July 1, 2012

A Farm-to-Table Dinner to Celebrate the Sweet Peas Blooming

LAST NIGHT'S GARDEN PARTY FEATURED  SWEET PEAS OF EVERY COLOR, GOOD FRIENDS AND ENOUGH FIREFLIES TO KEEP THINGS SPARKLING WAY INTO THE WEE HOURS.

The weather was perfect, the peas, the sweetest, and the friends and food, special - last night Joe and I hosted a small farm-to-table dinner outdoors to celebrate our friend Jess's new career choice - to step from her job as a designer as a lead designer at Hasbro, to start her own design consultancy. She didn't want a party, so I told her that it would be a party to celebrate our new baby ducks, a harvest from the garden, and of course, the peak bloom of the English Spencer Sweet Peas.


Jess was allowed to invite twelve of her best friends, all are, or were, Hasbro designers ( where we all work), or our spouses who love to do nothing more than to hear others talk about My Little Pony, Nerf, Transformers, or Battleship all the time! Actually, we all were very well behaved, and kept our discussions off of work, and more about the garden, the menu and, of course, Jess's future plans. Jess is a vegetarian, so, I naturally made rabbit. It just seemed 'right' given the time of year, and the location, a fancy dinner served in the garden. Jess was delighted, and, she even ate some!

There are many ways to plan an outdoor dinner, but if you want the event to be special and memorable, I like to bring the furniture outside. As Jess said, " It was just like 'Downton Abbey'. We have old photos of such parties in our humble back yard from the 1920's, when my grandparents would bring out the dining room furniture, uphoulstered chairs, even sofa's. It wasn't extravagant, it was the only option -  in the 1920's, inexpensive outdoor furniture did not exist. Besides, I wanted this event to be all about the experience - special, from the music ( 1940's jazz) to the food ( somewhat aTuscan farm menu) had to be crafted carefully, so it too some planning.  It was well worth it, and best of all, the weather cooperated.

THE GENTLEMEN BECAME LAZY IN THE HEAT, ( OR WAS IT THE CRAFT BEER?) WHILE THE LADIES SNEAKED OFF TO EXPLORE  THE GARDENS. IN MANY WAYS, THIS COULD HAVE BEEN A SCENE FROM 1890 (MAYBE WITH SOME HATS AND PIPES).


JENN LONG (Left) AND JESSICA ROSENKRANZ (right) CHECK OUT THE LONG WALK, WHERE JOE HAD STRUNG 150 FEET OF ITALIAN BISTRO LIGHTS JUST FOR THE EVENT.


A RAINBOW OF SWEET PEAS BECAME THE KEY CENTERPIECE

Outdoor lighting can be horrible, especially if you depend on bug lights, spots on houses, or even worse, outdoor flood lights. With so many options available today at party stores, Target or on-line, look for paper Japanese lanterns twinkle lights and candles in grand quantities. Outside in the summer, with such a large garden, we find the the easiest way to illuminate the garden is the same way we light the outdoors in the winter - floodlights placed under trees and architectural shrubs. The effect is different in the summer when the leaves and trunks become illuminated, but the look is always attractive.

JESS AND GINA LOOK FOR GOLDFISH IN THE POND. JAPANESE PAPER LANTERNS, ILLUMINATED WITH TINY, LOW WATTAGE  BULBS CREATES A ROMANTIC, VINTAGE FEEL. RESIST USING THOSE  INEXPENSIVE SOLAR LIGHTING PRODUCES SO COMMON TODAY, THEY CREATE A COLD, BLUE LIGHT THAT NO ONE REALLY LIKES.

EVEN WAY OUT BACK AT THE BORDER OF THE WOODS, SOME SPOTS WERE PLACED UNDER THE MOST INTERESTING TREES. ON THE RIGHT, TWO SPOT LIGHTS ILLUMINATE AN ARALIA SPINOSA SSP. VARIEGATA

WE PROMISED BABY DUCKS, BUT THEY ARE HARDLY BABIES ANY MORE! THIS TWO MONTH OLD INDIAN RUNNER DUCK STILL LIKES THE ATTENTION PAID TO IT BY OUR FRIEND JULIE.

Left to right, Brian (peeking in), Jess, Gretchen, Jim and Georgina. A chilled, summer beet soup was being served.

THE GUEST OF HONOR ( BESIDES THE SWEET PEAS, OF COURSE) .  JESS, AMIDST THE POPPIES WHICH ARE STARTING TO BLOOM TAKING OVER WHERE THE SWEET PEAS HAVE LEFT OFF.

THE CREAM FOR THE PANNA COTTA IS STIRRED GENTLY OVER AN ICE BATH. IT  EVENLY DISTRIBUTES THE GELATIN THROUGHOUT THE CREAM, BEFORE IT IS SET INTO INDIVIDUAL RAMEKINS. THIS CAN TAKE 50-60 MINUTES.

PANNA COTTA IS EASY TO SERVE FOR A LARGE CROWD OUTDOORS, SINCE IT JUST NEEDS TO BE UNMOLDED, PLATED AND DRIZZLED WITH A RED WINE REDUCTION AND SOME FRESH SUMMER BERRIES FROM THE GARDEN. WE ADDED LEMON BASIL. COOL AND REFRESHING ON A HOT NIGHT.

THE RABBIT MIGHT SEEM LIKE AN ODD CHOICE, BUT THIS IS A TRADITIONAL TUSCAN SUMMER DISH, WITH FINELY MINCED GARDEN VEGETABLES, HERBS LIKE THYME, ROSEMARY AND BAY, AND THEN IT IS SIMPLY SLOW COOKED UNTIL THE MEAT FALLS OFF OF THE BONES. ONCE REDUCED DOWN, AND DEBONED, THE RESULTING RAGU IS RICH, SUCCULENT AND IDEAL FOR A RUSTIC, COMPOSED PASTA DISH.
THE RICH RABBIT RAGU, WAS SERVED ON FLAT LASAGNA SHEETS, WITH FRESH RICOTTA, LEMON ZEST AND FONTINA. ITALIAN FLAT LEAVED PARSLEY FINISHED THE PLATE, ALONG WITH A SPRINKLING OF PECORINO ROMANO.

SOME GUESTS BROUGHT HOME TREATS FOR THEIR KID'S. HERE, JULIE'S HUSBAND DAN  PICKS A GIANT, UMBRELLA-LIKE LEAF FROM A JAPANESE BUTTERBUR (PETASITES)  TO TAKE HOME.

WE ALL TOASTED REPEATEDLY FOR MANY REASONS, WHICH IS WHAT TENDS TO HAPPEN WHEN EVERYONE IS HAVING A GOOD TIME.

THIS MORNING, THE SWEET PEAS SEEMED NONE THE WORSE GIVEN THEIR LATE NIGHT OUT LAST NIGHT. JOE? WELL, THAT'S ANOTHER STORY. THE BOTTLE OF PATRON WAS FOUND EMPTY.


5 comments :

  1. Anonymous9:52 AM

    It was a once in a lifetime event- fabulous and so memorable. Matt & Joe- what spectacular hosts! Thank you Thank you Thank you!
    -Gretchen

    ReplyDelete
  2. hopflower4:30 PM

    What a wonderful way to celebrate your friend's success! It looked a beautiful party. How cute: you are so proud of your little sweet pea project; and well you should be! They are simply stunning.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This looks like it was wonderful time!!! Sad I could not be there... I so would have taken a big leaf too.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is great article. You are rock.
    Outdoor lighting

    ReplyDelete
  5. You have a beautiful garden. It's nice to eat out with a family and just enjoy the fruits of our labor. I hope to finalize our own garden with outdoor furniture in perth, then we could celebrate like you do. Thanks for sharing your beautiful garden.

    ReplyDelete

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