Here's something to ease your mind about entertaining: Even professional party planners keep it simple when they host at home. "There is never enough time to be perfect in all things, so be good in a few," says Alexandra Angle, who, with husband Eliot, runs the firm Aqua Vitae Design in Los Angeles.
After launching an event-planning business in 1999, the Angles became the go-to caterers on the L.A. party circuit, and released their book Cocktail Parties with a Twist (Stewart, Tabori & Chang; $30) in 2002.
Patio party hints
• Lift the table. To create an outdoor buffet, the Angles brought their dining room table outside and raised it 6 inches by placing the legs on stacks of books. "For a walk-around party, it's better to have the table at bar height," Alexandra says. "The guests can move comfortably around it and serve themselves."
• Jazz up the menu. "Don't feel constrained by the typical July Fourth fare," Alexandra says. "We are a country of people from many countries, so don't hesitate to mix it up."
• Make edible center-pieces. The Angles placed florist foam in square containers and put a candle in each. Then they pierced strawberries on bamboo skewers and poked them into the foam around the candles, so that guests could "pick" the berries during the party.