If you are looking to have a few sleepless nights, invite forty swell ladies for lunch at home. This is what I did a couple of weeks ago in my house in Southampton, NY. The Ladies from the Garden Club came to taste my food and receive a copy of my new book, "Delicious Flavors." And I write Ladies with a capital L, as these are the movers and shakers, the taste-makers, the philanthropists; in other words, they are the summer crowd.
I find that entertaining at lunchtime is much more difficult than at night. Dust is ever-present, as are all the other small imperfections that glimmering candlelight hides so cleverly. Sunlight streams through windows and colors that are so flattering in the evening light become jarring in bright sunlight -- this is why one must always test paint colors both at night and in daytime.
At lunch, promptness is essential; everyone has afternoon appointments to keep, if only a scheduled tennis match or golf game. I tend to serve lunch on the early side to make everyone happy and those who wish to linger are always welcome to stay.
I never fret over identical tables (I don't aspire to the banquet look), nor do I spend a lot of time over flowers or accessories (I prefer to serve better wine). Colorful tablecloths cover seventy-inch round tables, chairs are pulled from all rooms in the house and centerpieces are created from objects that I have collected. As I entertain often, I have invested in white plates and napkins and black bamboo cutlery that go with a myriad of styles. This is not a mish-mash look but rather a collection of objects that work together with a common thread -- in this case it is the all-white pottery.
The meal has to be substantial yet light and it needs to conform with the latest dietary fad; in a group of forty ladies it is practically a guarantee that the majority will be on the newest thinning formula. And in my house, it has to be delicious, easy to make and consist of fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Hors d'oeuvres are not necessary at lunchtime, except on weekend lunches when time is not of the essence, but freshly-made iced tea, bubbly water and wine are definitely on the menu. For this summer al fresco lunch I served vegetable tortillas with pink béchamel sauce, grilled sausages (couldn't resist) platters of cheeses, breads and a green salad. Three-Berry Fruit Salad was dessert, served with a plate of Tate's cookies.
Sleepless night or not, it is great fun to invite friends at home. As long as the meal is simple and doable, entertaining becomes more about the ambiance and camaraderie than the actual cooking. Rely on local grocers and suppliers for quality ready-made food. Artisanal cheeses, a green salad and some slices of heirloom tomatoes is perhaps the best summer meal and one that does not involve the stove.