Summer is supposed to be the time for outdoor entertaining; however, we had a very challenging early summer, with cool temperatures and lots of rain. We certainly can't rely on having a rain-free outside party.
Just when I thought my flowers were reaching their peak, the hail storm came, and I lost everything - and I mean everything. My hostas look like they were run through a shredder, and all of my flowers are gone. So much for a pretty outdoor event at my house.
Having outdoor parties makes entertaining easier in a number of ways. First, you can minimize your indoor cleaning as your guests won't be spending much time in your house. in my case, that is a major time saver. Nature will provide most of the decorations, but you will still want to have pretty centerpieces on your tables and candles, candles, candles. I even float candles in the pool.
Plan to cook on the grill. Pork tenderloin, chicken, beef, shrimp and my favorite, flat iron steak, are delicious, and your guests can chat with you while you are cooking. This is a perfect time to serve fresh vegetables and fruits - corn, tomatoes, squash and watermelon to name a few. Grilled veggies are super! Ice cream hits the spot on a steamy afternoon or evening. Place fresh fruits, nuts, chocolate pieces, whipped cream and sauces on a table, and let the guests create their own sundaes.
Tall, cool, fruity drinks with or without alcohol are fun and refreshing. Bellini or Mimosa cocktails are great. I like to use Cava or Prosecco, sparkling wines instead of Champagne, in my Bellinis. Long Island Iced Tea is delicious. But be very careful, there is a huge amount of alcohol in this drink. Believe me, there is very little iced tea.
When planning a floral centerpiece for your outdoor party, you may choose interesting floral containers such as old glass bottles or jars. They lend character to your table. The next time you go to a flea market, look for bottles or jars with openings that can hold anywhere from a single stem to a large bouquet. Colored glass, glass with bubbles or defects, and shapes that are not uniform are fun.
I love to use Queen Anne's Lace when it is blooming. It is often considered a weed, but it is actually a wild carrot. The root tastes like carrot but is white and has a stronger flavor and a chewier texture. It is best harvested from fall to early spring. It can be used like commercial carrots. Dried and roasted, it is said to be a good substitute for coffee. The flowers and leaves are edible as well. If you place some food coloring in the flower water, the white flower will start to turn the color of the water after a couple of days.
Most people are aware of the story about the dark purple floret in the center of the flower, and if they don't it is fun telling the story. The American legend says that Anne of Denmark (1574-1619), queen consort of King James I, was an expert lace-maker. The central flower of the carrot's umbel is reddish-purple.This odd flower was placed upon the umbel for the time Anne pricked her finger and a drop of blood stained the lace. According to Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, the name Queen Anne's lace did not appear in print until 1895, 276 years after Anne's death.
Another table suggestion is to place a geranium, impatiens or other flower in a pretty clay pot and let a guest win it at the end of the party.
As I mentioned at the outset, if you plan an outdoor party, you must consider what to do if it rains.
First invite only the number of people you would entertain in your home. Second, and this is not for everyone, do a complete set up inside. I have had to do this a couple of times, and it has saved the party.
Most of all, have fun, enjoy the warm, sunny days of summer. Fall will be upon us soon.
Remember graduates: Your thank-you notes should have been written and sent by now.
Judi Hendrickson of Wheeling is the co-author with Dr. Jeanne Finstein of "Walking Pleasant Valley" and is working with Finstein on their second book, "Walking Woodsdale." She teaches etiquette and presents programs on Tea Time Traditions, the History and Etiquette of Tea and Wedding Traditions.