Posts tagged literary dinner party
Literary Dinner | The Nutcracker
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The Nutcracker is such a shift from the popular ballet we all know and love, and it was wonderful to read during the holiday season. Even more wonderful was getting to immerse ourselves into the inspiration behind the music that lead to the ballet, and revel in Hoffman’s incredibly creative literary work.

This was one of those dinners where Michaela had a vision, but couldn’t fully articulate it, so between a little bit of telepathy and trusting her vision, we brought it to life together. It was a literary dinner party dream come true. Twinkle lights forever, y’all.

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We brought in a trimmed piece of a pear tree from my backyard, hung it with fishing line and decked it out with Christmas lights and gold ornaments. A simple, yet striking focal point. The table was layered with a tablecloth and runner, with a large nutcracker as the focal point, balanced on either side with tall candle tapers, bottle brush trees, candles, and some fake snow to add to the glittering effect we often associate with The Nutcracker. We were going for a kind of “enchanted forest” feel, and I think we nailed it.

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It was so great to tie in elements from the actual story, but also parts of the ballet that have left an imprint in our minds. We wanted to keep a classic and traditional Christmas feel, but also different from what we’ve done before. We were both pretty thrilled with the results!

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While a tasty pumpkin and sausage soup simmered on the stove, we had an elaborate charcuterie platter and a custom cocktail to go with it. We used additional branches wrapped with lights on the counter by the window, a small floral and greenery centerpiece with evergreen branches and red roses, along with candles and few small nutcrackers to keep the theme cohesive.

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A blackberry simple syrup to amp up the champagne, topped with cranberries and rosemary was a delightful treat as we snacked and waited for dinner.

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We went ahead and splurged on a bakery made buche de noel for dessert, and swapped out cocktails for cocoa as we ended the night. We talked quite a bit about the magic of the story and how great a read it was this time of year.

This concludes our holiday season as we ring in the New Year. Cheers, friends!

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Literary Dinner | Circe
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We honestly feel like we chose the perfect buddy read to take us into fall when we picked up Circe by Madeline Miller. This retelling of Greek myth takes us with our heroine Circe to an island full of wild herbs, carefully tended gardens and forests bursting with flora. To honor her island of Aiaia we set up a simple picnic table out in the sunshine underneath a pear tree, against a backdrop of woods, so we could have lunch and soak up the mild afternoon while we talked about the novel.

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But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.
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Layers of freshly cut rosemary were studded with the first of the fall berries, and a few fresh blooms were tucked into the fragrant, spiky riot. We love that the rosemary looks a little prickly, but smells so good, especially when it was all piled on the tabletop. Plus, it’s an herb used since ancient times by the Greeks, and seemed the perfect choice to represent the facets of Circe; a little prickly, a little sweet, and quietly powerful.

We primarily used roses for our flowers, both in our tiny bud vases and in the centerpiece, because they were mentioned repeatedly, and because their orangey blush color really suited our early fall color palette. The centerpiece was a glass terrarium stuffed with a spray of cut greenery and roses all set atop a sunburst mirror to reflect (hah!) Circe’s father, Helios. Plates were cut crystal with dipped gold rims, and we finished our place settings with crystal goblets and gold napkins and cutlery. We wanted an opulent, mystical, ancient, natural feel all wrapped up together, and mixing our elements this way worked out really well. It ended up feeling understated, but gilded, just like Circe herself.

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Once the table was set, the laden boughs of the pear tree arched perfectly over our simple place settings, and all that was left was to bring out the food. Sticking to a mediterranean flavor profile, we designed a charcuterie board piled with hummus, marinated vegetables, dishes of olives, flatbreads, grapes, meats, hard cheeses, and creamy balls of fresh mozzarella. In the novel, Circe sets up long tables in her house and serves similar fare to visiting sailors, with plenty of wine, of course. Capturing that atmosphere with the food at our own long wooden table felt so right.

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Settling in with an array of snacks and goblets full of wine to discuss the book was the best part, of course (it always is!). We easily spend an hour trading insights, picking apart scenes, and weighing outside criticisms with our own opinions when we talk books. Part of how we prepare our discussions is to pay attention to other reviews to see what other people are generally saying about the novel, and then deciding what we agree and disagree with.

With Circe, one of the biggest criticisms we saw was that the novel lacked any “fireworks” from Circe herself, that she didn’t adequately own and display her powers to any real effect. We both disagree. Circe used her powers to defy the gods quietly, and to only please herself. Some elaborate action scene would feel untrue to the character Miller built for us, since Circe is very strong, but intentionally not flashy. What did you think?

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With the afternoon wearing on, it was eventually time to wrap it up and exit the dreamy space we had built and enjoyed for the past few hours. These little private book clubs are always worth the extra effort. Existing in such an atmospheric space while we hold our book discussions really lets us live the books in a way nothing else does. Until next time, friends!

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"But What Else Will You Do With It?" A Story About How We Bargain Hunt for Our Literary Dinner Parties

Fun fact: we thrift almost everything for our literary dinner parties. Actually, a combination of thrifting and a bit of scouring the clearance sections at HomeGoods and Target is probably more accurate. We do this as a hobby, friends— so our budget for these things is basically non-existent. I think the most we've ever spent for one dinner (excluding food/flower costs) is about $30, but we generally stay under $10. We've always tried to emphasize that these dinners are doable for anyone, and since we've covered the basic how-to's, we decided to share a little more about how we source our decor. 

Thrifted creamer jug, silver platter, egg basket, lace runner, and cans. Teacups are thrifted and clearance Anthropologie.

Thrifted creamer jug, silver platter, egg basket, lace runner, and cans. Teacups are thrifted and clearance Anthropologie.

Thrifted platters and milk bottle vases. Crackled pot is clearance Anthropologie, napkins, rose gold bottle, and marble candleholder are from Target clearance.

Thrifted platters and milk bottle vases. Crackled pot is clearance Anthropologie, napkins, rose gold bottle, and marble candleholder are from Target clearance.

Thrifted brass candlestick, votive holder, and jar. Drink glasses, and rose gold bottle are clearance Target. Napkins are from clearance HomeGoods.

Thrifted brass candlestick, votive holder, and jar. Drink glasses, and rose gold bottle are clearance Target. Napkins are from clearance HomeGoods.

The first step, honestly, is to have a vision, or at least some kind of aesthetic feel that you want to create. We generally use Pinterest to do this! Next, round up everything you already have that fits your vision, and identify where the gaps are. Maybe you need a serving tray, or candle holders, or napkins. Whatever it is, keep those items in mind when you go to the store. 

Thrifted vintage china and books. Candle holder with flowers is clearance Anthropologie, marble candle holder is clearance Target.

Thrifted vintage china and books. Candle holder with flowers is clearance Anthropologie, marble candle holder is clearance Target.

Thrifted vases, sheet music, red table runner. Plates, napkins, clear candlesticks are clearance HomeGoods, tall gold candlesticks are clearance Anthropologie, and the napkin rings and cloche are Halloween clearance from Target.

Thrifted vases, sheet music, red table runner. Plates, napkins, clear candlesticks are clearance HomeGoods, tall gold candlesticks are clearance Anthropologie, and the napkin rings and cloche are Halloween clearance from Target.

Thrifted sheet music, red table runner, vases, and goblets.

Thrifted sheet music, red table runner, vases, and goblets.

Now here's the tricky part: try not to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff in the store. When I walk in, I try to really focus on finding those couple things I need first and foremost. Sometimes it's glassware, or a table runner I need to complete the scene in my head, but I also have my eyes open for items that fit the aesthetic I want, and if I come across something, then I think about how I want to incorporate it.

Also, whenever I find an item I'm interested in, I ask myself "but what else will I do with this?" If it's just too specific to one dinner, and costs more than a dollar or two, I have a hard time purchasing it...because then what? I store it indefinitely? I toss or donate it? It feels like a waste. I make a point to prioritize items: if I think it's going to completely make the set up, I go for it, but if it's just an accent and it's really too specific, I pass.

Heirloom lace table runner and thrifted silver candelabra, goblets. Napkins and rings from Target clearance.

Heirloom lace table runner and thrifted silver candelabra, goblets. Napkins and rings from Target clearance.

Thrifted candlestick, silver platter, pillar candle holder, lace doily, and vase

Thrifted candlestick, silver platter, pillar candle holder, lace doily, and vase

Thrifted candle holders galore.

Thrifted candle holders galore.

Some trips are more successful than others, and that's okay. I prefer to think of the whole process as a treasure hunt instead of something stressful, and it's okay if I don't strike gold every time. One thing that does increase my success rate is looking at creative uses for things. Can that jar be a vase? Can that cool piece of lace be cut into a table runner? Can I put a pillar candle on that little plate? You have to think a little outside the box sometimes!

It’s also worth noting that we plan for our next buddy read and dinner well in advance. As we're reading, we each take our own notes and develop a vision that we'll talk about and combine. If we had only a few days of planning and gathering materials, we would like be more stressed and would have a harder time including so many details. And really, the details are our favorite elements of a dinner party: the menu, drinks, and decor, we've found that they add a richness to the experience and aesthetic quality. Lastly, we really do compliment each other in setting up these dinners. From styling to small adjustments, photos, and food, we couldn't create what we do alone, at least not as wonderfully. Of course, that isn't to say you need a best friend to throw your own dinner party with, but it certainly helps!

If you have any thoughts or questions, we’d love to hear!

Literary Dinner | A Midsummer Night's Dream
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*some links are affiliate, and we deeply appreciate your support

When you think of Shakespeare, generally it's his tragedies and darker plays that come to mind, but his lighter rom-coms have always been my favorite, especially A Midsummer Night's Dream. Honestly, part of it is because it was the first live play I ever saw, on a beach in Lake Tahoe during their annual Shakespeare Festival. I was probably only eight or nine, but it made such an impact on me; the magic and the fairies and the laugher, and I've just loved it ever since.

We've been wanting to pull this dinner off for years, but the stars didn't align until just recently. Why didn't do we this at actual Midsummer, you ask? Frankly, because it doesn't get dark until 10pm in June and we have young kids with bedtimes, so because this play takes place mostly at night, we had to wait for the sun to set earlier.

Guys, it was so, so worth the wait. Labor day marked the unofficial end of summer, so consider this our personal farewell to the season.

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Setting up this dinner was all about adding magic and color. We started with a couple of bundles of bright, summery flowers from our beloved Trader Joe's and made several arrangements in various sizes. Then we strung up little bud vases filled with flowers and candles in tiny jars, dangling them from the arbor with fishing line so they would look like they were floating.

The table it's self was a riot of candles, color, and food. We started with a woven table runner, topped it with some gauzy cheesecloth for romance, added candles, rose petals, and fresh figs, then finished it with plates, chargers, napkins in rings, and utensils. We also gathered up a collection of lanterns filled with fairy lights and mixed them with more vases spilling over with summer color, before scattering more rose petals for good measure. 

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Food stayed true to the text, for the most part, and we piled fruits, cheese, chocolates, meats, and bread onto an antique silver platter. We wanted to include food mentioned in the play, but also just go with the sort of decadent, wild setting. A jar of honey with the comb still in it, scattered fresh green figs, and tender phyllo dough pastries completed our spread.

We served grilled salmon with charred lemon slices for our main course, because it felt summery, light and tender, and was true to the spirit of natural things that is so prominent in the setting of this play. Basically, fresh, colorful, and light was the theme. 

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Our table truly looked magical when it was all lit up and laden with food and wine; we kinda couldn't get over it. Also, having the dinner in the middle of Rikki's huge, blossoming garden was the perfect spot for this, and added so much to the overall ambiance. It was such an inviting space for us to tuck ourselves into for the evening.

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We snacked on appetizers and chatted about the play, his other works, and about a Shakespeare class Rikki had taken while the warm afternoon cooled off into a beautiful twilight. Suddenly we realized the sky was streaked with color and our lanterns and candles were much more dramatic than they had been a little while ago. The change in light was our cue to start dinner for real, and we gathered at the table to enjoy the meal and the company. 

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The "floating" flowers and candles hanging from the arbor really did look like they were suspended in mid air by magic once the sun started to set. The entire scene really came to life once dusk set in and the candlelight took over. Watching the light turn over the course of the dinner was so perfect for how the play goes from day to night over the course of the story.

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"I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight"

-Oberon (Act II, Scene I)

After dinner, we really wanted to honor one of the most famous quotes in the play, so we walked through the garden over to Rikki's stone steps where we spent some time relaxing before dessert. The steps are cut into the slope of the hill, and gently part the sea of colorful wildflowers that carpet the entire area. So we sat chatting amongst the flowers, our wine and books in hand, and the shadows of the woods dark behind us. How perfect, right?

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By the time we were ready for dessert, it was fully dark, and our table was awash in golden light; it could not have been prettier. We stuck to a simple berry tart, which is our favorite summer treat, and a perfect ending to the evening. Slices were passed around, wine was finished off, and as always, we said our goodbyes.

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Literary Dinner | This One Summer
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*some links are affiliate, and we deeply appreciate your support.

This One Summer remains, hands down, one of my favorite graphic novels, and I finally convinced Rikki to read it! The story focuses on the friendship of two girls at their annual summer vacation spot as they come of age. The story mixes in family drama, the awkwardness of being on the cusp of the teenage years, friendship, growing pains, and the complexity of inner life. Some panels are heart-stopping in their elegant blending of text and art to create something meaningful. I especially love how the concept of memory was handled, but it captured so many hard to define emotions so, so beautifully. It embodies my favorite moods of bittersweet and nostalgia, and I haven't ever seen this level of layering in a graphic novel, which makes it extra special. Okay, enough gushing. On to the dinner!

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The novel is set at a vaguely rural lake house, and most of the outside scenes are of beaches, family BBQ's, swimming, and the girls walking through the forest. Because the setting is so natural and un-fussy, we simply cut some of Rikki's dappled willow in her yard, stuck the branches in mason jars, and lined them up along the length of the table. We love how they look floral, but aren't.

Also, the collection of pebbles play a big role visually and thematically in the book, so rocks on the table were a must. Candlelight was another must, as many scenes include candles, or outside fires, so we wanted to represent that on the table. Place settings were kept intentionally neutral, highlighted with striped paper napkins to match the aesthetic of the novel. 

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Junk food is central to the novel. The girls visit a convenience store, where a lot of the plot is set in motion, to buy snacks for their horror-movie binging. We played with our usual format of charcuterie boards, but instead of fancy ingredients, used junk food and our favorite camping foods. We honestly love the juxtaposition of the elegant and the fun, and this appetizer board was a hit with our kids. 

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Of course there was wine! All the adults in the novel are pretty much constantly imbibing wine or beer, and we loved the label on this one for our dinner with it's plants and bugs; so fitting. We think a chilled rosé is the perfect summer wine, don't you agree?

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As we discussed the novel, we brought out more fun food. Honoring the recurring BBQ's in the novel and the fact that pizza is a perennial favorite of teens everywhere, we broke out the pizza stone and baked ourselves some deliciousness. Rikki made the pizza dough from scratch, nailed simple sophisticated toppings, and got the perfect amount of bubble and char on the crust. It was just absolutely delicious and fitting. 

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S'mores were specifically focused on in one of my favorite scenes, and so while we were finishing dinner, we got a fire started, then broke out the supplies (and Twizzlers, which are repeatedly mentioned) and toasted some marshmallows. It was my 4.5 year old's first time making them and he was completely delighted. Everyone was relaxed and happy, finishing off drinks, casually chatting, and helping the kids assemble their s'mores. It was truly a perfect reflection of the book's overarching theme of family. 

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It gets dark pretty late around here, but when the sky began to deepen, it also deepened the beauty of our tablescape. It was a fitting end to the night; the dramatic backdrop enhancing the effects of the warmth of good conversation with friends and nostalgic food.

Another beautiful summer night talking books and enjoying good company. These are the days. 

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Literary Dinner | Platters & Boards
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*this book was gifted to us by the publisher in exchange for an honest review, but we loved it so much we decided to dinner party it! Also, some links are affiliate, and we deeply appreciate your support.

We love our elaborate literary dinner parties, but sometimes the best evenings are spent with something we put together on a whim. We often decide to have dinner together on a weeknight where we throw together a casual meal and let the kids play while we watch TV, chat, and relax with a drink. Simple, effective, and fun for everyone. 

Recently, we were gifted a review copy of Platters and Boards by the publisher, and as I sifted through it at my kitchen table one afternoon, I was completely inspired by how effortlessly we could pull together a weeknight meal from it. We had already agreed to meet for dinner the next night, so we decided to give it a shot.

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Luckily, it ended up being a gorgeous evening, so we decided to soak up the nice weather and set up outside. My trusty white tablecloth was draped over my patio table, a summery table runner brought in some texture, and flowering succulents placed in colorful vases added interest. Some scattered candles, plants, and pretty objects pulled from various corners of my house, plus my favorite drink tray helped fill in our casual decor with minimal effort.

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Drinks are always on the menu for our weeknight dinners together, and a warm evening called for my all time favorite summer cocktail: Moscow Mules. Three ingredients mixed in pretty copper mugs yields the most simple and refreshing concoction. The trick is plenty of lime and a spicy brand of ginger beer, especially if you're going to mix it on the stiff side. Trust me, when it comes to this cocktail, there's nothing worse than a watery one.

 

Michaela's Moscow Mules

  • 2 oz vodka
  • half a lime
  • ginger beer 
  • ice

Fill copper mugs with ice. Add vodka, squeeze in lime, and top with ginger beer to taste. Give it a stir, and cheers!

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For dinner, we pulled together a few platters and boards (hah, get it!) to cover the major food groups and keep it interesting. We made the white bean hummus dip from the cookbook and paired it with tons of our favorite fresh veggies, topped the book's recipe for crostini with our beloved Trader Joe's bruschetta (find it in the fresh section!), and loaded a big cutting board with plenty of meats, cheeses, olives, fruits, caprese skewers, truffled potato chips, marinated artichoke hearts, and spicy pickled vegetables. Pretty much the tastiest motley of all our favorite things. 

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Table laden and fresh drinks in hand, we sat down to just relax, snack, and talk. We set the kids up on a picnic blanket on the deck and let them load up plates with whatever caught their eye. We could hear them giggling and playing games amongst themselves while we took turns entertaining the baby and flipping through the cookbook, earmarking recipes we'd like to try for future dinners this summer.

We've been friends for 7 years now, and our conversations winds and flows from what we've been reading, to that adorable thing our kids said the other day, to general life stuff. One of the best things about dinner parties remains that they bring us together in a real way. A pretty setting and good food to enjoy with your best friend and suddenly you forget your phone and your hard day, and just relax into the moment. There's just a particular brand of magic that comes with these literary dinners, whether they're on the simpler side or more elaborate, and that's why we love to do them. 

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Really though, this style of eating completely suits warmer weather when the idea of turning on the oven sounds like torture. It lets you pull whatever you have in your fridge and build a meal with minimal prep or effort, and the results are frankly just straight up fun to eat.

The book encourages riffing on their ideas with your own tastes and gives practical tips for how to build an attractive, balanced board, which was honestly the most useful section for me. It also does a wonderful job showcasing how easily boards can be adapted to any kind of meal, which I hadn't really considered before. Like a brunch board? Um, yes please. 

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As usual, we completely lost track of time, and before we knew it my strings of solar lights winked on, and the evening was growing darker. Our kids ran and chased in the gathering dusk, and our candles burned lower as we reluctantly cleared up and headed back inside to say our goodbyes. Dinners like this will probably become a staple around here; it was honestly just too easy and enjoyable to not repeat!

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Have you ever considered doing a dinner party in this style? Would you? We'd love to hear your thoughts!

Literary Dinner | My Kitchen Year

This was another of Anne's recommendations to us on our episode of What Should I Read Next! In My Kitchen Year, Reichl chronicles her experiences in the year following the demise of Gourmet magazine, of which she was the editor. This cookbook/memoir is a good mix of accessible and aspirational; she makes you want to pay attention to and connect more fully with food in your everyday life without being intimidating. There's also a strong focus on seasons, farmer's markets, and using seasonal produce to produce phenomenal food. Soooooo of course the first place we went was our local farmer's market! 

We make a habit of having a kid-free morning together on the weekends while our husbands are home, so we met up early at a coffee shop around the corner from the market to get some caffeine, breakfast, and quiet time to pour over the book. An hour later we had some solid inspiration for what we might make for our dinner, and the market was officially open. 

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The rhubarb was too beautiful to pass up! Reichl's recipe for compote looked easy enough and would be the perfect sweet-tart topping for fresh vanilla ice cream, so of course we picked up a pound of it.

The next day it was time to put our produce into action and pull off a seasonal spring dinner for our families. In typical PNW fashion, the weather careened wildly between misty rain and brilliant sunshine, and though we were hoping for a warm, rich golden hour, what we actually got was a mild, but cloudy evening. 

Reichl talks a lot about adding simple touches to elevate a meal's setting, and of staying true to your own style and not making anything stressful. Taking her advice, we simply pulled Rikki's picnic table over to her garden, and topped it with some basic flower arrangements and candles I had on hand. The milk bottle vases are from a local farm and previously contained half-and-half, while the addition of a few rose gold accents created a cohesive feel. A basket of fresh produce, simple dinner plates, some striped napkins, and a few blankets dropped on the benches to add some cozy finished everything off.

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What's a spring meal without some fresh drinks? We muddled fresh mint and blueberries in a cocktail glass then topped it with vodka and sparkling lemonade to cheers the changing of the season. Easy, effective, and wonderfully refreshing to sip on while we prepped food and chatted about the book. 

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We used recipes directly from the book and kept things simple: grilled chicken dunked in vinaigrette, roasted potatoes, perfectly al dente asparagus, and a salad topped with hard boiled eggs from Rikki's chickens. Everything went into serving bowls and found it's way out onto the table. 

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We popped open the prettiest bottle of rosé, passed the food around, and set the kids up next to us on a picnic blanket while they giggled and played games amongst themselves. The adults gathered at the table and settled in to enjoy the meal, pulling blankets onto laps as the evening cooled and darkened, while the conversation never slowed. 

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As expected, the rhubarb was indeed the perfect tangy, not-too-sweet topping for the rich sweetness of vanilla ice cream (thanks, Ruth!). Even the kids devoured it, to our surprise! By the time the candles were guttering out, it was bedtime for our little ones, and we reluctantly cleared up and parted ways. A definite success for our first outdoor meal of the season!

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Thank you Anne, for this phenomenal recommendation, we thoroughly enjoyed it!

Literary Dinner | Persuasion
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Since we live a bit farther apart now (seriously we were so spoiled living 4 minutes from each other all those years!), our routine has been thrown off-kilter, so we've been slowly setting into a new normal. We're back to getting together weekly, and with winter hanging on by a thread, we're slowly coming out of our hibernation and feeling our moods lifting and motivation returning. On the final day of spring break, we gathered up our little ones as the sun broke through, and agreed we could attempt an impromptu afternoon tea for our buddy read of Jane Austen's Persuasion

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Persuasion was one of the books that Anne recommended to us on our episode of What Should I Read Next, and we have been waiting for a while to bring it to life. Between a new baby, weather, and holidays, the timing never seemed to quite align. On a mild spring day last week, we were deep in conversation about books, the blog, and life, when somehow we ended up discussing Persuasion again. As the conversation started to gain steam we suddenly stopped, looked at each other, and thought...do we want to do an afternoon tea for Persuasion? Right now? Could we do it, we wondered? "Maybe-- let's try," we said! After all, what's the worst that could happen?

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While we often have a solid plan as well as Michaela's arsenal of home decor to style our dinner parties with, we were at Rikki's that afternoon, so we spontaneously rifled through her eclectic mix of vintage, hand-me-down, and rustic feeling decor to pull this one off. Our goal has always been to ensure our dinner parties are an easy, achievable thing that we do and hope to inspire others to do. While sometimes we pull out all the stops, we wanted to make sure we could still pull one off without a planning process or any additional expenses. We both took off digging through Rikki's cabinets and gathered up items that matched the concept in our heads.

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This afternoon tea was based on the general feel of the novel. Unlike many of Austen's heroines who are rich, outgoing, or spunky (or all three, *ahem* Emma), Anne Elliot is decidedly less flashy. She's a much more reserved woman; she likes to read and quietly observe the various uncouth behaviors of those around her. Her intelligence and wit make her fun to follow, and though she is a quieter heroine than Austen's others, her spirit is just as fierce underneath. Anne resents her father and sister for living garishly and outside of their means, so we wanted to pull together a tea that felt much more true to what she would like: comfortable, relaxed, and homey, but still in that polished English country style that Austen's novels exude.

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From leftover birthday cake, homemade brownies from earlier in the week, and savory scones loaded with herbs from the garden we whipped up on the spot, a delicious tea party took shape. The tea pot came from Rikki's mother-in-law, the table runner used to be her grandmother's, the vintage books were her mom's, the eggs were laid by her chickens, and the greenery is all from her garden. Some linen tea towels along with pretty bowls and platters completed the scene.

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We sat together at the picnic table with our pot of tea while our kids ran around soaking in the sun, and resumed talking about all things Persuasion, books and dinner parties. Even Ms. Speckles came to pay a visit, hoping, no doubt, to find some treats!

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The whole afternoon felt so simple and fresh, and reminded us why we started doing these things in the first place. There is such a simple joy in taking a little extra care to set a beautiful scene for a long conversation with a good friend. We think Anne Elliot would approve.

Check out more of our literary dinners + events here!

Literary Dinner | Phantom of the Opera

The days are finally starting to lengthen and the sun is peeking out from the clouds more often here in the PNW, so we decided to sneak in just one more winter feeling dinner party before we switch gears towards our spring reads! Phantom of the Opera was the perfect blend of the golden glamour and sinister horror as we stand on the precipice of the season. It's a short classic, only a little over 200 pages, was published in 1911, and we read the translation by David Coward. More about the importance of translations here!

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Rikki had never seen any of the movies before, but I've seen the play twice and watched the movies countless times thanks to a high school obsession with it. I will say that while the plot of the movie and the book are similar, the movie is much more focused on the melodrama/romantic and the horror aspect is downplayed a bit. In the book the Phantom is much more evil, murderous, and just straight up insane. His backstory differs in the two versions as well, which was interesting.

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For this dinner, the theme was "gilded horror". We took the glittering opulence of the opera house and blended it with some darker elements to achieve that beautiful, sinister feel the book has. We've said it before and we'll say it again, we make the most of what we already own and purchased almost nothing. It's just a matter of eyeing what we have and blending them together to achieve the look and feel we're going for. Fresh flowers make a big impact, too!

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We started with a plain white table cloth, on which we set a deep red table runner (also seen in this dinner party!) and overlaid with music pages that I had spent the morning carefully burning the edges of over my sink. I only had to drop one into the basin and frantically blast it with water to put out the flames haha! It was just a thrifted music book I had picked up cheap, so I didn't mind tearing it apart and singeing it. 

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On top of that, I dug out my black Halloween cloche and placed a Phantom mask I picked up at a craft store along with a little bud vase of red roses and a mirror necklace that belongs to Rikki's daughter. Flanking that we had two enormously tall black taper candles to give some height and drama, with smaller tapers and vases of roses falling away. Glittery tea lights were scattered along with a few rose petals that fell during the flower arranging process. Our place settings were gold rimmed crystal plates set on black chargers; gold utensils and gold striped napkins in rings completed the tablescape.

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On the counter behind the table we set up basically a solid wall of candles flickering in the window, with some flower arrangements tucked in for color and texture. I imagined the ballroom in the opera house ablaze with candlelight and golden accents for this. I literally just went and pulled out every candlestick and holder I owned that was gold or crystal to achieve this, and set a hammered gold tray of drink supplies alongside a marble cheese tray for bread and cheese. Our copies of Phantom captured between my Eiffel Tower book ends lurked in the corner. 

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We were lucky to collaborate with So Many Damn Books for the drinks portion of this dinner. Chris and Drew host one of my favorite podcasts, where they interview authors while sipping on a drink they created that was inspired by the book they're discussing. If you haven't given them a listen, check them out! They were kind enough to send us a recipe they created called "The Mask" which was the perfect smooth, potent accompaniment to our appetizers.

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For dinner, we kept in mind that the book is set in turn of the century Paris, and opted to stay with ultra classic French food. We made coq au vin and herb roasted potatoes, which we naturally paired with French wine. Dessert was opera cake and macarons, because of course! Keeping the food simple and classic made the evening flow easily, and we talked and drank way past our bedtimes. There's something so alluring about sitting around a beautifully set table with friends and bookish conversation, and it continues to be the main motivation behind throwing these literary dinner parties. 

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We were so glad to close out our winter season with this dinner party, and are already planning our first spring dinner of the season in a couple of weeks! À la prochaine, mes amis!

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Literary Dinner | Brideshead Revisited
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This is actually the book that got me back into classics as an adult, so I was thrilled when it was our "Banned Books" book club pick for September! After college, I had a period of time where I wasn't picking up heavier reads, but Evelyn Waugh brought me back into the welcoming fold of excellent writing and timeless stories. This book is absolutely beautiful, and one of my favorite classics. It wrestles with class, religion, complicated love, and friendships. Plus, a good bit of it is set in Oxford, making it the perfect September read with all those back to school vibes. 

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In thinking about this party, we really needed to capture the old world glamour of the novel; it's very similar to the aesthetic of Downton Abbey (if you've ever obsessively binged that show like most of us). Much of the novel revolves around the grand house, and the characters are all wealthy, to say the least. We thrifted some china, set plates on chargers, and set out candelabras and flowers. We also utilized the gardens on Rikki's "estate" for parts of our meal!

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One element we knew we needed to focus on was a drinks tray. There were only a few mentions of actual food in the novel (and often it was like an ice swan full of caviar), but ohhhhh gosh were there drinks. Servants bringing drink trays, specific drinks being ordered at bars and restaurants, drinks being sipped, wine cellars being raided....just alcohol galore. And of course it's extra important because alcoholism plays a role in the novel, as Sebastian struggles with it so deeply.

We chose to highlight the more elegant side of drinking, and take our cue from the text when servants would bring in a drink tray before dinner for the family to mix their own drinks. We found a silver tray and piled on rocks glasses, ice, a shaker, and our favorite liquors. Champagne, of course, was chilling in my vintage ice bucket, while a teapot full of flowers, a lovely stack of old books, and a globe completed the scene here. 

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Our main table was pretty straightforward. We pulled Rikki's dining table over a few feet and flung open her french doors, letting the chill of the early September evening air sweep in and refresh the house from the heat of the day. We covered it with a simple white linen tablecloth, ran blue cheesecloth down the center, and set out vintage china on chargers, wine glasses, candles, cloth napkins, more gorgeous old books, and used floral foam to make a flower arrangement at the base of one of my candelabras. A golden apple held a favorite quote from the novel that perfectly encapsulated it's ethos. A bottle of Burgundy landed on the table as well, because of course. 

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Some of the food mentioned in the book were racks of lamb leaned against a cone of mashed potatoes, fish with white sauce, and roasts. We took the old world feel of the food and plated our meal of mashed potatoes, frenched pork chops, drizzled with cream sauce, and had a side of fresh garden beans. Oh, and that bottle of Burgundy got opened and thoroughly enjoyed, too!

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Dessert, again, we pulled from old world food traditions and made a berry trifle. It was the perfect use of summer berries as a last hurrah before pumpkin everything takes over (not that we're complaining). A trifle is basically cake pieces layered with berries and cream, and it's utterly delicious. Rikki's garden provided the strawberries and she even had the perfect silver server for it. 

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As always, our dinner took about an hour to prep and set up, and we actually had some of Rikki's family members join us this time, which was wonderful to have them share the scene we created with us while we talked about the book. By the time we parted, the moon was full and the earlier evening had descended, bringing the promise of fall with it.

We can't wait to throw some fall/winter dinner parties! As most of you know, Rikki is due with a baby this month, so we aren't sure if we'll get to do a dinner party in October, but keep an eye out in November! 

Have you read Brideshead Revisited? What did you think?