Date: July 30, 2022 | Story: Tiffany Adams | Photography: Rett Peek | Producer: Stephanie Maxwell Newton |
Jen Bienvenu shares glimpses of a backyard dinner party designed with both kids and parents in mind
As a designer, Jen Bienvenu notes her love of entertaining was most likely spawned even before her passion for interiors. “My mom is a fabulous hostess. She taught me how to set a table and the order of operations for a party,” she says. Now that Jen has her own family, she puts these skills—and traditions—to good use with a group of friends who often host one another, especially during the laidback days of summer. “The end of summer is a moment caught between the return home from beach vacations and back-to-school activities,”Jen says, noting it’s the perfect time to pause.
When she saw rows of stunning pink and blue hydrangeas in bloom at her dear friend Betsy Rhodes’s home, she knew the palette would be ideal for this gathering. Specifically, she used her family’s heirloomMinton china along with pink invitations, menu cards, and linens that feature the colors. “I’m of the school of thought that nothing is too precious. If you don’t use your china, then you don’t create the memories with it,” she says. “You can always shop eBay orreplacements.com if something gets broken.
”Being a young family with a busy schedule, Jen notes many of the dinners they have with friends are done potluck style, with collaboration on everything from tableware to the menu. “We can’t bear the thought of one person carrying the cooking and prep load,” she says, an approach that makes it easier to enjoy one another’s company more frequently.
For this menu, Jen took inspiration from her husband’s native Louisiana. “We jump at the opportunity to prepare jambalaya or any creole-type dish,” she says, adding that shrimp is a perfect selection for summer gatherings. She found a new favorite recipe in the Junior League of Little Rock’sLittle Rock Cooks. “I especially love finding local cookbooks at estate sales and creating menus based on them,” she says. Jambalaya can be served family style and scooped into mugs or bowls that can travel around the yard as the guests watch their children play. The dish pairs well with a simple salad, a store-bought cake, and Jen’s signature pineapple whip (see the recipe below) for a sweet ending to both the evening and the season.
“I’m of the school of thought that nothing is too precious. If you don’t use your china, then you don’t create the memories with it.” —Jen Bienvenu
Mix, Not Match
Lemon leaf Majolica chargers topped with Minton “Cockatrice” plates, both of which were handed down to Jen and her husband, Ben, by his grandmother, set a colorful tone on the table. Vintage bamboo flatware, rattan placemats, block-print napkins, and a gingham tablecloth lend a more casual feel that balances with the formal elements. Simply Charming Window Works & Design crafted coasters from leftover fabric after creating the cloth for the kids’ table and lumbar pillows.
Little Rock stationery store The Social Type printed menu cards in a pink-and-white palette to coordinate with the flowers and dinnerware.
Raise the Bar
“Pineapple whip is a kid-friendly drink that makes the evening feel special and hints at the state fair just around the corner,” Jen says. She suggests stocking your bar cart with other refreshing options such as sparkling water and prosecco.
Jen’s Pineapple Whip
4 ounces pineapple juice
¾ cup almond milk
2 cups frozen pineapple chunks
splash of lemon juice
pinch of salt
mint and pineapple slices, for garnish
rum or bourbon, if desired
Combine all ingredients in a blender, and blend until creamy and smooth. If desired, transfer mixture to a piping bag that will give a perfect soft-serve swirl in a glass; otherwise, pour into dessert glasses. To create an adult beverage, add an ounce of your favorite rumor bourbon, stir, and enjoy.
Accessories Dillard’s, J. Parkey, and South Main Creative Garden (maintenance) Stewart Clark Garden (seasonal color) Claas Gardens Paper Goods The Social Type