowded train after a long day can do wonders for anyone’s mood.

3. Use their name.

At every grocery store and Starbucks and every other kind of retail environment people wear name tags which are so rarely utilized.  I remember my days working at a movie theater, and can still count the handful of really great interactions with customers buying popcorn that took the extra two seconds to look at my name tag and say, “Hi Jess, how are you?”, before rattling of their order.  I was so shocked for a moment it was like, “whoa, stalker, how do you know my name?!”  But then I was happy:-)  Real interactions go a long, long way.

4. For a job well done, let people know.

If you receive extra great service at a restaurant (or anywhere!), don’t just think in your head, “wow, you’re really the friendliest waitress I’ve ever met in this city!”  Tell them!  Or go the extra mile and tell the manager how rockstar they were.

5. Donate a few dollars to the neediest kids in the city.

I’m on the Young Leadership Committee at a great organization called the Pajama Program, which promotes literacy (so important!), but also reaches some of the city’s forgotten kids…ones in shelters and group homes.  We aim to get a pair of pajamas and a book to as many of those kids as we can for the holidays, and you can easily donate to our holiday campaign here.

6. If you have a stocked up Metrocard, swipe someone in who’s asking.

Ok, pay close attention to my wording (I would hate for the MTA to come after me with handcuffs;-)  I didn’t say Unlimited Metrocard (cause I guess that’s illegal?), but if you have one stocked up with extra money and someone asks for a swipe, let em’ on through.

7. Buy the person behind you in line their coffee. 

On road trips when we were little, my mom would often tell the toll booth person that she wanted to pay for the car behind her, too…just as a random act of kindness thing.  I was trying to think of a NYC equivalent and was all “oh, coffee shop!”  Now, I totally get that there’s a fine line between being holiday happy and being totally creepy with this one…so use your judgement.

Would love to know…how do you spread holiday cheer throughout your city?

By: Jessica Tiare Bowen

Photo Credit: 1




New Yorker Moments

unnamed-13{baking my favorite christmas cookies}

The holiday season is in full swing here in NYC…twinkle lights strung in every restaurant, Salvation Army volunteers dancing on every corner (seriously, LOVE that they’ve added dancing to their bell ringing this year!), and this week we even had our very first snow of the season!

Here’s a few of my favorite moments from the week.  I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

unnamed-16{my go-to welcome drink for winter: cranberry juice, sprite, a pop of champagne, and floating cranberries}

unnamed-14{visiting st. patrick’s cathedral}

unnamed-12{catching a matinee of the beautiful and touching performance of love letters on broadway}

unnamed-15{out of town guests means…first official viewing of the rockefeller christmas tree}






Boulton & Watt Does The Best Lunch Special In The City

Living the freelance life, it’s always a nice treat to leave the house during the day and find “office space” elsewhere.  While the coffee shops are great, they’re pretty much filled to the brim with other freelancers with the same idea.  So when I stumbled across an industrial gem on the Lower East Side that offered free Wi-Fi, a Restoration Hardware-esque vibe, AND an incredible lunch special I had to go in.  Boulton & Watt, my friends, is now where you can find me and my laptop.

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Located on the corner of Houston and Avenue A, the restaurant is a prime spot for classic NYC people watching–hipsters, construction workers, dogs (oh, the dogs!), artists, professionals, the occasional vagabond…you know, all the people that make NYC so special.

The lunch special at Boulton & Watt is a signature Boulton Burger, a jar of pickles, fries, and a draft beer all for $15.  The pickles aren’t your mama’s pickles from the jar in her fridge though.  Oh no.  They are innovative, fresh spins in the pickling industry.  I had a jar of pickled pineapple with habanero, mint and basil and my tastebuds were doing a little happy dance, it was seriously that tasty.  I’m stoked to go back to try a few of the other tempting combos: beets with peppercorns and red wine vinegar and the jicama with grapefruit, ginger chili and lime.  Even speaking the names has me salivating just a bit, okay, a lot.

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For the main course I went with the veggie burger (cause vegetarian;-), which was chickpea, eggplant, kale, topped with tzatziki on a seven grain bun.  I polished it off, the whole entire thing, it was THAT good (proof below!)  Seriously had to take an hour walk around the LES afterwards just to be like “yes, tastebuds, I appeased you with the entire patty of veggie amazement.  stomach, I’m so sorry, you’ll be digested soon.”  I mean, the fact that I gobbled up the shoestring fries salted and seasoned to perfection probably didn’t help my case, but you know.  All in the name of good food.

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Oh!  Less I forget…the beer!  I asked my waiter to recommend the lightest beer they have, that doesn’t have a super strong beer taste (what can I say, I’m a wine girl!)  He suggested a Smuttynose Pilsner (how could I say no to that name?!), and guys!  Besides cider (which isn’t REALLY beer, I know), it was the first beer I ever drank that I really enjoyed!  High five for the beer pairing!


I know you’re thinking, “Jess, did you actually get any work done during your ‘working lunch’ or just stuff your face the whole time?”  Valid question.  Thanks to the restaurant’s abundance of outlets and natural light (working essentials, duh), I totally did.  Working lunch for the win!

You can grab this special weekdays from 12pm to 4pm.  If you see a blond girl with her laptop in the corner stuffing her face with the veggie burger, come say hi.  It’s me:-)

By: Jessica Tiare Bowen

 This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox.