Planning the menu is the fun part. I like to go through my old recipe files, search online, and flip through my cookbook collection for inspiration though I hardly ever follow the recipes. Most of my meals for parties are about fresh ingredients with grilled turkey, chicken, fish, or beef and vegetables. I don't like to do overly fussy things because they make me nervous and then I can't relax when the guests arrive.
Table linens for outdoor dining can be as simple or ornate as you please. A wonderful, patterned table cloth in such quality fabrics as Madeline Weinrib or John Robshaw designs, or in a solid, saturated color such as fuschia, magenta, or turquoise can really set your table apart. I've actually purchased beautiful sheet sets for my outdoor tablecloths and had my seamstress custom make them for me. Use mismatched napkins to keep the table from looking too fussy and use low vases of flowers, olive branches, or herbs as your centerpiece interspersed with plain white candles in stylish hurricanes.
The table above is beautiful. Just take a few precautions with high centerpieces. You can pull it off at events where people don't know one another or by placing guests' chairs off to the side of the vase so they don't have to crane their necks to see each other. But for smaller initmate gatherings keep the centerpieces low.
I also have to have background music. I play anything ranging from hits of the 60's and 70's to Lucinda Williams to Vivaldi. I love a wide range of musicians and styles and guests appreciate the extra thought that goes into my music choices.
My favorite summer menus always have a healthy slant to them often incorporating a Mediterranean fare. When I entertain I stick to things that are simple, things I've prepared before.
Rosemary marinated chicken breast sandwhiches on homemade focaccia created by my friend caterer Jennifer Stoicheff of Wren Creative Foods; grilled mixed summer vegetables brushed with basil infused olive oil; spinach salad with feta cheese, kalamata olives, cucumber and thyme, basil, and oregano, lemon juice, and olive oil. Homemade chocolate ice cream.
Grilled salmon with peach salsa; corn on the cob with basil butter; and arugula salad with figs, chevre, and balsamic vinaigrettte. Homemade peach pie with vanilla ice cream.
Vine ripened tomato tart with gruyere and basil , grilled Japanese eggplant, misto salad with large shrimp, chevre, and nectarines and white wine vinaigrette, blackberries with creme fraiche.
Photos courtesy Veranda, House Beautiful, Country Living, Elle Decor, and Southern Living. Designers Kathryn Ireland, John Bossard, Lamberston Truex, Allesandra Branca, Harriet Maxwell MacDonald, and Art Luna.