Janie Dickson and Chef Blake Jackson welcome us their colorful and flavorful July dinner party with friends.

Food by Chef Blake Jackson
Photography: Candace Chaney

During the Summer months, Grandmother used to say it was time for another “splash” when the paper cocktail napkin wrapped around our glasses tore from harboring ice sweat. To her, not only at that point should we have “nursed” our drinks long enough but even more, the air was clearly so hot, another was needed just to survive.

Evening al fresco entertaining in the heat of the Summer can be touchy depending on your dropped pin. When Louisiana starts having 80 degree mornings and 85 degree nights, the days of entertaining comfortably outside dwindle as quickly as the ice in your drink. The only solution to make these nights linger longer is the right combination of good friends, good food and plenty of cool “splashes” and that’s exactly what happened for this month’s gathering. Chef Blake Jackson and I invited a few friends over to the celebrate a new season and have the excuse to use some new linens and pass tales of old. Our theme was color and the celebration of it. A Heather Taylor Home yellow gingham tablecloth set the stage while a playful combination of cheeky placemats, two-toned enamelware plates and other festive tabletop décor played off each other just enough to hit the theme home. Friend and florist, Brianna Belton of Brianna Belton Designs turned a floral vision into fruition with two beautifully (and purposely) spaced poppy and caladium arrangements that flanked either side of lemon designed taper candle holders holding yes, colorful green candles (why would one do white or cream for a color dinner?).

Summer alfresco dinner entertaining flower arrangments

Blake outdid himself with the menu (see below) and I had too much fun with all the little touches to show my affection towards my guests. Dinner was meant to be easy and the conversation followed suit. The food was completely un-predictable (tuna tartare and Italian sandwiches, what?) but boy, did it work and was it perfect for the al fresco event! Like all good chefs, Blake’s creativity and enthusiastic personality shines through in every dish he prepares.

To make things fun, I try to make lots of ice globes or other fun shaped ice cubes in the Summer and store in my freezer. It makes your Summer splash that much more fun and refreshing.

Summer alfresco dinner entertaining bar barware cocktails

Tip: While I didn’t for this party, solely because I didn’t remember this batch (it happens right?), boil your water before making the cubes to make them come out clearer. As soon as your ice is set, remove from the mold and store in a freezer-friendly bag so you can make more cubes and build your supply. Extra fun if you know what drink you plan on serving and freeze one of the drink ingredients in your mold. Example: Blueberries for a Whiskey Bluebonnet. And very much noted: I opted to use linen cocktail napkins over the Summer pesky paper alternative. Grandmother would be proud.

Summer alfresco dinner entertaining bar barware cocktails

When I have a smaller party, I love to send my guests home with something to remember the night—it might be just as simple as leftover dessert or in this case, a brown bag of caladium bulbs. Caladiums are easy to grow and they play back to some of Brianna’s arrangement on the table. I hoped when the bulbs sprouted so would memories of a fun night. I also had a double win as I bought them from our local garden club’s yearly fundraiser. Always, always important to support local in every way.

Summer alfresco dinner entertaining

How are you gathering this month? What is the most colorful piece of entertaining-ware you have in your house? Is it a placemat? A cocktail glass? Tablecloth? Pull it out, plan a table around it, invite your friends over, pour them a drink and enjoy the night.

Cheers to the dog days of Summer!

Summer alfresco dinner entertaining

In linen napkin regards,

Blake’s Menu

Inspired from recent his Mexican al fresco adventures

Cucumber & Ahi Tuna Tartar
Spring Pea & Mint Soup with Lump Blue Crap
Sopressata & Raclette with Arugula & VSOP Balsamic on Focaccia
Grilled Veal Porterhouse. Roasted Corn + Golden Oyster Mushrooms and Sunflower
Brownbutter Snickerdoodle Pie