garden dinner party!

It’s no secret that I like a good party. I especially like to throw a good party. It involves lots of my favorite things: food, drinks, shiny things and my friends.

I am also a Leo. I am bossy and a control freak about certain things. When it came time to decide what to do for this year’s birthday, there was only one thing that came to mind – the long-dreamed of Garden Dinner Party.

We have a small house. I can fit 10 at our table if I have to. The first Thanksgiving, I added a long folding table and we had maybe 15-20? Definitely packed them in there. But I’d always wanted to do a big outdoor dinner, very French/Italian countryside style. So I bit the bullet, told The Geek a very abbreviated version of my plan (and held my breath; he doesn’t enjoy this sort of thing), and sent out the invites to 20 of my best people.

They pretty much all thought I was crazy. But I had a vision, dammit, and IT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN. At first, I was on the fence about whether to do it in the back yard or the front. The back yard is a hot damn mess. Turns out it would require more time and motivation than I was willing to commit to it. Plus the front yard is smaller and more cozy, and already pretty usable.

So this is how you throw a Garden Dinner Party for Eighteen.

I had the vision in my head already, so I set out finding the pieces and making lists. I decided to order 2 6′ tables, white wooden chairs, linens, wine glasses, champagne coupes and silverware. (Originally the plan was to serve champagne and a cocktail, but as I got into it I had to give up the cocktail dream. That’s just too much to do for 18 people. So I compromised and served vino verde in those champagne coupes since it’s a little fizzy.) I have plenty of vintage platters and vases, and a fair amount of candle holders which I augmented on the cheap at Value Village. Add in my mixed vintage china and I was set for the table.

candles

One end of the table is at the end of the yard which is still pretty rough. So I thought I’d try to block that off with some sort of fabric curtains. I ended up using mosquito netting that I cut into panels. It was about $50, but I can reuse it. I also moved my jasmine plant down there to further block the ‘view”. I ordered two strings of solar powered lights that I added across the fabric panels and I was so excited when they actually came on! The finishing touch were some of those glass ball candle holders that you can use for air plants – I hung those here and there for more atmosphere.

I was going for a Rustic Vintage look, I guess you could call it. So I bought some burlap that I cut into table runners. I think it balanced out the pink napkins and glass candle holders  and went well with white tablecloths. My friend Carolyn came over the day before and demonstrated her awesome napkin folding skills! Add in a couple of printed menus and place cards and ta da!

dinner3

 

dinner6

dinner4
On to the food. The dinner menu included:Mixed Greens and Herbs, Grilled Parmesan Polenta, Tomato Confit, Herbed White Beans, Pork Tenderloin and Chocolate Semifreddo for dessert. The key to something like this: DO AHEAD as much as you can. And keep it simple, stupid. Hence the ditching of the cocktail.  The only things I HAD to make the day of the party were the two appetizers: greek skewers with feta, cucumber, olive and mint, and goat cheese with sauteed red grapes, and also the main course of grilled pork tenderloins. I brined that for a few hours, grilled it and let it rest, and then finished the polenta on the grill. I had made ahead the polenta with parmesan and let it set so I could slice it. I also prepped the salad dressing so that when Farmer Fels arrived with their luscious salad makings from their Mezza Luna Farms, it would be easy to throw the salad together. I made the semifreddo in individual jam jars rather than the usual loaf pan so I could avoid the slicing. I just threw one on a plate with a Pirouette cookie and done!

dinner5

I have to say the stars were really all aligned. Although the raining until noon thing did cause some concern, it did clear up and was even warm! Things to consider for next time: the beans did not seem as popular as the rest so I might try something else. And we only ended up with 16 guests – if the other two had come, we may have run out of food. AND I realized in the nick of time that I actually needed 2 8′ tables so I managed to change that. Things that worked: renting the stuff was awesome. Not cheap, but pretty handy. Assembling all my plates, etc. in the house a few days before and planning what food would go where. Serving two platters of everything.

It took some planning and more than a little luck, but it was a spectacular birthday. Thanks to my fantastic guests for putting on your party clothes! It will be hard to top!

dinner1

picklelicious

Thanks to Darrin and Amanda, I found myself in possession of a Mezza Luna Farms box of veggies last week. Among the goodies was a pickling cucumber and a GIGANTIC Japanese cucumber. I do not exaggerate.

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Clearly, something had to be done.  Something of the briny variety.

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I used Ted Allen’s Refrigerator Pickle brine times 2, since I wasn’t sure exactly what my yield would be. According to the recipe, one batch makes 2 quart jars and I figured 4 jars would be a safe guess. Turns out I was right on. BUT if you use the recipe below as written, be aware it will only make enough brine for 2 jars (though I did have some leftovers).

For the brine:
10 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups white vinegar
6 teaspoons kosher salt
Several sprigs of fresh dill
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon pink peppercorns (if you have ‘em)

*I also added maybe 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes and a couple slices of jalapeno to each jar. So far they have a bit of spice but not too overwhelming.

In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups water to a boil, reduce the heat so the water simmers and add the garlic. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and salt, raise the heat and bring to a boil, stirring until the salt dissolves.

In 2 clear 1-quart jars, place a few sprigs of dill. Divide the seeds and peppercorns between the jars. Using tongs, remove the garlic from the brine and place 5 cloves in each jar.

I sliced the cucumbers fairly thinly, maybe 1/4″ to 1/8th, and packed the jars with them. I then poured the boiling brine on top to cover completely. Let them cool, and then cover and refrigerate. They will taste like pickles in a few hours and get better after a few days. The recipe says they keep for about 3 months.

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2013 planty goodness

Yep, March is around the corner, if you can believe that, so it’s time for this year’s installment of Where-The-Plant-Sales-Are.

First up is the Seattle Tilth Early Edible Sale, on March 16th. A new location this year, it’s being held at the Pacific Market Center Parking Garage, which seems to be somewhere in the Stadium area of town? Sadly, I will be out of town for this year’s sale, but the cool thing is there is a plant list on their site so you can drool and plan your purchases! And if you’re lucky like me, a nice friend will offer to pick some things up for you if you can’t make it.

The Arboretum Foundation’s Early Bloomers sale on April 13th. This is a smaller sale of Arboretum members’ donations and plants propagated from the Arboretum collection. Good stuff.

The next day is the NW Perennial Alliance’s Spring Sale,  a personal favorite, this year on Sunday, April 14th at North Seattle Community College. No veggies but chock full of other unusual stuff.

Then there’s the big daddy of FlorAbundance, another Arboretum sale that benefits the Arboretum. This sale is JAM-PACKED with good things, edible and otherwise. April 27 and 28 at the Arboretum (in years past this has been at Magnuson Park in a giant hangar. Not sure how they will make it work at the Arboretum – I would think parking would be an issue so plan ahead!)

One of my favorite sales is the Master Gardener Foundation sale at the UW Center for Urban Horticulture, this year on May 4th and 5th. Psst: in years past, they’ve done a preview party the night before the sale opens. You buy a ticket (whose proceeds go to benefit the Foundation) and they give you wine tickets and appetizers AND you get to shop before  the hordes on Saturday and Sunday. Totally worth it and very fun. Tickets are usually sold on Brown Paper Tickets but I don’t see it listed yet.

Also that weekend is Seattle Tilth’s big Edible Sale. I must admit I’ve never actually gone to this sale because by the time it rolls around, I’ve been to 3 sales and I’m tapped out space and budget-wise.

AND! For those of you in Seattle without the space or inclination to grow your food, consider becoming a member of my friends’ brand-spanking-new farm, Mezza Luna Farms!  They are offering CSA memberships for their first harvest this year! A great way to buy local and eat well.

Special thanks to Jennie for my new plant sale accessory!

Special thanks to Jennie for my new plant sale accessory!

outter january

Maybe it’s because we’ve had no snow this year, and only brief spells of really cold weather, but for some reason it seems like spring is just around the corner. The  green things in the yard seem confused as well.

poppy

poppy

yesterday's raspberries

yesterday’s raspberries

blackbird, i believe

blackbird, i believe

black brussels sprouts

black brussels sprouts

newborn rhodie

newborn rhodie

light to come

light to come

I am excited for days where we can tire ourselves digging and planting, feeling the new heat of spring sun. Civilized cocktails in the fresh air. Shorts and bare feet.

Even more so this year I think. We attended the memorial for a long-time friend  and bar regular on Saturday. He was only 57, and had battled melanoma but lost. His family had a chance to say goodbye properly and maybe get a head start on getting used to the idea that he soon would be gone. The memorial was sad, yes, but also such a celebration of his life. His art was on display and many friends and family shared such great memories of him. I think the joy and love in the room made the sadness so much easier to bear. It was a gift to be there.

A reminder that time is short. Use it well.

mid may 2012 garden pretties

I took a little tour of the “garden” yesterday. The Geek has been ON FIRE with cleaning up the front!

We’ve had some wacky weather of late – cold, a few days of really hot, and back to coldish. I am sure the plants have no idea what to make of it. I played around a little with the photos…

Trillium bought last year at the NW Perennial Alliance Sale

One two baby blue spruces for the backyard

Strawberry – maybe the birds won’t get them all this year!

“White Shooting Star” – dodecatheon dentatum

“Golden Alexandria” – fragaria vesca

raspberries!

Redtwig dogwood for the backyard

white columbine – the only good kind

Fingers crossed the tomatoes I planted somehow manage to survive this crazy May weather…

2012 planty goodness

Yep, that time of year again, the current view out my window of torrential rain notwithstanding.  Here’s the Spring 2012 Plant Sale Roundup.

Early Bloomers

April 14

This is a smaller sale in the Arboretum with lots of interesting things.  Recommended.

Seattle Tilth Early Edibles

March 17

For those of you who are actually ready to put things in the ground and don’t plan to spend the day eating corned beef and drinking green beer, check this out.  The later sale is May 5 & 6, if you aren’t quite ready.

Northwest Perennial Alliance Sale

April 22

Lots of selection and unusual things here. I like. Not usually any edibles.

FlorAbundance

April 28 & 29

This one benefits the Arboretum, always a good cause.  In years past, it’s been held in a hangar at Magnuson Park. This year it will be at the Visitors’ Center in the Arboretum.  Hmm. I’ve been to the Early Bloomers sale there, which seems to attract a much smaller crowd, and it’s kind of a madhouse for parking. Be warned.

Master Gardener Foundation Sale

May 5 & 6

Yep, the king daddy.  This will be the 3rd year Carolyn and I (and now The Geek) have gone to the Preview Party they hold on Friday night (Assuming that is how she chooses to celebrate her birthday) – wine! appetizers! no crowds! best selection!  Highly recommend.  Tickets required for the Preview Party – usually through Brown Paper tickets online. Costs about $35 and worth every penny.

NOW.  To be honest, I’m not sure how many plants I will be buying. The front yard is chock a block with things I bought last year and just stuck in the ground.  The back yard is STILL a mess and a project in the making. We still haven’t put our shiny new conifers in the ground. I meant to go to Swanson’s sale and get a cherry espalier for against the back wall but I didn’t make it.

Pfft. Who am I kidding. I’ve got two beds and trough to fill at least!

pinteresting

It’s sweeping the nation, nay, the world, you know. This Pinterest thing. I know some of you already are on board. “On board” – ha, that’s funny.

It’s basically a visual way to collect your favorite things online – a virtual bulletin board. Any time you see a photo of something, you “pin” it to the board of your choice.  I currently have 1,441 pins on 18 boards.  You can find things in your own internet travels, or on the boards of someone else – that’s called “repinning”. You can even “follow” the boards of friends or people who seem to have similar taste.

The problem is I’ve been spending too much time “pinning” and not enough time going back to try the stuff I’ve pinned!  What good is collecting it if you never use it!  So tonight I’ll be making this off my Yummy board -

Chicken and dumplings

In crafty land, there are MANY, MANY things I would like to do off my Craft board. One hardly knows where to begin.  Maybe this -

DIY Atomic Starburst Mirror

Or this -

Pleated Bag

The beauty of Pinterest is when you pin something, the original URL to the item is preserved, so you can go back to the recipe or pattern or whatever the source is. And it’s so FUN to see everything collaged in one place.

I’ve got a Garden board to help with outdoor inspiration. Scenes like this move me to get going on the backyard -

Now that's a garden

Or this paver patio I love -

Paver Patio

If there is a photo, you can pin it. Some of my favorites are my Little Bits of Awesome board.

B -I-N-G-O

Zombie Survival

To start pinning, you need to request an “invite”, which can several days or even a couple weeks. Once you’re accepted, prepare to lose hours of your life. Even the Geek pins! Mostly guns and robots, but still.

Happy weekend! I’ve got things to make and cook, zombies to survive…

finally

When we bought our house 4 years ago, there was a funny little section right in front of the living room window. It looked like this:

April 2007

It seemed like a real waste of space.  I always pictured it being a nice place to sit since it faces west and gets some good sun.  It has been a work in progress.  I pulled out those junipers pretty early on,  added a flower box to the wooden railing, and planted some brass buttons, irish moss and blue star creeper to fill in so that one day, it could be a nice little patio area.  And those $&!$ bluebells – I think I have FINALLY pulled most of those.  This is what it looked like this morning.

April 2011

I almost bought a little wicker patio set off Craigslist, but then saw some cushions at Home Depot that could work on our existing chairs. So I got with the program, bought some new plants to replace the tulips and daffodils in those boxes AND WENT TO TOWN.  Keeping it real, there was this.

crap

And THEN there was THIS.

ta dah!

In the railing flower box, there are some herbs.

herbage

Behind the chairs are a mix of things, but I especially love the pink of the geraniums.

love

And here we are enjoying the fruits of our labor with a little Mexican coke and the last of Mike’s brown liquor.  Finally.

not too shabby

Looking forward to weekend morning coffee and evening cocktails in our new cozy little spot.

better late than never

Ah, my poppets, I have been a bit out of pocket the last week, fighting some bug.  Got some good drugs now so I’m on the mend.  In between my getting sick and well, it seems spring has finally arrived in these parts!  So half the peas got their trellis today and the strawberries now live in their own pot. The 3-foot-tall grass got mowed. And then we have this…

almost-popped poppy

soon-to-be blueberries

spirea

euphorbia

getting-ready-to-bloom prehistoric 20 foot tall rhodie tree

forget-me-not, a weed I don't mind

wish this was scratch and sniff

viburnum

my camera couldn't handle the RED of this!

favorite of this batch

Today’s 70 degrees just leaves us wanting more and dreaming of summer nights and happy hour…Seattle in the summer is the best!

baby spring

Better weather is creeping in slowly this year.  We are way behind the garden progress of this year.  Oddly, the weeds seem to be right on schedule.

golden spirea

Crandall currant bought last year at Tilth's Early Edible sale. Still alive!

future apple

Fragaria vesca bought last year from Annie's Annuals.

future raspberry

Farmer Fels graciously gave me some Marshall strawberries he rescued from the Herbfarm farm he works at.  They are hard to come by now.  Hoping I don’t kill them!  No pressure!

Marshall strawberry

extremely large euphorbia

This is my partner in crime in the yard.

lawn boy

ready for his close up

This morning we’re taking the Lawn Boy to Magnuson Park for some off-leash time, which happens to coincide with the Arboretum’s Florabundance Sale.  Plant sales are like crack, I tell you!  Is there Plants Anonymous? I can’t say NO, NO, NO…

Happy weekend to you all.