Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook
Join us for a fun seminar-Saturday 3:00 at Davidsonville, as we throw the doors open and get back outside again for our favorite Alfresco parties!
This time of year, we are hankering for the great outside, even before beautiful weather beckons. We want gather friends for an outdoor party. The best solution is to get ready by planning ahead. But given the logistics involved in planning even a casual gig, it may seem as though there are just as many excuses not to entertain — especially since long summer days don’t necessarily equal extra hours to get ready. This collection of tested techniques make alfresco entertaining a breeze so the hosts and the guests enjoy all of the fun. Believe me, we know from all of those River Dinners we orchestrate!
A Cool Stash
Station an armoire on a covered patio or clear a few shelves in the garage to hold items devoted to alfresco dining. Affordable, unbreakable, brightly hued enamelware, sturdy flea market finds, or eco friendly, reusable melamine dinnerware is good to have on hand, as are trays, plastic glasses, utensils, lanterns and candles.
Although typically used on chaise and chair cushions, outdoor fabrics also make attractive, all-weather table coverings and come in vibrant colors and patterns. Also try vinyl-coated oilcloth, which can be wiped clean with little effort.
Room for a Crowd
Accommodating a large group for a sit-down meal outside can be accomplished easily and elegantly by topping a few folding tables with a rustic flat-panel door or a single piece of plywood covered with cloth. When not in use, the tabletop and collapsed tables can be stowed along a wall in the garage.
Jump On It-Being Prepared
Tackle grill-related tasks more than just a few minutes ahead of time. Stock up on grilling fuel or refill the propane tank a week before. Clean and season the grill rack the morning of your party, and place a table or two nearby, complete with the various grilling tools and serving platters you’ll need.
Enjoy candlelight even on breezy evenings by using hurricane lanterns or canning jars to shield the flames.
Cool and Comfy
Running a fan near your dining area will help keep mosquitoes at bay — and keep your guests cool, too. You may also want to fill a container, such as a flowerpot or basket, with natural insect repellent (made from essential oils), insect repellent candles, as well as nongreasy sunscreen. Set it out in a convenient location on the porch or by the pool, perhaps — for those who seek protection from the elements.
Simple syrups infused with herbs and flavors let partygoers customize their cocktails. Bring 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar completely. Remove from heat, and add the flavoring of choice: the zest of 1 orange, a small bunch of mint, a few rosemary sprigs, or 8 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and sliced. Let steep for 30 minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, and discard solids. Chill in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Serve alongside seltzer, iced tea, and liquor, such as vodka, gin or rum.
Natural Homegrown Decor
Create centerpieces using foliage from the yard. Flowering or fruiting branches look elegant atop a table, as do fern fronds and hosta leaves arranged in jars.
Get Your guests Involved
Hours before the party, jot down a list of last-minute tasks. This will not only jog your memory but also simplify delegating when friends insist on lending a hand. Gather whatever is needed, such as matches to light candles or plates to set the table, and have everything at the ready. Also assemble a few spare serving vessels and utensils for dishes that guests may bring.
Space the Libations-Avoid a Bottleneck at the Bar
Multiple beverage stations help ensure that guests can get a refill without waiting. Galvanized tubs, colorful enamel buckets, and planters work perfectly. Place an assortment of drinks in each bin if they’re destined for different locations throughout the yard. Or fill each container with a single type, such as imported beer, white wine, or bottled water. With ribbon, tether an opener to a handle of each bin; drape a dish towel nearby to take care of condensation.
Table Top Decor
For a prettier and more accessible tabletop, decant condiments from their original packaging into small dishes, ramekins, or even mismatched teacups. Arrange them, along with homemade dips, salsas, and sauces, down the table, making sure each diner has everything within reach.