Happiness in a Table Full of Friends and Food, Under an Evening Sky

I got to fulfill one of my long-time dreams this past weekend. And boy, what a magnificent feeling that was! Why I waited this long to make it happen, I'll never know. I highly recommend that if you have something you've been wanting to do for a while, GO DO IT! Put the plan/idea/dream in motion. What the heck are we all waiting for? Ever since moving into our house nearly seven years ago, I have always wanted to have a dinner party outside on the front lawn, under the canopy of the two Chinese elm trees that hold center court, under the glow of the moon and the stars, wrapped in the lovely mild temps that make up all Southern California summer evenings, and where the food was reflective of the bounty of the season and masterfully (or an attempt at masterfully) prepared all by me. I have never had a fantasy dream so vivid and so compelling before. Not even for my own wedding day, which, as many of you know, couldn't have been more sparse, less planned, and totally unglamorous (and just the way I wanted it!).

Emmett and I have eaten countless meals out on the front lawn or front porch. I can't tell you how many Happy Hours we've hosted in our specifically designed sitting area for said event (it is literally referred to as "The Happy Hour Spot"). We've had several large outdoor parties as well as numerous smaller dinner parties on the porch. But none fulfilled the very specific requirements described above.

Until Saturday.

Feeling the need to have some reason to throw a party this summer, and since the evening was really a gift to myself, I decided to make it an early celebration of my 40th birthday. The invites went out, the guests RSVPed, and Emmett and I got to work. Well, actually Emmett went to work (someone has to make money to pay the bills around here) and I focused on the party details (though when Friday night came, Emmett joyfully jumped in and helped out too!). The menu was planned, grocery and to-do lists drawn up, tables and chairs rented, yard and house cleaned, food prepped and dishes made, dinner- and drinkware set out, fresh flowers cut, the "surprise special event" details worked out, ice picked up, booze bought by the case...it was a solid four days of preparation. And I loved every minute of it.

Making veggie broth

Soaking the nuts

Juicing limes

Infusing vodka

Juicing the watermelon

Picking out the dinnerware, glasses, and serving platters.

Shucking corn

Massaging the coleslaw

Prepping the cherry tomatoes

Emmett makes up the fruit platter

Serious tools!

Setting the table

Table under filtered sun.

Collage material table

The working table

The after-hours lounge and dessert area

Tubs o' booze!

The party started out with a few appetizers and the evening's specialty drink (Emmett's watermelon martini made with cucumber-infused vodka) and then I engaged my guests in the "surprise special event." If you haven't read about it and seen the pictures in the previous post, please check it out now! Everyone was a great sport and the results were spectacular!

After the special event and as the sun was setting, we moved to the candle-lit dinner tables, popped open some champagne and wine, and sat down for a summer feast that included Crema de Guacamole soup, served slightly chilled and garnished with cilantro, tortilla strips, and pico de gallo; open-faced BBQ tempeh sandwiches topped with spicy coleslaw; corn on the cob smothered in Earth Balance,  a squeeze of lime, and a dash of smoked paprika (thanks to Kelly who lent a very capable hand in the kitchen to get this dish out the door!); and green beans tossed in chives and lime and lemon zests. After dinner, we moved over to the "dessert lounge," broke out the bourbon sampler platter, and enjoyed what I thought was the crown jewel of the evening: vegan buttermilk pie.

Yes, it deserves repeating: Vegan. Buttermilk. Pie. Topped with blueberries and red and golden raspberries!

When I went vegan, I never thought I'd have buttermilk pie again but man am I glad to be wrong about that. If my pie were served alongside the real thing, no one would be able to tell the difference. This, however, was lost on my guests since no one had ever had buttermilk pie before, real or vegan, but still...I knew it, Emmett knew it, and our tummies knew it. And everyone else seemed to enjoy the pie as much as we did and that's all that really matters.

Between the appetizers and the dinner, it was a six-cookbook meal, meaning it took recipes from six different cookbooks to put this shin-dig on. Not the most I've ever used before, but it was definitely up there! I'm happy to report that Emmett and I managed to get everything served up just as it was intended to be without any serious hiccups. The only thing that threw us for a loop was that from the kitchen, it was much farther to the dinner table than we expected and what we were used to! Usually it's only a few steps between plating in the kitchen and serving at the table, but this time we had to walk all the way through the house, across the porch, and to the edge of the yard to get to the table! With only our four hands and 10 people to serve, we must have walked off our meal by the second course!

I'm generally not a excessively sentimental person, but I have to say at one point in the evening, as I looked down the long, candle-lit table, my friends happily chatting and eating and laughing, after Kelly pointed out the moon brightly shining between the trees, I took a deep breath and felt nothing but contentment and happiness fill me up. I can close my eyes right now and be back in that moment. It was beautiful. It was precious. It was special. And it was worth every ounce of energy spent to make it happen.

Getting the party started

Barb and Rob

Kelly and I compare freckles on our arms. I win!

Tamra in the "Box of Shame"

JD in the Box of Shame

Ang and Nan in the Box of Shame

Zucchini Barb

Hard at work on the collages

Rob hard at work

Kelly hard at work


Emmett hard at work

Bill hard at work

Arty and Tam hard at work

Ang and JD hard at work

The Table

Another look at the table.

Right before sitting down for dinner.

Beans and Corn

Looking down the table.

Barb and Nan

The wonderful Bill shot some video at the party and then put together this little number for me. I absolutely LOVE it and think it captures the spirit and overall beauty of the evening. (I can't thank you enough, Bill!)

And it's a great way to end this post.