Summer offers a lot to be excited about: longer days, sunshine, more time outdoors. What I love most about this time of the year is that your dining space naturally increases and spills out to the porch or back yard. Even beyond that, you can easily have a simple gathering at the park or on the beach. Other seasons are rife with religious holidays and rivaling family traditions that can shape both the menu and the mood (or keep you from having a casual get-together because there are just too many obligatory ones), but summer is not one of them. What I enjoy about summer parties is that they are more relaxed, casual, and inherently more fun. You can throw together a shareable dish, have some chilled wine on hand, and somehow you know everyone will have a good time. A recent FOLD cookbook club gathering captured the feeling of outdoor summer parties perfectly.
Photography: Lerina Winter. Event concept, linens, select tabletop items and styling: FOLD. A complete list of resources and credits is at the end of the post.
Above: table is set for a potluck lunch with the menu composed entirely of recipes from Near and Far by Heidi Swanson.
Here are my takeaways for hosting a no-fuss summer gathering, including a recipe for my favorite dish—the Strawberry Salad.
1. Forgo floral arrangements in favor of loosely hung vines, dry herbs, and foraged stems.
Above: strands of foraged jasmine vines are entwined with the outdoor lights; a single Queen Anne’s Lace and tiny succulent pots adorn the table setting.
2. Instead of designated place settings, have stacks of plates, napkins, cups and utensils available on the table. It can be fun to see which items the guests will gravitate to from a variety of mismatched dishes and glassware.
3. If serving anything in addition to wine and beer, don’t try to make individual cocktails. Instead, opt for pre-made batch cocktails, tonics, or juice to avoid working too hard when guests arrive. This gorgeous and tasty Vin de Pamplemousse from the cookbook Near and Far by Heidi Swanson is made forty days in advance.
Above: chilled beverages in vintage containers; FOLD linen napkin in Nordic Stripe; calligraphy envelope signage by Susan Silverberg.
4. Choose food that can be enjoyed over a longer period of time. Worrying about meat or fish getting cold or dairy spoiling quickly can make it stressful for the host and cause the guests to feel rushed. Vegetarian dishes that can be enjoyed cold or at room temperature work really well. This kind of a menu invites your guests to stay longer and enjoy the food throughout the party rather than in an incremental format based on courses.
Above: having food signs next to each dish makes it easier for the guests to serve themselves rather than asking the host about each dish (especially for those with dietary restrictions).
5. Don’t be shy about mixing indoor and outdoor tables, seating, and textiles. If you don’t have one large table, consider placing a large piece of wood on top of two smaller side tables or using a sturdy coffee table as the base.
Above: the hosts used a piece of acacia wood from Elan Event Rentals, but a piece of plywood or several wood planks from the hardware store could work just as well.
1.5 lbs / 680 g strawberries (about 2 baskets)
3/4 teaspoon caraway seeds, lightly toasted
1.5 tablespoons natural cane sugar or brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup / 1.5 oz / 45 g sliced almonds, toasted
Zest of 1 lemon
Pick over the berries well, discarding any that are off. Brush away any dirt or debris with a damp cloth. Core and slice into quarters before placing in a large serving bowl.
Use a mortar and pestle to bruise the caraway seeds. Add the sugar and salt and grind a bit more to work the caraway into the sugar. Add the olive oil and stir to combine. If there is room in your mortar, use a spoon to stir in the almonds and lemon zest. If not, transfer to another bowl to combine.
Just before serving, pour most of the almond mixture over the berries. As gently as you can, mix together, folding and jostling the bowl to coat the strawberries. Do one last fold, top with the remaining nut mixture, and serve.
*Recipe reprinted with permission by the author from Near and Far. Copyright © 2015 by Heidi Swanson. All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. www.tenspeedpress.com
Cookbook-ish is a book club and a community of like-minded foodies and creative people in my hometown. I curate the book selection and ask everyone to choose 2-3 recipes they'd like to make. I then come up with a cohesive menu based on everyone's selections. We cook at home and bring our respective dishes to share in a potluck-style meal. Our next book is Sweet Laurel by Laurel Gallucci and Claire Thomas. Not in Santa Barbara? You can still participate by cooking and tagging your posts with #cookbookish_sb.