“Don’t knock the weather, nine tenths of the people couldn’t start a conversation if it didn’t change once in a while”. Kin Huddard

Let’s be honest, with our unpredictable climate in Britain it can be difficult entertaining outdoors during the summer months. However, sitting here at my desk as the heavy rain lashes down and puddles are forming in various parts of the garden, I am ever the optimist!

A number of weeks ago I committed to hosting an end of term barbecue for a group of friends and their children. Seemed like a good idea at the time and it is but for the fact that my home will be overrun with let’s say ‘enthusiastic kids’ and numerous adults if the weather doesn’t hold up. I am hopeful that this will not be the case and we will be relaxing in the sunshine enveloped in that ‘holiday feeling’ as we savour a chilled glass of wine and graze on delicious fresh seasonal food. The most important thing of course is that we and our friends enjoy our time together, rain or shine! With all of this in mind, I need a plan!

I would like to share my ideas with you on how to achieve ‘Relaxed Summer Entertaining’, whatever the weather!

Firstly, when entertaining at home, the environment in which you welcome your guests should be mellow, unhurried, easy-going and comfortable. You will achieve this by being well organised. Buy all the ambient products the week before and store them. If placing orders or shopping for fresh food , ensure you have them two days before the event. This allows you to do some preparation in advance such as marinading meat or making desserts.

For me, summer entertaining isn’t about formal dining. I prefer to opt for an eclectic approach. When setting tables, use mixed crockery and cutlery as well as brightly coloured napkins. I like to decorate my table with greenery and perhaps a few fresh lemons or little pots of fresh herbs. Candlelight or solar lights are a must if your party goes on beyond nightfall. If eating out on a sunny day ensure there is plenty of shade in the garden by way of sun umbrellas or awning. This will also help to define your outdoor entertaining space.

Some great music can only add to the ambiance but be careful to take an easy listening approach to this. ( We hosted a Greek night last year and practically chased our friends from the table and out of the front door having down loaded and exposed them to some obscure ancient art form we had not listened to properly beforehand. ‘Zorba the Greek’ it was not!

Keep it simple. Easy snacks on the table such as olives, nuts and and dried fruit are popular.

It is a good idea to have a designated drinks table with no more than one or two options of alcoholic and non- alcoholic refreshments on offer as well as a plentiful supply of ice in the freezer. Don’t overdo it. Serve the first drink to your friends and thereafter, encourage them to help themselves and their children. A light rose wine or Prosecco can be perfect for afternoon parties. Homemade lemonade is easy to make and generally goes down well. Most importantly, ensure that there is a steady supply of cool drinks available for children who as you know will become dehydrated very quickly when running around a lot.

Depending on numbers and age it can be helpful to put the needs of the children first. Put a bunch of kids together and they will not stand still for very long! When barbequing, you will not go far wrong with burgers or sausages in a bun. These can be eaten ‘on the hoof ‘ and are an easy crowd pleaser from little ones to teenagers. Freshly cut fruit and vegetables can also be offered as well as yoghurt and one or two treats. ( I often make a big tray of meatballs with homemade tomato sauce to serve with pasta. Pasta aside, it can be made well in advance and is a tried and tested top choice in our house!)

I prefer that the majority of the food prepared for hot eating is just as happy being cooked in a conventional oven or grill in the kitchen as outdoors on the barbecue such as spatchcock chicken, pork ribs, kebabs and steaks. ( this will help hugely in managing the cooking should there be a down pour!)

One or two accompanying salads for the meat is fine such as couscous with caramelised onions and roasted peppers or fresh broad beans and cherry tomatoes with a light dressing. If you need a vegetarian option, filled roasted peppers or aubergines go down well. Most people love jacket potatoes which are nutritious and satisfying. These do well on the barbecue or if needs be in the oven baked on a tray of sea salt.

Dessert should come as a whole for sharing such as fresh fruit salad , light sponge or sorbet. Many of your guests may enjoy cheese at the end of the meal. One or two show stopping artisan cheeses will not fail to impress. We recently enjoyed Tomme De Savoie and Anster with Rowanberry Fruit Cheese as an accompaniment. Coffee can be served with a little treat such as chocolate coated fresh cherries which are simply divine.

And so now it’s down to me to decide on my dishes and get myself organised for some great partying next weekend. I’m just not quite sure if I will be bringing the ‘Outdoors In’ or the ‘Indoors Out’

02/07/12

Thought you might be interested to know that we brought the ‘Outdoors In’! Our friends arrived around four and we were indoors by 4.30, that is with the exception of my husband, the lone figure who braved the never ending ‘stair rods’ with the assistance of a large sun umbrella to ensure barbecued food was enjoyed by all. How very British! Spirits however were not dampened and a great night was had by all. Don’t be put off by a little rain or even a lot, just get on with it and enjoy the party.