Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day are all about gathering with friends and family to celebrate our nation’s history and America’s freedom. If you are entertaining at home, keep your focus on the celebration, avoid the stress, and make setting the table and serving your guests a breeze by following the advice of these Southern entertaining experts. These tidbits will help you throw a soiree with festive décor and tasty treats.
Setting the Table
1. Use layers.
Angie Cook, of Hester & Cook, uses holidays such as the Fourth of July to showcase her summertime entertaining savvy and encourages you to do the same. “What better way to do this than with the use of festive and easy options like paper placemats and a runner?” she asks. “Start with a basic tablecloth, and begin layering with our Red Stripe runner layered with Stars on Blue placemat,” she suggests. “Punctuate this patriotic theme with touches of gold for a more sophisticated look. Utilizing china and flatware as opposed to paper plates and plastic will be appreciated by guests. This also adds weight to the table in the event a cool breeze might head your way. Alternatively, our Red Check runner and Summer Setting placemat offer a more playful take on a outdoor entertaining!”
2. Combine colors.
While we take patriotic holidays as an excuse to bust out all things red, white and blue, Katie Jacobs of the lifestyle blog Styling My Everyday encourages us to incorporate other summer colors. “When decorating for a Fourth of July party, I really like to combine brightly colored summer fare with traditional red, white and blue decor for a super fun update. Fresh cut summer flowers, bright berries and cool cocktails scream summertime.”
3. Use nature.
Danielle D. Rollins, “Gracious Living & Stylish Entertaining” lifestyle expert, author of “Soiree: Entertaining with Style” and contributing editor at VERANDA, has an affinity for red, white and blue, making the Fourth of July one of her favorite holidays. “I love having a casual outdoor dinner, followed by watching fireworks,” she says of her entertaining preferences. “I like when the table is set with all red, white and blue — not so much patriotically inspired as it is color inspired, using nature’s bounty of vibrant colors. Pots of blue hydrangeas, red geraniums or peppermint petunias are always a favorite.”
Deanna Burks, of Deanna Burks Events + Design — an award-winning design firm that provides corporate and private event planning, styling, design, florals, paper goods and event website design — is another fan of incorporating natural elements into her table setting, “I have always loved the use of fruits or vegetables as décor, and strawberries and blueberries are so gorgeous and festive.” In one table setting (pictured below) Deanna opts for simple and natural floral arrangements. “White hyacinths are amazingly fragrant and clustering them creates impact,” she says of the flower choices. “The red protea offers a little punch of color and visual interest with its spiky petals. Simple but makes a statement.”
4. Keep things simple, yet festive.
We love this piece of advice from Jill and Steve Mckenzie, of Steve McKenzie’s, for putting together a patriotic table setting: “Try to keep it simple, yet festive.” Even better, a simple setting also allows for simple clean-up. Everyone wants to visit and enjoy the games, homemade ice cream and fireworks, so a quick clean up strategy is key. We have learned (through trial and error) to pack several trash bags — small, medium and large,” Jill shares. “Small for the cutlery, medium for the scraped plates, large for the scraps, etc. This helps keep your baskets, tote bags and backseats clean.”
What to Serve
1. Hydrate (with more than just booze).
A resident of Memphis, Tennessee, Perre Magness of the food blog The Runaway Spoon is no stranger to Southern summer heat. In order to stay cool, she suggests having plenty of ice on hand — and lots of cold drinks. “In the heat and sun, it’s important to have non-alcoholic choices at the bar. Think fresh lemonade, iced tea punch and agua frescas (infused waters),” she says. “For a colorful patriotic twist, make fresh pink watermelon lemonade with fresh blueberries frozen in ice cubes to keep it cool. Pitchers of water with lemons, cucumber and mint is refreshing and cold and will encourage people to keep hydrated without overdoing it on the alcohol.” Hydrating isn’t the only way to stay cool: “Place a small cooler with ice packs and damp washcloths or bandanas to help folks cool off,” she suggests. “Or put the bug spray in the cooler for a refreshing spritz!”
2. Don’t forget the appetizers.
Jennifer Chandler, author of cookbooks such as “The Southern Pantry Cookbook” and “Simply Grilling” and host of “The Weekly Dish” on WKNO-FM, always has an appetizer on the table for guests to enjoy while dinner is finishing on the grill. “Easy, yet impressive, starters hot off the grill like grilled artichokes or grilled pizzas — or even just a good do-ahead dip with chips and veggies — keep everyone happy while we chat, sip on a refreshing beverage and keep one eye on the grill,” she says.
3. Go beyond the burgers.
Katie Jacobs of the blog Styling My Everyday suggests moving beyond the traditional holiday fare for something a bit more elevated. “Ditch the burgers and hot dogs for a more sophisticated but still relaxed menu of homemade DIY pizzas in an outdoor pizza oven, mini caprese salads and Champagne served with ice-cold popsicles,” she tells us.
4. Use ingredients for color.
Cara Greenstein, founder of Caramelized, a Memphis-based food and lifestyle blog, suggests letting the ingredients fulfill your patriotic palate. “Rather than stress over striped red and blue serve-ware that only suffices for the one-day holiday, use whites and woods as a canvas for your bold menu of blue and burgundies,” she suggests. “A white pitcher of sangria, watermelon and feta bruschetta on a wood board, and a blueberry compote baked brie on marble make for show-stopping holiday hues.” Another tip Cara shares is to celebrate your independence — from the kitchen. “Save sautéing and simmering for another day,” she urges. “This Fourth of July is about no-mess menu planning! Provide room temperature-friendly bites, like a top-your-own crostini bar or Mason jar stacked salads.”
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