Summer entertaining

Living in Michigan, summer entertaining is the best. We wait for the winter months to pass by so we can entertain once again outside. Although our summer has been extremely hot, we need to enjoy every minute of it that we can. Whether it is a backyard barbecue, a picnic, or a larger party for an anniversary, wedding reception or family reunion, some planning needs to happen before the event.

Fifty years ago, my husband and I got married. We had the ceremony in the church, but the reception was in my parents’ backyard on a beautiful Minnesota summer afternoon. When you are planning an outdoor party, you always need a backup plan because of the variability of the weather. Four years ago, my daughter got married on a Lake Michigan beach and a few days later we had the reception in our back yard. Flexibility is a must, pray for the best but plan for the worst.

This summer we are hosting two parties in our backyard: Our 50th anniversary party as well as a book signing for my new non-fiction book, “100 Ways to Make a Difference – Creating Ripples of Love for a Lasting Legacy.”

In the planning stages decide on a theme, what you are going to serve (be sure to take advantage of all the fresh produce available) and what are you going to do at your get-together. Choosing a theme is easy. Here are some examples: Birthday party, anniversary party, BBQ, pool party, picnic, Labor Day, etc. As far as the food is concerned, choose what is fresh and in season. A vegetable tray with a selection of dips is always nice and features what is fresh, maybe out of your garden. Everyone loves fresh fruit this time of year. Peaches, blueberries, plums, raspberries, melons are all good choices. Serve them with mint syrup drizzled on top for an added flavorful touch.

Grilling is always a good choice. If you have a specialty that you prepare that is always a crowd pleaser, serve that and fill in other easy to prepare salads or grilled vegetables. With a pool party, choose foods that are grab-n-go. Nobody wants to stay out of the pool for too long, so choose something you can prepare ahead of time so you can enjoy the party too, like make-ahead ice cream sandwiches.

For our 50th anniversary party we let our guests make their own sandwiches so they could put on whatever they liked. We had a variety of salads and a crockpot of baked beans that could be put together hours ahead of time and heated on low until we were ready to serve. For the book signing party, we are keeping it simple with flavorful cookies, pink lavender lemonade and my signature ice water with mint and lemon.

Some helpful hints:

  1. Plan and write it down so you don’t have to think about it again.
  2. Make it simple. Guests may offer to bring something – let them. Use some of our local delis to put together some trays for you.
  3. Start planning early. There will always be last minute things to do, so if you have the big planning accomplished everything will go much smoother.
  4. Use recipes you have made before. Never practice on your guests. If it doesn’t turn out what will you do?
  5. Write down your recipes and the ingredients you will need. You don’t want to run to the store at the last minute because you forgot something.
  6. Do as much ahead of time as you can. If you are making a frozen dessert, make it a week ahead, nothing will happen to it in the freezer. Flower arrangements can be made a day ahead. If you are wrapping silverware in the napkin and tying it, that can be done a week or more before your event.
  7. Be cool and calm when your guests arrive and if you have chosen the correct menu and planned it properly, your party will be a success.


15 ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

15 ounce can pinto beans, rinsed and drained

15 ounce can northern beans, rinsed and drained

28 ounce can vegetarian baked beans (I used Bush’s)

1/2 medium vidalia onion, chopped

1 tablespoon chili powder

3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup molasses

2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard

1/4 cup spicy barbecue sauce (use your favorite)

Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly spray beanpot or casserole dish with canola oil cooking spray.

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl until thoroughly combined. Pour mixture into prepared beanpot or casserole dish. Cover and place into preheated oven.

Cook beans in a beanpot for 2.5 hours. This amount of cooking time will give you a nice saucy texture with perfectly cooked beans. Remove from the oven and let sit with the lid on for 10-15 minutes before serving. Or bake in oven for an hour and then put in a crockpot for four or five hours on low.


1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups water

10-12 sprigs mint

Put the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add mint leaves bruising the leaves against the side of the pan, with a spoon. Cover and let stand at least 30 minutes and sup to overnight. 

Remove the leaves and squeeze them into the syrup to extract their flavor. Pour into a clean bottle or jar and label.  At this point the syrup can be stored in the refrigerator for about 4 weeks.

Drizzle over fresh fruit or pour a little in your glass of iced tea.


8 ounces fresh tortellini                                            

8 cups mixed greens                                      

4 ounces freshly grated parmesan cheese               

1 can pitted ripe olives, drained

3/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

2 cups fresh vegetables – carrots, radishes, celery, pea pods

Pesto (already made or make your own):

2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves, washed and drained

1/2 cup parsley (Italian or flat leaf has more flavor)

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1/4 cup pine nuts, walnuts, or pistachios      

3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese        

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Make pesto: Put basil, parsley, garlic, pinenuts, and parmesan cheese in a food processor, Pulse for 15-30 seconds. While running food processor, slowly pour in olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cook tortellini according to package instructions. Drain. While still hot toss with pesto, enough to coat. Mix greens, olives, pine nuts and vegetables in a large bowl. Toss in tortellini mixed with pesto and top with Parmesan cheese.


1 12-ounce container of frozen pink lemonade or 1 container Crystal Light Pink Lemonade

3 tablespoons lavender 

1 cup water 

Bring water to boiling. Remove pan from burner and add lavender. Cover and let steep until mixture cools. When cool, strain off flowers reserving liquid into a measuring cup. Empty frozen lemonade into a pitcher. Pour strained liquid into the empty lemonade can and fill can with water to the top. Add to the pitcher, then add remaining water specified on lemonade container to dilute frozen lemonade. Serve over ice and garnish with a lavender or mint sprig. 

MINT SUGAR COOKIES (A slice and bake cookie)

3/4 cup butter                                                

2/3 cup sugar                                                 

1 large egg                                                     

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract                                       

1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract (optional) 

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted 

2 tablespoons minced peppermint leaves 

Pinch of salt 

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg and the extracts. Gradually mix in the flour. Stir in the peppermint and salt. This will be a soft dough. Divide dough into three parts. Using plastic wrap, shape the dough into rolls about 1 1/4 inches around. Chill the 3 rolls for an hour. 

Preheat oven to 350° F. Remove the plastic wrap and slice the dough 1/4 inch thick. Place the slices on ungreased baking sheets and bake for about 10 minutes, until they are a light golden brown. Immediately transfer the cookies to racks to cool. Makes about 4 dozen cookies. 


I use a 5-gallon Thermos container and make it at least four hours before serving, better if 5 or 6 hours.

5 lemons, sliced

25-30 long stems of mint


1 10-pound bag ice

Garnish with a few lemon slices and mint sprigs.

Slice lemons and put in 5-gallon container. Take mint in your hands and twist it to loosen the oils and put in container. Pour water into container to the 3-gallon mark. Add ice to container, then add more water to the 5-gallon mark. Let set for at least 4 hours to flavor the water. Serve in a pitcher or clear beverage dispenser adding a few lemon slices and mint sprigs as a garnish.

You are invited to my book signing party, 2-5 p.m. Aug. 13 at my home at 4613 Lund Drive, Midland. If you have any questions, just email me at

There will be:

  • A prize drawing
  • Refreshments
  • Stroll through our gardens – an urban homestead
  • Autographed copies of the book for you and/or a friend

Donna Frawley is the owner of Frawley’s Fine Herbary and author of “The Herbal Breads Cookbook,” “Our Favorite Recipes.” and “Edible Flowers Book.” She also has her own DVD “Cooking with Herbs” and a weekly newsletter. She can be reached at 989-488-0170, or