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How to Throw the Best Party of the Summer

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Photo by Rachael White

Long days, warm nights and the sight of bare toes are all sure signs: summer has finally arrived! No matter how old we get, when the season gets into full swing, that summer-loving kid inside all of us comes out, bringing back memories of running barefoot in the grass, eating cherry tomatoes straight from the garden, drinking lemonade, and soaking up as much sun as possible. What better way to celebrate the season and spread childlike joy than by throwing a fabulous summer party?

From planning a party menu to choosing your venue and décor, here are some tried-and-true tips for savoring summer at your next party.

For Fabulous Food, Go Local & Seasonal

A party simply isn’t a party without great food. And summer is the perfect time to source and showcase flavorful local foods that are perfect for entertaining.

In most locales, it can be difficult to find variety in local food options until April, May, or even June. So when those months come around, take advantage! Farmers’ markets are your best bet for finding fresh ingredients from local farmers and producers.

How to Do It: To find farmers’ markets and other local foods where you live, look online. Eat Well Guide is a consumer guide to local food sources throughout the U.S. and Canada. Searching is a cinch: start with your zip code, city or state or even keywords, and narrow your search from there. You’ll soon be on way to discovering many nearby farmers’ markets, organic and sustainable products, and vendors, from bakeries to butchers.

Party Tip: For a truly seasonal summer menu, walk through the farmers’ market first to see what’s available, then plan your party picks.

Preparation & Presentation: Keep It Simple

Once your canvas bags are filled with gorgeous local ingredients, it’s time to decide how to prepare your party food. Denise Sakaki of the blog Wasabi Prime has the right idea: she writes, “Summer is when flavors are most vibrant—the less you do with the ingredients, the better, just [let] the natural flavors shine as much as possible.”

In other words, when food is fresh, it doesn’t need much to shine—that goes for preparation as well as presentation. Dennis Lewis, Executive Chef at Ursula’s Wine Bar & Café in White Bear Lake, MN, shared similar advice when it comes to working with fresh vegetables and meat: “Remember, not everything needs a sauce. Sometimes just some fresh herbs [will] do the trick.”

How to Do It: Showcase the bright color and flavor of sun-ripened tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt and a bit of cracked black pepper. Or serve do-it-yourself tomato sandwiches: place thickly sliced tomatoes on a platter with a bunch of arugula and freshly baked bread on a large cutting board. Serving local cheeses? Arrange them on a large wooden board with a few sprigs of fresh herbs and some local fruit or honey. Family-style presentation is a great way to show off your beautiful farmers’ market picks and it also encourages conversation and interaction at the table.

Party Tip: Don’t get too fussy. A simple, rustic presentation can still be elegant and will make you and your guests feel more relaxed.

Pick the Place: Party AlFresco or Indoor Entertaining

Entertaining outdoors? Super–but have a back-up plan in case it rains on your parade. Set up one long table where guests can sit beneath lanterns hanging from tree branches, or simply under the wide open sky. Minimal decoration is needed outdoors, but while you’re shopping for food at the farmers market, pick up a few bouquets of flowers. Small, colorful bunches are easily found for no more than $5 apiece and they can be combined for a single brilliant arrangement or placed intermittently along the table.

Don’t have the option to entertain outdoors? Don’t fret! You can still create a carefree, breezy summer atmosphere within four walls. Those flowers from the farmers’ market will be equally stunning indoors. Place them on side tables, in wall-mounted vases, or use single flowers to accentuate place settings. Use white linens to maintain a clean, fresh feel, and throw open as many windows and doors as you can.

How to Create the Perfect Ambiance

Whether you plan on entertaining indoors or alfresco, here are a few ways to set the scene for your summer party.

Décor: First, explore local garage and estate sales. Look for interesting, well-priced props that you can fill with flowers, candles, herbs, vegetables or fruits. Food and antiques make great decorations because they are rustic and real.

Lighting: If you’re planning an evening event, don’t forget about lighting. Candles, lanterns, lamps and stringed white lights can lend a romantic, festive feeling either on their own or in combination with one another. Experiment prior to your gathering: the goal is to create a soft lighting effect that will flatter your guests. Mason jars are a thrifty but attractive display choice for tealights. Consider lighting a few citronella candles if you live in a buggy area—but make sure to keep those away from the food.

Music: No party is complete without music. Choose songs and artists with a summery, relaxing vibe. Great choices include Neil Young, Ray Lamontagne, Fleet Foxes and Alison Krauss & Union Station.

Now that you’ve got an arsenal of suggestions to kick off summer with a fabulous party, get planning! You’ve got invitations to send out and farmers’ markets to explore!

Editor’s Note: We’d love to hear from you–please share your favorite summer treats and party planning tips in the comments below!

Rachael White is the author of the blogs Set the Table and Tokyo Terrace. After four years of living, eating, and entertaining in Tokyo, Japan, she and her family have relocated to Denver, Colorado. Rachael is constantly searching for new ways to make entertaining easier and more interesting for guests in a variety of environments and situations. In addition to food blogging, her recipes have been published in cookbooks including Foodista Best of Food Blogs and Peko Peko: A Charity Cookbook for Japan and in Japan’s Daily Yomiuri newspaper. Originally from Minnesota, Rachael strives to recreate recipes and settings that reflect Midwestern comfort with a modern twist.