Summer Deck Gathering
It’s no secret that I am not exactly Chrissy Teigen in the kitchen (in MANY ways) – and when it comes to cooking for other people during a perfectly good party, I become even less useful. My motto is that I would much rather be a party goer than a party thrower and, yet, I love to have my close friends over and not feeding them seems rude. We just finished our deck and exterior makeover and I’ve been dying to show it off to them (they had been banished due to the obstacle course that was our scaffolding for 3 months). So, with the help of Black Box Wine we threw a get-together on the deck meant to showcase some easy, delicious, and beautiful ideas to entertain your friends – in the most fun and low-key way possible.
When Black Box Wines approached me about collaborating I said, “Maybe, but first I need to test the product, and please, send a lot.” Before I work with any parter, I always make sure that I, myself, would buy it so I need to sample it, in my stomach. Sometimes I like to sample the product all night long. Sometimes, in order to really make sure that I would buy it, I test out the product all weekend long, and often to finalize my decision I even invite all of my friends over to consume A LOT of the product, too, and give feedback. It’s my integrity and reputation on the line here. So we did just that and then decided to showcase the product in the form of a deck party.
Let’s chat food and drink first. I’m a big fan of no-cooking, just “making food.” Off the shelf food can be arranged and styled to look like an artisan chef from Brooklyn flew in just for the occasion. We tried to basically just buy, arrange, and style pre-made ingredients on beautiful surfaces and bowls instead of slaving over each dish. For this shoot I hired a food stylist (Caroline) to execute and make sure that everything looked gorgeous for the photos (listen, while I can technically make all of these dishes, and they truly are so easy, I can’t do that and be on camera, art direct the shots, style the shots, drink the wine, etc). I know, entertaining is so easy with a crew of experts, right??
When it comes to drinks, I love when other people spend hours prepping my muddled beverage, but I prefer ease and a stress-less process for my own parties. That’s where Black Box comes in because it’s really good wine and the large 3L boxes contain the equivalent of FOUR bottles inside and can stay fresh for up to 6 weeks after opening. So if your guests don’t drink all the wine (doubtful!), you can still enjoy it later. The smaller Go Pack boxes each contain 3 glasses of wine and they are the perfect size for picnics, outdoor concerts, or just anywhere you want to publicly drink without slugging from a bottle.
Let’s get into the menu:
We started with a charcuterie board mostly because nobody in the history of eating has ever disliked cheese, meats, fruits, spreads, and breads/crackers. So we shopped Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and found delicious meats and cheeses ready throw on a board.
The key to making that board look beautiful is to have a variety of textures, colors, flavors and types of food. Add footed bowls for some height and tiny bowls for composition. We put it on a huge marble slab to keep it looking fresh and modern. We paired this with the Black Box Pinot Noir, which was lovely, light, and delicious.
We went to the farmers market and bought those carrots and those, uh, circle cucumbers (?). Not sure what they are but they make you look very fancy and well-travelled so always buy them.
Next up? Skewered appetizers.
You can really skewer anything. We came up with the following:
– Melon and cucumbers with pink peppercorns topped with micro greens.
– Grilled halloumi with watermelon and mint dusted with sumac.
I loved both of them, but for those of you looking for an easier version you could easily skewer mozzarella with cherry tomatoes and basil. But they sure did look pretty and taste good.
We paired these with the Black Box Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon – I preferred the Chardonnay in this case because of the fruit. But it was also 97 degrees outside so, you know, white goes down easier.
We also had these DELICIOUS cherry tomato and basil crostinis. We really tried to do everything without cooking and although you do have to turn on the oven for this one and throw them in to toast, we are going to say that this is a very easy step that shouldn’t “technically” count as cooking. We used store bought bread (OBVIOUSLY), sliced it, drizzled with olive oil, and shoved it in the oven for 15 minutes.
We wanted to have one dish that was more substantial, with some protein, without having to do a ton of hot kitchen work. I suggested what I eat probably 3 times a week – a summer vegetable salad with store-bought rotisserie chicken.
We used a few different kinds of lettuces (butter and red leaf) and then shredded chicken, some grilled corn and cherry tomatoes in a dijon vinaigrette.
I was recently at my friend’s house who made a panzanella salad for us and I was surprised with how easy it was. She toasted chunks of bread (again, just coat with olive oil, salt/pepper and throw in oven for 15 minutes) then mix with any summer veggies you want – always tomatoes (to add juicy-ness) and we used cucumbers, and basil. Lastly, top it with red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. Clearly there is a bread/tomato/basil theme here :). It was delicious and filling, not to mention crazy photogenic (you must always think about any instagram opportunities when crafting your low-key summer menu, right?).
We paired it with the Black Box Chardonnay and it was lovely. In case you think that boxed wine will taste cheap and tangy, you are wrong. Half of my friends were already lovers of Black Box, and those that weren’t, were instant fans. More on that later.
Flatbread. Something that I previously had not made even though I knew that it was supposed to be so easy. We went with the Tandoori bread from Trader Joe’s, which we topped with summer squash, onions, oregano, oil and Manchengo. You will want to roast the squash and onions beforehand by tossing them with olive oil, salt/pepper at 425 for 15-20 minutes (again this falls into the not cooking but toasting category). Then you simply place all the roasted veggies with oil and cheese on the flatbread in oven until cheese is melted, (about 5-8 min). Then finish it off with fresh herbs once out of the oven.
While I prefer to drink my dessert, I know that one must have a dessert to be considered a lady. I thought about just doing cookies, but thought, wait, I know how to buy ice cream! And even better I can also easily throw some berries on them! I’m a genius.
For the decor, I went with a really simple modern pieces, styled organically. I made a little prop board to help serve as inspiration:
We didn’t end up getting everything on that board, but the general vibe is right. Simple can look boring if you don’t have a variety of textures. If you want something clean and fresh go for finished woods, marble (which is abundant these days), porcelain, ceramic and metal. We stayed away from rustic or anything too vintage, and focused on mixing some simpler plates with some standout pieces.
I hadn’t styled an entertaining story in years and trust me when I say it’s so much work. While shopping you have to think about the dishes – will flatbread look better on wood or white? We can’t have both the panzanella salad and the chicken salad in low white bowls, and even if you mix up the finishes of each dish, you kinda want to make sure that the shapes are all different as well.
Vary the size, shape, height, and texture (if not color!) of the serving pieces. Pair some larger platters with tiny dipping bowls, add some brass ladles, or some smaller porcelain or wooden spoons. For that “thrown together / we only have beautiful things in our cabinets” look, create a consistent color palette but then vary the textures, shapes and finishes of all the pieces within that palette. Lay out everything so that it has movement and makes sense when it comes to dishing up, without being too buffet-like.
Granted this is all advice for a magazine (or in this case a blog) shoot, but I figured any pointers on how you get this look could be helpful. I was scrambling to make sure I had enough options for shoot. I called in pieces from Food52 (have you seen their e-commerce site??? such good stuff), ABC Home, and Lost and Found in LA. Then I mixed it all with CB2, Target, West Elm, Crate and Barrel, and some of my vintage pieces. I’m obsessed with that plaid dish up there (although it didn’t make it in the shoot).
As far as color palette here is my general motto: Use your current color palette as inspiration for a dinner party, then add 30% more color or texture. If you love neutrals, GREAT, then for a party add more glitz or more layers of texture. I like to keep my spaces with a consistent color palette of blues, grays, whites and hints of gold and black. But for a party, I am emotionally compelled to add pink. I can’t not. It adds a bit of crazy on top of cool.
Also a good thing to do is have friends that already know what your color palette is and dress in it even when you don’t ask them to do so. It was both wonderful and HILARIOUS.
FLOWERS. Dear lord I love these flowers.
Despite these arrangements looking really complicated they are actually super simple, in season, and really the only time of year that you can do this. They are just different varietals of dahlias with a little bit of filler and some blackberry branches (my secret favorite Oregon-inspired addition). I asked the flower market for a huge variety, from dinner plate (the huge ones) to tiny tight dahlias in the following color palette – light pink, dark pink. corals and oranges. I believe I ordered 15 of each color/size (9 total) and it ended up being $280. I absolutely over ordered and we had more arrangements than could make it in shots (all my friends took some home and a few clients got the leftovers the next day). I think we could have done with 50 flowers total ($1.30 – $2 each) for around $70. Lesson learned. The blackberry was super cheap and I think it adds this randomness about it that throws off the formality of the arrangements.
I secretly have a really emotional relationship with dahlias. My Dad has been growing them every summer since I can remember, first in Coos Bay then Portland. The thing is, they aren’t easy to grow or abundant. It’s a really laborious, precious process full of such love and care in order to get that perfect dinner plate dahlia. It takes months for one bulb to grow into one flower and the water/temperature and moon cycle have to be perfect (jk). Some of my Dad’s have grown to be as tall as him (5’11”) and were the size of, you guessed it, a HUGE dinner plate. So impressive. But they are only around in July/August, which is why I wanted to use them here. As much as I love them, I kinda hope they don’t go the way of the peony and become year round (at least in LA you can get peonies for a fortune any month and it has made them slightly less special, although still crazy beautiful).
Anyway, my parents just left for Samoa for a LDS mission for 18 months and I can’t imagine they are terribly psyched about me doing a wine collaboration the week they leave, so I hereby dedicate these flowers to you, Dad. You taught me nothing about wine but so much about these beauties 🙂
As far as vessels, we did a combination of simple pretty, low pieces, and even put some in glassware. Peter helped me arrange them and we basically put one of each color/size and some filler in each vase.
We shot this whole story during the day to make sure that we could get it all in before the sun went down, but around 4pm my friends started joining us and the fun began (and didn’t end until 11:30).
Having so much help with everything really make me look good. Don’t get me wrong, all of these ideas are easy individually, but executing them all can still be work. Luckily, and I’m dead serious, we didn’t need to worry about a million bottles of wine – we opened a few of the Black Box wines in different varietals and placed them around the party so people could help themselves.
We refrigerated the whites beforehand and they stayed really cold for a long time – although to be honest, I am not ashamed to put ice in my wine regardless of how cold it is.
I am a very good host and insist on making sure that my guests glasses are full at all times (don’t worry, everyone ubered and drank responsibly).
The camera left at 7, but Stephanie (who shot in the heat, for 10 hours at 8 months pregnant!!!) stayed and caught a couple twilight shots.
It was a lovely way to show off our new exterior, style a big pretty story for the blog AND entertain guests (and drink on a Wednesday). Meanwhile I hope you all gleaned some ideas for a low(ish)-key party. Thanks to Black Box for partnering with us on this and letting us become true experts in your wine. Let’s do it again sometime… although I might need some more samples. Please send ASAP. In the meantime, you can check out www.BlackBoxWines.com for more pairing ideas and information. And, in case you didn’t think we had any fun at all at the party, here is a little video proof that Propeller Digital (Brian’s company) put together for us:
If you want to ‘get the look’ here you go:
**A big thanks to Stephanie Todaro who braved the heat and the fact that she was 8 months pregnant to get these great shots, Caroline Hwang who styled all the food, and Peter Dolkas who helped with assisting on site. Dress by The Great (and i’ve literally worn it every day since I bought it)