A Picnic on the Patio
Summery salads, etc. with a slightly Provençal vibe
Hi! This week I wanted to share more on what I served for Violet’s first birthday party. As always, I like to prepare things that I can make (mostly) in advance, so that I can actually enjoy the party myself. I tried to walk you through my thought process in choosing each dish so that you can see how the menu came together. You’ll find the recipes at the bottom, as well as tips and timeline recs to help keep things seamless and stress-free.
I hope you’ll find some inspiration for your own summer gathering. ☀️
with Vodka & Gin, for spiking
Hummus with Herbes de Provence
Summer Crudité, Rosemary Crackers
Shrimp & Orzo Salad
Lime, Tarragon, Chives
Summer Peach Panzanella
Heirloom Tomato, Mozzarella, Basil
Vanilla Birthday Cake
Strawberry Buttercream, Violet Confit
For the drinks, I knew I wanted to do lavender lemonade from the beginning. It’s summery, supported my flower theme for the party, and works well in a drink dispenser, which is key for a larger party, so that you can make a big batch in advance and not have to think about drinks for a second — save for whether or not you need to fill your own glass — once the party begins.
Made naturally with fresh lemons, you’ll want to have a citrus juicer on hand to make easy work of it. Then it’s just a simple syrup with some culinary lavender steeped in for a while. I like this one because it works well for both adults and kids, offering a few mixers for the adults. I went with vodka and gin, but tequila wouldn’t be terrible, either.
I also set out a large copper tub of ice with different types of craft beer and wine, both rosé and white.
Hummus is a go-to for an outdoor party because it can sit out for hours, plus everyone loves it, for those who may be eating on the healthier side (and it’s safe for most people to eat if they don’t eat gluten or dairy). But what I love most is that it’s easy to customize based on what else you’re serving. As my menu was coming together I was feeling a slight Provençal vibe developing so I embraced that. Doesn’t mean everything needs to be super “themed” but I think it’s nice when you can imagine all of the foods being served in a certain region, for example.
This led me to add herbes de Provence to the hummus in addition to the za’atar that I frequently add, and I loved that combination. For the crudité I like to think about seasonality of course, but also the colors. Red bell peppers would not have been welcomed here. (And green ones, never.) I always like to add some kind of cracker or chip and here I did Carr’s rosemary crackers to go with the flavorings in the hummus.
For the first of the two salads I served, I went with shrimp and orzo, to which I added fresh corn, tarragon, chives, and lime. And a lot of olive oil. As I was prepping I kept joking to myself, a lot of oil is being consumed in the making of this party. 😉
I like to roast shrimp when making big quantities like this, because it’s easy and gives the shrimp good flavor. I went with raw corn because I love it this time of year but you could really add any type of vegetables you like, zucchini would be good, or tomatoes definitely (just not here since I included tomatoes in the other salad). Same with the cheese, feta would be good here (maybe then choose another herb in place of tarragon) but I didn’t since I had mozzarella in the panzanella already. I like to keep everything balanced that way; no repeating significant ingredients, this salad has a protein but the other doesn’t (unless you count the cheese), etc.
As for the flavorings, I love tarragon and chives with lime — a great combination but maybe a little unexpected, which I like. Finish it off with more good olive oil, a sprinkle of flaky sea salt, and a few pea shoots or microgreens if you have them. Arugula would also be good, and actually, would be good mixed into the salad as well.
And if I’m thinking about summer salads that can sit out for a while, then panzanella is the first thing to come to mind. Bread salad! The best. It was originally a peasant’s food, a way to use up stale bread. Tomatoes, bread, and onion is traditional, maybe with some cucumbers thrown in. I like to do good heirloom tomatoes with peaches, and shallots in place of the red onions. For herbs I did basil and mint, in addition to the little mozzarella balls which are just perfect for large salads. I like using good bread, here I had a good rustic French boule and after letting it dry out I just drown it in olive oil, before giving it a sprinkle of salt and baking it until golden. And this on its own is just heaven, for me.
And the cakes! After all of that deliberation, you already know I decided to make the cakes for Violet’s party. I went with a simple vanilla buttercream cake base and then did a fresh strawberry buttercream, which is really just vanilla buttercream with strawberry purée added. This was just outrageously good, so good that we still have a small container of it in the fridge that my husband asked me to keep as he was cleaning up after me and there was a good amount leftover in the mixing bowl. We’re wondering if it’s still good, I mean sugar is a natural preservative, right?
I thought I would go a different direction with the decorating after all of the gorgeous inspiration I found, but since I found these edible flowers which were varied in size and shape, I kept it simple and natural.
Violet’s tiny baby cake (😭) had two layers and the bigger one had three, and for both I also did a bit of this violet confit in between the layers of frosting as you would with a jam filling or anything else. It added a lovely flavor but the texture was a little chunkier than I would have liked. Sadly, I did not get a photo of the sliced cake. We were having too much fun!
Below, the recipes…