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a warm welcome 
throw a summer housewarming party

by Dana Currier
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It's always better, too, to make use of any special features in your new outdoor space. When my boyfriend and I moved into our new apartment last summer, we were thrilled to find a giant fountain on our back patio. Our landlords were nice enough to turn on the pump for us and we filled the three tiers with floating candles and even several of those glowing fake ice cubes you can buy to drop into party drinks. Just these few extra touches really transformed the fountain from a pretty lawn ornament to the centerpiece of the entire party.

To keep the stress level low, keep the food simple as well. In order to maintain the simple, relaxed vibe, make simple, relaxed food. Guacamole, salsa, and tortilla chips are staples for any outdoor summer party. Buy the salsa but make the guacamole yourself. It's easy and the pathetic green paste from the grocery store can't hold a candle to the homemade variety. I don't think it's possible to really improve on the taste of avocados, so I often add only salt and pepper and mash roughly so as to leave some good meaty chunks in the dip. If you want to jazz it up a little, though, try stirring in cilantro, lime juice, and some diced jalapeno pepper to add a few other interesting flavors to the mix without compromising that luscious avocado goodness.

For something a little unexpected, try serving chocolate-covered strawberries. They're pretty decadent, and people often associate these treats with more formal affairs, like weddings. Nobody can turn them down, though, and they're really very easy to make. About an hour or so before the party, melt a bag of high-quality chocolate chips over a double boiler (you can use a simple metal bowl over a pot of water), wash the strawberries and dry them well (that's key), then dip them in the melted chocolate and let them cool on a sheet of wax paper. They'll be ready to go once the party's in full swing and everyone is in the mood for something sweet. Save a few for yourself because they won't last long.

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