You probably have a lot of your indoor plants outside on the deck or patio anyway, so why not use them as a backdrop for a summer dinner party? Perhaps you don't have potted palm trees or crotons or the like, but you can put lights in and around what you have, crank up the Bose with some retro Harry Belafonte, Bob Marley or just some steel drum music and set the mood for a Caribbean-style dinner for eight.

We take advantage of summer's bounty, using local produce as much as we can and getting "imports" from the supermarket, our favorite specialty markets and, of course, our local vintner.

To begin with, to really set the Caribbean mood, serve some rum punch: In a large pitcher (or two), combine 1 1/3 cups fresh lime juice (8 to 10 limes) and 2/3 cup superfine and stir assertively until sugar is dissolved. Add 2 cups gold (dark) rum, 1/3 cup grenadine (at your liquor store) and 1/2 cup Grand Marnier or Cointreau. Chill well.

Just before serving, pour into a punch bowl. Add 2 bottles sparkling wine (try prosecco). Ladle into punch cups (or larger). Provide fresh pineapple spears for "stirring." Makes at least 8 drinks.

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Caribbean shrimp cocktails

You'll need to start this the day before so it can marinate overnight. We cook the shrimp a bit before marinating, otherwise it would be a ceviche (a kind of Spanish sushi), and some of our guests might be rather squeamish about "raw" seafood.

Fix some homemade tortilla chips to go with. Cut flour tortillas into wedges, brush with a bit of olive oil, and bake in as single layer at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with some freshly ground sea salt if you wish.


1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 4 large limes)

1/4 cup orange juice

1/4 cup tomato juice

Freshly ground pepper, and salt (if you must)

Bottled hot sauce, e.g. Tabasco

The rest

2 pounds medium shrimp, shelled, deveined

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

3/4 to 1 pound blue crab meat (good quality claw meat is fine), kept chilled until serving time

2 pounds tomatoes, halved, seeded, finely diced

2 ripe Hass avocados, peeled, seeded, finely diced

4 scallions, white and green parts, sliced thinly, crosswise