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Summertime Entertaining

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Story by Bre Hamilton

From the best backyard patio party to an intimate and impromptu picnic for two, we’ll have you ready for alfresco entertaining just in time for summer.

Summer is—or should be—all about relaxation. So stash the Blackberry in your sock drawer, it’s time to unwind and enjoy summer’s long, sunny days and warm, languid nights on the patio with family and friends. The key to summer entertaining is to keep everything easy and casual—so save the heroic recipes and complicated mixed drinks for autumn and winter. Instead, fire up the grill, pour yourself something cold, and get set to relax and mingle with your guests, summer style.

With our party plans, tips and recipes, you’ll be ready to take advantage of every opportunity the hot season offers for chilled-out alfresco entertaining. Maybe it’s a holdover from childhood, but when most of us think about summer we can almost feel the sand between our toes, the warm sun on our bare shoulders and the cool whisk of mown grass on the soles of our feet.

Nothing recaptures that free and easy feeling quite like a summer backyard patio party. These Top Ten tips will have your party flowing and your guests mingling happily long before—and long after—the sun sets.

“Maybe it’s a holdover from childhood, but when most of us think about summer we can almost feel the sand between our toes”

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1. Fire up the grill

What’s a summer party without a barbecue? If you haven’t already done so—it’s June, for goodness’ sake!—make sure your grill is in shape now. One pro trick is to rub half a split onion on the hot rack; any accumulated grease will come right off. And depending on what your barbecue burns, make sure you are stocked up on propane, charcoal, or scented woods like apple or maple.

2. Mix it up

Summer’s relaxed vibe is all about mixing and mingling. So take a risk and play with your guest list: invite the neighbours who just moved in next door; the squash partner you rarely see off-court; who knows, you might even want to invite your boss (OK, maybe that’s stretching it). Summer is the time to bring your different social circles together, and as host you can relax while your chatty co-worker and gregarious best friend meet and hit it off.

3. Minimize the prep

Now is not the time to be slaving in the kitchen or timing when to serve the fish course. Summer parties are all about advance preparation, so you can relax on the patio or poolside with your guests. Save yourself time by keeping your recipes simple: think salads, grilled meats, and Mediterranean-style grilled vegetables (see sidebar). And don’t be afraid to visit your local gourmet grocer for barbecue-ready marinated meats or pre-made salads; summer parties are about enjoyment, not stress.

4. Set the mood

Nothing sets off a soft summer night and keeps guests lingering longer than a flickering fire. Your twentieth-floor urban terrace can’t quite accommodate? No problem: a scattering of votive candles, hurricane lamps, antique lanterns or even tiki torches work just as well. And don’t forget the music: pre-set an iPod playlist to your favourite tunes, turn your stereo speakers facing out the window, and you are good to go.

5. More is more

If any season is all about the permissible, even the excessive, it’s summer. Embrace wanton excess by having lots of everything on hand: lots of food, plenty to drink, and of course, extra ice. Big, ice-filled, galvanized steel containers from your local home supply store make excellent self-serve beer and soda coolers.

6. Let others wash up

Think party rentals are for weddings only? Think again. Not only are rented plates, glasses, tables and even barbecues inexpensive, party rental firms drop off, pick up and do the washing up. And in an era when so-called “disposables” are no-nos, renting extra glasses rather than buying plastic cups not only looks better, it makes environmental sense, too.

7. Delegate

At summer parties, guests want to pitch in: so let them! Let your guests turn the marinated lamb skewers on the grill or open another bottle of Chardonnay; it gives you a hand makes everyone feel at home.

8. Speaking of the bar

Now is not the time to chain yourself to it, mixing elaborate drinks one at a time. Think of how it’s done in climes where it’s more like summer year-round; at one bar, serve pre-mixed jugs of sangria or mojitos. At the wine bar, open up more white wine than you think you’ll need (trust us, you’ll need it) and leave it chilling in tubs of ice. If you want a special martini bar (see the sidebar for Brian Jessel’s favourite summer cocktail), set up the ingredients and garnishes with vintage glasses and instructions, so guests can play at mixing it themselves.

9. Natural beauty

Summer is when nature is at its height, and part of the joy of being outside is about being surrounded by trees and flowers. Even if you lack a green thumb or live in the urban core, a few summer blossoms casually arranged in glass vases on tables add instant colour and lushness to the party atmosphere.

10. Keep the keys

Even though we know to do this, it is sometimes so easy to forget the most important part of a great summer party: making sure your guests don’t drive home. Offer your guests taxi chits, or have cabs ready and on call at party’s end: whatever will make it easy for your guests to not drink and drive. Believe me, they will thank you the day after.

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Brian’s Green Apple Martinis

For those who just love a summer martini, this classic has just the right balance of sweetness, crispness and bite. Set up a station with all the fixings and your guests can mix them to taste.
1 part Belvedere Vodka
2 parts Sour Puss Sour Apple Liqueur
a very small splash of dry vermouth
1 ice cube per serving
Garnish: Granny Smith apple slices Shake all the ingredients in a shaker with ice and strain into a martini glass.

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