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Summer Entertaining: Party on the Dock as featured on MSN

By: Martie Duncan

Are you “stay-cationing” this summer? For those of you staying close to home because airfares and gas prices are so high, how about planning a mini-vacation and invite friends over to join in on the fun? This “fake-cation” was simply a day at the lake but when we added favorite recipes from vacations past, we kicked up the fun! An easy menu, simple decorations, and basic entertainment are all you need to make new summer memories right in your backyard.

Party Basics: Food, Beverages and Decorations

The Decorations
We “fake-cationed” by recreating memories from past vacations with our favorite food and drinks for this party. Since it is supposed to be a mini vacation, you don’t want a lot of complex preparation or decorations. I really wanted to focus on the fish so a rustic fish camp theme was perfect. For decorations, we kept it rustic by using tin buckets, a couple of oars, some camping lanterns, a fish table runner, and flowers from the yard. You can find plenty of fish inspired accessories and serving pieces online. We moved picnic benches and our coolers to the dock and set up everything right there to keep from having to run back and forth to the house. When our swimmers and boaters were hungry, they pulled right up to the dock for refreshing drinks and a wonderful grilled fish buffet. Casual, comfortable, camp style chic.    

The Food
Grilled fish is the perfect summer party food for several reasons. It is practically fuss-free and since fish grills quickly, you don’t have to spend hours around a hot grill. If you can catch your own fish, you’re a rock star. If you’re like me, you prefer to head to your favorite fish counter. Make sure to keep the fish on ice until you’re ready to grill. The star of our menu was planked salmon--- I’d had it once on a trip to Canada and I’d always wanted to try to make it. It was so easy and the taste was completely scrumptious! Grilled shrimp and scallops like I had once down in Key West were also super simple. Clean and skewer the shrimp and scallops. Marinate in lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper then pop into the cooler until time to grill. Our guests said these were the best scallops they’d ever eaten and they were as easy as it gets! The trick is the timing. Make sure not to overcook! To round out the menu we served summer in a bowl with a tomato salad made with three types of tomatoes and basil. Add fresh mozzarella to make it even better! This salad is easy to make in advance and keeps well in the cooler. In fact, the flavors are better a few hours after you make it. We also grilled asparagus that was marinated in balsamic vinegar for 30 minutes before grilling.

For beverages, I recreated a deliciously tropical drink I’d had once in Miami at the Delano Hotel. It immediately took me back to that relaxing poolside cabana and wonderful memories of that weekend. Now that was a vacation! Make your drinks in advance in a plastic jug with a secure lid so you don’t have to deal with bartender duties. Put the container in the freezer for several hours before serving--- just enough to get it slushy. Don’t add ice until the last moment so the drinks aren’t diluted at party time.

Dessert really isn’t necessary for this party but there’s nothing better than fresh, chilled watermelon on a hot summer day. This frozen honeyed watermelon is easy and looks beautiful, too. Make watermelon balls with a mini ice cream scoop and freeze on cookie sheets that you line with wax paper. Just before serving, put the frozen melon balls in a large bowl. Make a dressing by whisking together ¼ cup honey and ¼ cup citrus vodka that has been stored in the freezer. Drizzle over the melon and spoon carefully into plastic cocktail cups. You can replace the vodka with lemon-lime soda if you prefer. Serve on ice--- hit the hardware store for cheap tin pieces you can use for serving for under $10.

The Entertainment
We were lucky to have our party at a friend’s lake house so there was plenty of sun, fun, and activities on the water to keep us busy. If you don’t have easy access to water, get an inflatable pool and pretend. That’s the beauty of a “fake-cation”--- you can fake it and still have a ton of fun. Move coolers and lawn chairs to the party site and set up everything right there. Round up a couple of fans to create a tropical breeze. Pop up beach umbrellas or make cabanas from white sheets. Fill a kiddie pool with ice to chill beverages or to give guests a place to dip their toes in the water to cool off. Have lots of beach toys like Frisbees, hula hoops, and beach balls with games planned and prizes for the winners. Since you can’t have a party without music, I created a mix of our favorite summer songs and played them on a MP3 portable Boom Bucket sound system so we’d have continuous tunes all day. 

Lake, beach, or backyard--- plan your party around grilled fish and you and your gang won’t mind staying close to home as you “fake-cation” this summer.  

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Martie Duncan offers ideas for affordable parties, weddings and entertaining and her tips for fabulous but frugal parties can be found on MSN.
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