By Kerry Moore

Published on March 3, 2016

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Photography by SARAH ELLIOTT

Artist Costanza Theodoli-Braschi, a friend of Merriman’s, hand-painted the guests’ place cards to provide memorable souvenirs.

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photography by  SARAH ELLIOTT 
text by  KERRY MOORE 
interior design by  DEKAR DESIGN 
recipes by  MELIA MARDEN

Serena Merriman invites her closest friends for a colorful spring gathering with fresh food by Melia Marden.

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Merriman with her son, Nico, at their Manhattan apartment. Below: Merriman keeps an inspiration book filled with motivational pictures and ideas.

PILLOW Bear by Land of Nod ART (bottom, left) “Untitled” by Eliza Moore ART (two in top row, middle) costanzatheodolibraschi.com ARTdrawing of girl with animal by So Young-Park ART by Peter McDonald, katemacgarry.com ART print by Field Kallop 

expert entertainer

Growing up in London, Serena Merriman attended a seemingly endless assortment of parties, roasts, and dinners. Inspired by the warm and relaxed way the Brits entertain, Merriman discovered a passion for planning fantastic affairs, and was known for throwing raucous parties and intimate dinners for her friends in New York City during her twenties. Last year, when she was pregnant with her son, Nico, she founded Merriman Events in response to her friends’ requests to create unique parties to celebrate different milestones and occasions. “My party planning consists of quirky little touches like personalized paper fortunes instead of place cards, a faux-diamond ring hidden inside a cake, and parlor games that ignite the whole table,” says Merriman. “These are the things I love and my clients appreciate.”

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At Merriman’s SoHo apartment, decorated by her friends Dolores Suarez and Caroline Grant of Dekar Design, parties happen regularly. For a casual dinner celebrating the colors of spring, Merriman’s tabletop and color palette were inspired by her favorite black, white, and blue Isabel Marant jacket. Merriman created the look using graphic black-and-white-striped napkins, a deep indigo table runner, and midnight blue glass tumblers, while the table’s rainbow of blooms provided an extra dose of vibrant color. The bright and healthy menu was crafted by her friend Melia Marden, and included a traditional British dessert, Eaton Mess, inspired by Merriman’s childhood favorite treat. “I wanted the meal to be easy to eat, light, and colorful to complement the beautiful table and apartment,” she says, “by taking advantage of fresh spring ingredients like pea tendrils, asparagus, and haricots verts.”

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A simple ribbon with hanging roses creates a charming welcome for guests.

MERRIMAN’S ENTERTAINING TIPS

Cook something 

Even if you are not the culinary type, it’s nice to make one thing you are serving to your guests. Despite the end result, they will appreciate the effort.

Make It Ahead

I often make my main dish a few days or even a week in advance and throw it in the freezer so it’s easy to reheat the day of the party.

Make It Personal 

Even a really simple table is perfectly cozy and beautiful with lots of candlelight. No candlestick holders? Tumblers or low glasses for tea lights do the trick.

Light It Up

If I am having more than six people to dinner, I like to have place cards and think about where guests should sit.

Games

Mix it up and make it interesting with charades or Cards Against Humanity.

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WALLPAPER Dynasty in indigoeskayel.com TABLE RUNNER Chatham in indigo by Serena & Lily 

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PLATE black-and-white slipware,chariotsonfire.com

BEET AND ALMOND DIP
serves 8 to 10

  • 1 pound beets
  • 2½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup blanched almonds
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Place the beets in a pot and cover with cold water. Add 2 teaspoons of salt and the vinegar. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 15 minutes.

Drain the beets, let cool slightly, and rub off the skins using a dish towel. Chop in 1-inch pieces and let cool completely.

Place the almonds in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Add the beets, olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice, and remaining ½ teaspoon of salt and pulse until smooth. Refrigerate.

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Chef Melia Marden is known for the fresh and approachable food served at The Smile, her stylish downtown Manahattan restaurants. Inspired by seasonal ingredients and the colors of spring, Marden crafted a menu you’ll want to make on repeat.

FREEKEH WITH ASPARAGUS, ZUCCHINI, FRESH HERBS, AND GRILLED MANOURI CHEESE
serves 6

For the freekeh:

  • 1½ cups dried freekeh
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

For the vegetables:

  • 4 ounces manouri cheese, sliced into
  • ½-inch-thick rounds
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed in a garlic press
  • 1 medium zucchini,diced into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 bunch asparagus, woody ends trimmed, sliced into ½-inch pieces on a bias
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped dill

Combine the freekeh, salt, and 3 cups of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 25 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Turn off the heat and leave covered for another 10 minutes. Remove to a large serving bowl. Fluff with a fork and let cool while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Heat a grill pan over high heat for 1 minute. Rub both sides of the manouri cheese rounds with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Place the cheese on the grill pan and cook until grill marks form, about 30 seconds. Flip and repeat. Remove to a plate.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the zucchini and cook until just getting soft, about 1 minute. Add the asparagus and salt and cook until just soft but still bright green, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat and season with black pepper. Add the vegetables to the freekeh and toss to combine. Let cool slightly. Add the parsley and dill, then toss to combine.

Break the grilled manouri apart with your hands, scatter over the freekeh mixture, and serve.

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HARICOTS VERTS WITH PARSLEY OIL, PICKLED ONION, AND ALMONDS

For the haricots verts:

serves 6

  • ½ pounds haricots verts, stem ends trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons parsley oil (see recipe)
  • 1 tablespoon pickled red onion (see recipe)
  • 2 tablespoons raw almonds, roughly chopped black pepper, to taste
  • sea salt, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the haricots verts and cook until just tender but still crunchy and bright green, about 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and ¼ teaspoon of kosher salt. In a serving bowl, combine the haricots verts and melted butter, then toss to coat. Drizzle with parsley oil, then add the pickled onion and roughly chopped raw almonds. Toss until well coated. Season with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt to taste. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

For the parsley oil:

makes 1 cup

  • 1 bunch parsley, stems removed, rinsed
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Make a small bowl of ice and water. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Drop in the parsley and cook for 30 seconds. Remove immediately to the ice bath. Let sit until completely cool, about 30 seconds.

Drain and squeeze out the excess water from the parsley with your hands.

Combine the parsley, olive oil, and salt in a blender and blend on high until smooth. Keep refrigerated.

For the pickled onion:

makes 1 cup

  • 1 small red onion
  • ½ cup cider vinegar
  • ⅓ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed chili flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds

Peel and halve the onion. Then thinly slice through the root end into about ¼-inch-thick wedges and set aside.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the onion wedges. Cook 1 minute and turn off the heat.

Let cool completely, transfer to a clean container with a tight-fitting lid, cover, and refrigerate. Keeps for up to two months.

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PAVLOVA (INSPIRED BY ETON MESS)
serves 6

For the meringue:

  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1.5 cups caster sugar
  • 1 pinch sea salt

For the rest of the pavlova:

  • 1 box strawberries
  • 1 box raspberries
  • 1 box blackberries
  • 1 cup cream
  • ¼ cup plus
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Separate the egg whites into a clean bowl and whisk at medium speed until they form firm peaks.

With the mixer running, slowly add the caster sugar and a pinch of sea salt. Turn the mixer up to the highest setting and whisk for at least 7 minutes more until the meringue is white, glossy, and smooth. If the meringue feels grainy when pinched between two fingers, whisk for another minute.

Line two baking trays with parchment paper. Divide the meringue mixture evenly between them and shape each blob into a circle about 7½ inches in diameter. Put both trays into the oven and bake for 1 hour until the meringues look slightly golden and are fluffy in the middle. Cool completely.

Meanwhile, hull and halve the strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, then toss them in a bowl to macerate with ¼ cup of caster sugar.

Whip the cream with 2 tablespoons of caster sugar until it forms soft peaks.

Place one meringue disc on a serving plate, then top with half the whipped cream and one-third of the mixed berries, drizzling a bit of the macerating liquid over the berries if desired. Top with the second meringue disc and the remaining cream and berries.

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