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August 1999 Issue
Barefoot Buffets
by Jenny Wojcik
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August is the time of year when everyone is trying to soak up the warm rays of sunshine, knowing full well that in most parts of North America summer is almost over. And, for the loveable Aussies whose seasons opposite ours, they are eagerly recognizing days that are lengthening, and air that is warming with the certainty of spring. It is the time when we all want to kick off our shoes and enjoy being outdoors.

One of my fondest childhood memories was packing a simple picnic basket of Idaho potatoes, sweet onions, ground beef, rolls and an iron skillet. Sure, we included condiments like mother’s homemade pickles, garden grown tomatoes, mayonnaise and usually a watermelon for dessert. We would all pile into the car and head for the river-side park complete with outdoor grills and picnic tables, where we’d impatiently wait for the charcoal to get hot. Mother would put that huge iron skillet on top of the grate and start slicing the potatoes and onions into it. I’ve never before or since had potatoes that tasted that good. It was a feast, pure and simple and we were the envy of everyone within two miles, I am sure.

Whether you are planning a riverside picnic, a luau, or a block party, there’s something magical about cooking and eating outdoors. Have you ever noticed that when one of your neighbors strikes a match to the grill, everyone catches that wafting aroma? In my neighborhood it’s the beginning of a chain reaction. One starts the grill, another runs to the grocery or the freezer, and suddenly everyone’s outside grilling something. And for some reason, it always tastes better when it’s cooked and eaten outside.

We kept the picnic basket stocked with the necessaries, like miniature shakers of salt and pepper, napkins, paper plates and cups, and sometimes even marshmallows. Now I stock a party prop closet; keeping things on hand for impromptu get-togethers that can be put together on short notice. August is one of those months when your prop closet and maybe even your picnic basket will get a workout.

You can strut your Home Style stuff this month by creating the perfect barefoot buffet. Remember, the better the food is presented, the better it will taste and the better your buffet will be remembered. Here are some quick tips to help you do just that.

  • Assess the outdoor area where you plan to entertain. It’s a good idea to divide your space into specific areas: a cooking area (where the grill is), the serving area (a la buffet table), an eating area, a space for mingling and finally a place for dessert (you may even want a dessert table).

  • If you’re having a buffet, prepare your serving table ahead of time by covering it with the items that can be used to support plates of food, like inverted clay pots, paint cans, sturdy wide-mouthed vases, etc. Keep it interesting by creating varying heights, then disguise your containers by covering them in organics such as moss, grass, over-sized leaves, or ferns. Fill in with fabric pieces that coordinate with your outside décor, and add votives and pillar candles for some outdoor sparkle.

  • Prepare your outdoor area with your food choice in mind. A burger buffet should be decorated differently than a clambake. Not only should your buffet table reflect the style of food you are serving, your overall décor should reflect it as well. Having a lone-star state barbecue? How about serving your side dishes out of inverted cowboy hats lined with oversized napkins that hide the bowls? A luau? Trim your table with a grass skirt made of raffia, and serve your side dishes from seashell shaped containers. Stay with your theme and you can’t fail.

  • If you know your menu and just can’t think of a theme to go with it, wander through a party supply store. You may just be inspired.

  • Create your own outdoor candles by converting glass jars of varying sizes into candleholders. A little sand in the bottom, a votive or other small pillar candle will create a safe and instant evening jewel. Wire wrapped around the lip of the lid and bent into a small hanger will allow you to hang these little beauties! A squeaky-clean baby food or jelly jar may add just the glow you need to create a memorable occasion.

  • Remember that the more you can do in advance, the more relaxed you will be at your party. Keep those thoughts in mind when preparing your menu. Cook what you can ahead of time, marinate meats in the refrigerator overnight the night before the party, use recipes that you are comfortable with preparing, and you’ll have quality time to devote to your guests.

Want to know some of the best trade secrets among caterers? (I got these hints from a very successful caterer just to share with you):

  • Make two bowls/platters/plates of the same food. Serve one on your buffet table and replenish it as needed with the second. It not only keeps your food fresher tasting, it also keeps it looking better longer.

  • Serve fewer choices. Typically, people try to serve too many things at a buffet or party. Stick with the basics: appetizers (usually two), a salad, your main course, and side dishes (again usually two), bread and dessert.

  • Always have iced water readily available in addition to the main beverage.

  • Always have music and candlelight. The music provides a backdrop and everyone looks better in the glow of a candle.

Kick back, enjoy the warmth of the backyard breeze, and create a barefoot buffet of your own. When your prop closet is stocked with paint cans, pots, vases, candles and napkins, you don’t have to go a lot of expense or trouble to create a memorable evening. A little planning along with a healthy dose of creativity will assure your success.

DÉCOR DATA: NEWS TO USE

    We’ve been exploring the four basic design styles: Traditional, Country, Contemporary, and Eclectic. This month’s category, Contemporary, refers to sleek, most often stark and spacious surroundings. The use of angular and geometric lines create a cool, clean, sculpted look. Contemporary style is simple and refined and uses color schemes for their effect rather than their coordination. It is a progressive and innovative style that lends itself well to those who prefer simplicity and a minimal number of accessories.



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