Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gala Parfait: A Perfect Garden Party

It was a balmy summer day, and when I descended the steps -arms overflowing- to my friends' magical new residence in the Los Feliz hills, everything was already perfectly in place for the day's garden party. J. Marie arranged a lush bouquet of fresh-cut flowers in the open-air kitchen while Davey poured ice into a metal tub. Jasmine pinned flowers into her hair. You could hear the soft wind breathing through wild reeds growing alongside the veranda, overlooking the pool. I took a deep breath, wiped the sweat from my forehead, and released my panic about everything left to do. How could I be anxious in a setting not unlike a secret cliff side retreat in tropical Mexico?
In planning a daytime summer garden party, first thing's first - what are we drinking? White sangria, obviously. And sparkling wine. Lots of sparkling wine. I whipped up this sangria and modestly displayed it in a beverage fountain.
I don't follow strict recipes when I make sangria and punches, but to prepare this I first soaked sliced white peaches, apricots, and a sprig of fresh mint overnight in peach schnapps. In a saucepan over medium heat combine 3/4 cup evaporated cane juice with 3/4 cup water, a can of lemonade concentrate, and 1 tablespoon orange zest. Remove from heat once the sugar is dissolved, pour through a sieve to remove zest and let cool. In a pitcher, large bowl, or fountain combine 3 bottles of dry white wine with the syrup and about half a bottle of peach schnapps. Stir to combine and finally add the soaked fruit. Garnish with sprigs of mint.
What made this garden party a little bit unique is that the hosts are vegan. Not all of the guests were, but since we were also celebrating a birthday (of one of the vegan folk), everyone did their best to have fun with it and provide a garden party dish all could enjoy.
I found the recipe for these gorgeous open-faced Cucumber Tea Sandwiches at Vegan Yum Yum, but added my own twist of chopped fresh sage mixed into the Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese. A vegetable peeler made lovely thin strips of Cucumber to overlay. I garnished with Italian parsley, fresh cracked pepper and pink salt.
The always-fabulous Nicolette showed up with these stunning Rosemary Shortbread Cookies with Tomato Jam(!). The recipe (from David Lebovitz) is not vegan but was easily adapted. Get it here!
I was impressed by all of the guest's contributions as they arrived, it was truly a gorgeous spread...
Marinated tofu caprese bites.
Awesome Mediterranean quinoa salad.
Deceptive delicious vegan potato salad.
Totally not vegan potato salad.
The most time-consuming of my endeavors for the day was this complex but tasty Watermelon Gazpacho. But such an intriguing and balanced flavor profile! Get the refreshing sweet/salty/spicy recipe here - from Jason Fox of Commonwealth in San Francisco (posted by Tasting Table).
After a swim in the rain (didn't see that coming!) and a lot of refined outdoor revelry, it was time for cake.
My favorite of the day, the Olive Oil Cake with Blackberries recipe came from Jennifer Shelbo of Maialino in NYC (thanks Food & Wine for publishing this amazing recipe)! Was also made vegan with a few substitutions, and honestly was the best cake I've eaten in years. J. Marie decided to reconfigure it as a layer cake, and used the tart olive oil and berry topping as a layer in the middle, then whipped up a simple icing, decorating with leftover blackberries and zest. Beautiful! A must try!
Last but not least, I broke in my brand new Cuisinart classic ice cream maker with a Lemon Basil Sorbet. Originally intended to be a "float" with sparkling wine, the sorbet ended up accompanying the cake, and was a fine herbal compliment. Get that recipe here.
(One thing about a lovely party, it can leave a pretty gorgeous mess).


  1. I love your "modest" beverage fountain! Sounds like it was an amazing party. Isn't it great having friends who can cook?

  2. i'm dying to make that olive oil cake! En fuego!

  3. YES Diana, it sure IS! :)

    Anna, you MUST! It's melt-in-your-mouth amazing!

  4. That looks like an amazing party! I especially love the beverage fountain with the apple slices. I hope to throw a garden party or two in the summer. This gives me some great ideas!