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!

 

Roasted Fish & more - A Meal in the Country

We have dear friends who have a lovely home in the NY countryside.  

This is not their house but the relaxing vista on the way.  Take a deep breath as we enter a blissful weekend.  (Photo credit: asithappens.me)

This is not their house but the relaxing vista on the way.  Take a deep breath as we enter a blissful weekend.  (Photo credit: asithappens.me)

When they invite us up to spend the weekend, we have a blast on so many levels including making delicious meals together.  We all have the same cooking methodology; use few and fresh ingredients and make them sing. Another special treat about their home is their vegetable garden.  This is a treat and a carved out section of envy. It is the truest sense of farm to table eating. During our last visit we kept it super simple preparing items and eating as they came out of the kitchen.  We pulled together a couple of light salads to nosh on during the day.  
This is a post about the art of simplicity.

Arugula salad with beans, corn & cucumber

No need for a recipe, just combine those ingredients and dress with the Magic 3 and squeeze of lime. Besides the refreshing taste, we all loved how the colors of the salad were a perfect reflection of the handcrafted bowl our friend Ron made.  Check out his work at    Miller Pottery HVNY.

No need for a recipe, just combine those ingredients and dress with the Magic 3 and squeeze of lime. Besides the refreshing taste, we all loved how the colors of the salad were a perfect reflection of the handcrafted bowl our friend Ron made.  Check out his work at  Miller Pottery HVNY.

Watermelon & Feta

Some crisp watermelon, feta and fresh herbs from their garden paired with a Spanish Albariño,   La Val

Some crisp watermelon, feta and fresh herbs from their garden paired with a Spanish Albariño, La Val

Zucchini "carpaccio"

This was a completely off the cuff creation that was good but needed some refining.  I've made the adjustments and the improved recipe will be in a future post.   (Photo credit: asithappens.me)

This was a completely off the cuff creation that was good but needed some refining.  I've made the adjustments and the improved recipe will be in a future post.   (Photo credit: asithappens.me)

All those refreshing dishes were our day time lunching bites.

At night we again kept it simple:  Roasting some fish, tossing a salad and warming beans & potato.

Oven Roasted Grouper

For the fish, we wanted to keep the fresh purity of these beautiful grouper fillets, so they were seasoned with the Magic 3 (salt, pepper, olive oil) and then added parsley, some sautéed onions and roasted tomatoes. (Remember the previous posts on roasted tomatoes and all the different uses... Well, here is one glorious way to use those candy-like jewels.)  Roast at 350 for 12-20 depending on the thickness of the fish.

On an aluminum lined baking sheet, place the fillets, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt/pepper and top with tomatoes, parsley, garlic and onion. 

On an aluminum lined baking sheet, place the fillets, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt/pepper and top with tomatoes, parsley, garlic and onion. 

Half the onions and sauté them in a cast iron pan until they become golden brown on both sides. (Always season with Magic 3). Then add them to the fish before roasting.  The leftovers can be used to serve as a side dish.

Half the onions and sauté them in a cast iron pan until they become golden brown on both sides. (Always season with Magic 3). Then add them to the fish before roasting.  The leftovers can be used to serve as a side dish.

For the salad, use the freshest greens you can find.  In our case, no car necessary. We were lucky that all that was required was a pair of scissors to snip some from their abundant, and I mean glorious, garden.  If only JuanCarlos and I had this kind of green thumb.  Ron gets two thumbs up for this magnificent 'living salad bowl'. 

Ron choosing the best of the best from his garden.   (Photo credit: asithappens.me)

Ron choosing the best of the best from his garden.   (Photo credit: asithappens.me)

Garden Greens with Nectarine

I say, don't mess with perfection.  

Look at that fluffy green-ness. Perfectly crisp, perfectly fresh, perfectly perfect.                   (Photo credit: asithappens.me)

Look at that fluffy green-ness. Perfectly crisp, perfectly fresh, perfectly perfect.                  
(Photo credit: asithappens.me)

The garden fresh greens didn't need too much, so I only added some scallions and nectarines and dressed it with a light lemon, garlic vinaigrette.  (Since we are heading out of nectarine season, they can be substituted with avocado, or apple. The idea for the salad is have a sweet element to it.  Use whatever you like.)

Beans & Potatoes 

For the bean/potato dish, another simple pairing of just a few items.  Cut 2-3 potatoes into bite sized cubes and boil until just before tender.  Drain and set aside.  In a skillet, sauté garlic and shallot in oil. Add the potatoes and season with salt and red pepper flakes to taste.  Add the small cannellini beans to warm through. And now here is yet another use for those roasted tomatoes. Wait for it... instead of using the tomatoes in this dish (which would certainly be a lovely addition) I used spoonfuls of the oil and juices that bubbled out while roasting.  This creates another level of flavor that makes this dish warm and yum!  Chop some fresh parsley to finish.

Do you see all that juice?  That is liquid gold and what I used in the potato/bean dish.

Do you see all that juice?  That is liquid gold and what I used in the potato/bean dish.

The meal was quite tasty without a lot of fuss.  The best part; sharing good, nutritious food with people we love.  I hope you, too, can carve out some time this weekend or next to take in nature's beauty and create a meal that brings you joy and stir up some love with the ones you love. 

Here's leaving you with a little zen.

(Photo credit: asithappens.me)

(Photo credit: asithappens.me)