For the past month, every time I step outside my back door I feel immediately transported to the South of France. It’s all thanks to a weeklong trip that Adam and I took to St. Tropez in June six years ago, where we got inspired by our hotel’s endless walls of blooming jasmine vines, then promptly rushed home and planted our own on just about every surface of our backyard. Our efforts paid off, since years later we’re rewarded with lush blooming vines each spring, and the intoxicating fragrance invites us back to that week abroad. I can almost see the ocean and taste the grilled octopus and chilled rosé as though I’m there once again. Isn’t scent the most incredible thing for bringing back memories? Of course it wouldn’t feel like the South of France without gathering a few friends for a long low-key dinner party in the backyard, so that’s just what we did to celebrate, and we teamed up with La Crema to show how to throw an easy summertime dinner with friends that feels special with minimal effort. Scroll on to see how we did it.
Low-key dinner party tip #1: Create a cozy area for conversation.
There’s something about a comfy spot where everyone can settle in for good conversation that immediately makes people feel at ease. I love to rearrange my normal furniture layout to create a cozy nook just for a party. In a tree-shaded area of our side yard, I pulled out a chair, some pillows and throws from inside the house to make this corner feel like an outdoor room.
It was the perfect spot for appetizers paired with La Crema Monterey Chardonnay. Its peach, papaya and tangerine notes felt like spring in a glass. Fresh burrata with pesto, figs, and grilled bread felt elevated, but required almost no prep time on my part. In other words, the perfect summer starter!
Low-key dinner party tip #2: Forage for décor right in your own backyard.
My friend Kaki and I were inspired by the blooming jasmine vines nearby to create a few décor elements for the evening. We took out the gardening shears and pruned a few branches for flower crowns, plus pretty garnishes for platters and garland to trail out of the table centerpiece. It smelled amazing too!
We used a bit of floral wire to hold our flower crowns together and create an instant festive party accessory.
Low-key dinner party tip #3: Move a table and folding chairs to an unexpected place to shake things up.
Since we host a lot of gatherings at our house, usually in the same select spots, it feels really fun and unexpected when we drag a table and chairs to a new area of the yard, because, why not? Think outside the box when it comes to a casual tablecloth option: a Turkish towel or linen bed throw can be a gorgeous topper that feels fresh and unfussy for summer.
I love how this Monterey Pinot Noir pairs with just about any dish – it’s such a versatile, flexible wine. Notes of juicy plum and berry flavors are balanced by a subtle, ocean minerality that’s perfect for both easy everyday drinking and also something more celebratory. Monterey wines are known for being light, bright, minerally and refreshing, so if you’re looking to get acquainted with the region, La Crema is a great place to start.
I prepped a simple market green salad with berries and herbs and set it out for us to enjoy family style.
Get the recipe for my Market Green Salad with Fennel, Herbs, & Blackberries here!
Low-key dinner party tip #4: Wine pairings elevate even the simplest menu.
Especially during the summer months, easygoing menus that don’t require hours of prep are a must. One way to keep the menu feeling special enough for a party is to offer different wine pairings with the appetizers, main, and dessert. It ends up creating such a memorable experience for guests and feels like you put a little extra thought into the evening. Plus, who doesn’t love tasting a little bit of this and a little of that to spark conversation? I really enjoy the delicious pairing ideas that our friends at La Crema share right over here.
Low-key dinner party tip #5: Make the menu interactive.
The most fun dinner parties I’ve ever hosted or attended were ones where the guests got to jump in and help out with the cooking! Grilling is the perfect time to assign everyone a task. Not only do they get to learn something new, but everyone can take pride in sharing the delicious finished product!
A lot of people are intimidated at the thought of making octopus at home, so we thought it would be fun to show how easy it actually is to make it with just a little know-how. Nothing reminds me more of summer at the ocean than that ocean-salt flavor with just the right amount of chewiness. Many wines from the Monterey region, like a few of La Crema’s, come from vines consistently whipped by gusty, salty, ocean winds that actually impart a beautiful sea-like minerality in the final product, which make them the perfect pairing choice for our eight-armed mollusks.
Get the grilled octopus recipe here!
Low-key dinner party tip #6: Take things slow.
Dividing the evening into a few separate courses that are served nice and slow with padding in between not only makes the evening feel leisurely, it makes things way easier on the host since you’re not rushing around trying to get all the food on the table at once! I usually try to prep appetizers before guests arrive so there’s something to nibble on right away. This way, they’re not famished and can get on board with a slower pace for the rest of the night – especially when they’ve got a glass of crisp Chardonnay in hand!
Cheers to the fact that there’s always a reason to celebrate, and pouring La Crema wine is the perfect way to do it. You don’t have to wait for a birthday or milestone event to invite friends for an evening of great wine, delicious food, and most importantly
– fun and meaningful conversation around the table