Cheerful lemon serves as the inspiration for this outdoor party
Recipes for this story
Looking for inspiration for an outdoor summer party, entertaining maven Rachel Hollis recalled the lemonade stands of her childhood. The cheerful lemon yellow of that youthful memory became the vision for her party setting, combining happily with a pretty blue-and-white foundation.
Reinforcing her thoughts of a lemon-themed party, Hollis explains, “Today, -people often use produce as well as flowers on a table. It’s fun to have that option and to mix the bright colors that both have to offer. Lemons are an apt symbol of the carefree days of summer.”
Although the yellow scheme prevails, Hollis exchanged the idea of using lemons in the centerpiece for mixed bunches of tulips, roses, and freesia that were fastened to a piece of driftwood—her allusion to happy times at the beach. The floral yellows zestfully mix with blue-and-white tableware and accessories for a pleasing palette that incorporates crisp white porcelain dinner plates enhanced with cobalt blue rims that are patterned with concentric circles of raised white dots.
To anchor her place settings, Hollis uses an embroidered linen runner with blue designs on a white ground, coordinating napkins, and textural round rattan placemats. A simple straight pin secures an individual placecard to a real lemon at each guest’s place at the table. Pillows cushioning the white wicker chairs buzz with streaky embroidered blue circles.
The menu returns to the real-lemon theme with citrus elements that provide zesty but not overpowering flavors, including a mushroom salad with lemon vinaigrette, grilled lemon-glazed chicken, lemon cake, and a selection of lemon-enhanced beverages. “Summer puts people in good spirits,” Hollis says. “This is the time to pick a theme that is laid-back and cheerfully chic.”
Menu and recipes: Hail Mary Food of Grace 
Photography: Karyn Millet
Bunches of yellow tulips secured to driftwood with clear fishing line give an updated sculptural look to the centerpiece by La Petit Gardenia .
Lemonade in different flavors presents refreshing options for everyone—and will especially please the teetotalers in the group. Add combos like strawberry and basil or raspberry and mint for a twist on the classic.
You can purchase limoncello at a liquor store, but this homemade version is much more satisfying and less acidic. Serve it chilled as an after-dinner cordial or in cocktails as a substitute for lemon juice. A dash of limoncello in a dry vodka martini is a sublime summer drink.
- 10 large lemons
- 1 (750-milliliter) bottle vodka
- 3 cups sugar
- 2-1/2 cups water
Scrub lemons with vegetable brush. Using vegetable peeler, carefully cut enough yellow peel away from the white pith to make 2 cups lemon peel. (If desired, juice lemons and reserve for another use.)
In large glass pitcher or bowl, combine 2 cups lemon peel and vodka. Cover tightly; let stand in cool, dry place 10 days, gently swirling mixture in pitcher each day. Strain mixture through fine-mesh sieve; discard lemon peel. Return lemon-infused vodka to pitcher.
For syrup, in medium saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring just to boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cool to room temperature. Pour syrup into lemon-infused vodka; stir to combine. Cover; chill overnight before serving.
To store, pour limoncello through funnel into clean bottles; secure lids. Store in refrigerator up to 1 month.
Salad Enokitake mushrooms are tiny cultivated mushrooms with small heads and long, delicate, edible stems. They have a mild, fruity taste and an almost crunchy texture. They are available year-round. Enokitake mushrooms are a perfect foil to the meatier cremini mushrooms and full-bodied shiitakes in this salad.
- 1 small bunch fresh enokitake (enoki) mushrooms
- 6 fresh cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 6 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and thinly sliced
- 2 carrots
- 4 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 1/4 cup torn fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
- 2 lemons
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 leaves butterhead lettuce*
- 12 leaves radicchio*
- Lemon slices and/or lemon peel strips
- Freshly ground black pepper
Trim stems from enokitake mushrooms to about 2 inches long; combine in large bowl with sliced mushrooms.
With vegetable peeler, cut carrots into 2- to 3-inch-long ribbons; add to mushrooms in bowl along with green onions and parsley. Juice lemons; drizzle juice atop mushroom mixture; toss to combine. Add olive oil; toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Line six salad plates with butterhead lettuce leaves. Place two radicchio leaves inside each lettuce leaf to form a cup. Spoon in mushroom salad. Garnish with lemon and sprinkle of black pepper. Makes 6 servings.
*Reserve remaining lettuces for another use.
Grilled Lemon-Glazed Chicken with Baby Bok Choy and Cilantro-Lemon Rice
Skin-on chicken or no? Leaving the skin on chicken when grilling results in a crispier texture and moister meat from the layer of fat underneath the skin. However, if you are concerned about extra calories from fat, use skinless chicken.
- 6 whole chicken legs (drumstick and thigh), skinned, if desired (about 4 to 4-1/2 pounds)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Nonstick olive oil cooking spray
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
- 1 teaspoon snipped fresh thyme
- 3 lemons, halved crosswise
- Fresh cilantro sprigs
- 1 recipe Cilantro- Lemon Rice (follows)
- 1 recipe Baby Bok Choy (follows)
Season chicken with salt and pepper; coat with cooking spray. In small saucepan, combine honey, lemon juice, mustard, and thyme. Bring to boil; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, 3 to 5 minutes just until slightly thickened. Set aside.
For charcoal grill, arrange medium-hot coals around drip pan. Test for medium heat above pan. Place chicken pieces, meaty sides down, on grill rack over drip pan. Cover; grill 50 to 60 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink (180°F), turning once halfway through grilling. Brush with lemon glaze twice during last 10 minutes of grilling. (For gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Turn off burners directly below section where food is to be placed. Grill as above.) Grill lemons, cut sides down, 1 to 2 minutes or until grill marks form and lemons are heated through. To serve, transfer chicken to plates; sprinkle chicken with cilantro. Serve with Cilantro-Lemon Rice and Baby Bok Choy. Squeeze juice from grilled lemon halves over all. Makes 6 servings.
Cilantro-Lemon Rice: In large saucepan, bring 3 cups water and 2 teaspoons salt to boil. Add 1-1/2 cups long grain white rice; return to boil; reduce heat. Cook, covered, about 15 to 20 minutes or until water is absorbed and rice is tender; set aside. Meanwhile, in medium skillet, cook 1 small shallot, finely chopped, in 2 tablespoons hot butter 3 to 5 minutes or until tender. Add 1/2 cup toasted silvered almonds; cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes more or until almonds are coated. Add shallot mixture, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 3 tablespoons snipped fresh cilantro to rice. Stir just until combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Baby Bok Choy: Wash 6 bunches baby bok choy, being very gentle with leaves. Blot dry. Quarter each bok choy lengthwise. In large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add one-third of bok choy cut side down. Sear until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn to other cut side; sear 1 to 2 minutes more or until lightly browned. Repeat with remaining bok choy and additional oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Meringue Buttercream Frosting
We are thrilled to share this gorgeous cake recipe from Magnolia Bakery . Magnolia Bakery opened in New York City in 1996 and quickly gained a reputation for its light, airy cupcakes and homey American desserts. They now have eight locations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dubai.
- 4-1/2 cups cake flour
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2-1/2 cups buttermilk
- 4 large egg whites
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
- 1 cup butter (8 ounces), softened
- 1 teaspoon pure lemon extract
- 1 recipe Lemon Meringue Buttercream Frosting (follows)
Meyer lemon slices or lemon slices (optional)
Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease bottoms of three 9x1-1/2-inch round cake pans*. Line bottoms of pans with waxed paper. Grease bottoms and sides of pans, then lightly flour pans; set aside.
In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In another medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk and egg whites.
In stand mixer bowl, combine sugar and lemon peel, rubbing them together with your fingers until sugar is moist and fragrant. Add butter. Beat on medium speed for 3 minutes.
Beat in lemon extract. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk-egg mixture, beating on medium speed after each addition just until combined. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes more. Spread batter into prepared pans.
Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted near centers comes out clean. Cool cake layers in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove layers from pans. Peel off waxed paper.
To assemble: Place one cake layer, bottom side up, on serving plate. Spread with 3/4 cup of Lemon Meringue Buttercream Frosting. Top with second cake layer, rounded (top) side up. Spread with 3/4 cup frosting. Place remaining cake layer on top, rounded (top) side up; spread top and sides of cake with remaining frosting. If desired, garnish with lemon slices. Store cake in refrigerator.
*Tip: If you only have two cake pans, refrigerate remaining batter. Wash and dry one pan and prepare as above. Fill pan with remaining batter; bake and cool as directed. Makes 12 to 16 servings.
Lemon Meringue Buttercream Frosting
A candy thermometer is handy for measuring the temperature of the sugar syrup to firm-ball stage (245°F). If you don’t have a candy thermometer, test for firm-ball stage by dropping a little of the syrup in cold water. The drop of syrup should hold its shape but still be malleable to the touch. This occurs about 15 minutes after bringing syrup to boiling.
2 cups butter, cut up
- 3/4 cup pasteurized liquid egg whites or 6 egg whites from pasteurized whole eggs*
- 1-1/2 cups sugar, divided
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1-1/2 tablespoons finely shredded lemon peel
- 1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
Allow butter and egg whites to stand at room temperature 30 minutes. In small saucepan combine 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 cup water. Place pan over low heat and stir frequently to dissolve sugar. Brush down the sugar that sticks to sides. Increase to medium heat.
Combine cream of tartar with 1 teaspoon water. Stir into syrup at boiling point. Clip candy thermometer to side of pan. Continue cooking, without stirring, until thermometer registers 245°F (firm-ball stage), about 15 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat; remove thermometer.
Meanwhile, in large mixing bowl beat egg whites on medium speed. Gradually add remaining 6 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form (this should take about 8 minutes). Gradually pour hot syrup mixture in thin stream over egg whites**, beating on high speed about 5 minutes; scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Gradually add butter, beating until light and fluffy (mixture may appear curdled at first). Add lemon peel, lemon juice, and lemon extract. Beat until just combined. Yield: 5 to 6 cups frosting.
*Note: Look for pasteurized liquid egg whites or whole pasteurized eggs in your grocer’s dairy case.
**Tip: If using a stand mixer with a single beater that moves around the bowl, stop mixer and pour small amount of syrup over egg whites. Immediately beat on high speed 5 seconds. Stop mixer and add more syrup. Beat on high speed 5 seconds more. Continue stopping and adding remaining syrup in batches. If using handheld mixer, beat syrup into whites in steady stream. Avoid pouring syrup onto beaters, which will cause syrup to splatter onto sides of bowl.