Advertisement
Lifestyle

Christmas party for 200: How a South Pasadena Instagram star pulls it off every year

Leslie Saeta
Three weeks before Christmas, Leslie Saeta starts baking for her family’s annual holiday party for 200.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Leslie Saeta loves Christmas.

Standing in her South Pasadena kitchen in early December, you would think it is Christmas as Saeta, dusted in flour and flanked by wreaths, bakes dozens of frosted sugar cookies for her annual holiday party.

The first party took place 33 years ago: “We had 45 friends for the party,” Saeta recalls. “Now, we have more than 200.”

How does she do it?

Advertisement

We caught up with Saeta, a 60-year-old marketing executive turned Instagram star, in the beginning stages of her monthlong party prep, an annual adventure she chronicles on her popular blog and Instagram account, My 100 Year Old Home, to find out.

Leslie Saeta and her dog, Sport, inside her South Pasadena home.
Leslie Saeta and her dog, Sport, inside her South Pasadena home.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

She has taped a color-coded Excel spreadsheet to-do list to the kitchen cabinet. On it, she has detailed her pre-party plan: She and her friends will prepare 500 crab cakes with lemon dill sauce on the Thursday and Friday before the party (color coded orange). Fig jam and holiday decor will be finished one week prior (yellow); flowers are to be arranged on Friday (blue). Many of the recipes (categorized by assorted colors) will have to be increased by tenfold.

The home is an ideal setting for a holiday party. The kitchen walls are painted a pale green, and the white cupboards and Carrara marble countertops add to the older home’s modern farmhouse vibe — familiar to the 259K who follow her on Instagram. There are sparkling Christmas trees in the living room and dining room; 18 wreaths hang throughout the five-bedroom house. While holiday songs play on Pandora, fragrant evergreen swags, tied to the dining room chairs, scent the air.

Advertisement

Saeta cooks everything for the stand-up cocktail party herself, including 17 hors d’oeuvres and desserts she bakes in advance and stores in two freezers. By 3 p.m. the day of the party, she says, she is done and “off the clock.” (She hires caterers to help her with serving and cleanup.)

“I really enjoy it,” Saeta says as she cuts snowflake-shaped cookies with a cookie cutter. “It’s so rewarding to cook for people. It’s our gift to our friends, our children and our community.”

After more than 30 years of entertaining, Saeta has learned that, with a little planning, it is possible to throw a party for a huge crowd without a lot of stress.

Leslie Saeta bakes sugar cookies
Leslie Saeta bakes sugar cookies in advance of her holiday party and freezes them.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

And that’s really the essence of her blog and Instagram account.

“I want to show people that they can throw a party and have fun and it doesn’t have to be perfect,” she says. “I don’t host house tours because this is where I live. It’s not a place to show. It’s a place to share.”

On the night before the party, Mary Liz Burns, who has attended the party since the beginning, helps Saeta get ready with a crew of friends whose kids all grew up together. “It’s a South Pasadena tradition,” she says. “Everyone knows about it. There’s always a line for the crab cakes. The key to their success is that they are bite-sized. You just pop them in your mouth.”

Burns is not surprised by her longtime friend’s success as an online influencer. “Leslie puts 250% into everything she does,” she says. “People might have hosted similar events in the past but stopped or quit. She has always understood the bigger picture of what the holidays mean to people.”

Advertisement

And then there’s The Dress: “Our husbands went to high school together,” Burns explains. “Our wedding pictures are almost identical. We got married at the same place. Our wedding dresses look so similar except she made hers.” Of course she did.

Leslie Saeta’s 100-year-old home
Leslie Saeta’s 100-year-old home is transformed into a Christmas wonderland inside and out.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Thanks to the popularity of Joanna Gaines’ farmhouse-modern design (Google Trends listed farmhouse style as the No. 1 trending home style of 2019), My 100 Year Old Home has become a beacon for the fans and followers who are drawn to Saeta’s warmth and unpretentious style — she shops at Costco, Trader Joe’s and the wholesale Original Los Angeles Flower Market in downtown Los Angeles — and affordable DIY tips.

Of course, it helps that she and her husband, David, happen to live in a traditional 1913 South Pasadena home that exudes Norman Rockwell charm.

The residence, which has been decked out for the holidays since October, is a favorite with set decorators and location scouts who have filmed commercials, television shows and, most recently, the Ben Affleck film “The Way Back.”

“Last year, it took the film crew two and a half days to put away all of my Christmas stuff, dress the sets and then put all of my Christmas stuff back when they were done,” she says, laughing at the memory.

Leslie Saeta’s dining room is ready for the holiday party.
Leslie Saeta’s dining room is ready for the holiday party.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

David grew up in the house, and the couple purchased it from his parents in 1998. Since then, the pair, who have three grown sons, have remodeled the house three times. “They were always very generous about the changes,” Saeta says of her in-laws.

As a self-described “open book,” Saeta says she enjoys sharing her life at home, including DIY crafts and entertaining projects, the family’s irresistible 7-year-old Labrador, Sport, and the home’s Hollywood exploits.

Advertisement

Saeta works about 70 hours a week on her blog, Instagram and brand endorsements and tries to answer every direct message and comment that she receives.

Still, it doesn’t feel like work.

‘It’s the best job in the world,” she says. “I get paid to create things. I’ve done that all of my life.”

DIY tree decorations that Saeta made for the holidays.
DIY tree decorations, made by Saeta for the holidays and detailed on her blog My 100 Year Old Home.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Leslie Saeta’s Christmas Party Menu

HORS D’OEUVRES

· Spicy grilled shrimp

· Beef tenderloin with rolls

· Smoked turkey with cranberry-orange muffins

· Smoked paprika salmon with lemon dill sauce

· Chicken lettuce wraps

· BLT tomatoes

· Skewered chicken with peanut sauce

· Skewered flank steak with peanut sauce

· Crab cakes with lemon dill sauce

· BBQ chicken sliders

· Ham and Swiss sliders

· Phyllo with spinach dip

· Whipped sweet potatoes in crusts with pecan topping

· Brie cups with pomegranates

· Seared ahi tuna in sesame wonton cups with maple soy sauce

· Pesto stuffed mushrooms

· Fig, pear and gorgonzola grilled cheese sandwich

DESSERTS

· Double mint chocolate cookies

· Peanut butter fudge

· Frosted sugar cookies

· Coconut joy candy bars

· Christmas crack (Saltine cracker toffee)


Newsletter
Get our food critics’ free weekly dining newsletter
Advertisement