"I've always wanted to have a hat party," says Oprah from beneath the brim of an aqua straw confection. "I wanted more than a garden party—I wanted a fantasy, a scene from a Merchant Ivory film."
At the Montecito home of friend Genevieve Robert Reitman, she got what she wanted. There, beneath a benevolently blue California sky, nine of Oprah's girlfriends gathered for a late luncheon. Genevieve and her daughter Catherine, a student at U.S.C., O, The Oprah Magazine editor at large Gayle King, Harpo Films president Kate Forte, NBC news correspondent Maria Shriver, and The Oprah Winfrey Show executive producer Dianne Atkinson Hudson and supervising senior producers Dana Newton Utigard, Ellen Rakieten and Katy Murphy Davis arrive resplendent in summer frocks and a bouquet of fancy hats.
The Garden Party Menu:
- Lavender Lemonade
- Sautéed Shrimp Salad with Ginger-Cilantro Dressing
- Panini with Proscuitto and Asparagus
- Stuffed Chicken Breasts and Root Vegetables
- Strawberry and Peach Tartlets with Fromage Blanc
Throw Your Own Unforgettable Party!
The Look: Once you've chosen a setting—on the lawn, by the pool, under your favorite tree—think about how to serve. A buffet is easiest. For a sit-down meal, get guests to mingle by placing starters, drinks, desserts and gifts at separate tables where everyone helps themselves. Don't forget umbrellas or canopies for shade. At night, string lights in trees, float candles in bowls of water, hang paper lanterns. A color can hold it all together. Pick one or two colors you love—hot pink, say, or blue and white—and add a touch of it to everything from invitations and table settings to parting gifts.
The Invitations: Make a guest list of friends you want to see and one or two people you'd like to meet. Oprah's invitations were handmade, but inexpensive computer calligraphy can be ordered from stationery stores. Choose paper to match your theme. You might attach a card with ribbon to a flower-seed packet or pretty garden gloves.
Chairs: An inexpensive way to doll up old garden chairs—instead of organza, use unhemmed sheer curtain panels or any lightweight gauzy fabric.
Place Settings: Think texture and contrast. Moore topped a rose china service plate with another of amber glass. More ideas: mismatched vintage floral china; one strong color like cobalt blue on a red-checked cloth; crystal plates and goblets and silver on a white cloth.
Centerpiece: Give an outdoor table personality—small crystal glasses filled with fresh mint at each place setting; a shiny champagne bucket and masses of tulips; a dozen weathered pots planted with red geraniums on a silver tray; a wood box of grass and pansies; a large crystal cachepot filled with lemons.
Dessert: Never feel guilty about browsing the bakery for a fancy fruit tart or key lime pie. Better to be a relaxed hostess than stress out over a big finale. Many store-bought desserts can be deliciously dressed up: pound cake with raspberries and whipped cream, brownies with ice cream and chocolate sauce, cookies with fruit sorbets.
What To Drink: In hot weather, greet guests with big iced drinks like mojitos or margaritas, or, as Oprah does, some bubbly: Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé NV ($50) is a nice summery choice. For lunch, serve a chilled white wine like Edna Valley 2000 Chardonnay ($17). And always offer nonalcoholic drinks: creative lemonades—lavender, cherry, blueberry, mint—and sun-brewed iced tea.