Labor Day weekend is upon us; the summer is winding down, people have returned from summer vacations and most schools have started back. However there are still opportunities for parties and gatherings and I find myself thinking about outdoor entertaining and eating. And coincidentally today, August 31st, is National Eat Outside Day.
Not long ago I wrote an article, Must Have Grilling Tools, and now I will list out some of my favorite party “tools” which I find helpful for outdoor entertaining. Although thinking about it, many of these items can be just as useful for indoor parties as well.
Melamine Plates and Trays for Outdoor Entertaining
What I like about melamine pieces is that they are light, yet durable and able withstand a bounce off the patio, because no one ever drops things…right? Melamine is also dishwasher safe for easy clean up, always a concern after a party. I have written previously about melamine dinner and serving pieces in Summer Dinnerware. This article provides details about melamine itself and the variety of designs and styles available today. There are trays, serving bowls, entire place settings and serving pieces that range from simple, solid colors to very elegant patterns. The most fun styles are from Zak Designs who make the well known confetti patterns but also have modern abstract and geometric styles. Le Cadeaux makes dinnerware in the more elegant classic European patterns.
Before we leave the melamine area, I want to mention a small company that I came across last year at a cooking and entertainment show. Danisa Sellers makes many products but the one that caught my attention was the party plate. The “Perfect Party Plates” are made of good quality melamine and are dishwasher safe. These are the perfect plates for cocktail, holiday parties or even cook outs. A nice sized plate at 9″, they have cut outs on the side of the plate designed to hold any stemmed glass or plasticware. They come in a festive blue swirl design, classic white, yellow and blue flower as well as a martini pattern, all in a round shape. There was also a square party plate with a red flower design.
I have seen party plates like this in ceramic, which felt heavy even before the glass was added and if dropped, would break. I have also seen them made of wood, but they are not dishwasher safe and could warp or split over time. I have also seen cheap plastic versions which just don’t feel as sturdy or look as nice. I only wish these Party Plates were sold in more places, but you can buy them at their web site. They are sold in sets of four.
My wife and I have used these plates at a party and they are definitely a conversation starter as well as very functional.
On the heals of the Party Plate, I offer another option for your consideration. If you don’t want to buy a very specialized set of plates, you can buy clips that can be attached to the side of any plate allowing you to carry or hold your beverage glass without setting your food down. It happens at every party, the plate full of food in one hand, wine or other beverage in your other hand, but how can you eat?
There are many out there but two of the more durable products are made by Trudeau and Prodyne. Trudeau makes plates clips out of sturdy plastic and silicone which come in multiple colors. The Prodyne version is made of stainless steel with a rubberized surface to firmly grip the plate. The Prodyne version might be a bit more stylish and elegant depending on the party. Both will give you the option to make food and drink readily accessible.
Wine seems integral to any outdoor entertaining and there are several useful tools for wine at the outdoor party that cover transporting the wine to the party, serving it and providing a secure holder. Bringing wine to a party in a drinkable state is often a challenge particularly in warm weather, but there are some good options. The first from Le Creuset, is made to fit any 750ml wine or sparkling wine bottle. It has elastic sides and a full length cover with maximum bottle contact for better chilling while on the go. The Wine Cooler comes in black and burgundy colors for a stylish look right for any party.
The other wine chiller for transporting wine is the goCool Bag from Ravi. It is plastic with colorful freezer gel packs around the body of the bag to keep the wine chilled and comes with loop handles for easy carrying. It is also capable of carrying any 750ml wine bottle.
Once you get the wine to the party, you will need to serve it and for the more discerning wine lover, you may want to have the Vinturi Travel Aerator. This pocket sized device allows you to aerate tannic wine simply by pouring it through the device and into the glass. The travel size works just as well as the full size versions from Vinturi and comes with its own convenient carry case/drip catch. Not a party tool per se as it can go anywhere, but it can certainly help make wine more drinkable right out of the bottle because wines are often opened and served at parties without being given ample time to breathe.
Another serving tool for wine that isn’t limited to outdoor entertaining, is SteadySticks By Tovolo. These spikes stick in the ground and will hold any size stemware you may have, glass or plastic. There is a holder for the wine bottle also. These SteadySticks are great for picnics and concerts but also for the party guest who wants to lounge on the lawn with their wine.
One last drink related item is the Silicone Grip Coaster Set from Swissmar. These colorful silicone coasters go wherever the glass goes to protect any table surface while providing a non-slip base for glasses, cups, stemware, cans and more. The set of six can also function as a glass marker to help people keep track of which glass is theirs.
Table Serving Tools
Two final suggestions for the serving table, the first being a very cool innovation called the Spachello. This multi-functional device, made by Swissmar, can reduce the number of tools on the serving table. It has a serrated edge for slicing vegetables, bread or cheese; holes in the knife prevent food from sticking to the blade. Instead of just a plain flat edge opposite the slicing blade, there is a silicone spatula for spreading condiments, dips or soft cheese. It has a comfortable, ergonomic handle and an overall length of 10.5″, which is long enough to reach the bottom of a mayonnaise or peanut butter jar. I would certainly use this tool in the kitchen everyday but it has real party applications.
With less daylight in the fading summer days, we often find ourselves lingering in the dim light. While there are candles and lanterns in a myriad of styles, I have grown fond of a product called Flip ‘N Charge Candle that provides a gentle flickering candle-like light. On the bottom of each candle are solar panels to recharge the cells using sun or room lights; no need for batteries or electricity to recharge. Each holder contains amber LED bulbs that flicker like a real candle but with no flame, smoke or dripping. They have a stylish, frosted-shade design that works anywhere. All you do is flip them over to engage the light. The light is soft and while they won’t brightly light a large area, I have found that in the last lingering moments of a party, a little soft light is all I want anyway. They provide a perfect mood setting for a more romantic dinner under the stars.
I hope you will find these products to be helpful to you at your next party. The weather is still nice and even though the daylight is diminishing, we can linger with friends over the fading light and memories of summer fun.
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