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Summer patio-party decor mixes old with new, food stays simple

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When it comes to planning decor for an outdoor party or event, it’s all about eye appeal.

“My top tip for outdoor entertaining is to make it beautiful,” Ami McKay of Pure Design in Vancouver says. “We spend so much time at work, when we have time to get together with friends we need to make it special and memorable.

Life is about creating memories.”

But playing up the pretty doesn’t have to mean going crazy with decor. McKay points to a recent party she hosted for an intimate group of friends where she played up the outdoor element while also keeping things informal with a “boho-chic” style.

“We put the table low, added bright, colourful floor cushions and layered Moroccan rugs,” she explains of the decor.

For furniture, while it may be tempting to rush out and buy the latest and greatest patio-decor pieces, McKay says it can be just as appealing — not to mention budget-friendly — to furnish an outdoor space for a party with pieces that are typically kept indoors.

“I always like to bring furniture and decor outside from the inside,” she says. “Bold colours and vintage styles. Injecting pops of vibrant colour is important, as colour gets washed out in the sun so the brighter the better. I love the addition of Moroccan rugs on a deck, it’s not only visually appealing, it also adds comfort.”


Ami McKay of Pure Design knows how to throw a summer party.

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On tabletops, no patio party would be complete without a nod to nature. And the best way to do that is with fresh flowers.

Fresh florals or lots of plants are a must,” McKay says. 

While fresh flowers indisputably “make” a table setting, the blooms can get a bit pricey. But McKay assures there are ways of creating Instagram-worthy floral centrepieces while staying within your party-budget boundaries.

“Go to your garden or the outdoors and snip away,” she advises for cost-savings. “We use everything from our own garden, even wild greens in little bouquets on the table look pretty.”

Dinnerware is another area where you can utilize the pieces that are already available in your kitchen. Mixing and matching your go-to plates and bowls with serving trays featuring flowers or coloured antique glass.

“You can even mix and match to change the mood and keep it fresh,” McKay says. 

Whatever you do, though, don’t forget about prepping for the battle against pesky bugs, which flock to any outdoor event like unwanted party guests. Thankfully, McKay has an all-natural alternative to smelly bug sprays and candles.

“I like spritzing the deck, and even the guests, with a trio of essential oils, peppermint, lavender and cedarwood,” she recommends. “They smell lovely but the bugs don’t like them.”

Where decor is the place to have fun and get creative, food is best kept a little bit simple.

“It is always a good idea when dining outdoors to select dishes that eat well either hot or cold,” Chef Stewart Boyles of Culinary Capers advises. “Draw inspiration from street food for canapés that can be both set out and butler-passed.”

Boyles points to baked steelhead or summer salads that incorporate simple, seasonal ingredients, such green beans and artichoke, as fail-safe food options.

“I would usually avoid anything with too many components like lots of dips or garnishes or dishes that require a lot of last-minute work,” he says. “It is always better to have menu items that are mixed, dressed and ready to go so that you can enjoy the party with your guests.”

Looking to get a little bit more complex with your main entree? Boyles recommends cooking up chicken tagine.

“Tagines are visually stunning and very flavourful,” he says. “They are not too difficult to make, can be prepared ahead of time and are perfect for eating outdoors.”   

For dessert, Boyles recommends steering clear of prep-heavy (and hot-oven-required) baking and instead opting for a sweet seasonal treat that’s worthy of the sun-soaked weather.

“It is always nice to serve something refreshing and light when dining al fresco,” he says. “Finish your meal with something that’s not too rich; citrus or local berries would always be my choice.”

When it comes to drinks, serving a few non-alcoholic options is always a good idea. But, when it comes to wine, McKay says it’s OK to still think pink.

“When you go to Paris, Rosé is always served,” she says of the trendy — and trending — beverage. “In my opinion it will never go out of style. I love beautiful, chilled rose on a hot summer’s day.”

And, if the drink is served at a fun summer-patio party? Well then, that’s even better.

Aharris@postmedia.com


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Ami McKay of Pure Design.

JANIS NICOLAY /

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Three must-haves of any good patio party 

Principal designer Ami McKay of Pure Design in Vancouver breaks down the must-haves for your next outdoor soiree:

Keep it fresh

Think a big bouquet is the best centrepiece for a patio-party table? Think again.

“Lots of fresh flowers in small vases throughout the space,” McKay says.

The design trick adds interest on a table of any size — while also potentially cutting down the cost of fresh flowers because smaller, more-affordable blooms can be used.

Play with pattern

White or grey china is always in style when it comes to dinnerware. But, if you really want to create an Instagram-able tablescape, consider adopting some print.

“Fun dinnerware with colour and pattern and striking glassware make an impact,” McKay says.

Mix and match prints and florals for an unexpected, eclectic vibe.

Treat yourself

Food is the focus of most party planning. That’s why it can also often be the biggest source of frustration and stress during pre-party prep.

To avoid any culinary consternation, McKay suggests hiring a pro.

“Hire a caterer, make it easy on yourself so you impress your guests and still relax and enjoy your guests,” she says.


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Tagine by Culinary Capers Catering.

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Culinary Catering

RECIPE: Tagine

12 chicken thighs (3-4 lbs.), bone-in skin on

2 medium white onions, sliced

½ cup (125 mL) blanched almonds, rough chopped

1 1/2 cup (375 mL) chicken stock

1 cup (250 mL) dried apricots, halved

2 cups (500 mL) fresh tomatoes, diced

1 cup (250 mL) green olives, pitted

¼ cup (60 mL) butter

Garnish

3 Campari tomatoes sliced into wedges

Fresh cilantro

Spice Paste

1½ tsp (7.5 mL) whole black pepper

1½ tsp (7.5 mL) paprika

1 tsp (5 mL) cumin seed

1 pinch saffron

1½ tsp (7.5 mL) turmeric

2 tsp (10 mL) minced garlic

¼ cup (60 mL) olive oil

Grind the spices together and reserve 1/3 for cooking with the onions.

Rub the remaining spices on the chicken skin, then mix the chicken thighs with the garlic and olive oil. Marinate overnight (or at least 2 hours).

To prepare the tagine, heat a heavy pan over medium heat. Season the underside of the chicken skin well with salt. Add a small amount of vegetable oil to the preheated pan and place all the thighs skin-side down. Pour the remaining marinade over top and increase the heat to medium high to let the skin slowly render and brown. Turn the thighs over for a quick sear then remove from the pan and set aside. Reserve some of the flavourful chicken fat from the pan.

Add the butter and a few spoons of the rendered fat to the tagine and put on medium heat. Once the fat has melted, add the rest of the spices and the onions. Cook till tender, add the apricots, tomatoes, almonds and olives. Continue cooking until the tomatoes begin to break down, add half of the chicken stock and reduce till thick, then add the remainder of the stock and place the chicken thighs evenly over the onions. Baste the thighs with the sauce and cover the tagine with the lid, reducing the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 1 1/2 hours, checking occasionally. The chicken should be tender and falling off the bone.

Garnish with fresh herbs and tomatoes just before serving. If you wish, the tagine may be cooled down and served the next day by slowly reheating on the stove.

Chef’s note: Select a tagine that is meant for open flame and not just decorative. 

Serves 8-10.

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