Photo: William Meppem
Ina Garten, a cookbook author and staunch advocate for the free-the-host movement, keeps her outdoor gatherings casual. Unfussy food, no high heels, and Spenser, the dog next door, drops by whenever. ("He hears me turn on the grill," she says, "and comes running over.") Yet outdoor parties can be every bit as festive as dining room ones. Those rare bugless, rainless intervals when the temperature hits the gentle range of 65 to 75 feel, Ina says, "like a holiday." They're also like a holiday for the cook, who can prepare the year's best food with the least effort. An endive salad that springs to life with blue cheese and mustard vinaigrette; fillet of beef that takes zero talent to bring to magnificence; farm-stand tomatoes that for a few precious weeks taste as wonderful as they look: Summer food is so naturally, burstingly good, it requires little more than a brush of olive oil and a few minutes on the fire. Plus a dash of flexibility. Because, let's face it, dashing—inside, pronto—is always a distinct possibility. To Ina, such contingency scenarios only add to the fun. "They bring more levity," she says, "which brings more connection, which is what it's all about." True enough—but since it's oh so much easier to enjoy levity and connection on a full stomach, someone had better remember to grab the food.