Spring Garden Lunch

May 23, 20136 Comments

Entertaining can be exhausting or exhilarating. I’ve had it both ways and I much prefer the latter, don’t you? I love to cook for friends. I adore hosting holiday feasts – Thanksgiving is my favorite – but it took me while to figure out how to do so without running myself into the ground. One Christmas, I became so consumed with making sure every little detail was perfect that I destroyed my own enjoyment of the festivities and quite literally made myself sick. While everyone else was oohing and aahing over the tree down on the National Mall, I was at home sipping tea in my footie pajamas and resting. By the time everyone flew home, I had no voice and another day later, I was in bed with pneumonia. Never again.

The painful mistakes of holidays past weren’t for naught. They taught me important lessons about how to entertain a crowd and have a good time. If you ask me, the host should be having the best time of all!

A couple weeks ago, I co-hosted a seated lunch for 25 women at the whimsically gorgeous home of my friend Anna. I think it was Andy who said walking into Anna’s house is like stepping into a fairy tale. As the owner of DC’s Proper Topper, a mecca for hats, accessories and unique gifts, it’s no surprise that Anna’s home evokes warmth, comfort and of course, impeccable style. Anna’s home and lush garden provided the setting for the lunch. The food was planned and prepared by our friend Suzanne (she taught us to make tortillas, remember?) of Loulies and yours truly. Together, we dreamed up a ladies’ champagne lunch in Anna’s garden and offered it at the school auction. I was both delighted and frightened when it sold out within minutes! Yeah…and then, oooooh. I’d never cooked for 25 people at once before.

Before we sat down to plan the menu, I was reminded of a few hard-won lessons for entertaining more than just a few people:

1. Choose dishes that can be enjoyed at room temperature. We refrigerated a few items, like the tarragon mayonnaise we used to dress the chicken (see menu and recipes below) and the pea topping for our crostini appetizer, which contained dairy. The remaining dishes could sit out without fear of getting too warm or cold.

2. Choose recipes that can be easily multiplied. Don’t drive yourself mad with dishes that must be done in many small batches. Get out the big pots and pans and plan to make a lot at once. This saves cooking time and makes clean up easier, too.

3. Overestimate just a little. It’s so embarrassing to run out of food and drink. I like to err on the side of expecting ravenous guests, reasoning that leftovers are never a bad thing. You can either send home your guests with doggie bags or set yourself up for meals over the next day or two. We made so much food that we did both.

4. Enlist help. This is a big one. There are many little things that need to be done just before mealtime. If you can convince a friend, a spouse or offspring to be your helper, great. If not and you can afford to hire someone to help you for an hour or two, it’s well worthwhile. Little tasks like chopping herbs or finishing the table setting or making sure every guest has a drink can be easily delegated. This will also allow you to greet your guests without having to sweat over all the last minute stuff.

5. Sit down, enjoy…and don’t get up! If you plan accordingly, you can actually sit down, enjoy the meal with your friends, keep everyone happy and not get up from the table. Suzanne, Anna and I (pictured above toasting ourselves!) decided to put everything our guests would need right on the table. We divided the main course, salads and vegetables into four smaller plates and spaced them along the table. We also filled carafes with water and left bottles of sparkling water and wine along the table so guests could help themselves freely. All three of us were able to eat and drink merrily and take part in conversations without getting up. If I could only successfully employ this strategy for weeknight evening meals, maybe I’d actually eat a hot meal once in a while (or perhaps I should go with the room temp rule!)

I’m pretty sure Suzanne, Anna and I had the most fun. We promised our guests we’d post the recipes on our blogs or at the very least guide them to where we found them. I fulfill that promise (mostly) here.

The Menu

As my kids know, a fabulous party ends with an equally fantastic favor. How cute are these handmade soaps? A sprig of rosemary and a twine ribbon do great things for an everyday household item (the beautiful packaging doesn’t hurt either). Anna was in charge of the fine details and boy, did she knock it out of the park. Every guest left with a smile (and a slight buzzzzz).

And finally…photo credit alert! As you know, I take nearly all the photos here. Not so this week. I’m delighted to share the beautiful photography of the talented Marnie Kenney. As I was rushing around preparing platters and filling wine glasses, Marnie was snapping shot after stunning shot. Her photos are the ones without a green line around them (and I’ve now just revealed to you the limitations of my rudimentary HTML coding skills…couldn’t make that damn green line and I just don’t know why). Thank you for sharing your work, Marnie!

Enjoy the holiday weekend, lovely friends.

6 responses to “Spring Garden Lunch”

  1. ellen says:

    What a gorgeous affair! I love how the table opens up onto the outdoor area. Nice job Alicia and friends.

    • Alicia says:

      Isn’t that neat? Anna’s husband Joe built that table just for this lunch. It was so nice to have everyone at one table.

  2. Lynda says:

    Magical, indeed. Can I say I wish I were there?

  3. Gena says:

    These are all great tips. A fellow perfectionist, I tend to obsess over entertaining to the point where the fun can sometimes be drained out of it. I’ll remember your wise words next time I have folks over!

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