Saturday, July 30, 2016

Summer Entertaining

It's summer, and we want to spend more time outdoors than inside.  Summers should be relaxed and easy, even when it comes to entertaining our friends, family and out-of-town guests.

I've spent a lot of time this year trying to create an outdoor space that's just as relaxed and inviting as the indoors.  Versatile outdoor furniture with plenty of seating, providing the right amount of shade, and setting a scene with plants and lights, all play into the atmosphere.

I had out-of-town guests this summer, and while I didn't know which evenings we'd be staying in and which we'd be going out, a little bit of advanced planning made all the difference.  I stocked the fridge and pantry with entertaining staples, such as crackers, cheese, salami and olives.

Just before my guests arrived in town, I cut cheese and salami into cubes and placed them in a container in the refrigerator, ready to go at a moment's notice.  Not only is it a favorite snack, but the container could be taken with us in the car for a day trip to a nearby town, on a picnic in the mountains, or even with us to a local brewery that does not serve food of its own. When the gang was at my house one evening for dinner, I inverted the cubes onto a plate for instant munchies while the food was cooking.

The ease and lack of stress in such a simple thing is exactly what easy entertaining is all about.  I had something for my guests to enjoy with some crackers, olives, a glass of wine or a beer while I was making dinner, and the conversation and laughter flowed.  It's a small thing that will come in handy year-round, no matter when I'm entertaining.

You can do the same with watermelon and other fruit.  If I know I'll be entertaining guests soon, I find a convenient time to cut up cubes of melon or slice strawberries, so they'll be ready when I am.  I can use just one kind of fruit, or toss them together with grapes, blueberries or raspberries for a fruit salad.  Add a little chiffonade of fresh basil or mint, and the fruit will marinate in fabulous flavor until I'm ready for entertaining.  (And the leftover fruit can be used in smoothies or cocktails the next day.)

You can also wrap strips of prosciutto around slices of watermelon or cantaloupe for an easy, yet fancy, appetizer for your guests.  Making an impression doesn't get any easier than this!

Fruit salsas are also delicious in summer.  Mango or strawberry salsas are refreshing and tantalizingly delicious.  They are often available in the prepared foods section of grocery stores like Whole Foods, or you can find your own recipe online.  They're quick and easy to put together, and nice to have on hand for entertaining all summer long.  And don't forget the guacamole!

Another fast and delicious summer nibble is soft cheese drizzled with honey and finely chopped nuts, served with pita or bagel chips, or toasted baguette slices.

A well-seasoned, fresh tzatziki sauce served with soft pita triangles is also a lovely summer-time treat.  I like to make mine with greek yogurt, sour cream, shredded cucumber, fresh minced garlic, fresh chopped mint, kosher salt, white pepper, and lemon juice.  Delicious, refreshing and light!

A snack or dinner consisting of hummus, tzatziki sauce, Baba Ganoush or eggplant caviar, olives or tapenade, antipasto or a greek salad, a charcuterie of meats and cheeses, and lots of soft pita triangles or slices of onion naan, is a wonderful outdoor repast on a hot, summer night.

Don't forget dessert!
A plate of luscious, sliced heirloom tomatoes seasoned with lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil, fresh chopped herbs, salt and pepper, makes a welcome summer treat on any party table.  We could eat an entire plate of these anytime.  Serve with other summer salads, roasted veggies, or pasta primavera for the perfect light summer supper.

Put some marinated shrimp on the bar-b skewered together for easy turning, joined by other veggie, sausage and meat kebobs, and you have the perfect dinner on the grill in no time.  Don't forget the grilled corn!

As for beverages, a chilled prosecco or other sparkling wine is my go-to summer drink. Light, chilled and refreshing, it's the perfect wine for summer in my opinion.  A nice dry cava or a sparkling rosé goes well with any light, summer fare.  Summer is also the time to whip up pitchers of fruity, tropical cocktails.  It will remind everyone of fun vacations, and bring up pleasant memories, even if they're not getting away to a sunny paradise spot anytime soon.

If alcoholic beverages are not your style, then don't forget to make pitchers of fruit-flavored waters by adding slices of strawberries, melon, or citrus to your favorite bottled or sparkling water.  Not only are the fruit-infusions refreshing and exquisite, but it adds a festive summer touch to your party table.

When I'm entertaining outside, I always go with melamine and plastic.  I spent time locating just the right plastic glassware, in the right shapes and sizes, because I don't want people or dogs milling about inside-and-out around glass.  Accidents can always happen, and we have too many kids and doggies to chance shards of glass ending up hidden on the lawn or patio.

Too hot to be outside?  Set-up an outdoor umbrella to create needed shade.  Turn on the sprinklers.  Not only will it cool things down, but it will also encourage the kids to run through them which is a rite of summer.  Kids bored?  Bring out the bubbles, beach balls, nerf guns or water pistols.  Have a backyard water balloon war.  Set up croquet, badminton, a bean bag toss or other backyard game to keep everyone active, moving and laughing.

Don't be limited by your own backyard, either.  If it's not up to accommodating guests this year, then find an easy outdoor venue that is.  A blanket and a nearby park is all you need.  Or set up a few lawn chairs by a creek, a scenic mountain overlook, the nearest hiking path or trail head, or by the shore of an ocean, lake or reservoir.

Make summer meals informal and fun.  Have impromptu picnics wherever you find yourselves this summer, even on a park bench while the kids hit the swings.  Pick up tacos or burritos and take them with you to an outdoor concert.  Fun and good times is wherever you make it, so always be ready to pack up some good eats, and go!

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all somehow more satisfying when enjoyed outside.  Our first morning cup of coffee out on the deck listening to the birds just makes the day start off better.  Afternoon Tea staged on the back patio, deck or front porch is lovely, and somehow more enjoyable.  Appreciating a beautiful sunset outside with our favorite beverages and nibbles is a way to pay homage to a wonderful day.  Spending quality time with our family and friends is always a good reason to savor our outdoor space.

The biggest part of the joy of summer is spending as much time outside as possible.  Don't let this summer leave without taking advantage of every excuse to spend it outdoors in the sun!

Now get out there!

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