Unconventional Touches to Add Spark to Your Summer Party

When bringing together friends, food and summer sunshine, good things happen. Of course, some parties are better than others, even when all these things combine. The difference is often a few thoughtful touches that make the experience original and enjoyable. Here are a few simple suggestions to elevate your next summer soiree.

Improve Your Buns

A good bun makes even messy foods finger-friendly, which is why it's a summer party essential. This doesn't necessarily mean sticking to regular soft burger buns, though. Bring some variety to your next party with a mix of soft and chewy rolls. Mini ciabattas, Portuguese rolls and kaiser rolls all make excellent burger buns, and soft dinner rolls like Hawaiian rolls or potato bread are perfect as slider buns - or half-dogs for your youngest guests. If you love big, sloppy, loaded hot dogs or sausages, make room for extra toppings by cradling them in pitas or other flatbreads rather than regular buns.

Really Cold Shots

Most strategies for keeping drinks cold involve putting ice inside the glass. Making the glasses themselves out of ice takes things to a whole new level. You can find shot glass molds at kitchenware stores or online retailers, or you can improvise your own by using a shot glass and an old-fashioned glass to make a mold. In either case, create a large batch of ice glasses ahead of time and have them ready to go. Your "shooters" don't have to be alcoholic: The glasses also work beautifully for appetizer-sized portions of gazpacho or other chilled soups.

Ditch the Ice

Of course, any time you use ice to chill a beverage, it will eventually dilute it. You can avoid this with a bit of creativity. Simply make ice cubes out of a suitable beverage, such as coffee, tea, lemonade or fruit juice. Better yet, make colorful and durable "ice" by freezing fresh fruit. Seedless grapes, whole strawberries, and cubes or balls of melon are all excellent choices for freezing.

Water Balloon Piñatas

Cooling your guests is much the same as cooling a drink: You can do it from the inside or the outside. Hanging up water balloon "piñatas" is one way to do it from the outside, and they take up a lot less space than a wading pool. Find a place to string a rope or set out a broomstick, then dangle a colorful selection of water-filled balloons. Hand out a lightweight bat or two (plastic is safest for the kids) and let the pummeling begin. It's great fun for your littlest guests, or for older ones who've had a drink or two.

Convenience Baskets

Fun in the summertime includes a lot of food and drink, and usually a complement of bugs, scrapes and other minor inconveniences. Keep your guests happy and comfortable by setting out "convenience baskets" at each table, or by hanging baskets or shower organizers from handy posts or overhangs. Fill them with a selection of sunscreen, insect repellent, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, facial tissues and perhaps bandages and antibiotic cream, just in case of accidents. It's a little thing, but the little things count.

Evening Light

Those long summer afternoons eventually become summer evenings, and your fun might outlast the sun's light. There are plenty of ways to provide a gentle, party-friendly glow as dusk settles in, but one of the easiest is to recruit your strings of holiday lights for off-season duty. String up colored or white lights along your fence top, eaves, hedge or anywhere else that seems appropriate. Plug them in at twilight and enjoy their gentle ambiance. Alternatively, set out a batch of homemade citrus lamps or candles after the kids have gone to bed.

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