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 Summer get-togethers can provide plenty of inspiration for future seasonal gatherings, especially those that are held in outdoor settings. Though we didn’t have the best weather conditions during Memorial Day weekend, there was still a little sunshine and warmth to be had.

Unfortunately, a potluck party scheduled to take place at our swim club that Sunday did not have the benefit of either. After the original start time was delayed because of rain, the same scenario played out again later in the day. Since we knew we’d be in a covered seating area, we went ahead as planned and managed to squeeze out a few hours of fun before everyone felt the need to leave because we were freezing.

Despite the lousy weather, the experience taught me that you don’t have to settle for the same old backyard barbecue come summertime when you can raise your game with a little creativity.

My invite to the potluck party came from husband-and-wife caterers who own a local restaurant and they never disappoint with the impressive selections made by their talented family members. This time they wowed us with a potato bar, which was a first for me in an al fresco setting. The tasty arrangement featured tender new potatoes with an array of toppings, such as mustard and ketchup along with bacon, cheese and more.

They also brought a variety of sliders, including turkey burgers made with garlic Gouda that were amazing.  Their new mac and cheese recipe made with custard was another big hit, as were the cheesecake parfaits for dessert made by one of their young daughters.

Another friend brought a great taco salad with fresh avocado on the side, while someone else made bruschetta on the grill that was simply delicious. Among some of the other selections were Mexicali dip, fruit salad, and cheesy bread for the kids.

Of course, I brought some of my usual side dishes from a popular Middle Eastern restaurant. At the end of the night, we got to swap our leftovers. For my majadra and rice, I had turkey burgers and new potatoes to take home.

Smaller bites like these can be more manageable than the standard fare. I also learned that a potluck works just as well with a smaller crowd, which is what we had due to the weather.  

A party at a public place like a park or a private location like a club takes the pressure off a person hosting a house full of guests and preparing all the food. The potluck concept encourages people to try new dishes and get ideas for future gatherings.

Extra necessities, such as napkins, plates and utensils always come in handy and disposable containers with lids are great for leftovers. In addition, I always ask for plastic serving spoons when ordering takeout food that will be served in an outdoor setting. 

Normally, the get-togethers at our swim club feature pretty presentations to go along with the fare, such as colorful tablecloths and containers like baskets, but this time no one bothered with those details because of the iffy weather. As it turns out, the food was enough to make a statement.

Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at jeaninematlow@earthlink.net.

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