In Gwyneth Paltrow's household, a festive, lady-centric gathering is not just a May occasion. "One of the biggest surprise blessings in my life has been my school-mom friends—I don't need much of an incentive to get those mothers and daughters together," says the actress and lifestyle connoisseur. Paltrow's informal approach to entertaining reflects her travels (Provençale socca pancakes piled high with delicious vegetables, anyone?) along with a healthy dash of silliness (a place-card game with pictures of baby animals, described below, is "a fun and immediate icebreaker"). In the end, her philosophy for a successful party brims with warmth and elegance. "I like to balance some old-school proper vibes with a lot of relaxed casualness," she concludes. Adopt her easygoing yet memorable formula, plucked from the pages of her new cookbook It's All Easy ($20; amazon.com), for your own Mother's Day fête (May 8!).