She Plots a Fresh Garden Party

FIVE of us longtime friends get together for lunch five times a year, and I always enjoy my turn to host the group.

Last time it came around, I planned a Garden Party with food and decorations to highlight a fresh outdoor theme. My down-to-earth menu included Olive-Cucumber Finger Sandwiches, Chilled Strawberry Soup, Creamy Cashew Chicken Salad and Marinated Garden Tomatoes, along with a slice of pound cake topped with berries and whipped cream.

More about the meal later…first, let me set the scene.

I asked my guests to wear gardening hats, and as you can see from the photo, they got into the spirit! My denim jumper was embroidered with flowers, bees and butterflies.

Instead of using a cloth, I cut artificial grass carpet to fit the tabletop. The bright green "grass" was a great background for my floral dinnerware and garden-inspired decorations.

I tucked a folded pink bandanna into a pair of white garden gloves to serve as both napkin and place favor. By luck, I also found some painted wooden birdhouses depicting my friends' occupations (florist, antiques dealer, etc.).

You don't need a green thumb to copy my easy centerpiece. I set an ivy plant on my great-grandmother's cake stand and surrounded it with floral moss and tiny flowerpots. (Purchased at a discount store, the grass carpet, decorations and favors cost about $20.)

I passed around Olive-Cucumber Finger Sandwiches when everyone arrived. These open-faced appetizers feature crisp cucumber slices with a seasoned cream cheese spread.

Then we sat down to Chilled Strawberry Soup, which my guests raved over! This smooth, fruity treat has a lovely hint of cinnamon.

Creamy Cashew Chicken Salad, served with croissants, has a great-tasting green goddess-style dressing. The chicken salad gets its triple crunch from celery, green pepper and cashews.

With it, I served Marinated Garden Tomatoes. They're the ultimate in fresh garden flavor! Cracked pepper makes the herb-seasoned marinade slightly spicy.

My planning yielded such a pleasant afternoon. All agreed that the Garden Party theme added to our enjoyment of the meal and the lively conversation.

I'd be delighted if I've planted a seed in your mind for a garden-inspired gathering. Using my recipes and ideas, you can let it sprout from there!

Olive-Cucumber Finger Sandwiches

Chilled Strawberry Soup

Creamy Cashew Chicken Salad

Marinated Garden Tomatoes