An Alfresco Dining Evening
A delightful outdoor dinner party instantly invokes the words "fresh," "summer," and "mingle." Get in the spirit with our delightful alfresco fete, which includes pretty flower centerpieces, easy lemonade recipes, lighting ideas, and plenty of opportunities to chat with guests.
To create this party we partnered with Amy Neunsinger, a photographer who entertains at her Los Angeles home almost weekly. She's also the founder of Cocodot (cocodot.com), an online party site that lets hosts send stylish e-invites and track RSVPs. Amy is offering Better Homes and Gardens readers an exclusive discount so read on for the details and get the party started.
Outdoor Party Lights
String lanterns, hung in the trees, add sparkle to backyard gatherings. They work for every summer gathering, adding easy ambience that can stay outside all season. We got our 20-light strings from cableandcottonusa.com.
Hostess Tip: Amy's secret to instant party ambience? Music. Amy relies on Sonos (sonos.com), which lets her play different music in different parts of her home. The service pulls songs from your iTunes library or online music-mix sites like Rhapsody. You can control the tunes from your smartphone or tablet, so you don't miss any table talk.
Simple Flower Tabletop Display
A row of low candles and tall bottle vases forms a perennially pretty centerpiece; you could add any flower you like, though peonies work especially well because of their long, strong stems. See-through bottles are a must because they're not intrusive to guests' conversations. It's easy to put together a basic party formula that you revise with different food and flowers. Simply reuse the bottle centerpieces, lights, and dishes for your next outdoor affair.
Outdoor Tableware Tips
The rustic beauty of an outdoor table means you needn't obsess about matching. Pink dishes from years ago work just fine with vintage flatware from a flea market. For napkins, mix-and-match fabric scraps offer an offbeat add-in. No need to hem -- the lifespan of a party napkin is short anyway.
Side Table Outdoor Setting
A side table of light refreshments and a pretty conversation-starting art piece help the party flow. Top a small table with a square of fabric and add pour-your-own pitchers of lemonade. Above it, hang an outdoor chandelier made from photos. Snap flowers from your garden, print multiples on paper, and clip them up to create the art. The photo mobile shown here is called "Vine photo mobile" and is available at umbra.com. The next slide shows a closer view.
Outdoor Flower Photo Display
For this photo chandelier, a tight-in shot of a single flower works well. You also could pick a few flowers in your party's colors to showcase. Don't have a garden for your photo needs? -- visit the link, below, to head to our Garden channel filled with 100s of gorgeous flower images.
Lemonade Stand and Labels
This grown-up lemonade stand, where the drinks are infused with herbs and studded with fresh fruit, looks as good as it tastes. Float lemons, herbs, or strawberries in the pitchers to add color to your outdoor table. Labels also help guests preview their selection. Get a free set of labels featuring Amy's beautiful flower photos, below.
Grilled Fruit and Other Alfresco Ideas
A casual make-ahead dinner, such as pasta with tomatoes and fresh herbs and cold summer soup, ensures low-maintenance party prep. For dessert, deliciously easy grilled fruit is as much fun as toasting s'mores, and healthier, too. Skewer fruit chunks onto sturdy sprigs of rosemary to add flavor and flair. Then have guests grill their own in a basket over the fire pit. (A barbecue grill works, too.)
Fresh Party Favors
Send guests home with a little taste of summer: candied citrus peel packed in glass canning jars and tied with ribbon. Easy and inexpensive, they also make a lovely addition to your table display during the party.
More about Cocodot and Online Party Invitations
Amy's Website, Cocodot (cocodot.com) is the busy host's best friend. Send a fabulous-looking, free (and ad-free) e-invite that's as unique as your party. You can also add music or a voice recording to your invite, and guests can RSVP online. They also get a reminder e-mail the day before. Cocodot also suggests recipes and offers food and decor items based on your theme.
Reader discount! Get 15 percent off printed cards and party gear at cocodot.com. Enter discount code BHG2012 at checkout. Offer expires July 1, 2012.