It’s outdoor party time

The summer days offer us the weather and fresh air for relaxed conversation that only this season affords. It’s nice to have old friends, those who love you in spite of your failures and have remained dear for many years. And yet, it’s also fun to invite new ones to the guest list.

Traveling Arkansas is a great way to have a party, and what better way than to start the summer-long journey in your own backyard! Hosting a summer party doesn’t have to be stressful, and it’s a great time for you, as host, to enjoy the ride. After you’ve decided on your guest list and the date and time of your summer festivities, what better theme from which to springboard than “Feasting and Friends!” The natural landscape, however modest, provides much of the decoration. Here are a few more helpful hints for summer entertaining.

Seating Everyone expects lawn furniture! Extra chairs may be borrowed, and sometimes blankets will work, especially for the children and young-at-heart. Try to group the chairs for conversation, and have tables nearby for holding beverages or other culinary treats while visiting.

Lighting Depending on the time of day, you may want to provide up-lights in the trees, colored spots here and there and lots of insect repellent votives.  A really inexpensive way to treat lighting is with the use of luminaries. For a nominal fee for bags, the small tea lights are often included.

Entertainment This aspect of your party may be a local string quartet, or as simple as the CD player plugged into the closest outlet! The style of music as well as the volume should be dictated by your crowd, theme and desire for good conversation.

Centerpieces Be simple. Potted plants, cut blooms in jars of water or even photo items of past vacations can be used. Let your imagination be tastefully explored!

Menu One of the most important aspects of the menu to be considered would be the time of day, the number in attendance and the budget. Most of all, consider items that may be prepared ahead of time to ensure the host and hostess can enjoy the party as well.

One of our favorite backyard party themes is the brunch. It’s usually cooler in the morning hours, and this party time leaves the guest with the majority of the day for other activities. Generally, most of the food can be prepared the night before.

Especially fun for early-risers, the last-minute details of table linens and arrangements may be placed on the tables just after turning on the oven or grill to cook the morning’s feast. Guests may be welcomed with a sunshine beverage of choice, and seated in various locations for good conversation. 

Included is a favorite summer menu of ours for brunch entertaining. Whether it is brunch or lunch or patio supper — kick back and relax! The yard is mowed, the attire is cool and comfortable, and it’s time to get to the heart of the matter — food and friends! 

And by the way, we always enjoy a “surprise ending treat” for our guests to take home. If we’ve prepared cinnamon rolls, they receive a handsomely packaged roll for the next morning’s breakfast. Sometimes we give each guest a copy of one of our favorite books or a bookmark with encouraging scripture or poems. 

However simple it needs to be, everyone loves a great summer party with friends and loved ones!

Honey Roasted Granola
4 cups oatmeal
2 cups coconut
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup bran
1 cup sunflower seeds (unhulled)
1 cup sesame seeds (unhulled)
¼ cup oil
3/4 cups honey
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Raisins (optional)

Mix ingredients. In a 4-cup measuring cup, put 1/4 cup oil and add to that the 3/4 cups of honey. Pour into dry ingredients and mix well. Spray pans with cooking spray.
Bake at 325 degrees, stirring often to keep from burning.

Baked French Toast
1 loaf (crispy) French bread
8 large eggs
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
4-5 medium-size cooking apples
1’/4 stick butter

Slice bread 1 1/2  inch slices. Spray 9 x 13 glass pan with non-stick spray. Place rounds of French bread in dish, tightly together.
In separate bowl beat eggs, 1/2  cup sugar, milk and vanilla with wire whip or whisk for 30 seconds. Pour 1/2 egg mixture over bread.
Peel, core and slice apples. Mix remaining 1/2 cup sugar with cinnamon and nutmeg. Dredge apples in sugar mixture. Place sliced apples on top of bread. Pour remaining egg mixture evenly over apples.
Dot with butter; cover and refrigerate overnight.
Next day — preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Uncover dish and bake one hour; it will rise and brown.
Remove from oven. Let rest 5-10 minutes before serving.
Cut into squares and serve with heated apricot or maple syrup.
Stuffed Eggs Supreme
1/4 lb. mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp. chopped tarragon leaves
8 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 ½ cups light cream
1 cup grated Swiss cheese
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
8 hard-cooked eggs
1 cup soft bread crumbs
Salt and fresh pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small skillet, cook mushrooms with tarragon in 2 tablespoons butter until all liquid evaporates.
Melt 4 tablespoons butter in another saucepan. Blend in flour, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring 1 minute. Add cream; cook, stirring until mixture boils and thickens slightly. Remove from heat. 
Add Swiss cheese and 2 tablespoons Parmesan; stir until cheese melts. 
To assemble, cut eggs in half lengthwise. Place yolks in small bowl; mash. Add cooked mushrooms and 1/4 cup sauce; mix well. Fill whites with yolk mixture.
Pour half the sauce in a shallow 1 1/2 quart casserole (11 x 7 x 2 inches). Arrange eggs in sauce; top with remaining sauce.
Combine bread crumbs, remaining 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, and 2 tablespoons melted butter; toss well. Sprinkle over casserole. Bake 15-20 minutes or until bubbly. Serves 4-6.

Good Morning Oranges
4 oranges
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
10 whole cloves
Zest of 1/2 orange
1/2 cup Grand Marnier

Peel the oranges with a sharp knife, removing all white membrane. Cut into ½-inch slices and place in an airtight container. Bring the water, sugar, cloves and orange zest to a boil in a saucepan. Boil until the sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and cool. Stir in the Grand Marnier. Pour over the oranges. Marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours. Arrange in a bowl and garnish with mint leaves to serve.

Cheese-Stuffed French Toast with Strawberry Sauce
12 (1 ounce) diagonally cut slices French bread
1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 (8 ounce) tub reduced fat cream cheese
2 1/2 cups 1 percent low-fat milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/2  teaspoon vanilla extract
4 egg whites
2 eggs
Vegetable cooking spray
Strawberry sauce
Candied lemon rind

Cut horizontal slit through bottom crust of each slice of bread to form a pocket. Combine powdered sugar and cream cheese; stir well. Spread mixture evenly into pockets of bread. Place 6 bread slices in each of two large, shallow baking dishes; set aside. Combine milk, sugar, vanilla extract, egg whites and eggs in a bowl; beat well with a wire whisk. Pour milk mixture evenly over bread slices. Cover and chill 1 hour or until liquid is absorbed.
Coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray, and place over medium heat until hot. Arrange half of bread slices in skillet, and cook 3 minutes. Turn bread over, and cook 3 minutes or until browned; remove from skillet. Repeat procedure with the remaining bread slices.
Serve with Strawberry Sauce and garnish with candied lemon rind.
Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 2 slices toast with 1/2 cup sauce).

Strawberry Sauce
4 cups sliced strawberries
1/3 cup honey
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a bowl; stir well. Cover and let stand for 1 hour.
Yield: 3 cups (serving size: ½ cup).

Candied Lemon Rind
1 large lemon
½ cup sugar, divided
1 tablespoon water

Using a vegetable peeler, carefully remove rind from lemon. Cut rind into 1/8-inch thick strips and set aside. Combine 2 tablespoons sugar and water in a 2-cup glass measuring cup.
Microwave on HIGH for 1 minute; stir in rind strips. Microwave on HIGH 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds. Add remaining 2 tablespoons, sugar and toss well. Spread rind in a single layer on wax paper; let stand at room temperature until dry. Store in an airtight continue. Yield: ¼ cup.