Quickly Approaching the Sweet Spot

The weather here in Birmingham has been beautiful.  There's truly nothing like Spring in the South.  
At the moment, everything is in bloom.  The wisteria is dripping from trees, and the azaleas are bursting from every yard you drive by in a rainbow of colors.  There are a few streets I drive down during my everyday routine that feel as though I'm driving through a tunnel of every shade of green imaginable (anyone driven down Overbrook lately?).  

It's stunning, but here's the dilemma.  With all the flowering plants and trees comes tons (and I do mean tons) of pollen.  Everywhere you look there's a thin coating of yellow dust.  All the cars, the streets, patios and lawn furniture are coated in the stuff.  But,  right after the blooms are spent, there is this tiny window of time (two, maybe three weeks if we're lucky) that is completely perfect for dining outdoors.    The evening air is crisp and cool, and it's truly the most pleasant time of year to sit with friends and enjoy a meal outside.  So, it's time to get ready for this window of opportunity.  
With the sweet spot quickly approaching, I thought it would be helpful to talk about how to prepare for a dinner party.  I have to confess, I'm helping a client pull together a dinner party for her Supper club.  So, I thought it would be fun to share the process with you in hopes you could pull off your very own outdoor dinner party.  Here are my tried and true ten steps for pulling off a dinner party. 

Pick a Date and invite some friends - remember to think about the timing in your region of the country, so you can enjoy the outdoors sans the pollen.

Decide on a Menu and put together a detailed grocery list of what you need.
I like to create a menu with a couple of homemade recipes and the rest ordered out.  It takes the stress out of the entire event and makes it more fun for you.  If you are not at a place in your life where you can do this, just think of menu ideas that can be made in advance so you can spread out the process over a week.  As my Mom always says, you can eat an elephant a bite at a time! So, do a little each day, and it will not feel so daunting of a task. 

Here's a sample menu for an easy party.

Signature Drink -Texas Margaritas (this are made with beer and are so yummy - here's the recipe)
 A signature cocktail is always a fun way to kick off a party.  It gives people something to talk about when they first arrive at the party.

Asiago Cheese Sticks or Rosemary Roasted Nuts (keep this simple so everyone will be hungry for dinner).  The Asiago Cheese sticks at Savages in Homewood are amazing!

Main Course 
(served Buffet Style)
BBQ Shrimp (here's a great recipe)

Orzo Salad with fresh basil, tomatoes, sweet peppers (purchased or make in advance)

Pickled Okra (purchased) It goes great with shellfish and gives you some nice acidity to balance out the richness of the buttery shrimp.

Buttery French Bread (lots of it for the yummy sauce the shrimp are in)

Key Lime Pie (of course!) - ask around for the best key lime pie in town and order it (for some strange reason BBQ places tend to also have good pie?!)

Create a time line.  I know this sounds crazy, but I do this for every gathering I have at my house.  I try to put this together three weeks out so I can really think about what needs to be done before the craziness begins and you are grabbing anything you see that might work.

As part of the time line, at three weeks out, I like to evaluate my serving dishes based on the menu I developed for the party.  This gives me time to look for items that I may not have on hand or get comfortable with using something unexpected that I have and maybe would not have thought of at the last minute.

One other tip here, I love to use white china and serving pieces.

A simple white platter (any shape will do oval, square or rectangular) makes the food look great.  This is a stylist tip!  These days you can pick them up almost anywhere. 

Two weeks out - order all items you are not going to prepare and establish a pick up time (usually the day of the party).
Then, this is the task I give my husband!  I give him a list of what needs to be picked up, and he goes to it.  Also, it gets him out of the house so I can clean.  I also recommend he take a kid (or two) with him.  If the hubby's not a option, when that friend calls and says, "Is there anything I can do to help you?" - you'll know what to tell her! 

One week out -  Do your grocery shopping and begin preparing any foods that can be made in advanced (or even steps of dishes that can be prepped in advance).  Read through your recipes and decide what can be done early and put this on your timeline.
Day before the party or day of party - do your flowers.

Now I know this is daunting for some of you, so just keep it simple.  If anything is blooming in my yard, I use it.  I have these small "fish bowl" like vases (seven of them) I use for more casual gatherings.

Two hours before the party - pull together the last few items on your list - mix up your signature cocktail; have the shrimp ready to pop in the oven 15 minutes before you are ready to serve; and have your bread buttered and waiting for the oven.

One hour before the party - take a breath, turn on some music, and pick out something fun to wear.

Greet your Guests at the door with a signature cocktail and enjoy your fun evening!


Now, who's ready to throw a party?  M.



  1. Love it-- our front porch is covered right now-- I was going to wash the pillow covers and wipe everything down and my husband just told me to wait...otherwise, we will be doing it all over again in a few days-- can't wait until it is gone!! Take care, Caroline

  2. GREAT post that I am bookmarking! Funny because I have been thinking of doing a ladies lunch for friends and possibly a surprise dinner for my husbands birthday in June. Both things I would need to get cracking on if I am going to do it! Love this post, so many great and practical ideas for how to plan as stress free as possible!

  3. I'm going to pin this post to my Entertain board. I know it took some time and thought to put together and I think it's a foolproof system.

    Thanks Mandi!

  4. Love this post, great ideas & recipes! Thank you!

  5. Can't believe I've never tried the Asiago Cheese Sticks from Savages! Our Supper Club started 28 years ago (!) and I thought I had the planning process perfected, but you have some great ideas for making it even easier. Try the Key Lime Pie from Cafe Iz. It's the best I've ever had.

  6. Love this; the menu, the outfit, the decor, THE PIE--all of it.
    fun post.
    xo Nancy

  7. I'm not ready to throw one, but I'd happily be the guest! ;) This sounds amazing, Mandi.

  8. I have read all your current posts back to this one - karma! We are readying for a party on the 31st - I nearly had a panic attack getting the invitations mailed.

    Your list is helping me with the remaining time - why don't you list paint the kitchen ceiling and landscape the backyard? :-}

    One hour before I may add, sip on a starter cocktail. Cheers!


Thank you for thoughts on my post! M.