A fun, affordable way to bring the whole neighborhood gang together is to stir up a pot (or two). Soup makes the perfect hearty meal for a casual crowd on a crisp fall day—it requires little fuss, it can be made well in advance, and neighbors can ladle it up themselves. Start up the fire pit or indoor fireplace, pull out a football and a few Frisbees, open your door and welcome the neighbors inside.
- Serve two or three soups for variety, making sure at least one is vegetarian. Offer a creamy soup and a broth-based soup to provide a good flavor balance.
- Prepare your soups a day or two in advance (soups taste better when the flavors have had time to meld) and borrow crock pots so you can warm the soups up in your kitchen the day of.
- For your third soup, consider starting a "stone soup" tradition—a potluck with a twist—where each neighbor contributes a little bit to the empty pot. Invite everyone to bring a basic pantry item or some good scraps from the fridge—cans of chicken broth, leftover veggies, potatoes, chunks of chicken, noodles, rice, herbs, Parmesan cheese. Stir it all together for a true taste of community. Have one of the eldest kids gather the younger ones around to read Marcia Brown’s famous "Stone Soup" book to tie in with the theme.
- To make a simple centerpiece, collect fall leaves from the yard and scatter them around the table and mix them in with the flower arrangements. Fill glass bowls and baskets with apples, and pile up pretty pumpkins and squash.
- Fill a percolator with spiced cider and provide juice boxes for the kids, but ask guests to bring their own beer, wine and libations to contribute to your fridge and coolers.
- Label each soup and set out ladles; make sure everyone’s kids know that serving the hot soup is an "adults only" task.
- Provide small bowls of soup toppings around the table for the garnish lovers. Options might include Parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese, toasted sunflower seeds, yogurt or sour cream, croutons and fresh herbs. For sides, choose an easy appetizer like a cheese platter and a couple of green salads.
The best part about the entertainment is that you have the run of the block—let the kids dash from yard to yard playing tag and Red Rover. Set out your lawn games and get a game of bocce or touch football going. Light up a fire pit and ask someone to bring a guitar for a sing-along.
Make a big batch of home-baked cookies in fall flavors and send the guests home with brown paper bags filled with the treats.