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.
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!
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!
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!