You've gone through all the trouble of making your front porch look good. You've picked out furniture and labored over the plants and landscape.
Now, it's time to put it to good use, and maybe build a sense of community with your neighbors while you're at it. North Texas lifestyle writer Denise Gee has an easy way to accomplish that: Throw a porch party.
Her Porch Parties (Chronicle Books, $16.95), with photos by husband Robert M. Peacock, offers a homey, happy approach to outdoor entertaining.
Gee, who has written for Southern Living and Better Homes and Gardens, includes ideas on everything from how to decorate and what to feed guests to fresh cocktail recipes. Heavy on the cocktail recipes.
A porch party doesn't have to be fussy -- or even scheduled too far in advance. All it requires is a willing host, some seating and fun food and drink options. Be it a porch, front stoop or backyard patio, any outdoor space will do.
"A porch party should be unpretentious and full of laughter," says the author, who lives in Dallas and is often found eating, drinking and visiting on her porch with her neighbors.
Don't be afraid to knock on a door and tell your neighbors that you're trying to get to know people in the neighborhood. Ask them to spread the word about your porch party. Gee suggests making it a come-and-go event to help keep things casual and encourage people to drop by.
Here are some of Gee's tips for making any outdoor space party-ready:
Set a party mood on your patio with a string of festive lights, candles or tiki torches.
An outdoor rug and fun pillows dress up a space, but when it comes down to it, all you really need is somewhere for folks to sit, Gee says. Even then, don't get too worked up if you have more guests that seating.
"Don't stress," she says, "because people like to stand and mingle anyway."
Also don't worry if your porch is small. Let the party spill out onto the yard.
Choose porch furniture that can pull double-duty: a bench that offers seating and storage, a planter that can be filled with ice to hold drinks.
A porch party is reminiscent of days gone by, and so it makes sense to fill it with touches from a different era.
"An older look is so lovely and sentimental," Gee says.
Use vintage glassware to serve drinks, or even old jelly jars.
Find a collection of fun cocktail napkins. They don't all have to match, but they should have a common thread, Gee says. Maybe they all feature embroidery, or all of them have some sort of lace.
Finally, don't let the Texas heat keep you from bringing neighbors together.
"Just push your start time back later and go outside after the sun's gone down," Gee says. And a ceiling fan on your porch couldn't hurt, either.
4 cups 2-inch cubes watermelon
1 cup vodka, chilled
2 tablespoons honey
1. Freeze the watermelon chunks in zip-top plastic bag until just frozen, about 1 hour. Remove from the freezer and add to a blender. Pour in the vodka and honey. Process until blended and pour into frosted cocktail or jelly glasses.
2. Garnish with small watermelon wedges with rind.
Note: Use standard honey (clover) instead of a dark or other strongly flavored version, otherwise it'll change the drink's flavor in a disappointing way.
Cherry tomatoes with jalapeño- pimento cheese
2 dozen large cherry or small Roma tomatoes
1 small white onion
3 garlic cloves
1 or 2 jalapeños, seeds removed, plus extra for garnish
1/2 pound grated white sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 pound grated medium yellow Cheddar cheese
1 (7-ounce) jar pimentos, drained
1 cup mayonnaise
White pepper to taste
1. Remove stems, then cut the tomatoes in half, width-wise. Use a melon baller or teaspoon to gently scoop out pulp. Place upside down on paper towels to drain.
2. In a food processor, finely chop the onion, garlic and 1 or 2 jalapeños. Place cheeses and pimentos in a medium bowl. Add the vegetables and mayonnaise and mix well. Season with white pepper.
3. Using a teaspoon, gently stuff jalapeño-pimento cheese into each tomato half. Garnish with jalapeño slivers.