Every other week, Anna Hezel talks about the innovations, decorations, and other quiet touches that make a party memorable.
Today: How to put used cartons, crates, and baskets from the market to work at your next party.
With end-of-summer produce in full bloom, you hardly need an excuse to have a party in August. All you need is a back yard, a pie recipe you've been dying to try, and a trip to the farmers market. Big, vibrant meals can come from the corn, zucchini, and eggplant that's in season, and believe it or not, so can your next round of party supplies.
If you're buying fruits and vegetables for a crowd, you'll probably wind up with a few extra cartons, crates, and baskets, and these happen to be great props for entertaining. Some stands at the market will even sell you the empty containers for a few dollars if you're looking for extras. Here are a few ways you can make these useful even after they've been emptied of their delicious cargo:
1. Big, rustic flower arrangements: Fill wooden crates with a few potted plants or wide jars of flowers. Place a few of these arrangements around the perimeter of a patio or balcony to fake a garden.
2. Napkin and utensil holders: Arrange napkins, straws, and silverware in paper berry cartons to set around the picnic table.
3. A portable bar: Set a tray or baking dish of ice within a wooden crate, and use it for cooling and carrying drinks.
4. Bread basket: Line a basket with a pretty dishtowel, and use it for serving rolls or biscuits.
5. Passing out favors: If you have a lot of kids coming to your party, fill a basket with some kid-friendly favors [bubbles, pinwheels, wooden airplanes, etc.] to keep the younger guests entertained.
6. Aesthetically appealing trash bins: For a big outdoor party, line bushel baskets with trash bags and tuck under tables for a discreet and not-too-ugly place for guests to put their garbage.
7. Leave the fruit in them: If you can resist the temptation to turn your peaches, plums, and apricots into pie, consider serving some cookies and shortbreads alongside big, beautiful baskets of fresh fruit. Because who can beat this presentation?
8. Send your guests home with a treat: Paper berry cartons are the perfect size for packaging up a little gift of cookies, scones, or other treats for your guests to take home. Try one of my favorite make-ahead treats -- Tipsy Maple Corn with bacon and bourbon.