Monday, August 24, 2015

Our Golden Hour Dinner Party

All the way back in June I decided that one of the things I wanted to do this summer was plan and host a pop-up dinner party. Before that day I didn't even know what a pop-up dinner party was but when I read this post I thought, "You know, I could totally do that!" A few minutes later as I scrolled to the end of the post I thought, "I'm definitely doing that!" and started looking at dates on my calendar.

So many things about this concept–hosting a semi-surprise, fancy dinner party outside with friends–resonated with me. What could be better than eating al fresco, for one? We live in a gorgeous part of the country and I was pretty sure we could find a breathtaking venue. I loved the idea of being in nature but using linen tablecloths and real forks and plates and glasses and cloth napkins. The challenge of coming up with a menu and cooking everything myself excited me. And of course, the most fun part was making everything as beautiful and magical as possible and getting to share that with the people I love. (I just hoped I could pull it off!)

We have such a lovely collection of friends here in Charlottesville. We had four couples at the party, plus us and my baby brother (who took all the photos and was incredibly fun and helpful all day long–couldn't have done it without him). In Oh Happy Day style I sent out this slightly cryptic invitation on Paperless Post a few weeks in advance.

I thought that keeping things sort of secretive would add to the magic of the party. The venue we decided on was a quiet public park with a lake and pretty mountain views. We set up the tables in the shade under a collection of old trees near the small lake. The morning of, we emailed directions that my husband had written out old-school style and told everyone that once they arrived, to look for white tablecloths under some nearby trees.

I spent all day cooking. My brother and husband were a huge help with this. I made only things that would be delicious at room temperature and I wanted everything to be fresh and seasonal and look colorful and beautiful on the table. We had poached salmon with a dijon sauce, brown rice with chives, local tomatoes with olive oil and feta, sliced peaches and blueberries, kale and cabbage salad with a balsamic dressing, baguettes with salted butter, and for dessert, lemon pound cake and raspberries. And rosé, because it's so darn pretty.

As we approached 5ish we loaded up both of our cars with all of the supplies. Two 6-foot folding tables, 11 chairs from around the house, a huge tub of tablecloths/dishes/silverware/serving utensils/glasses, the cooler of wine and sparkling water, a metal bucket with candles/bottle opener/twine/lighter/scissors, two vases of wildflowers, and finally the platters of food wrapped tightly in saran wrap. We stopped on the way for ice. 

One thing that was so incredible: as my husband and brother and I set up it was very hot, humid and buggy. This was around 6-6:30ish. We lit tons of citronella candles and sprayed our legs with bug spray and hoped the heat would subside. As we approached 7, which is when we had told our guests to arrive, the sun crept behind the mountain and it became instantly cooler and perfectly crisp and comfortable and the bugs all but disappeared. It was such a welcome relief and I was really able to relax once this happened!

My brother is an excellent photographer and he snapped most of these in the few minutes we had between taking off the saran wrap from the food and when our guests arrived. The light was golden and exquisite and I think he really captured the magic of the evening.

Our friends were so sweet and excited and I think they all loved the surprise element. They didn't quite know what to expect and I think it's safe to say they were amazed when they arrived. It was a marvelous, enchanting evening and I'm so glad we did it.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The More Loving One

I've been slowly making my way through the most fascinating book called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Have you heard of it? The author chose 161 inspired and inspiring people from human history–writers, scientists, composers, poets, inventors–and did meticulous research on the habits that surrounded their work and gave structure (or lack of structure) to their days. Interesting, right?

As you might expect these creatively brilliant people were mostly quite odd, and many of them followed their routines with a manic sort of discipline. The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard would fill his coffee cup to the brim with sugar, pour acid-strong coffee over it and drink it in one energetic gulp. Thomas Wolfe wrote his novels naked, standing up, using the top of his fridge as his desk. Gustav Mahler dragged his wife Alma on 3-or-4-hour walks every afternoon, often stopping to compose for an hour or two at a time while he insisted she wait for him. Gertrude Stein usually wrote no more than 30 minutes a day and often got her creativity flowing by staring at individual cows and rocks (!) in the French countryside.

Along the way I've been doing a lot of Googling because I find myself wanting to know more about the actual work these people did. I'm familiar with the composers he's written about and a lot of the writers but the psychologists and poets are a little less known to me. In my side research the other day I discovered this poem by W.H. Auden. It's called The More Loving One.

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us, we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

I love this poem. It's simple but so emotionally honest. If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me. How beautifully self-sacrificial to prefer the giving end of unrequited love, to have heartbreak rather than cause it.

Anyway, I highly recommend the book. It's gotten me thinking about my own habits as a creative person. Mostly though, it's sort of like peeking into someone's window which is something I find endlessly intriguing. We've talked about my nosiness before, right?

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