As long as dogwoods have blossomed, garden parties have been a Southern staple, and for good reason. There's something sentimental about a springtime spread that keeps its roots in tradition while toying with the fantasy of flora and feathers and fresh-baked sweets and savories.
For Tony Turner and Marc Goswick, who run the home-décor shop and tearoom Feathernesters at 6118 Lakeside Ave., springtime brings its fresh canvas to the table, in both decorative and culinary terms. Here, they set out a garden luncheon based on herbs (tomato-basil soup, bird's nest salad, vegetable/herb quiche and lavender butter cookies) and designed to evoke the season's whimsy.
"It's all about taking something everyday and making it fabulous," Turner says, "to make sure that it is simple but memorable."
Turner gives the following tips to make your garden party a blooming success.
Six Garden Party Pointers
1. Tie the theme together. Follow up your invitation theme in your place cards at the table and gifts to guests. It can be simple, he says: "Little peat moss cups or terra-cotta pots can be dropped into a cellophane bag and tied with an interesting ribbon with a seed packet attached -- guests can start a little windowsill garden with edible flowers or nasturtiums. Or people love things to eat, like a granola trail mix packaged cleverly."
2. Contrasts build excitement in the setting. "The juxtaposition of fancy and simple is something that people don't always think of," Turner says, "like putting beautiful china with pine straw on the table, or making silverware with twig handles."
3. Don't experiment with an untested menu. "I never try new recipes at an event," Turner cautions. "It's not a good thing to do unless you do a dry run and test the recipe first." Before their sweet buttermilk pie became a sensation on the Food Network, Turner and Goswick tested their recipe for six months to get it perfectly right.
4. Decorate the table to capture the season. "I love the idea of bringing things inside that look like they belong outside," Turner says, "like terra-cotta pots to hold the silverware, or garden statuary for a vignette on the table."
5. Let your senses inspire you. "I get inspiration just taking a walk in the woods or the meadow or wherever," Turner says, "picking up pine cones to put in an old galvanized bucket. I challenge myself to do something with tiny bits of money or no money at all."
6. Have fun and your guests will too. "Approaching things in a casual way is so important," Turner says. "Don't overdo to impress people. Think of it as an opportunity to share your nest with people you enjoy. I find it very rewarding to have people enjoy themselves."
Tomato Basil Soup
1 cup chopped celery
¬ cup chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups tomato juice
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 14«-ounce can Italian-style stewed tomatoes
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
¬ cup snipped fresh basil or 2 tablespoons dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot cook celery, onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until tender. Add tomato juice, tomato paste and undrained stewed tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer for about 20 minutes.
Place half of this mixture into a food processor and process until smooth. Repeat with the other half and return all soup to the pot. Add milk, sugar and basil, and heat through.
Serve garnished with a dollop of sour cream, shredded cheddar and a snip of fresh basil.
Lavender Shortbread Cookies
_ cup butter (no substitutions)
« cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
« teaspoon lemon extract
1« cups all-purpose flour
¬ teaspoon salt
1« tablespoons dried lavender flowers
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
In a medium bowl beat butter, confectioner's sugar, vanilla and lemon extract in an electric mixer until creamy.
In a separate bowl add flour and salt. Slowly add flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating until well-combined. Fold in lavender flowers. Shape the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 2-inch round fluted cutter, cut cookies. Place cookies on sheet and evenly sprinkle each with granulated sugar. Bake 10-12 minutes or until edges are slightly browned. Cool on pan for 1 minute, then transfer to wire rack to cool.