Thursday, June 20, 2013

Summer ushers in another chance for an outdoor bash extraordinaire

Once again I am writing a column about hosting an extraordinary outdoor bash. Not a backyard barbecue -- although you could serve ribs and barbecue chicken - but a small formal dinner for close friends or family.

My editor is rolling her eyes. Every year I do this column and every year summer passes without anyone seeing the cool outdoor chandelier that I made in anticipation of such an event.

My desire to host such a party spawned following a trip to Napa Valley where even a lunch of bologna sandwiches and red wine was a memorable event. Due in part to the California countryside but also the details attended by the vineyard staff: placing a rustic picnic table under an ornamental tree and setting the table with white linens, crystal glasses and votive candles. 

Whether you have a large backyard or an apartment with a small balcony -- the key to this kind of party is to let the natural elements set the mood and then expand upon that.

First, consider where to dine. Under a tree is nice but only if the branches are high and out of harm's way. A picnic table is great but you could also use a round card table. A patio set would also work provided you kept the d├ęcor formal. 

Once you've got a spot pick a theme and run with it - using linens and placemats - as the canvas for whatever picture you hope to create. Whatever you do don't forget the fresh flowers.

"There is something about flowers that instantly makes any gathering feel special," said a spokesperson from Pfaltzgraff. "Place several large sunflowers into a vase for the center of the table - or trim the stems off your favorite blooms and float them in a large serving bowl. For another simple centerpiece, line several glasses or small bowls down the center of the table and place a single blossom in each. No flower arranging skills required."

As the maker of formal and casual tableware - Pfaltzgraff has no shortage of ideas for those of us hoping to host an extraordinary outdoor affair. Their decorating staff also suggests enhancing the mood created by your natural environment with themes like alfresco created with decorations, lighting and tableware. Pfaltzgraff’s Pistoulet dinnerware features colorful renderings of flowers, vines and vegetables set against wide watercolor washes, which for example is reminiscent of the light and colors of Southern France. For an Americana theme consider using a red linen tablecloth with blue linen napkins wrapped with a whimsical cowboy boot napkin ring. You could also gather the napkins with a piece of rope but keep it formal with white china dishes. If you’d rather go country kick it up a notch with a red-checkered tablecloth.

See why I’m keen on such a party? There are all sorts of fun ways to do it. Below are a few more ideas courtesy of the decorating team at Pfaltzgraff:

  • Music plays a big role in setting the mood of any party. Be sure to keep it light and uplifting. However, keep it low enough so that your guests can carry on a conversation without shouting.
  • The problem with having a party outdoor is some elements are beyond your control like the wind for example. A gentle breeze makes it cool but can topple centerpieces and peel off tablecloths. Use small bowls or serving pieces around the table to keep the cloth secure.
  • Another nice touch is to slip in dried flower twig or a long-stemmed rose insides the folds of the napkin along with your cutlery to keep the linens from blowing off the table.
  • Incorporate earth elements such as pebbles, sea shells and fresh flowers in decorative bowls or glass vases.
  • Look around the area and see if you can add lights to bushes, trees or decking. You might also use candles in luminary bags weighted with sand.
  • For place cards use a Sharpie to write the name of each guest on a smooth stone. The stones make for organically chic place cards and memorable party favors.

“The secret to great entertaining is to keep things simple,” according to the experts at Pfaltzgraff. “Parties should be uncomplicated, easy and just as much fun for the hosts as it is for the guests. Start with a simple menu and then get everyone outdoors to enjoy the splendor of Michigan’s warm breezes, lush trees and colorful flowers.”

Gina Joseph is a reporter and columnist for The Macomb Daily. Send comments to gina.joseph@macombdaily.com, follow her on twitter @ginaljoseph and visit her beat blog at macomblife.blogspot.com.

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