Take the Party Outside

My latest article that can be found in the Home & Lifestyles Magazine, Summer 2014 edition. Or online at SonomaWest.com. The layout really adds to it so take a look online or if you are local {Cloverdale, Geyserville, Healdsburg, Windsor, or Sebastopol} you may find it in any of the local grocery stores, markets, wineries, or restaurants.





Now that summer’s here, it’s time to gear up for outdoor entertaining. Dust off the tables, unstack those chairs, uncover the barbecue, refill the lanterns, and unpack those serving bowls and summertime dinnerware. I love to entertain all year-round but my favorite time is the summertime because it stays light longer, the nights are warm, and people are generally in happier moods. People enjoy spending time with their friends outdoors. All you need is some color, delicious foods, great drinks and good conversation.


Here are some tips from my kitchen and home, where I entertain often, on how to achieve the perfect wine-country, summer dinner party without breaking the bank and so you come out looking like a rock star.


The Initial Contact

Entertaining can be trying at times and a bit overwhelming because it feels like work. Being a host or hostess is not an easy task – you must do so many things: welcome your guests, greet them with a drink (knowing what each one likes is a plus), take their coats and leave them in a common place for later, make those who have not been to your home welcome and comfortable by showing them where the restroom is and introducing everyone. Make no assumptions; give everyone the information they need when coming into your home. I will leave a sign on the front door if we are out back entertaining guests already and explain what gate to use when entering. I will show my company to the restroom as I explain where to leave their belongings.


The Atmosphere 

Create a common space for people to gather and hang out while the cooking is being done. People are drawn to the kitchen so an island around the chef with small bites or a cheese board is an easy way to get everyone engaged. The barbecue is also where people like to congregate. Cooking is part of the entertainment. This also gives you, the host, the extra time you need to prepare dinner while engaging with your guests. Make sure everyone knows one another. A huge tip: I know all of my guests and when I have people over who do not know each other, I find a commonality between them: their job, a marathon they both ran, etc., so they can create conversation. This also allows me (the hostess) time to check the oven, chop something or powder my nose.


The Decor

Nothing goes better than wood and color. It’s classic, rustic and so very wine country. I like to use my fiestaware in different shades set on top of a more neutral placemat. Mixing shapes adds depth to your table display, and you end up decorating your table more with the accessories and necessities rather than candles and nic-nacs. Napkin rings add a component of class to the napkin and make for a nice presentation atop the plate, welcoming guests as they sit. Burlap is in and goes with everything. I use my burlap-esque napkin rings with bright-colored napkins or those with a lovely design for a rustic-elegance look. Any sort of brown material or natural-colored beaded ring will do the same trick.

With color and added charms on the table, all you really need to include are flowers (if you like).

Vine Life + Industry Party_05 18 14_0392_edited-1

The Food

My favorite things to cook are those I can prepare mostly ahead of time, like fish tacos. Use any sort of diced-up, cooked fish that you have left over, add in some fresh bay shrimp, and top it with a nice mango, carrot and red cabbage slaw. It’s fresh, it’s simple, and all you cook with the guests there are the mini corn tortillas! Top it with a little crème fraîche and you have a delicious masterpiece.

I love to grill, and the smell of fresh veggies and meat on the grill, well, there’s nothing better. Your friends love it when you “wow” with creativity. I love to slice hearts of romaine in half and place inside down on the grill for just a little over a minute and then top it with Point Reyes Original Blue or Humboldt Fog cheese, kalamata olives, red onion and champagne vinaigrette. It’s savory, warm and fresh.

Another great idea is a single dish meal that is easily thrown in the oven (after a hour or more of preparation obviously) and left alone until time to serve. This allows more entertaining time without interruption.

Summer Salad


The Drinks

Summertime means refreshing cocktails and wine. I love serving color so rosé is right up my alley. Even for the non-wine connoisseur, a rosé is light, crisp, smooth and filled with flavors of kiwi and berries – things all enjoy. I always put a water carafe on the table with some local fresh herbs and citrus. It’s soothing, tasty and looks nice on the table. Rosemary sprigs with slices of mango also look nice; with a few slices of lime you have texture and great flavor as well as the most important aspect: color.

I am a sucker for the aperitif, which, of course, is consumed before dinner. Long ago and more recently, the traditional aperitif has become more popular. My very favorite, Fernet Branca, can be mixed with other bar staples to make quite-the-desired refreshing summer cocktail. Fernet and many of the other popular aperitifs are bitters and not so desired by most people, so it’s important to mix with the right beverage and fruit or citrus. I love to serve a campari and ginger ale with two limes: a traditionally classic cocktail. Fernet Branca is great mixed with equal parts campari, shaken together with fresh-squeezed orange, topped with soda, and served with an orange slice.

With so many of my friends loving all sorts of different drinks and cocktails, I always have a variety of craft beer on hand as well. The Daytime IPA from local producer Lagunitas or the California Common from St. Florian’s are always a part of my bar choices.

St. Florian's Brewery


The Music

It can be an easy task picking out the music but it’s truly an important piece of the puzzle when having people over. I like to pick music that people cannot really sing along to because it can be distracting, and it’s nice to have everyone chat with each other. My favorites are the Buena Vista Social Club and Cabana Beach Club. These are great stations to put on Pandora. Once dinner is over and everyone is having fun and just socializing (because now they know each other better), I put on something age-appropriate: classic rock, oldies but goodies, or something similar.


Shop local

Dinner parties are fun and, in the grand scheme of things, pretty simple to put on. With some of these tips and easy-to-make dishes, you can throw a fun, wine country dinner party for your friends on the fly or pre-planned. Remember to always shop local and buy local for all of your summertime entertaining fun. We have so many wonderful farmers markets for produce and a wide variety of local wineries that sell some pretty fantastic rosés to showcase.



*Some of my favorite rose’s to serve are:

Trione Vineyards & WineryPedroncelli, and Kelly & Young


Please see SonomaWest.com or the Home & Lifestyles Magazine for original layout.


2 thoughts on “Take the Party Outside

  1. Nice article, very informative. I never thought about the distraction of well know music . Makes sense light background music would promote more conversation.

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