Just the Thing for Spring Fever

Little darlings, it’s been a long cold lonely winter. Merrily feels like partying, don’t you? Herewith, some ideas for ultra-casual gatherings with friends and family.

“Gregariousness,” said Truman Capote, “is the enemy of art.”

 I think of this when, as often happens, I am under deadline for my column, yet in the mood to quaff, chat and be gregarious instead of write. Not to suggest I think my column is art. TC could have said gregariousness is the enemy of doing your taxes and we still would get the point.

Spring temperatures beget gregariousness, especially this year, after many of us hibernated through that bee-otch of a winter. Nothing satisfies the urge to be gregarious more than having people over. Here then are a few thought-starters to get you in the mood to host a gathering, while the warm days still seem like something to celebrate.

Yes! Drinks on the Driveway!

One’s driveway is an often overlooked venue for party-giving. Neighbors of my St. Louis sister, two gay gentlemen (sorry to stereotype, but they are the best party-givers), on occasional warm-weather Friday nights, host a popular gathering called, simply, “Drinks on the Driveway.” They assemble a bar in their driveway, crank up the music, deploy a few snacks and laissez les bon temps rouler. I’ve been told similar gatherings happen all the time in convivial suburban neighborhoods teeming with small children. The parents love it because they can sip and gab and keep an eye on the young ‘uns.

While the advantage of such parties is their spontaneity, a driveway drinks gathering could be notched up to become more of a thing. You could, for example, give it an Italian theme: serve Negronis (one part gin, one part sweet vermouth, one part Campari) and make an antipasto platter (see sidebar on opposite page). Or serve blended mojitos and tropical-themed finger foods, or tapas with pitchers of sangria. While a Mexican fiesta theme is not startlingly original, you can’t go wrong with it. Everybody loves a margarita and some guacamole.

Make Some Char Marks

It’s an urge as old as mankind. With the spring breeze comes a primal longing to grill large chunks of dead animal over an open flame, then to serve them up with a three-bean salad and some coleslaw.

Invite friends over for the season’s first official firing of the grill. Lamb chops would be seasonal and treselegant, as would salmon or sea trout. If you have ample funds and are not especially confident of your grilling ability, choose Angus beef filets. It’s practically impossible to mess them up. Your guests, however, will be just as happy with a big juicy burger.

Beets, new potatoes and asparagus are in season in spring and delicious grilled. You will (duh) need a grill basket or foil pouch. Spring is also prime season for artichokes, which taste wonderful grilled. The trick is cooking most of the artichoke through before it ever hits the grill.

Drinking and outdoor cooking go hand in hand, but grillmeisters should watch how much they imbibe before showtime. When grilled things get burnt, alcohol usually is at the bottom of it. Hate to kill the buzz, Papa, but there you have it.

Show Mama Some Respect

Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 11. If you’re lucky enough still to have your mom—or someone who’s like a mom—consider hosting a festivity in her honor. The traditional Mother’s Day brunch is a perennial fave. I have the perfect main course: a recipe for sausage and egg casserole, given me by my friend Jonathan Bowyer, he of the spontaneous cocktail parties. Email me and I’ll send it to you. It’s the best such recipe I ever have tasted —although food snobs be forewarned, it does require a can of Campbell’s mushroom soup—and also could be the perfect anchor for an Easter brunch. For Mother’s Day, serve “momosas,” a fruit salad and invite everyone to wear hats.

Or maybe Mama loves herself a grown-up cocktail party. Invite her favorite friends over for drinks and finger food (email me for recipes!) on Saturday evening. She will love the chance to connect with her gang, and you, honey, will earn brownie points into the next lifetime. You could take it a step farther and host a dinner party in her honor, the menu based on your mum’s favorite meal.

Picnics: Worth the Schlep

Each of us has at least one happy picnic memory (except perhaps Woody Allen, who famously claimed to be “at two with nature”). Before it gets hot and buggy, consider organizing a picnic—organization being the key word. Picnics require forethought—and schlepping.

You could do something as easy as spreading out a blanket and munching on some sammitches and chips from Jimmy John’s. Or you could prepare a classic picnic menu. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that fried chicken and potato salad contain no calories if consumed while sitting outdoors on a blanket. If you want to impress, present a spread of fancy cheeses and charcuterie with macarons for dessert. Champers to drink, of course. Whatever you serve, give thought to the colors and textures of your menu, since everything will be laid out together.

You might own or have access to a bucolic, secluded picnicking spot. If not, our area has some idyllic public parks. Loose Park is beautiful, if a bit crowded, but the people-watching is fabulous. English Landing Park in Parkville is spectacular, as is Antioch Park in Merriam, and the eponymously named Shawnee Mission Park. Penguin Park, in the Northland, is, I’m told, fantastic for picnicking with children.

Don’t forget the tunes, the trashbags, the wet wipes, and, of course, the corkscrew.

Amazing Antipasto

Italy has given us some great gifts: Bolognese sauce and Prada come to mind. We owe the Italians a special debt for the antipasto platter, the answer to so many party-giving questions. With one trip through the supermarket, you can find the makings for a gorgeous-looking antipasto assortment that can be a start to a dinner (not necessarily Italian), cocktail-party fare, a picnic lunch or even a light supper. There is no fixed recipe for antipasti, and no right or wrong way to arrange it. You can offer five things or 25, depending on the occasion. When arranging, strive for contrasting textures and colors. Antipasti platters typically include at least one thing from these four categories.

  • Meats. Prosciutto, mortadella, Genoa salami and sopressata all are perfect choices.
  • Olives. Kalamata, garlic-stuffed green olives or a marinated mix are tasty additions to your plate. Consider adding capers or caper berries as well.
  • Cheeses. Parmigiano Reggiano is an obvious choice, but others to try are aged Gouda, Asiago, smoked provolone, marinated mozzarella and fontina.
  • Jarred or marinated veggies, such as artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, pepperoncini and mushrooms
  • Breads. Sliced baguette, crusty Italian bread or my personal fave, breadsticks.

Questions About Entertaining?

Merrily would love to answer them. Email them to her at: essentialentertaining@spaceskc.com.