Labor Day Part 2: Menu and Planning

photo by: Valerie Rice

For our Labor Day Brunch, as for all of my entertaining, I look to the garden for inspiration.  Also, because it’s brunch and I’m not much of a early morning riser, I want to make something that I can put together quickly.

One of the key things I’ve learned about hosting a brunch vs. a dinner is to have a variety of obligatory beverages and corresponding glasses on hand. I like to have hot water for tea, freshly brewed coffee, fresh squeezed O.J, water (sparkling and still), and wine or bubbly available for guests— I know alright already, right?  This takes a bit of advanced planning, but people’s morning drink tastes vary wildly and part of the joy of hosting is spoiling your guests a little.

champagne and water bar photo by: Erin Feinblatt

For an intimate party like this, where I am personally doing everything from set-up  to souffle,  I usually manage my action steps in two days.  As long as I have a menu and a POA (Plan of Attack—once a sales girl, always a sales girl) I can pull it all together and still enjoy my party. Here’s a glimpse of my process for my Labor Day brunch:


photo by: Valerie Rice

The Menu

Champagne, White WineCoffee, Tea, Orange Juice, Sparkling Water

Iberico Ham and Summer Fruit

Easy Chive and Cheese Soufflé

Garden Greens with Meyer Lemon Dressing

Fruit Platter

Lemon Cookies

Chocolate Clusters


A day (or two) before:

  1. Shop—stick with your list (and maybe think about ordering a pizza tonight).
  2. Set the table—or if you’re dining alfresco put everything in one area for easy set up in the morning (my dining room becomes my staging area because we rarely eat there, am I alone here?)
  3. Pull out all platters and glassware for the table (I stick post-it notes on each platter/bowl to identify what food will go where).
  4. Harvest, wash and store all herbs and greens from the garden.
  5. Cut and prep flowers and keep in a cool place.  I usually let the garden dictate what goes on the table, be it floral or produce laden.  That’s one of the bonuses of having a garden, right?  I restrain myself from getting too carried away because you need room for family-style passing platters and all that glassware.
  6. Set-up a bar with glasses.  Buy ice, chill wine, squeeze the OJ, and make and refrigerate sparking water from the Penguin, as well as plain water in pitchers.  To make it easy for guests to pour whatever strikes their fancy, I usually drape a cloth over my kitchen table and set up a beverage station there.
  7. Do as much food prep as possible. Salad dressings, cookies and chocolate clusters can be made ahead and stored in airtight containers. I pre-measure the ingredients for the soufflé and store in the refrigerator on a sheet pan so it’s all in one area and ready to go.
  8. Before bed, I double check my recipes to ensure I don’t have to make a mad early-morning dash to the grocery store for forgotten ingredients.
  9. Pick out my outfit. I like to do this the day before, it’s one less thing to think about before guests arrive. Santa Barbara tends to be saturated with fog in the morning so I always have a pretty sweater or scarf on hand to keep me warm.

Day of:

  1. First thing, make some coffee for myself and preheat the oven for the cookies.
  2. Mix the soufflé and store it in the prepared cooking vessel at room temp.  Approximately, 30 minutes before you want to eat your main course, stick it in the oven.
  3. Make the melon salad.
  4. Shower and change.
  5. Put on your apron!  Don’t risk an outfit re-do from spilling.
  6. Set out water, ice, and any garnish you might want for your beverages—this can act as your table arrangement for the bar. I might pull some mint from the garden and place it in a pretty glass– it’s pretty and functional.
  7. Bake the soufflé.
  8. Toss the salad.
  9. Relax and enjoy!