INSPIRED BY WIMBLEDON: A SUMMER LAWN PARTY WITH STRAWBERRIES AND CREAM, PIMM'S CUPS COCKTAILS

All of the Wimbledon buzz has inspired me to plan a Lawn Party.... British style! If you can't make it to center court like my buddy Ricky Cooper did (thanks for the photo) or share the Royal box seats with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge... well, you can plan a quick and easy Wimbledon-inspired lawn party in your own backyard!

Some of the traditions of Wimbledon have been in place for 100+ years! Wimbledon is played on grass, so even if you don't have access to a tennis court, if you have a patch of grass, you can host this great summer get-together complete with badminton, croquet, lawn darts, or simply make up your own lawn games. If your town has a public tennis court, reserve it and invite your girlfriends for an evening of tennis, Pimm's Cups and fun.

THE INVITATION

Since a strict all-white dress code is in place for players at Wimbledon, it's always fun to stick to an all-white theme for the party. Ask guests to wear white attire and mention that lawn games will be involved so the ladies don't turn up in high heels. I like to start the party late in the afternoon or early evening, after the temperatures have dropped. A 6pm start time will give you several hours of daylight for games during the summer. White linen paper or card stock is just right for your party invite. A casual, handwritten note (very old school) is perfectly acceptable for this casual gathering.

THE MENU

Afternoon Tea, probably the most quintessential English tradition, is said to have been introduced to England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford in 1840. Tea typically consists of tea along with scones, buns, pastries, cakes, and accompaniments of butter and jam.

There are a couple of traditions at Wimbledon that are a must for your party menu. One is Strawberries and Cream. Featuring fresh English strawberries from Kent served with Double Cream. It isn't always easy to find English cream in the USA. You can substitute by using a good quality vanilla ice cream, let it melt in the refrigerator until it is pourable but of course, keep it chilled. Pour some of the melted ice cream in the bottom of each dish and fill the bowl with sweetened strawberries and pour a bit more cream over the top. Another option is to whip up some fresh cream and add some orange flavor to it. This is simple and delicious- the perfect compliment to the berries. Another alternative is a flavored whipped cream. I love this orange-strawberry combination.

FRESH STRAWBERRIES WITH ORANGE WHIPPED CREAM

2 pounds of fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 pint heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup Confectioners sugar

1/4 cup Grand Marnier (or orange flavored liqueur)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

For the strawberries: Wash and pat dry. Remove the stems. Slice. Add the sugar and combine gently then sit aside. Do this 1 hour before serving or the berries will break down.

For the cream: Add the whipping cream to a large bowl and whip with electric mixer for a moment at high speed. Turn it off and add the sugar. Whip on  low to incorporate the sugar. (otherwise it will dust you with white powder) Once you have it incorporated, add the other ingredients and whip on high just until stiff peaks form. Do not overbeat. Chill until serving time. To serve: layer the berries, juice, and cream in a chilled serving dish or pretty glass. Garnish with mint or fresh basil leaves.

Another staple at Wimbledon or at any other British event is a Pimm's Cup. Pimm's is to Wimbledon what the Mint Julep is to the Kentucky Derby. Pimm's is a gin based liquor and it's so refreshing on a summer day. 

PIMM'S CUP COCKTAIL

1 ½ ounces Pimm's #1

4 ounces lemon-lime soda (7-Up or Sprite)

1 ounce club soda

Wedge of lemon

Cucumber spears

Optional: shot of premium vodka and fresh mint leaves

I like to mix these in a pitcher and serve over ice in a tall glass. They're unique to Americans and so refreshing but watch out! They go down easy and will sneak up on you.

BRITISH SHANDY

Another traditional British beverage is the Shandy. A Shandy is half lager and half lemon-lime soda. I was a skeptic when my friend Nick made me my first Shandy almost 20 years ago but they've become my summer staple. Many of craft beer companies have their own versions of the shandy bottled and on store shelves.

One pint cold lager beer

One can chilled lemon-lime soda

Chilled tall glasses

Slowly pour half of the beer into the chilled glasses. Top with soda. Serve.

THE ENTERTAINMENT

This party starts with the lawn games so if you don't have access to a tennis court, set up a badminton net instead. Since croquet is also played at Wimbledon, you can also set up a croquet course in the backyard or at the park. Other fun lawn games include horseshoes, bocce ball. or lawn bowling. The game I came to know in Chicago as "baggo" or cornhole is also fun for a lawn party. I always find lots of lawn games at Target during the summer. Set up your game course in whatever green space you have.

This is a great summer evening party theme... try it for a rehearsal dinner or engagement party, a girls night out or guys night out party, a neighborhood party, family get-together, or anyone's birthday party. You can make it kid friendly or invite the adults only, but no matter who attends, my Summer Lawn Party is perfect for any occasion. Just make sure I'm on the guest list... xox

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COCKTAIL HOUR: POPSICLES AND PROSECCO

Looking for a super easy and super fast cocktail or dessert for your summer dinner party, supper club, or get-together? Need the perfect "guest greeter" beverage for your wedding or rehearsal dinner? Why not make Popsicles and Prosecco... the perfect adult summer treat? This is a breeze to make, extremely affordable, and everyone will love it!

You can make your own homemade popsicles like I did or you can just buy really delicious flavors at most organic grocers. Even Wal-Mart has Mexican "paletas" (gourmet ice pops)  in flavors like Coconut, Lime, and Mango. No matter what variety you choose, this party-starter or dessert is easy, elegant, and absolutely a crowd-pleaser! You can match your colors to your party's color scheme, or serve a variety of flavors like I have here. I find the fruity flavors work best rather than creamy flavors and I also prefer Prosecco to Cava or Champagne because it is a bit sweeter and pairs better, IMO.

So, all you have to do is to make sure your pops are really frozen so they don't melt too fast. Also, chill the Prosecco a little colder than you normally would. When you are ready to serve, just pop the popsicle into a wine glass, pour over the chilled Prosecco and serve! You can also serve this with chilled ginger ale, chilled Italian sparkling soda, ginger beer, or seltzer if you prefer not to serve alcohol.

VARIATIONS ON A THEME:

Coffee or Chocolate Popsicles with Kahlua

Lime, Orange, or Watermelon Popsicles with Chilled Tequila

Lemon Popsicles or Sorbet with a Shot of Chilled Chambord

Raspberry Popsicles or Sorbet with a Shot of Chilled Limoncello

Coco-Cola Popsicles with a Shot of Chilled Bourbon

You get the picture... for the sorbet, line up your glasses on a tray and chill for 30 minutes.  first. Scoop in the sorbet and chill until party time. Just before serving, pour over the liqueur or serve the liqueur in a chilled shot glass on the side.

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COCKTAIL POPSICLES: COOL SANGRIA POPS RECIPE

Here is my latest version of cocktail popsicles: Sangria Pops. 

I always have loved serving big pitchers of fresh fruit Sangria for a party and I like to use the fruit that is fresh and locally available. But here is a new way to greet your party guests that pretty, frosty cold, and delicious... perfect for a hot summer night. They are even pretty enough for a special occasion. Make up tons of these fresh fruit Sangria Pops in advance and serve them on a platter filled with ice or in a chilled wine glass. Either way, guests will love them!

Sangria pops from Food Network Star Martie Duncan are the perfect party starter for summer get-togethers!  Photo: Arden Photography

Sangria pops from Food Network Star Martie Duncan are the perfect party starter for summer get-togethers!  Photo: Arden Photography

SANGRIA POPSICLES

Makes 12-24 popsicles depending on the size of the cup or mold

1 bottle white wine (you can use what you like- even Rose is good)

3 cups white grape juice

2 cups fresh fruit of any combination (I used peaches, strawberries, cherries, and green grapes)

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons orange juice

Small plastic cups or popsicle molds

Popsicle sticks

Slice the fruit into small chunks or slices. Put in the bottom of a pitcher and add the sugar and orange juice. Stir well so that the sugar dissolves. Pour over the wine and the grape juice. Stir well. Pour into small plastic cups arranged on a sheet pan or cake pan that will fit into your freezer. Let them become semi-frozen for an hour or so and then add the popsicle sticks. Let them freeze for at least 4 hours- more if you have a large mold or larger cup.

Serve on ice or in chilled wine glasses... you can even pour chilled white wine over them... easy and delicious!

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