I’ve learned a lot after years of hosting large family parties. While I want very exact style elements and perfect details for certain Farm to Table dinners and other events, at some point I realized that I don’t need to be up at the dawn to string lights and hang paper lanterns for my family. Not that I can’t do it myself (though that takes me a while), and not that I don’t want to surprise them with a scene….it’s just that sometimes I think my family enjoys it more when they are a little invested in the process. And really, it’s just much, much easier for my 6’5” brother in law and my 6’3” brother to hang the lanterns for me…they don’t even need to use a ladder! My nephew “Little Steven” is now more than 6’ at 13 years old, and so he also helped hang the lights and lanterns. What used to take me all day can be done in an hour or so when we work together~
Setting the table and placing the chairs is also a wonderful way for me to include all the kids. I tasked my niece Lauren with styling the napkins. I gave her a stack of quarter-folded Matteo napkins and the velvet ties with a simple suggestion of using a little greenery in the tie; she had some elaborate folding process that I didn’t completely understand, but this is what she produced… A+ Lauren~
Lauren was my little style assistant for the party…after the napkins, she selected ten of her favorite teacups to set out on the dessert table, then she decided where to place all of the flowers, helped me decorate the cakes, and on her own styled the trio of tea tins that were set out on the dessert table~
And when you delegate, you can’t micromanage. I was effusive in my enthusiasm and praise for Lauren's & Steven’s work. As for the menu, I don’t mind a few impromptu additions, but I like to set the basic dishes for our big family meals. My favorite brother-in-law told my brother that he loves to come for dinner in Laguna because “each time it’s the best food I’ve ever had….since…the last time I was here for dinner.” We started with homemade fresh pizzas. Eight smalls, to be exact, with Trader Joe’s pizza dough. Thin crust, less cheese, more arugula. Prosciutto and goat cheese and grilled onions in various combinations. It was all delicious~
I had grilled eggplant to put on the pizza, but we had a few fans out at the dinner table, so I dressed these warm slices with olive oil, fig-balsamic and a dusting of Parmesan cheese right after I took the photo; this was so good~
I had my niece Kailea cooking with me and Lauren was our runner, taking platters out to the dinner table. Next was a large platter of roasted asparagus and parmesan~
And the Balthazar version of Porc Milanese, topped with a fresh salad and grilled red onions~
And so there I was, in the kitchen as usual, happily cooking and instructing the girls, and chatting with whoever wandered in and out of the kitchen. My brother and sister from out of town were outside with all the kids having some quality time with our parents, enjoying the pizzas and the Honey Baked ham that Mom had also bought. It was 4pm and we were waiting on our two other sisters to arrive with their families, and so I decided to take a peek outside, and photograph the dessert table while it was all intact. Or was it? Hey wait a minute, someone’s already eaten a third of my white layer cake~
And the lemon torte wasn’t even dressed yet in the lavender whipped cream and berries….though Lauren had decided to put a few dragees on it…but they ate it plain, until I brought out the cream and berries~
Dragees (those little silver baker’s confections) are not sold in California due to their “toxic” content of silver, so they are on my list to buy whenever I’m in New York City. It’s really too bad, because I think they look great (evidently Lauren does too, because she used up the entire box of them, including on the side of the whipped-cream-white layer cake-with cassis filling that I had topped with flowers from the market and a few orchid blooms from the garden~
Yes, it seems that as soon as the pizzas were gone, someone decided to get into the dessert. I had purposely not set out the dessert serving utensils yet, but that didn’t stop them from using their hands and a dinner knife to get started on dessert a few hours ahead of schedule. I guess I can’t blame them, because I put the pudding flutes out to come to room temperature along with the rest of the desserts, and it was so tempting~
Whatever…they were all really happy and partying away. What’s this all for, anyway? It’s not about the food and eating “in order,” it’s about facilitating the personal connections, the conversation, and having a good time together. So I went back to the kitchen and finished off a small leg of lamb and the main plate of the evening, Jonathan Waxman’s roast chicken on a beautiful bed of lemon risotto~
At this point, I was done in the kitchen, and my other sisters had arrived and were busily chatting away. I made a nice plate for myself and at last the fourteen of us all sat down together.
I never should underestimate my family’s love of dessert. My brother said at the end of the evening that this was a wonderful meal….he had pizza and dessert, then some vegetables and more dessert, then pork and Honey Baked ham and then just a little more dessert. I watched my sister sitting at my left very carefully pick each flower off her slice of cake and lick the cream off the stems. This makes them so happy~
I didn’t make the spaghetti carbonara, but we did make everything else that had been planned. And it was all eaten. For a dinner like this though, I don’t make a full portion of everything for each person; for example I made six pieces of pork Milanese, not 14. The lamb was a small four pounds, just enough for everyone to have a taste, or for whoever wanted lamb versus pork to have a choice. We had a little bread; here Louie’s sesame-crusted Semolina as well as a spelt loaf for my sister who is now a gluten-free convert.
Everyone was on track for an early evening since the following morning sis was off to Hawaii and my brother back to Denver. As the meal continued, I thought about what I hadn’t done, and what I would do for the next dinner in the coming weeks, probably for the launch of Reve…..more light bulbs in the lanterns; I had wanted to lace pink jasmine vines down the center of the long table, but didn’t have time. A small sprig next to the deep fuchsia anemone was my own little personal reminder for next time~
My favorite part of the meal (and my favorite photo) was when we toasted our parents on their 54th wedding anniversary. Love to see them happy together; Dad is so much improved health-wise than a year ago, and doing so well~
My sister Jacquie and her husband Mark also celebrated their 18th wedding anniversary the same day~
And we needed one more photo, Jacquie, Mark and their children Steven, Lauren and Michael with their Grandparents~
It was a real party….what my family does best….party eat party eat party eat~
You’ll see this scene again in a few weeks with more lights, with more lanterns, with more more more….
Paris in two days…..look for one more post before we leave Friday~