Blogger Alicia Lund knows the key to the perfect dinner party is a relaxed host and a group of friends willing to pitch in.
IF YOU THINK entertaining at home has gone the way of the dodo bird, meet Alicia Lund. This Sacramento resident loves nothing better than gathering a group of friends at the end of a long day for cocktails and dinner.
But this is most definitely not your grandmother’s dinner party. Lund has an easy-breezy, kick-off-your-shoes way of entertaining that sets the tone for a comfortable, casual evening. “My style is very relaxed,” says Lund, who writes about home decor, travel and more on her popular blog, Cheetah Is the New Black. “I don’t like things to be overly styled or formal.”
Lund enjoys welcoming people to the home she shares with her husband, Tanner, and their 18-month-old son, Rex. For a recent party, she invited a mix of young creatives: Kevin O’Connor, a chef; Morgan Daily and Kyle Hagerty, who operate an urban farm stand from their driveway; Shannon Morrow, a floral designer; and Stephanie and Rico Russo. (She’s a photographer; he’s a marketing specialist who does drone photography in his spare time.)
Lund’s strategy for a fun, stress-free evening: Enlist everyone to help. O’Connor created the menu and prepared the food. Morrow arranged the flowers. Hagerty and Daily contributed freshly harvested greens from their backyard. And the Russos helped serve. “Give everybody a task,” says Lund. “That makes it easy to have people over.”
Crostini with barely melted triple-crème brie
Tuna tartare bundles
Steamed clams with fresh favas and marjoram
Roasted baby beets with fresh ricotta
Sauteed dandelion greens
Fresh strawberries and cream
Alicia prefers simple flower arrangements, like these large jugs filled with flowering branches.
Kevin O’Connor, the chef at large for olive oil producer Cobram Estate, devised dishes that could be served cold or at room temperature. “What I love about summer entertaining is that things don’t have to be hot,” he says.
Shannon Morrow, owner of Thistle and Honey Floral Design, offers this tip for an easy flower arrangement that makes a big impact: ‘Go to the farmers market and buy a large bunch of one type of seasonal flower in a single color. It’s not fussy. You can’t go wrong with that.’
Kevin wrapped tuna tartare in fresh anise hyssop leaves plucked from his garden. ‘I like to start the meal with something light and refreshing,’ he says.
For cocktails, Kevin served a riff on the classic Salty Dog. His version is made with mezcal, grapefruit juice and jalapeño.
Kevin hollowed out fresh strawberries, stuffed them with chamomile-scented whipped cream and dipped them in lemon balm honey. “I like not having an elaborate dessert at a party like this,” he says. “Do something with fresh fruit and let people eat it with their hands.”
Alicia’s game plan for a relaxed evening: “I collect jackets and purses at the door, let everyone kick their shoes off and hand them a drink right away.”
Alicia uses plates from Heath Ceramics and casual linen napkins that she doesn’t bother to iron—“I like the wrinkled linen look,” she says.
Steamed Clams with Fresh Favas and Marjoram
If you don’t want to take the time to shell the favas, sliced cherry tomatoes would make a great substitute, says Kevin O’Connor.
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 small red chili
1 fresh bay leaf
1 pound fava beans, removed from the pods and outer skins
2 pounds fresh clams, cleaned
1 cup white wine
Fresh marjoram leaves
Heat olive oil in a large, thick-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, red chili and bay leaf and cook, stirring, until garlic begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Add fava beans and pinch of salt and cook another 2 minutes, stirring continually so the garlic does not burn.
Add clams and white wine. Place a lid on the skillet and allow clams to steam. Once clams begin to open, stir gently, basting clams in the process.
As soon as all the clams have opened, pour the contents of the pan into a serving bowl and finish with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh marjoram leaves.
Salado Rosado “Salty Pink”
Makes two cocktails
3 ounces Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
6 ounces freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
One egg white
Quality salt for the rim
Fresh jalapeño, thinly sliced
Pour mezcal and grapefruit juice into a cocktail shaker. Add five or six ice cubes, followed by egg white. Shake hard until you can’t hear the ice anymore and you feel the drink beginning to thicken in the shaker. It should take at least 20 seconds of shaking.
Strain into a salt-rimmed glass and carefully place one slice of jalapeño on the cocktail’s foamy top.