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  • Secrets to the Perfect Summer Dinner Party

    Miller Lane Mercantile's Calli Swofford shares the secret ingredients for hosting a cool, casual summertime soirée.

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    When it came to hosting a picture-perfect summer soirée, Calli Swofford, owner of Berkeley lifestyle boutique Miller Lane Mercantile, had an ace up her sleeve: Sunday Suppers, the Brooklyn-based food and design company that collaborates with creatives around the world to host memorable meals inspired by their surroundings—and the seasons.

    “One of the things I loved about the Sunday Suppers team [which provides hosts with a menu, recipes, and a timeline, and general design direction for each dinner] is that they didn’t want anything too lavish or formal,” Swofford says. “It was just supposed to be this very organic, cozy, kind of thrown-together party; more about the company than the formality.”

    That ethos played out in every detail of the gathering, which Swofford hosted right in her shop, on a long, antique workman’s table that, during business hours, displays handmade and small-batch homewares. Here, she shares how she used items from the store and her own home (along with a few finds from friends) to style the affair—plus tips to help you achieve a similar flavor at your own summertime supper.

    Create Custom Details

    Adding a menu to each place setting is an easy way to get guests excited for what’s coming, says Swofford, who loves the templates offered by Artifact Uprising (search the company’s website under “day-of wedding detail cards”). And a small parting gift—like the sketches of the Miller Lane Mercantile storefront that Swofford had local artist Kristen Fogarty draw for each guest—can be a great reminder of the fun. “I always keep that sort of thing up on our fridge,” Swofford says.

    Play up the Season

    Swofford set a summery tone with amber-colored glassware, then stuck to a neutral palette for dishes and linens, which incorporate threads of yellow and gold. “If you limit it to one pop of something fun or out of the ordinary—in this case, the glasses—designing the table feels less intimidating,” she says.

    Break the Rules

    “I love to serve guests champagne as they arrive,” Swofford says, “but what used to trip me up was adding another type of glassware into the mix.” Now she knows better: “Don’t feel like you need the right glass for each drink. You can’t go wrong with stemless wine glasses, which you can use for cocktails, wine, and champagne—and then throw in the dishwasher.”

    Keep It Small

    “If you can seat all of your guests together at one long table, it creates this really intimate setting—anywhere from six to 15 people feels like a good range,” says Swofford, who gathered 14 assorted chairs around her shop’s antique table. “Any larger than that and you might need some extra hands to help with cooking.”

    Try Dried Florals

    “I’m such a fan of dried florals, because you can use them for months after the party,” says Swofford, who worked with Denver-based Buckley House of Flowers to fill speckled ceramic vases with simple bouquets of grasses and golden wildflowers, including yarrow and ball-shaped craspedia. “The look I try to achieve is as if I had foraged it myself,” Swofford says, “and sometimes I really do. We [Coloradans] live in a great place where we can go on a little hike and put together something beautiful.”


    The Menu

    Appetizer
    Whipped eggplant purée with seeded crackers and crudités

    First Course
    Summer salad of mozzarella, cantaloupe, basil, and prosciutto 

    Second Course
    Spaghetti and clams with wine, garlic, and parsley 

    On The Table
    Lemon bread

    Dessert
    Crème caramel


    Summer Salad

    This is a simple-to-assemble salad, great for ease and a freshness at the table. If you can’t find prosciutto piccante, just substitute your favorite prosciutto. For this salad, it’s the quality of the ingredients that matters most.

    Photo by Mimi McCormick

    Serves 12

    2 cantaloupe melons
    1 pound bocconcini (about 30 pieces)
    10 slices prosciutto piccante, torn
    15–20 purple or green basil leaves
    5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    Cyprus flake sea salt (or your favorite sea salt)
    Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

    Using a melon baller, scoop the flesh of the melons into small rounds. On two large platters, assemble the melon, bocconcini, prosciutto, and basil leaves. Just before serving, season with olive oil, salt, and red pepper flakes (if using).

    Recipe courtesy of Sunday Suppers

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