A summer party, right on the money

Summer campMay 25–Ask Ted Allen what celebrities do when they throw a party, and he’ll ‘fess up right away that they leave the expensive stuff at the restaurant.

In what’s likely to be known as The Summer of Our Gas Discontent, Allen and other gurus of good living say a little nip and tuck to your entertaining plans can make even the most stringent budget turn into a good time.

After all, if impoverished misery loves company, what better excuse can there be for having a party?

“There are certainly lots of things you can do to have a great time on a budget,” says Allen, a regular judge on Iron Chef America and a lead personality on Bravo’s Top Chef. “For instance, foods that a lot of chefs cook at home are not the most expensive cuts. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a good time.”

Mix-n-match freebies

If we’re honest, much of our time with friends is simply spent sitting around, chewing the fat. In an ideal world, that might be done in some far-off locale, but this year we’ll use our back porches and yards to imagine faraway places.

Not going to the beach?

Grab those beach chairs, umbrellas and mats and set up a luau in the back yard… unless you can convince your neighbor who has a pool to get in on the act and offer up his own private Waikiki.

Can’t afford to drive to the lake for camping, as you might ordinarily do?

Who says you can’t camp in your own private wilderness preserve, also known as The Back Yard. A small, portable grill can be had for $19; toss in a $4 bag of charcoal, and you’ve got your campfire. Set your tents around it, pack the best camping cooler with your regular camping fare, and you and your friends have replicated the great outdoors without leaving home.

Need a creative outlet?

Tie one on, people. This may scare the neat-freaks out there, but a tie-dye party is a blast. A bottle of Rit dye will run you about $3 each, and what dad doesn’t have a slew of plain white T-shirts in his drawer that need to be sacrificed to the world of art?

A tie-dye party, complete with ’70s food icons such as granola and fondue, can be a blast. Don’t forget the relish trays and vegetable platters.

Cheap eats

When the load of food and drink is shared, the spirit of a party gets livelier. Have a wrangler — usually the person who’s hosting the party — keep track of who’s bringing what, so five people don’t show up with potato salad.

Pull that pig

Allen says pulled pork has taken a hoofhold outside the South and the traditional barbecue regions. He says even people who don’t have smokers are slow-roasting pork shoulders.

“You can do a great pork shoulder at 325 for four, five hours,” says Allen, who has people in Enterprise, Birmingham and Geneva and, therefore, is familiar with the South’s vision of pork. “A pulled pork sandwich and a black bean and corn salad. You can’t beat that.”

Potluck posh

Beyond the traditional grilling parties, you can have a grazing session on cold foods; a night devoted to sweet stuff and desserts; lay out a salad bar; set up a buffet of sandwich fixin’s. If you’ve got a grill, then turn it into a pizza oven; have each guest bring a different component of pizza, then have a field day mixing and matching ingredients.

Metal mania

It may seem a little offbeat, but there’s entertainment gold in aluminum. It makes packets for steamed vegetables that can coon on the grill. Pie pans serve as indestructible dishes. A wash tub crammed with drinks and ice screams “summer fun,” relaxed.

For hobo packets, as some folks call a dinner-in-one foil pouch, a piece of fish or chicken, pounded fairly thin, needs only a lemon slice, some broccoli and sliced carrots to form a complete serving. Season lightly with salt and pepper, then seal the pouch and pop it on the grill. Close the lid, then give your pouches a good bake.

Pie pans are great for informal settings where a table simply doesn’t belong. They’re sturdy. Nothing slides off the edge. Their flat, wide surface is the perfect place to perch a drinking glass. Plus, they can double as Frisbees after a quick rinse.

Finally, make sure any money you, as the host, do spend on atmosphere — tiki torches, flowers, decorations — go for low dollar, but high impact.

For instance, flowers will add a touch of class, but look at what you’ve got to hold them before you go shopping, and make your selection accordingly. Don’t buy something that needs a tall vase if you don’t have something on hand.

The same goes for tables and chairs. Bed sheets or fabric remnants spread around the yard make a great setting for an informal picnic (see the note on pie pans as plates, above). Get enough of your friends’ stuff together, and you could make a neighborhood crazy quilt.

This style is great for impromptu gatherings. You don’t have to worry about chairs or tables. It’s impossible to spill food and drink and leave a mess in a yard, just put some citronella buckets around the area to keep the bugs at bay.

And with the recent rain, our grass isn’t crunchy. Yet.

About Laura Tutor

Laura Tutor is the features editor for The Star.