The ultimate summer dinner party

This summer marked a significant birthday milestone. Although not a traditionally recognized year such as 21, 30, or 40, there was something distinct about this birthday that felt different than others. Perhaps it was the reality of time passing, the culmination of life transitions, or the never-ending cycle of personal developments; whatever the reason, this year was significantly more weighted, a further realization of the preciousness of time and the speed with which the days pass.

As such, when asked what present would be most appreciated, the answer quickly became obvious: A celebration of friendship. And thus, a dinner party was born.

Enter: A late summer gathering, family style, seated around a long table stretching from one end of the backyard to the other. Outdoor lights, ample wine, abundant food, and a reason to surround ourselves with some of our favorite people in the world.

Pulling wine looks a bit like this.
Pulling wine looks a bit like this.

With the intent of keeping the dinner list curated to a smaller group, every guest was specifically chosen for their unique impact and contribution to cultivating our “friend-family.” Some were newer friends, while other relationships stretched back nearly 20 years. Twenty-five in total joined us for the evening.

Our entire purpose for uprooting our lives and moving to this valley was to create a lifestyle where we connected with our community, where we cultivated roots, where we celebrated the everyday simplicity, where we harvested our own crops, where we found a sense of place, and where we became a part of something bigger than our little unit. Bit by bit, we are accomplishing exactly this. In this valley, we have found our tribe. Our people.

To rejoice in this, all we really needed was a table and some shared plates. But, of course, as the planning commenced, our vision grew. And grew. And grew.

When we first discussed the dinner, we contemplated having it catered or, at a minimum, partially catered. But as we poured over the dishes that we wanted, we realized that we could tackle the cooking without too much hassle. Both being adept in the culinary arts, we quickly mapped out our menu (see below) and the timeline that it would take to deliver this fun fare without too much stress or hassle. Further, we wanted to ensure that we were able to actively enjoy the party. With the support of two wonderful ladies who facilitated the night-of execution, we achieved exactly this. Toasts were made. Speeches were spoken. Introductions of dear friends were enjoyed. And the food and wine flowed. In a perfect world, this would be a monthly gathering. Perhaps, someday, when we have our dream “event barn,” we can do exactly this.

Whatever the venue, nothing can ever replicate the intimacy of breaking bread with loved ones. It is something that we encourage everyone, at every stage of their life, to pursue. The impact is irreplaceable.

The faithful apple tree.
The faithful apple tree.

The Layout

We wanted inclusivity. Many of our guests were new introductions to each other, so we strategically separated partners from each other. This is a bold move to some people (apologies, introverts!), but we have found that this is a wonderful tactic to invite new connections and conversations.

Given the outdoor space, we connected three eight foot tables together down the center of our backyard. With outdoor lights hanging overhead, a plush apple tree presiding over the south end of the property, an abundance of flowers (raised beds and potted for a fresh floral backdrop, as well as extraordinary cut flowers provided by Fiorello Studio – a huge shout out to Ms. Laurie!), hurricane candles, hanging votive candles from various trees, and colorful name placards at each place setting, it was a comfortable, yet abundant evening.

The Wine

It was a warm day, with a cool breeze in the evening, so we mixed light sparkling wines with Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc earlier in the evening, before transferring to the bigger, bolder wines as the night ensued. There was something for everyone.

Aimery Sieur d’Arques – Cremant De Limoux Brut Rosé NV

Grower Champagne Pascal Ponson, Brut Prestige, Premier Cru Montagne de Reims, Champagne, France NV

Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs

2015 Love Drunk Rosé (Mouton Noir)

2015 Domaines Ott BY.OTT Rosé Cotes de Provence

2015 Paraduxx Napa Valley Rosé

2014 Raymond Napa Valley Reserve Sauvignon Blanc

2004 Regusci Cabernet Sauvignon – Magnum (It held up amazingly well; we love how these big bottles age!)

2010 Belle Gloss Las Alturas Pinot Noir – Magnum

2009 Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Petit Verdot Monitor Ledge Vineyards

2008 Jaffe Estate Metamorphosis

2013 Sullivan Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

The family recipe. Baked ziti, all the way.
The family recipe. Baked ziti, all the way.

The Food

Given that it was family style, we wanted dishes that could be easily passed from guest to guest. We did not want the fare to be too heavy or complicated, either, as we were cooking for a larger group in which there were a variety of dietary considerations (this is California, after all). We opted for an Italian-infused evening, with a splash of “California” fusion (yes, we just made that up; sounds accurate, though).

  • Charcuterie from the local Dean and Deluca
  • A medley of delightful cheeses
  • The best homemade hummus and vegetables
  • Caprese with fresh basil from our garden
  • Cucumber, tomato, red onion, and garbanzo bean salad with lemon, oregano, olive oil and pepper vinaigrette
  • Summer pesto pasta with fresh basil from our garden
  • Barbecued butterfly chicken
  • Baked Ziti (Michael’s special recipe)
  • Sourdough rounds (homemade by our dear friend)
  • Strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, and blackberry medley topped with Strauss whipped cream
  • Our light and healthy zucchini bread
  • Our special chocolate chip cookies

Carry on, friends. No matter how simple or informal, gather your troops and celebrate. Salute!



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