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Memorial Day Party Planning, Part 2

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Last week we gave you some tips on planning your Memorial Day party. Today we talk supply acquisition. You invited the crowd over, now you've got to feed them. Of course, the party should be fun for everyone. Stressing out over the perfect party isn't worth it, but neither is finding yourself unprepared at the last minute. To prevent such problems, work in stages.

Supplies: Case your abode for remnants of party supplies: cups, napkins, plates, utensils. If you've got the "real" dishes and dishwasher space to manage the number of people you've invited, go for it. Otherwise, it may be easier to leave the dishwasher empty to receive dirty cooking dishes and serving trays, opting for disposable paper or plastic goods instead. To keep to your environmental commitments, buy recyclable plastic cups and biodegradable plates or plates made from post-consumer recycled paper.

Drinks: Even if you asked guests to BYOB, consider stocking a basic supply of beverages, just to be safe. It's simplest to stick to three categories: beer, non-alcoholic beverages and an alcoholic beverage that isn't beer. The latter is often wine, of course, but you can also mix up a pitcher of cocktails (these Porch Swings are a favorite) or set out a DIY bar with a few bottles of liquor -- gin, vodka, tequila, plus basic mixers and accoutrements (tonic water, fruit juice, limes, grenadine and a bucket of ice). If you have a little cash to spend, have fun with the selection of fizzy non-alcoholic beverages at Central Market; with flavors ranging from not-too-sweet blood orange to surprisingly tasty juniper soda, they work equally well as mixers or for guests who want to drink them plain.

Food: Basic menu--some type of chip and some type of dip (pita chips and hummus, or tortilla chips plus salsa and guacamole), an easy cheese plate (three cheeses, olives, nuts), fresh fruit salad, a main meat item with a vegetarian alternative (easiest: grilled hamburgers, hot dogs and sausages plus grilled vegetable tacos). If you don't have a grill, we'll discuss indoor cooking alternatives. For dessert? Homemade ice cream sandwiches. If you're not feeling so industrious, a "Make Your Own Ice Cream Sundae" bar works just as well. Add or remove menu items as you see fit, but this basic formula can feed a lot of people with ease and without blowing the bank.

Other details: Got chairs? Charcoal for the grill? Bug spray for the unsuspecting? Trash bags? Toilet paper?

Clean out your fridge! Eat palatable leftovers, dispose of sketchy stuff, and make room for the drinks and supplies coming later in the week. Rinse out your coolers and/or borrow extra.

Shopping strategy: Do an initial run for non-perishables. Buy your drinks and paper goods, plus chips, hamburger/hot dog buns, and the crackers and olives for your cheese plate. Though two trips may seem like more fuss than one, it will serve your sanity well to divide them up. If you do the bulk of your shopping before the maddening weekend crowds, you'll save yourself a lot of time and energy. Plus, even if you did make one big trip early in the week, you'd probably find that you had forgotten something and be forced to go back a second time anyway.

My advice? Take a first trip today or tomorrow, and try to hit the store(s) at a less crowded time, i.e. not between the hours of four and seven. If you can, go later in the evening, when most people are eating dinner. Or if you have a flexible schedule, 10 a.m. is grocery store bliss.

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