Summer is here and that means that if you own a pool, a barbecue, a nice patio, or any outdoor space larger than a fire escape landing, chances are you’re going to hold some outdoor event in the next couple months. Of course you want yours the be the soiree everyone remembers fondly… not the one people send condolence cards to afterwards.
How to get it right? Well, as per usual, I have a couple handy tips to make you the most fabulous of them all.
Before you get too far in planning, it’s a good idea to make sure your space is in good shape. Clean the pool, trim the bushes, double check that your outdoor furniture is in good repair. Consider carefully how many bodies the space can hold comfortably. If you can only fit ten people, don’t invite fifty. If you can hold a hundred, go for it… if you can think of a hundred people you’d like to host and can do it without going off your tiny rocker.
When planning the menu, keep in mind any dietary restrictions your guests may have. In nearly every group there’s someone who is: vegetarian, vegan, gluten sensitive, lactose intolerant, diabetic, on a weight loss regimen or cleanse, following a religion with dietary restrictions, or desperately allergic to something or other. Whoever that person is, whatever their issue might be, make very sure there’s still plenty for that person to eat. I’ve run across some fellow foodies who make it a point of pride to utterly ignore any health or preference issues when inviting people to eat at their homes and I cannot for the life of me think of a more arrogant, inhospitable attitude. I’d rather everyone go home well fed than serve something precisely as I wanted it to be and then have nobody eat it but me.
My first question when feeding someone for the first time is ‘What don’t you eat?’ I don’t care whether it’s because of a health issue, a moral stance, a religious belief, or simple preference. I don’t need an excuse. All I want to know is what is a bad idea to put in front of that person. Tell me no lemons, and it’s between you and your god whether it’s because of your horrendous citrus allergy or because you don’t like sour things as a rule. I’ll make sure there are things sans lemons and point out (quietly) anything that has it hidden.
Make things easy on yourself. Outdoor entertaining is usually fairly casual. Put out finger foods that people can nibble on. Have a cooler or fill a small kiddie wading pool with ice and put beverages there for folks to help themselves. Serve foods that can be mostly made in advance, especially if you’re having a large group over. Fill in the blanks with bags of chips and don’t be afraid to serve them with store bought dip. Just don’t do that ‘guacamole’ that’s mostly sour cream. That’s just nasty. Get a couple avocados, some lime juice (preferably from a real lime), an onion and some garlic. Maybe some tomato if that’s your thing. Mince the onion and the garlic. Moosh the avocado and stir in the rest. Leave it a bit chunky. You’re done. Guacamole is simple. That’s why so many Mexican restaurants feature waiters making it tableside (at least here in the States). It’s fast, it’s easy, and it looks cool.
If you’re having live music, it’s probably best to warn the neighbors. I will never forget the party Mr. Twistie and I attended a while back where there was a small – and absolutely fantastic – mariachi band playing. In the middle of the evening, eggs came flying into the yard where the party was being held. It’s a good thing Mr. Twistie and I were there, because the eggs actually came flying over our fence! But considering the fact that I was petting the dog, Mr. Twistie was getting the info for contacting the band, and Jake the cat has no pitching arm, we were quickly exonerated. Live music is awesome (says the wife of the musician), but there are those who object strongly. It’s also a good idea to warn the neighbors if you plan to go very late with the party. Warned neighbors are a bit less likely to call in noise complaints to the local constabulary.
Relax and enjoy your own party. It’s a fact: if you are running around like a chicken with its head cut off, your guests can’t relax and enjoy your party, either. Do whatever it takes to be in the party spirit when the first person arrives at your door. That way everyone else can sit back and have a good time, too.