Summer Celebrations

Summer Celebrations

Something new under the sun

Story by Mara Severin

Summer in Alaska: Three words that helped you get through the longest nights and coldest days of January. Now you've banished the boots, closeted the coats, and stowed the scraper. So break out the sandals, the shades, and the blender. Summer is here and its time to celebrate in style.

All things bright and blossoming

It may come later, and it may be shorter, but Alaska's most elusive season deserves homage. A fresh garden party to celebrate all things spring will quash the winter blues and make the memories of snow and ice melt away.

Just remember, says Andrew Gumley of Special Events Party Store in Wasilla, that even in summer, Alaskan weather is hard to predict. "You have to have a back-up plan," he says. "Tents are a staple in Alaska and it's the only thing to really guarantee outdoor party success." Plus, tents add an air of festivity to any yard, he says.

Inside, white Chiavari chairs "can really make a dramatic impact," says Gumley. "It creates a sense of sophistication." Light, bright linens are a good start to a fresh and colorful fête.

As for the flowers, says Chanda Mines, owner of Bagoy's Florist & Home, if your own garden won't oblige, consider choices that you can buy by the bunch – peonies, tulips, and dahlias – and then go a little over the top. It's a good way to get a lot of color if your own thumb is not that green. For added charm, use packets of flower seeds as place-cards.

Play with your food!

Providing an elegant repast doesn't mean you can't have fun, says Kirsten Pedersen, executive chef at Alaskan Events & Catering. "Don't be afraid to play with your food," she says. "Serve little salads in small-scale terra-cotta pots," she suggests. Petite watering cans can hold dressing and transform a simple salad into something whimsical.

And since a garden party means food and flowers, why not combine the two and make use of edible flowers? Whether store-bought or homegrown, just be sure they haven't been chemically treated. "Think nasturtiums, pansies, and violas," says Pedersen. They can be sprinkled on a salad, used to dress up a plate, or as an elegant finishing touch to white buttercream cupcakes.

Berries and bubbly are the perfect drink for an afternoon of floral festivities. Keep champagne chilled in oversized garden urns filled with ice. Raspberries at the bottom of a champagne flute are a simple and spring-like treat.

If you can`t go to the beach, bring the beach to you

If you feel less like linens and hats, and more like flip-flops and cutoffs, consider throwing an Alaskan-style clambake. You don't need a beach to create the feeling of a shoreline shindig. Cover picnic tables with red, checkered tablecloths or just plain newspaper. Add a touch of whimsy, suggests Mines, by placing ready-to-plant red geraniums into brown paper bags and tying them with twine or raffia for a look that's charmingly informal. Children's beach pails can hold claw crackers, dinner rolls, utensils, or can be used to capture shells. Decorate with starfish, bowls of seashells, or driftwood. Play an ocean sounds disc to set the mood.

And with summertime providing an abundance of beautiful Alaskan seafood, feel free to skip the lobster and instead celebrate local salmon, halibut, and crab legs. Hand out lobster bibs and encourage your guests to get beautifully messy.

Lights, camera, action

For a family-friendly party with an entertaining twist, take a cue from the past and recreate the retro days of the drive-in movie. Rent or borrow a projector, hang a sheet or find an obliging garage door, and play a family classic. Hand out blankets, hot-dogs, popcorn, and Raisinets. Serve root-beer floats. Or go a little upscale, suggests Pedersen, with reindeer sausages served with Pommery mustard sauce, garlic-parmesan popcorn, and chocolate dipped strawberries.

For a more sophisticated cinematic soiree, consider a black-and-white classic (think "Casablanca" with Ingrid Bergman or "Now Voyager" with Bette Davis). Special Events Party Store can help you set the stage with scene-clappers and life-sized movie-star cut-outs (perfect for those paparazzi photo-ops). They also have oversized martini glasses to hold movie munchies. For a witty centerpiece consider "Casablanca" lilies, suggests Mines. "They have such a gentle scent and they're so beautiful," she says. Throw down a red carpet, play swanky big-band music, and serve sophisticated cocktails.

Snowcones, sunflowers, and silliness

If you believe that youth is wasted on the young, embrace your inner-child and throw a party with a distinctly immature ambiance. Rent an inflatable obstacle course, suggests Gumley, and encourage the grown-ups to get in on the fun. A snow cone machine is cooling and clever when you substitute the basic syrups for something distinctly adult (a quick Google search turned up recipes for saffron vodka mango syrup and for a concoction that includes blue Curaçao liqueur for nostalgic neon blue-stained lips). "Something really fun and informal is the cotton candy machine," says Andrew. "There's a certain amount of mess involved that is totally unavoidable," he says. "You can't not laugh while making it."

As for the décor, purchase balloons, hang paper lanterns festooned with curly ribbons, and throw streamers into the tree branches, suggests Mines. And sunflowers – the world's most friendly flower – will lend a bit of cheerful, child-like charm.

If you don't have the room for a full-on carnival, buy a piñata, organize an egg-toss or a three-legged race, and watch as even your serious friends get a little silly.

It`s all fun and games

Of course, you don't have to go that far to get your guests in a competitive mood. Host a field day – an afternoon of lawn game tournaments. Croquet, boules, bocce, or horseshoes don't require special shoes, won't make you break a sweat, and won't lead to any sports-related injuries.

Mines regularly throws a chic lawn-game party. "People wear swanky sports attire – Dean Martin Rat Pack stuff – even knickers and English caps," she says. "We have real martini glasses because who cares if you slosh it outside?"

Great food, great drinks, great atmosphere, and permission to get messy? These are the kinds of parties that give hosts a good reputation. Soon your only party-planning problem will be how to keep the guest list under control.