Vegan Chick Pea Mash

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First things first, please do not be put off by the fact that I named this Vegan Chick Pea Mash. This recipe doesn’t contain any weird, mystery ingredients posing as something else. I would never do that to you. I’m not going to take some soy based crap and try to turn it into bologna. NEVER. This is vegan simply because it doesn’t have any animal products whatsoever.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get down to how this dish came to be. I love a good challenge. One of my skill sets is solution providing. I love figuring out a better way, an easier way or simply just A Way to accomplish a task. So, when I was hired to cater a Traditional British Style Tea Party the major request was to offer gluten free and vegan options. Normally this shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, but remember the typical Tea Party food is finger sandwiches, which do not sit squarely inside the gluten free and vegan circle. But I’m so glad I was put to the test because it yielded some good finds. Like this Vegan Chick Pea Mash.

Since the event was all about finger food, I needed to devise a bite sized morsel that would fit the vegan criteria. Chick peas are a hearty protein, and versatile thus the top choice in helping me solve this dilemma. Chick peas being what they are, dense and round, make them easy candidates for rolling off the plate, onto the floor and then ultimately squashed under foot. Goal: No rolling. So, how do you keep them from falling onto the floor instead of your mouth? Smash ‘em before they hit the floor. And so I did. But you can’t just scoop up smashed chick peas with your fingers! They needed a vessel, and colorful would be nice, too. Introducing the baby bell pepper brigade to the rescue. Perfectly suited to be filled up with the robust, chunky flavor of chick peas; smashed, of course.

Since I had a good variety of other food offerings in different flavor profiles, I wanted to ensure that this protein mash could stand on its own with savor. The first thing that came to mind was garlic and onion, but then kept layering more and more flavors as I cooked it, adding cumin and turmeric, cilantro and lemon juice. Here’s how it went down.

Ingredients

1 15 oz can Chick Peas
1/2 red onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 t ground turmeric
1/4 t cumin
1 T cilantro, minced
1/4 c Aquafaba (chick pea liquid)
1 T + lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
3 T olive oil

Instructions

  1. In a large sauté pan, heat oil, add onions and cook until softened.

  2. Add garlic, cumin, turmeric, salt, pepper and cook until the aromatics are nicely toasted.

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3. Add the aquafaba and 1 T lemon juice and stir until combined.

4. Add the chick peas, let warm through and then using a fork or a potato masher begin to smash them. I like it chunky so I smashed some very well and other only lightly to give different textures.

5. Squeeze some more lemon juice to finish, then add the cilantro.

You can serve this dish warm, room temp or cold. It truly does work well at any temperature. As I mentioned, the first time I made this was a for a catered event, so making individual pieces was the goal. The baby bell peppers as the vehicle to steer them into people’s mouths was a great choice. The sweet, crunch of the peppers perfectly complemented the earthy flavor of the chick pea mash so much so that it is my preferred serving vessel.

The size of the baby bell peppers makes it an ideal cocktail party bite. And because the chick peas are smashed, no rolling off onto the floor.

You could also, place the chick pea mash in a bowl, place on a platter filled with baby bell peppers and cucumber rounds and use it as a dip. Either way, these made the perfect bite size treat. I recently decided to test drive this again at a backyard party we hosted for our neighbors using the peppers, and then two days later for a small family gathering using endive. Happy to report; it was a hit with every serving.

The tower of offerings. Chick Pea Mash,  Salmon Roll Cucumber Rounds  and  Watercress, Herb Butter Tea Sandwiches .

The tower of offerings. Chick Pea Mash, Salmon Roll Cucumber Rounds and Watercress, Herb Butter Tea Sandwiches.

Since I had some leftovers, I served them up again using endive.

Since I had some leftovers, I served them up again using endive.

Now, of course, this dish can be used in a variety of other ways. You should know me by now, everything I make has to do double, triple, well, multiple duties. I had some leftover and tossed it over warm pasta. Naturally, it was yummy. You can spread this on toast and add avocado or tomato or both. Go ahead. Start your creative engines…

Postscript: In reading some of the comments, it got me thinking about this recipe. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before but this can be a heartier substitute for hummus in a pita sandwich. It’s chunkier and therefore will be squish out less than traditional style hummus. Keep it vegan and add cucumbers, sprouts, olives, etc. Keep it vegetarian and add some feta cheese. Just thought I would share the ‘stuff it in a pita’ idea, which quite frankly seems like a no brainer that I’m surprised I didn’t think of before.

Tis the Season

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My guess is that when you hear this phrase you also hear sleigh bells. Sure, it’s mostly associated with winter holidays but quite frankly, ‘Tis the Season can be applied every 3 months: winter, spring, summer and fall. Each one brings about change of all types. From what we wear to what to do. And I believe this is especially true when it comes to the foods we buy and eat.

Decades ago, staying within the season was exactly how the majority of people bought their produce, prepared and ate their meals. Using only what was available at the time of harvest. Times have changed. Consumer demands. Fed EX and other shipping methods enable foods to arrive at our supermarkets all year round. Yet, I find that everything old is new again with an increase in people going back to more ‘ancient’ ways of eating. There is much value to seasonal eating. First and foremost, it provides you with what is the absolute freshest. Then, it’s about keeping in synch with what our bodies need and crave for at a particular time of the season. Think about it. How many times do you jones for a thick, hearty, hot soup in July? How often do your salivary glands thirst for watermelon in February? ‘Tis the season for reason, my friends.

I try my best to buy seasonally, and also try to provide you with recipes appropriate for the season. Full disclosure, I have been known to purchase strawberries in the dead of winter for a dessert or a smoothie. But overall, my goal is eat what’s hot of the presses. Or should I say, pull directly from the ground.

So what’s in season now? A bounty of goodness.

Peaches & Nectarines

I love stone fruits, especially peaches and nectarines. They are sweet, juicy and refreshing all on their own. But you can grill them and serve with ice cream. Or use them to top a crostini to create a wonderful appetizer that is light and clean, but does it’s part to satisfy the appetite. Or check out the salads below that combine a few other items that are also great right now.

Fresh Ricotta Crostini

Ricotta & Nectarine crostini with mint syrup.

Ricotta & Nectarine crostini with mint syrup.

Peaches or nectarines can be used.

Peaches or nectarines can be used.

Corn on the Cob
Who doesn’t love themselves a corn on the cob during a BBQ? Slathered with butter. Or just a good sprinkle of coarse salt… YUM. But I love salads, so here are two that utilize corn, and one actually using peaches, too. A double hitter.

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Corn Salad: Raw & Roasted

Crunchy by way of the 3c’s: corn, celery and cucumber. Soft bites provided by potatoes and chick peas. Zest and zing offered by red onion and lemon. Perfect.

Corn & Fruit Salad

Sweet and refreshing. This salad is ideal for any BBQ.

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Berries: Blueberries, Strawberries, Raspberries and Blackberries

Here is a fresh salad that incorporates not just berries but two of the other in season items, nectarines and corn. This salad not only gives a sweet flavor pop in your mouth but an actual physical pop of the fruit and crunchy corn. The other salad has the blueberries playing off the tartness of citrus.

Summer Salad Full of Fruits
I love all the textures in this one. There is so much, it can be a lunch all by itself.

Butter Lettuce with Orange, Blueberries & Crunch

Fruit in a salad for me is way more interesting than the usual suspects like tomatoes. I feel tomatoes have a higher purpose than salad. That’s not to say that fruit is less than. Quite the contrary.

Fresh Fruit Bark

Something sweet but naturally sweet.

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Tomatoes
Bring it on tomato time. How many seasons have you seen me buying boxes upon boxes, pounds upon pounds of these ruby jewels? So this season won’t be any different. Just a reminder of some of the things you can do with these babies.

Yes that is 100 pounds of Roma tomatoes. I was excited until I got them home and realized just how overzealous I was.

Yes that is 100 pounds of Roma tomatoes. I was excited until I got them home and realized just how overzealous I was.

Oven dried tomatoes   can made a placed in a jar in your fridge, then used for various recipes.

Oven dried tomatoes can made a placed in a jar in your fridge, then used for various recipes.

Luscious linguine with earthy notes from the spinach, salty from the olives and a sweetness that the mighty tomato brings.

Luscious linguine with earthy notes from the spinach, salty from the olives and a sweetness that the mighty tomato brings.

This tapenade is perfect as a sauce, or a dip or compliment that brings a powerful flavor addition to meats, cheeses, and more.

This tapenade is perfect as a sauce, or a dip or compliment that brings a powerful flavor addition to meats, cheeses, and more.

Oven roast tomatoes and serve as a side dish with fish and rice or any other grain.

Oven roast tomatoes and serve as a side dish with fish and rice or any other grain.

White Eggplant App - Greek Style

Here the tomatoes are in a supporting role, but an important one. I love this dish. It can be an appetizer or a side dish and has just zest and zing.

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Freshly sliced tomatoes with pesto. You can’t go wrong with simply slicing them and enhancing with salt and good olive oil or a tad of pesto, or the tapenade from above.

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I could make this post go on forever. The recipes and ideas for using what’s fresh and amazing right now are endless but I hope this jump starts your imagination and your kitchen creations.

Ready, Set, Go!

Off to your local farmer’s market. Sniff, pluck and pick the best and the freshest. ‘Tis the season… that is until the next one.

Ladies Who Lunch

Olivia, my Mom, Elena. The best assistances ever! It goes without saying, good attracts good, and these women are pure good.

Olivia, my Mom, Elena. The best assistances ever! It goes without saying, good attracts good, and these women are pure good.

Last year I had the awesome opportunity to cater a lunch for the lovely ladies of The Women’s Club from my Mom's condo community.  They are a fantastic group of vital women who meet for various occasions. They have a book club. They go to the theatre, take field trips and just enjoy one another’s company.  They regularly host parties and luncheons, and that's where I came in.  My Mom is in charge of organizing one summer luncheon each year.  After hearing about the one she organized last year, I asked if she wanted me to help her cater the upcoming one. My Mom is an amazing woman who is always willing to help others and give of herself. So, naturally I wanted to do something special for her and for her friends.  This particular luncheon is usually a casual one serving up typical summer fare, like sandwiches and potato salad and such. My goal was to up the ante a bit, and so I embarked in creating a menu that they might enjoy.  I sat down with my Mom and her friend, Elena, who helps her with this event.  As luck would have it I was just coming back from working a catering event in the Hamptons and had some leftovers with me.  Call it fate, kismet or just plain damn good luck that I had this nibbles for them to try. It was almost like a wedding tasting. As I pulled out dish after dish for them to taste test, we took notes, jotted down what they liked, what I could slightly change and what I could add, all taking into account the likes of their group.  It was great to have both my Mom and Elena providing valuable feedback so we could tailor the luncheon to offer up some delicious dishes. And so the menu was set, and the plan hatched. 

Tomato Mozzarella Puff Pastry Tartlets

Tomato Mozzarella Puff Pastry Tartlets

Main
Tomato Mozzarella Puff Pastry Tarts
Arugula & Parmigiano Reggiano with Lemon Vinaigrette
Egg Salad
Chicken Salad with Grapes, Apples & Walnuts served with Romaine boats
Turkey Breast & Swiss Cheese Roll Ups
Asian Slaw with Peanut-Tahini Dressing
Israeli Couscous with Sautéd Zucchini & Roasted Tomato with a Roasted Garlic Dressing
Cucumber Salad
French Baguettes

Desserts
Peach Cobbler with Whipped Cream
Lime Zest/Raspberry Filled Cookies
Mini Cheesecakes
Watermelon

Normally they use throw away plastic tablecloths and paper dishes. It was a hard sell at first, but I convinced my Mom that using cloth tablecloths and real dishes would make it feel special. As you all know, I HAVE tablecloths. Enough, in fact, to cover the buffet table and all the seated tables.

The luncheon was held in the condo’s clubhouse, which meant we had to set the room up with tables and chairs for 30 guests. They showed me their usual set up, but in traditional Dana fashion I rejiggered the entire space. Thankfully, I had the help of my Mom, Elena and Olivia.  Especially since I decided that we would seriously need to move most of the furniture around. They were very willing and accommodating to my suggestions. Moving the seating area that was directly in front of the fireplace gave way for a perfect place to set up the main buffet table, front and center. It was August, so no need to have access to that. With this new placement, we were able to better utilize the entire space and the built-in counters next to the fireplace. Which is where I placed the plates, napkins and utensils for a better flow.

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I was happy that they allowed me to move around furniture so we could set up the buffet table for maximum access. I placed a menu on the table with all the offerings. You can also place cards in front of each dish as a way to identify the food.

I was happy that they allowed me to move around furniture so we could set up the buffet table for maximum access. I placed a menu on the table with all the offerings. You can also place cards in front of each dish as a way to identify the food.

When setting up a buffet table, think about the flow. Think about how people will reach for the food items and make sure you place them accordingly. Set higher items in the back, and group foods together. Bread near the items like the Egg Salad and Chicken Salad, condiments close to the cold cuts, for example.

It’s important to lay the food items out in a way that makes it easy to reach, pretty to look at and in a order that makes sense.

It’s important to lay the food items out in a way that makes it easy to reach, pretty to look at and in a order that makes sense.

Make sure you have utensils for each dish and have any condiments close by.

Asian Slaw   gives a nice spice to all the other dishes. And you can’t go wrong with a few cold cuts.

Asian Slaw gives a nice spice to all the other dishes. And you can’t go wrong with a few cold cuts.

Make your platters look pretty. Arrange the food so your guests feel that you took time and care in preparing the meal. It makes them feel special, as they should.

Chicken Salad with Fruit & Nuts     is a perfect summer dish. Great with lettuce leaves or on rolls, or just plain by itself.

Chicken Salad with Fruit & Nuts is a perfect summer dish. Great with lettuce leaves or on rolls, or just plain by itself.

Israeli Couscous  , it’s fluffy and light but satisfyingly filling. The oven roasted garlic and tomatoes give this dish it’s depth of flavor.

Israeli Couscous, it’s fluffy and light but satisfyingly filling. The oven roasted garlic and tomatoes give this dish it’s depth of flavor.

Peppery Arugula Salad with shaved Parmigiana Reggiano. It may be a simple salad but with just a few ingredients, it is a fresh, flavor punch.

Peppery Arugula Salad with shaved Parmigiana Reggiano. It may be a simple salad but with just a few ingredients, it is a fresh, flavor punch.

Lime Zest Cookies   with Raspberry filling. Tart and sweet and delicate.

Lime Zest Cookies with Raspberry filling. Tart and sweet and delicate.

Mini   Cheese Cakes  . Use the base recipe for the pie but instead of using one pie crust, use crushed graham crackers with melted butter and press into mini cupcake tins. Then fill with batter and bake. These are perfect two bite treats. Champagne grapes give a tart pop.

Mini Cheese Cakes. Use the base recipe for the pie but instead of using one pie crust, use crushed graham crackers with melted butter and press into mini cupcake tins. Then fill with batter and bake. These are perfect two bite treats. Champagne grapes give a tart pop.

We used my Soothing Blues theme but gave the tables a vibrant color pop with small centerpieces using Ribbon flowers accented with white hydrangeas cut from my garden.  Simple but striking. The best part was showing Elena, who was reluctant in arranging the flowers, just how easy it is to create a floral arrangement with impact. Hesitant at first, her confidence grew once I showed her color blocking and explained that simpler is better. And with that she finished the rest beautifully. The key; do what looks good to your eye and it will look good to others.

I had to convince them away from paper plates. These outdoor reusable plastic plates were still casual but a tad more special.

I had to convince them away from paper plates. These outdoor reusable plastic plates were still casual but a tad more special.

Strong contrast creates a striking floral arrangement.

Strong contrast creates a striking floral arrangement.

Some featured more fuchsia with white accent. Some reversed.

Some featured more fuchsia with white accent. Some reversed.

It was so lovely to be welcomed into their group and serve them food that they enjoyed.  Everyone seemed to have a good time and loved the food offerings.   

Ladies on the buffet line
Ladies waiting for the buffet
Chatting after a little dessert.

Chatting after a little dessert.

Smiles and good conversation. And yes to regular dishes but plastic cups just made more sense.

Smiles and good conversation. And yes to regular dishes but plastic cups just made more sense.

There is a simple joy in sharing food. In creating an atmosphere where people feel loved by your efforts.  Remember, no matter what we do in life, whether it be the words we speak, or the food we make, the flowers we arrange, or the door we hold open, when done from a place of purity then the world is stirred with love. Thank you to my Mom, Elena and Olivia, and to Rhona and the entire Women's Club for welcoming me to your luncheon last year.  Here’s to all of you, hoping you enjoy these memories and share many more happy adventures and good eating together!

And for the rest of my readers, I hope this brings about inspiration on how and what to serve for Ladies’ Summer Lunch. Ok, Men are welcome, too! In fact, all are welcome. Stir it with LOVE!

If you are interested in my Private Chef services, please contact me directly: dana@2fishinc.com And please feel free to pass along my info. Thank YOU!

Mint Tea Be Cocktail

Just recently I had a full day adventure in NYC with old friends. These were unexpected, last minute plans and were perfect moments for both reminiscing and making new memories. Outings that make life full and rewarding.

First, I met up with college pals. Dianne, who I’ve known since Junior High, and Dominique, since right after college, all of us graduating from University of Binghamton. We walked around eating and drinking, and window shopping our way through Soho. After attempting to eat at a French American Bistro, we ended up in a Sicilian Enoteca. The bistro didn’t open until 12n and it was 11:30a, and apparently we were all so hungry we couldn’t wait the half hour. Not even sexy drinks would tempt us into waiting. I had spotted the Enoteca as we were walking, as did Dom, so suggested it. I figured the Italians would be ready to serve food at any hour. If the sun had risen and people were awake, the Italians were ready with food. I’m glad we didn’t wait for the bistro to open their kitchen. Our Italian lunch was a symphony of delicious simplicity. We shared 3 plates; an Arugula Salad, a Fennel and Orange Salad and then Gluten Free Ziti with Shrimp in a creamy burrata, tomato sauce. I literally lapped up the last morsels of the pasta using a spoon to scoop up all it’s luscious goodness. I enjoyed the dish so much that I asked where they buy their pasta. Fortunately, it comes from Di Paolo’s Italian Market right near by in Little Italy. But before heading over to snag some gluten free goodness, we shopped a bit and I bought these flouncy white pants. Apparently, the ‘one size fits all’ JUST fits, and didn’t deter me one bit from racing to buy that pasta. Once home, I made my own version of it a few days later.

Feeling brave sharing this Rubenesque modeling moment.   Photo credit: Dianne Guarino

Feeling brave sharing this Rubenesque modeling moment.
Photo credit: Dianne Guarino

Really love this brand of gluten free pasta

Really love this brand of gluten free pasta

Paolo’s Gluten Free Ziti with fresh tomatoes and herb goat cheese. Clearly not the same but just as good.

Paolo’s Gluten Free Ziti with fresh tomatoes and herb goat cheese. Clearly not the same but just as good.

After more walking, shopping, talking and catching up we said our goodbyes to our friend Dom, then Dianne and I met up with friends from our elementary/junior high/high school days for drinks and light dinner. My original idea of meeting up at The Ten Bells was quickly shut down when we realized they didn’t open until 5 and we were all meeting at 4pm with a hard out time. Yet another timing dilemma. But I always find that these situations are for the better, as witnessed with the lunch happening. We ended up at Dudley’s, a cute little place with outdoor seating, with good food and drink in the Lower East Side. And that is where this post is really going. To share with you a recreation of the drink I so enjoyed. Sure, I meandered around to get here, but that was what the day was all about. Spending time with old friends with no real agenda but to share old and new memories. This day was not just good for me, but a great way to encourage you to do so too. I know, I’ve spouted a lot of words about a lot of other things just to get to the cocktail. But that is the beauty of life and the road we journey to arrive somewhere. It’s the mishaps and redirects that get you to the exact place you are supposed to be. In this case, Lunch Italian Style plus 4pm consumption of a refreshing cocktail with dear friends.

Friends for life: Dominique, Me and Dianne. AKA 3D. Smiles of well fed women looking for bargains.                       Photo credit: Dianne Guarino

Friends for life: Dominique, Me and Dianne. AKA 3D. Smiles of well fed women looking for bargains. Photo credit: Dianne Guarino

Nancy, Kathy, me and Dianne.                                                                                                                                             Photo credit: Kathy Lashlee

Nancy, Kathy, me and Dianne. Photo credit: Kathy Lashlee

I’m not a big drinker these days. Can’t seem to hold my liquor. But the drink that caught my eye was the cleverly called Mint to Be. An auspicious name for a cocktail that clearly defined the day and all our happenstances. It was so dang refreshing. I suppose I could have used my handy dandy phone to take a photo of the ingredients, but didn’t. Thank goodness, I only had one drink so from memory, it had Vodka, St. Germaine, tea and mint. I had no idea in what proportions so when recreating, I just guessed. And on my first try, I guessed right.
Here’s what I did.

Ingredients

2 oz. Green Tea, brewed with mint leaves & cooled
1 oz. Vodka
1/2 oz. St. Germain
Fresh Mint leaves & Cucumber for garnish

Enjoyed this drink so much,I actually almost finished it!   Photo credit: Kathy Lashlee

Enjoyed this drink so much,I actually almost finished it!
Photo credit: Kathy Lashlee

Cocktail set up. Mint, Freshly brewed Green Tea, St Germain, Vodka and cucumber

Cocktail set up. Mint, Freshly brewed Green Tea, St Germain, Vodka and cucumber

I brewed green tea and let it steep with fresh mint leaves and let it cool. In a shaker, I put ice, vodka, St. Germaine and more mint leaves then added the tea once it was fully cooled.

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Shake shake shake, then poured it into a cocktail glass over ice. I added a cucumber slice and more mint leaves.

Refreshing? Almost too refreshing. These babies will go down fast. So be careful. Of course, if you like your drinks stronger, you can certainly add more vodka, although it will change the flavor profile a bit. I like these ratios because it’s very smooth. JuanCarlos, who usually is the one making cocktails around these parts was pretty impressed. So we invited our neighbor friends over to enjoy. I don’t need to tell you that they did, indeed.

It truly was Mint Tea Be.

Served with crisp cucumber slices and crunchy, salty marcona almonds… A perfect cooling cocktail that suits to a T.

Served with crisp cucumber slices and crunchy, salty marcona almonds… A perfect cooling cocktail that suits to a T.

This cocktail paired with pretty much anything. Including langostinos with sautéd tomatoes & peas.

This cocktail paired with pretty much anything. Including langostinos with sautéd tomatoes & peas.

5 Key Steps to Hosting a Garden Party

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Summertime is meant for chilling.  You know; the relaxing, easy breezy hanging with friends and family. Most parts of the country wait all year long for the warm weather so we can comfortably sit outdoors, entertain, sip on cocktails, nibble on good bites and laugh the warm days and nights away.

I'm here to encourage all of that. And so, in keeping with my love of entertaining and my passion for making lists, here are my tips for hosting a garden party, or anything al fresco.

1. Make the space inviting and comfortable

Our dear friends Bruce and MaryAnne hanging on our upper terrace for appetizers.

Our dear friends Bruce and MaryAnne hanging on our upper terrace for appetizers.

  • Have enough, and comfortable seating placed in various locations around your space. You want to encourage groupings to gather and mingle. This also allows your guests to wander around and take in the property, patio, whatever the space from different points of view.

People can sit, stand and mingle as they enjoy cocktails.

People can sit, stand and mingle as they enjoy cocktails.

Placing small tables allows for food, drinks to be stationed around the property.

Placing small tables allows for food, drinks to be stationed around the property.

  • If during the day, have sunscreen and bug spray available in pretty baskets

  • If at night, make sure there is proper lighting, candles etc. Not only does it help keep your guests from falling off the patio but it creates a warm and welcoming glow.

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  • If you are throwing a really big event, then you might need to place some signs pointing to the bathrooms, so you don't spend your entire time answering that question 60 times. For a small party, no big deal. They have probably been to your home and know how to relieve themselves.

  • For chilly nights, have a basket of light weight throws, shawls. I have never had this placed out, but do now because I am always running upstairs to my closet pulling out shawls for my guests. Better to have this out and available. It also makes it easier for your guests, as sometimes they don't want to bother you or burden you by asking. Instead they suffer in silence. That doesn't make for good hosting. Of course, a fire pit is also a great idea to have prepped and ready to go.

Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad

George and Alyssa

George and Alyssa

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2. Table setting & Flowers

Color combinations can range from earthy to floral to plain white with pops of color. Just use your imagination and what feels good. Here I used some floral leaves as a landing spot for utensils and drinks.

Color combinations can range from earthy to floral to plain white with pops of color. Just use your imagination and what feels good. Here I used some floral leaves as a landing spot for utensils and drinks.

Use the flowers you have in your garden.

Use the flowers you have in your garden.

Create different heights for drama.

Create different heights for drama.

  • You all know how I feel about table settings and flowers. It seems silly to restate, but here goes. Taking just a few extra minutes to put a tablecloth down makes the world of difference.

  • Keep to your theme of the party. Whether it's casual and easy, BBQ help yourself style, or a more formal outdoor sit down, set the table to suit the event.

White plates with cotton napkins keeps this simple while the florals takes a early evening dinner to a   dreamy blue elegant table  .

White plates with cotton napkins keeps this simple while the florals takes a early evening dinner to a dreamy blue elegant table.

  • The topic of plates and utensils is a personal one. I like real plates and utensils. That's just me. I'm not a fan of paper or plastic but certainly understand it's convenience. In this area, you choose whatever is best for you. Because a happy, relaxed host is a good host.

  • If a buffet, make sure you have an designated area where your guests can pick up plate, utensils, napkin in one easy grab. Also, have a cloth napkin with the serving utensil in front of the dish so it is clear what they should use to serve themselves.

    • Utensil holders can vary from glass vases to wicker baskets or mason jars. Be creative and use what you have around the house to fit your theme.

    • You can also preroll all the utensils in the napkin and place them in a bucket or basket.

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Use a   floral vase   as a utensil holder.

Use a floral vase as a utensil holder.

Roll up napkins   and place in decorative bucket.

Roll up napkins and place in decorative bucket.

  • Place your flowers in various locations to complement your table setting ensuring that guests can see one another, or if on a buffet table, they can reach the food without any obstruction. Who wants flower water all over their ribs?

    • Florals can be bought flowers or cut from your garden to mimic what is already in your guest view

    • You can get small potted plants or create an arrangement using small vases of varying heights

    • You can place flowers or large leaves directly on the table. You get the idea, anything goes. Be creative.

Blues and yellows   keep it bright while the burlap keeps organic.

Blues and yellows keep it bright while the burlap keeps organic.

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3. Menu - Food & Beverage

  • You always hear me talking about serving what is seasonal. So no surprises here that if you are hosting a garden party, you don't want to be cooking hot and heavy dishes in your kitchen.

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  • Grilling fish and meat, fresh salads of all varieties using vegetables, fruits and grains.

Grilled Scallops

Grilled Scallops

Grilled flank steak

Grilled flank steak

Salmon with yogurt dill sauce

Salmon with yogurt dill sauce

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Good, simple food = happy guests.

Good, simple food = happy guests.

Bruschetta Bar. Fill a board with crusty bread and toppings and let your guests make their own.

Bruschetta Bar. Fill a board with crusty bread and toppings and let your guests make their own.

Have a spot where guests can grab their own glasses.

Have a spot where guests can grab their own glasses.

Always have a bar out and available for easy access.

Always have a bar out and available for easy access.

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  • Ask your guests ahead of time if they have any food allergies. It's a big deal now. Everyone is allergic to something. (Thanks Monsanto and the FDA for helping to poison our food supply. Ok, that's another blog post, Dana. Stick to the theme.) Make sure you have a variety so there is something for everyone.

4. Know your Guests

Have music… will dance!

Have music… will dance!

  • Each party, each guest list is different. So gear your party towards who you invite and vice versus. Don't throw a dance party with a bunch of senior citizens. Unless of course those seniors know Salsa! Don't throw a sit down dinner with 20 kids. Match your guest list to your event.

  • If your guest list has kids, make sure you have a couple of fun things for them to do. I used to have some garden games that I put out. Most of the kids in our circle are older now, so we don't need to entertain them in the same way. But I usually like to have balloons for water balloon tosses and marshmallows for roasting available.

Unless the seniors love to get their boogie on.

Unless the seniors love to get their boogie on.

Water balloons by the dozen. Easy to fill and no need for knots.

Water balloons by the dozen. Easy to fill and no need for knots.

Then relax with a game of Dominos

Then relax with a game of Dominos

5. Plan B

  • Always be prepared for the unexpected. Weather is uncontrollable. I am all too aware of this. So have a plan B. Ours is always to just move the party inside. For two reasons: one JuanCarlos isn't a big fan of putting up a tent or believing that it is going to rain. Two, we have the space inside to accommodate. When it briefly rained on my sister's wedding with more than 50 guests, they all ran into our living room. Happily, it was brief. But it doesn't have to be rain. It could be a heat wave or humidity. So think umbrellas or fans, etc. Plan B or even C, folks. The key to a good party is everyone is happy and comfortable.

Perfect example of having to move the dessert table indoors after the outdoor party got rained on.

Perfect example of having to move the dessert table indoors after the outdoor party got rained on.

The most important ingredient… you know it. LOVE. Have fun with the people you care about.

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It’s Party Al Fresco Time. Happy Summer Folks!