This is the story of Extravagant Dinners -
an experiment in collaborative tablemaking
and the adventures that come from everyone
pitching in and sharing a meal together.
Dinner No. 1
When Brandon and I first got married, we began hosting potlucks in our tiny apartment. We didn't want to "disappear" during that first year of our marriage, so we emailed a bunch of friends, told them that dinner was at our place, and to bring something homemade.
And while the specifics have changed over the years, the heart has not: whether a potluck for 15, or an extra friend around the dinner table, we love sharing meals with people.
Our first Extravagant Dinner was another riff on the same melody. But this time, I emailed our friends asking who was interested in throwing the most extravagant dinner party ever.
The catch was this - everyone had to pitch in in an areas they felt talented or passionate about. I didn't want to force the butchers to bake, or the bakers to make candles. Really, I wasn't going to force anyone to do anything.
A few months later, 13 people gathered to bake, decorate, mix drinks, play music, and clean the dishes. We dined on handmade sweet potato ravioli, grilled asparagus, bruscetta and marinated olives, rustic rosemary rolls, and a chocolate cake served with rosemary honey oranges. We enjoyed a handcrafted cocktail and thoughtfullly paired wines. We admired our portraits painted on to rocks at each of our places at the table.
It was magic. And we were hooked.
Dinner No. 2
Eager for more, we began planning our second dinner.
This time, our eager "chefs" approached the menu a little differently. Rather than creating the menu ahead of time, they took to the farmer's market armed with a list of possible recipes and created the menu around the freshness of the market.
We gathered under an old apple tree, clinked our glasses, and toasted to community. We feasted on vegetable tartlettes, watermelon salad, creamy pasta with roasted chicken and roasted cumin lime carrots. We licked grilled peaches and cinnamon sorbet off our plates. And through it all we were serenaded by a guest's newly composed music, sang songs under the stars and laughed until our sides hurt.
Dinner No. 3
This was the dinner that seemed to break all of "the rules".
We nearly doubled our guest list, dined in a transformed carport in 45 degree weather, and hand-pressed 75 pounds of local apples.
I wish these photos could warm your hands like the cups of tea we drank while we hung the strings of lights that morning. I wish I could capture the sound of awe from the chefs as they returned from the grocery store and found the carport transformed. I wish you could taste our freshly pressed apple cider or smell the freshly baked crusty bread. I wish you could snuggle the newborn baby, close your eyes and hear a soprano aria before dessert, or peek over the shoulder of the painter documenting the beauty of the evening.
Hopefully these photos come close.
Dinner No. 4 (and 4 1/2)
Suddenly our little group was not so little any more.
With our large guest list, we planned two back-to-back dinners with wildly different themes for guests to choose from.
On the first night, we enjoyed a southern BBQ menu of smoked brisket, macaroni and cheese, brussel sprouts, and stuffed bananas served with homemade ice cream. All the while, we enjoyed "Catch Her in the Rye" cocktails, a carefully crafted playlist, and the company of friends and strangers alike.
On the second night, we played to a "hopeful spring" theme that was carried from plate to table. We munched on crudites, chesnut lentil pate, stuffed mushrooms, baked pork chops, and tea-poached pears in chocolate sauce.
Dinner No. 5
The next summer, twenty of us gathered for a pitch-perfect, 5-course seafood dinner. We mingled over halibut and shrimp ceviche, devoured clams in a spicy brodetto, and dug in grilled sausages and radicchio. All the while, we sipped on gin and ginger beer cocktails (lovingly titled "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?") and a collection of Don Julio tequilas.
Our crafted playlist moved with us throughout the evening, even managing a dramatic crescendo as I delivered an impromptu toast.
Once again, I struggle to find a balance between capturing every moment and setting my camera down to simply savor it. At several points throughout the evening, my camera hung by my side as I thought, "This is the best one yet."
Dinner No. 6
Our sixth dinner brought together a host of strangers - college friends, co-workers, and a new Twitter follower.
Nearly everyone volunteered to cook that evening, so we shared our stories while whipping up some of our favorite comfort foods: beer-battered fried chicken, silky mac and cheese, and hot grilled cheese alongside tomato soup. For dessert, we dug our forks into Oreo pie and passed around hot cups of freshly brewed coffee.