How to be a good summer party host
It's that time of year again. Summer's here, and you know what means at least for us old-timers. Barbecues. Parties. Entertaining on the deck.
It used to be that summer meant swimming, baseball games, motorcycle riding, kayaking and rock climbing and for many of you, it still means that. But for those of us whose daily workouts consist of walking and who qualify for senior discounts at restaurants, our pleasures come in much smaller, more sedate doses.
So, when we're not yelling at kids to get off the lawn or planning our wardrobe for this afternoon's early-bird special, we think mostly about eating and drinking and maybe talking to other people.
That's right. In the end, life comes down to eating, drinking and talking. Which brings us back to where I started: summer parties.
Now that the Fourth of July is upon us, I'm getting excited about this season's prospects. Yesterday I waterproofed the deck, and we've already got a few social events lined up. This has inspired me to review what I know about entertaining, so I thought I'd go over some of it with you.
Perhaps you, too, are beyond the rock climbing phase and want to focus your interests a bit. Allow me to share some of what I've learned with a few tips for the beginning summer party host.
THE FOOD This is perhaps the single most important aspect of your summer get-together, and far more important than WHAT you serve is to be sure to have way more than you will ever need. Country people understand this. I attended potlucks as a kid at the local grange hall where every woman crossing the threshold carried more than enough to feed everybody in attendance.
And, of course, there were dozens of these women, so it truly was an over-abundance of food. Some city people, in my experience, don't get this.
The North Portland sister of a friend of mine is famous for providing one item per person and then lamenting, Sorry, we're out of that which is why I believe she probably would have been killed if she were living in a rural community.
As to specific foods, one needs a killer primary dish, like beer-can chicken (two or three), a tri-tip roast, maybe a big tub of ribs, tenderloin, a salmon or two you know, something big and bold. Then, just add corn on the cob, potato salad, green salad, pasta salad, three-bean salad, rolls, scalloped potatoes, antipasto and whatever else you know how to make.
WHAT TO DRINK Personally, I'm partial to my patented birdbath-size gin martinis, but it's not practical to commit an entire afternoon to making such high-maintenance intoxicants unless, of course, you bill it as a lemon drop party or one featuring margaritas, cosmos or the like. If you focus on one kind of mixed drink you can produce the concoction in a pitcher and then just circulate with the mother jug. A much more practical system is to fill a cooler with ice and have a variety of beer and wine waiting there.
One other note about drinking, especially if you are the host: Take it easy. Nothing is more sobering than to find out the next day you did all sorts of outrageous things and you have no recollection of any of it. I know I never can be any happier or wittier than I am after two drinks. Besides, one of my duties is to clean up after the event, and I have to keep a relatively clear head to see to my responsibilities as a host.
THE MUSIC The other person who lives at our house doesn't share my intense belief in the importance of music at a party. To me, it's right up there with the first two we've already discussed.
And the key, in my estimation, is to find music that people like and are comfortable with but which maybe they haven't heard before. For example, I have a favorite CD I call Music to BBQ By which includes an eclectic combination of songs by such artists as the Mavericks, Merle Haggard, the Ink Spots, Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Tony Joe White, Southern Culture on the Skids, Lucinda Williams, Memphis Minnie, Dire Straits, Chuck Berry, Nat King Cole well, you get the idea. Mix it up. And keep an ear out for interesting younger folks. Some of my newer favorites are Sarah Jarosz, J.D. McPherson and Grace Potter.
WHAT TO TALK ABOUT The key here is not to offend everybody with the first words out of your mouth. Unless you know for sure that everyone in attendance shares your peculiar views of the world, you might want to steer clear of talking about Barack Obama, gun rights, the Middle East, etc. Take it from one who can be offensive even when discussing relatively safe topics, it's difficult to be a good host when those around you hate your guts.
OK, now that you're fully educated, have a good summer and party on.
Former managing editor of several community newspapers, including the Woodburn Independent, Lake Oswego Review and the Times papers, Kelly is chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.