AT HOME Three Perfect Poolside Parties

Entertaining ideas for spring celebrations, even if you’re not Martha Stewart

THOUSANDS OF MARTHA STEWART wannabes study their heroine’s bimonthly magazine, Living, structure their mornings around her “Today” show appearances, and eagerly await her prime-time TV specials, all in hopes of gleaning the secrets of the inspirational, ubiquitous icon of home entertaining.

There’s just one problem. Martha’s impossibly perfect. Entertaining is her life and her living, while the rest of us have families, jobs, and pastimes that keep us too busy to search for party favors on the crowded shelves of an antiques store, or fuss over making candy that can be ruined with “the slightest change in temperature or the jolt of a banged door,” as Martha warns in a recent issue of Living.

However, when spring hits Dallas, we know it’s time to gather friends and celebrate the pleasures of life under the big Texas sky. It’s time for home parties and we want them to be Martha-perfect, but without the fuss. Is it possible? Absolutely. Try one of these three stress-free party ideas for a perfect evening.



PARTY #1

A Twilight Dinner



WENDY KRISPIN, WHOSE EPONYMOUS CATERing company has been pleasing Dallas palates for five years, knew exactly what we wanted when we asked her to design an elegant but essential kind of party-a simple get-together for four to eight friends. “The kind of party where you walk in and take off your shoes,” she sighed. Wendy’s known for her perfec-tionist attention to details at parties she’s catering, but at home she always opts for a more easygoing attitude. Her ode to spring features fresh, clean-lined decorations and an easy menu that plays with tastes and textures.

Serve buffet style for simplicity’s sake. The table setting begins with a crisp white cotton tablecloth and white cotton napkins, tied with strands of raffia and sprigs of rosemary. Keep it simple-stack large, white buffet plates next to flat-bottomed, clear-glass tumblers that are perfect for both wine and water. Decorate with spring flowers in wreaths or garlands, or compose a runner of eucalyptus, artichokes, rosemary, and limes, with touches of white spring tulips. To present your food, try large wooden or pewter platters with clean lines.

To keep your stress level low, Wendy suggests using as many store-bought and prepackaged ingredients as possible. She begins her menu with a wide range of hors d’oeuvres, passed casually and often, providing a comforting, cosseting counterpoint to the evening’s other enjoyment-conversation.

Choose simple recipes that can be made the day before the party and kept warm in the oven. White bean hummus and Brie que-sadillas are two of Wendy’s favorites, but even easier, she also suggests fried spring rolls from Mai’s on Bryan Street (“These are really great to serve while you’re getting the buffet ready,” she notes. “Don’t forget to get their special sauce, too.”) Rosemary sprigs from a spring herb garden season a salt- and sugar-cured boneless leg of lamb. Add an assortment of sliced breads from the Empire Baking Company, an arugula salad-Wendy likes hers with fresh figs and prosciutto with a honey-lavender vinaigrette and a crock of Dallas Mozzarella Company goat cheese placed to the side-and sugar snap peas and seared red peppers to complete the buffet. For dessert, serve apple cobbler with ginger ice cream and mugs of decaf.



NO-STRESS RECIPES*



TART TANGERINE “TINI” COCKTAIL

2 tangerines (reserve two slices for garnish)

2 sprigs fresh mint

1/2 shot triple sec

1/2 shot fresh lime juice

4 ounces vodka (try Stolichnaya Orange)

1 ounce tequila

Squeeze juice from tangerines and put into a cocktail shaker with remaining ingredients. Shake withice cubes until blended, strain, and pour mixture into chilled glasses (for a quick chill, let the glasses sit with ice water while you’re mixing the drink) each garnished with a tangerine slice and mint leaves. Serves 2.



WHITE BEAN HUMMUS WITH PITA CHIPS

1 bag white navy beans or, easier, 1 (12- ounce) can of white navy beans

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup fresh thyme (peeled from stem)

2 cloves of garlic, pressed

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Salt to taste

White pepper to taste

8 pieces pita bread

The night before your party, prepare navy beans as directed on the package. Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut pita bread in half to separate pockets; cut each of the 16 resulting rounds into eighths. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Bake the pita chips at 400 F until crisp. Cool and seal in an airtight bag.

The day of the party, puree the beans and mix in olive oil, thyme, garlic, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and a pinch each of salt and white pepper. Serve cold in a small bowl surrounded by pita chips. Garnish with a sprig of thyme. Serves 8.



SALT- AND SUGAR-CURED ROSEMARY LEG OF LAMB

1 boneless leg of lamb

1 cup salt

i cup sugar

1/4 cup black pepper

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

10 sprigs of rosemary

The day before your party, select a leg of lamb and have the butcher bone and tress it. Combine salt, sugar, and peppers in a small bowl. Strip the bottom two-thirds from the rosemary sprigs and add fresh rosemary to the mixture, then rub mixture into the leg of lamb. Make 10 knife incisions in the meat, then insert the stripped rosemary sprigs into the incisions. Cover and refrigerate.

On the day of the party, preheat oven to 350 F. Sear all sides of the meat over high heat on a grill or stove top. Bake at 350 F for 11/2 hours. Garnish with sprigs of fresh rosemary and whole cloves. Serves 8.

* Recipes courtesy of Wendy Krispin.



Resource: WENDY KRISPIN CATERER, 1025 N. Stemmons Fwy., 748-5559.



PARTY #2:

Outdoors Ole!

CELEBRATE CINCO DE MAYO, NAFTA, OR prima primavera (that’s spring, compadre) with a Mexican fiesta. Or take this opportunity to celebrate a truly Dallas occasion; This month marks the 25th anniversary of the frozen margarita, invented by Mariano Martinez in 1971 at Mariano’s, which is still in business at the Old Town Shopping Center at Lovers Lane and Greenville Avenue.

Whatever your reason for celebrating, the idea of a fiesta, like Mexico itself, always merits a revisit. Mexican parties are colorfully rich, sensually pleasing, and, because authentic food and decorations are so readily available in the Dallas area, a Mexican fiesta is an eminently easy way to serve a hungry crowd while keeping you out of the kitchen as much as possible.

Set the tone immediately by draping brightly colored, striped serapes across serving tables. Hang a few pinatas in traditional shapes or deck your deck with delicately cut paper banners, Or, if your party’s at night, weave a few strands of chile pepper lights along a trellis or arbor. Tie up rolled napkins with stems of paper poppies or strands of colorful beads. Have luminarias brightly painted with the design of your choice, and fill with citronella candles for a practical, pretty effect.

For a more polished look, consider investing in a few decorations you can use indoors after the party’s over. Try a hand-embroidered, or a classic white, tablecloth set with silver. Hide votive candles in black Oaxacan pottery or wrought-iron candlesticks. Hand-painted bark fruit-perhaps some watermelon slices-from Guadalajara makes a simple, attractive centerpiece. Talavera serving dishes and shiny tin trays add authenticity.

A fiesta is a feast for all the senses, and mari-achis are a must. Ask for those American favorites “Cielito Lindo” and “La Bamba,” or let the professionals settle on the score. Three of the most popular groups in town– Mariachi Social, Los Reyes de Dallas, and Azteca-are available for parties; they charge by the hour.

Give standard-fare chips and hot sauce a new look-cover a straw sombrero with clear plastic wrap and fill to the brim with bags of fresh chips. Set up a large buffet table with stacks of paper plates and let guests serve themselves.

Tamales are just a phone call away. Sylvia Perez Pickrell, who operates her business in Dallas, will deliver award-winning tamales direct from her parents’ Ruben’s Tamales in San Antonio to your door. They are frozen for the trip north. (These tamales have satisfied many homesick Texans, such as President Lyndon Johnson and Congressman Henry Gonzalez in Washington, D.C.) Serve plenty of fresh tortillas, and arrange serving dishes of rice and beans so guests can help themselves.

Again, everything’s buffet style. Small bowls of pico de gallo, chili con queso, gua-camole, and grated cheese round out the meal. Rent a margarita machine and fill a baby pool with ice and bottled beer for serve-your-self drinks. A plate of pralines on a colorful tray makes the evening’s feast complete.



Resource List:

MARIACHI CROUPS: Mariachi Social (average S200/hourh contact Dave Romo, voice mail at 622-6044; Los Reyes dc Dallas ($350/hour>, call Edgar Estrada at 309-0451; Azteca ($250/hour), call Polo at 828-2450 or Armondo at 739-485

RETAIL IMPORT STORES: La Mariposa boasts a wide selection of serapes, pinatas, paper flowers, luminarias (painted to order), chile pepper lights, talavera pieces, paper banners, and other traditional decorations. 2817 Routh St., 871-910

At Casa Mexicans, find unique pieces of folk art-embroidered tablecloths, tin trays, papier maché and bark paper paintings, fruit, talavera pieces, beads, and Oaxacan pottery – for decorations, and a large selection of small toys to use for party favors. 2616 Elm St, in Deep Ellum, 747-7227.

SPECIALTY FOODS: Sylvia Perez Pickrell, 681-2168. Order tamales at least one day in advance; $6, $7.50, or $10 per dozen, depending on the quantity ordered.

SPECIALTY MEXICAN FOOD STORES: For fresh tortillas, sauces, and desserts, check out Luna’s Tortillas, 1615 McKinney Ave., 747-2661 ; and Dallas Tortilla and Tamale Factory, 309 N. Marsalis Ave. and four other locations, 943-7681

PARTY #3:

A Midsummers Dream

SWEDEN’S MIDSUMMER HOLIDAY IS AN INSPIR-ing launch point for a Texas backyard party that celebrates longer days and warmer weather. Midsummer Day began eons ago in points Nordic as a pagan ceremony dedicated to the sun, giver of life.

While Swedes celebrate the day at the Tune high point of their ephemeral summer, the essence of the holiday-light-hearted joy, almost feverish worship of the great outdoors, and romance–perhaps translates best to the Dallas spring, before the sun god has us begging for mercy.

To learn more about Midsummer, we turned to Gwen Workman, owner of the Wooden Spoon, a Scandinavian specialty store-cum-community center in the artsy area of Piano where Avenue K and 15th Street meet, Gwen suggests capturing the spirit of Midsummer tor your own sun celebration for a dozen or so guests by focusing on the fest’s core elements: flowers, a maypole, and food.

Cover rented tables with crisp, white linens. Decorate with bunches of loosely gathered wildflowers in pitchers or glass vases. While Swedes construct a large, telephone pole-sized maypole each year and festoon it with woven chains of wildflowers, we suggest keeping it simple: A tabletop maypole around which fresh flowers are strewn serves as a simple but essential Midsummer centerpiece.

For a traditional smorgasbord buffet, offer trays of cold cuts, cheeses, patés, and flat breads as well as fresh vegetables, salad, and fruit plates. (Go for imported specialty foods, or simply improvise with items from your local grocery.) Swedish smorgasbords always include several types of cold fish, especially herring.

For dessert, fill a carved watermelon with fruit salad, and serve gingersnaps and sugar cookies. A Swedish strawberry cake can be made quickly with store-bought ingredients: Slice a pound cake vertically and layer with bananas and other fruits. Then frost with whipped cream and decorate with strawberries. Serve cold beer; the salty, pickled flavors of the traditional foods fight against wine.

No-Stress Recipes*MARINATED SALMON

(4-pound) whole salmon

to 3 cups mayonnaise

2 unpeeled cucumbers, thinly sliced

4 lemons, thinly sliced

Poach salmon in water to cover; bring water to 140 F. Split salmon in half. Place on tray, cut side down. Chill. Frost entire fish with mayonnaise and garnish with alternating rows of cucumber and lemon slices (to resemble scales offish ). Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to blend. Serves 10.



HERRING SALAD

4 herring, soaked in milk for 8 hours

2 cups diced cold boiled potatoes

1 cup chopped cooked beets

Spanish onions, thinly sliced Dressing:

1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons vinegar

Garnish:

5 hard-cooked eggs, sliced

Sliced beets

Parsley sprigs

Remove the skin and bone from the soaked herring and cut fish into cubes. Add potatoes, beets, and onion, and set aside. Make a dressing of the sour cream, mustard, pepper, sugar, and vinegar. Pour over the salad and mix .Just before serving, garnish dressed salad with sliced hard-cooked eggs, sliced beets, and parsley sprigs.

*Recipes from Superbly Swedish: Recipes and Traditions, Penfield Press, 1983.



Resources List:

Ducky-Bob’s Party & Tent Rentals, 14500 Beltwood Pkwy. E., Addison, 702-800

Cannonball Party Rentals, 4515 McEwen Rd., Farmers Branch, 387-890

WoodenSpoon,1617 Ave.K.Plano,424-6867, for Midsummer-theme decorations and specialty food items.

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