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The mildness of this past winter makes me sad for only one reason— we have not had the sort of fluffy snowbanks that give rise to the Snow Day Champagne Fetes I have historically thrown. Just shape the snow on the ground into a bar-like form and stuff champagne bottles into the top. Then invite folks to don snowshoes and ridiculously large boots and waltz on over. Sparkling white snow, sparkling fine wine, sparkling snowball fight between grown-ups. We are so civilized.
Late spring and summer beg for different outdoor entertaining scenarios. When the light fades and the warmth of the day remains in our bones, my inspiration is usually more languid, even elegant. Here’s what I’ve been dreaming of all winter.
> On a warm spring evening after a dinner party or some sort of formal event, I invite a well-attired group of friends for a late night torch party on the broad flagstone patio behind my house. There are magnums of good champagne, cognac for those who have taken a chill, cigar service and a flamenco guitar duo. Savory items are available for those dissatisfied with dinner at the aforementioned event (maybe little Croque Monsieurs or some such) as well as a few small sweets as a foil for the bubbles. The guitarists will start with a spirited pace then bring it down in tempo and volume as the evening wanes. Laughter provides the high notes, the plucked strings provide the middle, and the wind in the trees sets the meter and mood. At some late hour, the crowd hushes for an important story and you can feel the tension build for the impact of the end of the tale. When it arrives in sudden laughter and dissipates as a wave fades from shore, the time has come for guests to slip away through the trees.
> On a Sunday when it’s still a little cool, but the flowers and trees are blooming, guests will come for an indoor-outdoor afternoon open house. Jackets and sweaters will be required— maybe even some color theme, say all blue and white. Lyrical jazz wafting in and out of the house. Clever light cocktails, white wines from the Alps and cool, blue-fruited, lighter red wines. Salty snacks, maybe with a Southern edge, are laid out on buffets inside and out. (I am a big proponent of moving inside furniture out for an event, as well as draping things with tablecloths and various linens.) As the hour nears supper-time, the music gains a honky-tonk edge, but maintains its slow pace. The snacks become supper: platters of fried green tomatoes, golden chicken, salads of early potatoes and artichokes. A big bottle of Chianti Classico is opened, cool from the cellar. The sun fades as folk have a little Huguenot Torte and Aged Malmsey Madeira and then slowly file out, leaving me to a quiet Sunday evening cleanup.
> Or, instead of a winding-down sort of an event, how about an exciting windup for a group of friends headed to a concert or entertainment later in the evening? Perhaps it’s a film that’s set in California or the symphony, where the highlight of the program is Strauss. Why not have a stand-up wine bar and tasting on the back porch overlooking the woods? A series of Gruner Veltliners, Rieslings and Blaufrankisch—or a big batch of interesting Pinot Noir from the same year and same part of California. I’d keep the snacks light and zesty, maybe a few
California cheeses with the Pinots.
> Of course, I am all for a full-on summer dinner party. There is so much joy in being outside on borrowed time. On my back deck a table swathed in white linen lets the forest speak to color: green and gold on a late spring evening. Broad low candles in thick hurricanes provide a stable glow. We’ll have two courses. First, a warm salad of asparagus from a farmer friend, cut today, with tiny new potatoes and fresh goat’s milk ricotta from my kitchen. Rich and nutty, golden Soave Classico sets off the dish with its fruity and firm character. Then, fresh local baby lamb is roasted whole and carved and served with ramps and the natural jus. Morels baked in fresh cream crown the table. A magnum of good Pomerol provides a deep plummy and iron-rich mineral context for the lamb. With luck, the wine is the same vintage as one of the guests, who is now an impromptu honoree.
Above all, the point is to be outside. Late spring is one of our most attractive, albeit fickle, seasons. I want to feel it as much as I can.
Tony Foreman is a restaurateur and co-owner of the Foreman-Wolf group.