Insights: Summer Garden Buffets
One of the many words that spring to mind when we think of summer is barbecue's. It means that summer is here and we are getting the weather we deserve, so we can migrate to the garden and have a sociable gathering of friends, with a few drinks and a few pieces of charred meat. This is the problem with barbecue's, you can't trust that you are getting a piece of cooked meat, despite the fact that it looks burnt on the outside. I am always dubious of meat cooked on barbecue's. However, I love the entire social side to having (or less stressfully, going to) a barbecue. The smell of being outdoors, summer afternoons a bit tipsy as you move into the sunsetting evenings, even the slight chill of which doesn't bother me (throw on a cardigan). Outdoor living is something we, in the UK, don't get to enjoy very much so forgive us if we get a bit giddy when the opportunity arises.
I don't understand though, the fascination with actually cooking on a barbecue. The only good thing about them is that men, in a rather macho Marcus Wareing kinda way, take over, leaving us ladies to free up time for chatting and drinking, and perhaps preparing a few salads. The smell from a barbecue can be quite pleasant, until it gets into your clothes that is, but it immediately resonates with good weather. Otherwise, I don't know why people don't just cook their food in the oven in their kitchen and plate it up, bring it outside to the garden table and enjoy. You really can't cook any more on a barbecue than you could put in your oven, you would probably get more in your oven as you have multiple shelves.
If you have many vegetarian and/or vegan friends, then a barbecue is out of the question. I am not a vegetarian but I mostly eat a plant based diet so this is another reason I wouldn't personally rush to host one. So, for me, it is all about the summer buffet. Much less fussy and messy than a barbecue, however it may take a bit more preparation in the kitchen, which is fine as most of it can be done before you're guests have even arrived. A variety of salads can be prepared in the morning, do your research and I promise you salads are not boring. Quiche, falafel burgers, pizza, bean stews (which are easy to throw together in a pan and left on low heat), corn on the cob, hummus, guacamole, dips and crudites. The choices are endless. And remember, guests don't want to feel bloated and full, most will drink more than they will eat. Summer outdoor eating isn't a winter Sunday lunch.
Apart from the food, there is no difference between a barbecue and a buffet. The music is on, drinks are flowing (cocktail measurements going by the wayside by evening), chat is plenty (getting louder as the day goes on), outdoor heaters are lit as the sun goes down and the kitchen is a mess the next morning; signs of a good party! Decorate your garden with fancy table cloths and napkins, candles and tea lights and lanterns dotted around, vases with fresh flowers on the table. Avoid paper plates and cups, it's not a kids party and it will spoil the look of your sophisticated garden party. No-one likes drinking out of plastic glasses (we only do it at gigs because we have no choice). Scatter a few cushions around, especially in the event of not having enough seats, so people can sit on a step with a comfortable cushion under them. A garden blanket with a few cushions can create a chill out zone in the garden. The one thing that you must not forget is tons of ice. Your guests won't thank you for a warm beer. Create ice buckets to keep bottles and cans cool and keep plenty of ice in the freezer for cocktails.
As far as entertainment is concerned, don't try anything until your guests are well on the way to giddiness. Background music is a must and a way to get your guests comfortably mingling when they first arrive. Then, after the food has been served and the evening draws in, people have loosened up and you can bring out a few party games. They are your guests, you will know what their limits are, just remember the bar is set a lot higher the more they drink!
So, stop obsessing over barbecues, bring back the garden buffet and enjoy summer!