The first gathering. Always a little nerve wracking. I was stressed… I won’t even bother trying to deny it, especially with being responsible for the meal. As the group trickled in and I hurried to get dishes out to the table you could sense the “first gathering” jitters. Some having a sense of familiarity, others not. It is the curiosity too of wondering how the evening is going to flow, waiting for the cues on how to proceed. Despite, everyone was happy to be there and I was happy to have them in my home.
Getting to know the group is always fascinating. You don’t know what stories and experiences are going to walk through the door. A variety in age and life stages. All of us come to the table at a different point in life which is proving to create an interesting response to the book.
Being that it was the first gathering, I had ample time for planning and preparing. But even with the extra time it was still stressful pulling everything together. Do I have this? Do I have that? Oh wait, we don’t have enough plates! And of course my favorite part of needing something… not finding what I want. Then, after the evening is over, hindsight pours in. Oh we didn’t do that. I forgot this. Why didn’t that work? Nothing like a crash course in hosting a dinner to learn some lessons.
- For starters, most people don’t care. They are simply happy to be there! They don’t care if dessert takes 15 mins extra to finish. Give them coffee and conversation and they are happy. There are so many things we stress about that really don’t matter.
- Planning ahead is important. Having an idea of when you want to serve a dish, or what time you flow into discussion. Planning saves you time. Planning gets dishes out on time. You get the point.
- Flexibility. As much as planning is a cornerstone to a gathering, you have to be ready to go with the flow. Ingredients will be omitted, intentionally and unintentionally. A particular dish might even bomb and you simply don’t serve it. Oh that garnish? Yeah, forgot about it.
- You set the flow of dinner. It starts with you (as the host). Hungry guests want to know how to proceed with dinner… inform them, demonstrate if necessary. Ask if so and so would pass X, etc. Once they get a feel for how things should go this will flow easier in the weeks to come as everyone gets comfortable with the group and setting.
- Let people take part in the process. Ask them to toss the salad. Ask/let them take dishes to the table. Ask them to garnish. And a real winner with our group, let them set the table! Set out the dishes, cups, silverware, etc. and while you are getting the food ready to serve they can put together the table.
And the list can go on and on. But you have to stop somewhere or you simply end up beating yourself up over stuff that isn’t worth it. Make a few notes of what think needs to change, chalk it up to experience and move on. People were blessed. That’s all that matters.
For the first menu I wanted to stick to something fairly traditional and familiar but still keep it seasonal. August is such an abundant month as it marks the slowing of summer and the introduction to early fall veggies. It turned out to be an incredible menu that pleased everyone.
Thomas Keller’s Roast Chicken: I don’t think there is a simpler more efficient way to roast a chicken outside of buying one from the grocery store. I like it so much I blogged the recipe!
Artichoke Potato Salad w/Arugula tossed with a maple balsamic vinaigrette: I have grown to love salads that combine interesting ingredients. The roasted potatoes pair so well with the spicy arugula. And the sweetness from the vinaigrette finishes it nicely.
Lentils w/Wine Glazed Vegetables: Hello comfort food! Pairs so well with roasted chicken.
Nectarine Tomato Salad: An unconventional “salad” that highlights summers abundance.
Almond Crisped Peaches: An alternative to cobbler and yet similarly satisfying. Serve warm. Melt in the simplicity. I served it with whipped cream… totally splurge and get the ice cream. So worth it.
Dinner and Discussion is a weekly gathering over a meal and discussion. Read more about this series.