Food & Drink

A Perfectly Groomed Tailgate

Tips give you a winning combination of food and presentation

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Brandywine Valley’s race season offers various chances to wear your favorite hat, Lilly Pulitzer dress or seersucker suit, but you’ll need more than a picnic basket to enjoy the day.

Whether attending Point to Point, the Willowdale Steeplechase, Radnor Hunt or another equestrian-themed event, you can achieve the perfect tailgate, thanks to these tips from Nicole Brennan, event-planner extraordinaire and owner of Lovely Girls Events.

Stand Out

Step one; make sure your guests can find you. Whether first arriving or coming back from mingling, you’ll find using themed colors or flying helium filled balloons on a long string are both great identifiers. If it is windy, you may want to consider attaching the balloons to a tall wooden stake – found that out the hard way!

Be Prepared

Put together a “Tailgating Supplies Box.” Get a plastic tub (think Rubbermaid) that is dedicated to supplies such as paper towels, trash bags, plastic silverware, plates, cups, headache meds, antacids, a first aid kit and tool kit. I’ve needed tools to fix broken tents, hammer in stakes, and a variety of minor emergencies. Also, make sure to keep a good knife in the box for carving meat.

Remember to Weatherproof

A 90-degree May Sunday can be grueling. Make sure to have sunglasses, sunscreen, big floppy hats (both weather and event appropriate) and a festive umbrella to protect you from sun or rain. Wellies, a change of clothing, and bags for wet clothes, purses, and such are all good to have on hand, just in case! Ladies should consider wearing wedges or flat sandals, but if they must don high heels, considering wearing SoleMates high-heelers for walking in the grass all day.

Plan Your Menu

Choose your dishes and do all of your prep work a day or two before the event. Set a theme in the food but keep the menu simple and finger-friendly, with a variety of hot and cold items. There are plenty of foods that can be prepared days before the event. Remember, everything should be ready at least two hours before the tailgating starts. If you’re tight on time or not interested in cooking for a dozen, consider doing a pot luck theme with your guests.

Take a peek at our suggested Derby menu:

  • Watermelon Mint Salad Cubes
  • Mini Jack Daniels pulled pork sandwiches
  • Lemon Mint Sorbet
  • Traditional Kentucky Derby Pie (pecan pie with chocolate and bourbon)
  • Southern Fried Chicken
  • Mint Juleps
  • Grapefruit Crushes
  • Mixed Veggie Cups

Cocktails Anyone?

Create a signature drink. Racing theme? Consider serving Mint Juleps in mason jars or the Radnor Hunt signature drink, “the Stirrup Cup.” If you’re serving Sangria or a Strawberry Mint infused water, freeze some of the fruit the night before to help keep your beverages cool. To avoid spending the day refilling your guest’s drinks, buy several glass beverage dispensers with lids. Try Target, the Christmas Tree Shop, or Pottery Barn. If you choose a dispenser with a spout, beware: If the spout clogs with mint/fruit you will need to have a ladle on hand for serving. A great cooler tip: Get bottled water, freeze it, and place it in your cooler. If it gets hot, you can take it out and as it melts, you will have cold water to drink. The bottles make great ice packs.

If you are trying to decide the amount of alcohol to have on hand, count the maximum number of cocktails you could possibly drink and add six. You never know whom you’re going to run into over the course of a day. You can also use Evite’s calculator at www.evite.com/pages/party/drink-calculator.jsp

Presentation is Important

Chairs and folding tables are absolutely indispensable. Being able to display the drinks and food, and providing a place to sit down and eat is better than trying to balance paper plates in your lap. Want to stand out while sitting down? Consider providing straw bales draped in vintage sheets or lace tablecloths for guest seating.

Assign an “Entertainer”

Tailgaters need planned activities or they get bored. So assign an entertainer to ensure music is always on and a lawn game is being played. Bring an iPod docking station and a few games to play. Build a point to point-specific beanbag toss or create a ring toss by cutting a beer case in half (the horizontal way), keep the inserts, fill them with empty bottles, and voilà!

Don’t Forget the MVP

Toilet paper is the MVP (most valuable product) of the field. Don’t get caught in a Port-A-Potty with no TP.