Posts in Literary Dinner Party
"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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Browsers Cookbook Book Club | Spring 2018 Edition
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*some links are affiliate, and we deeply appreciate your support

For the first time in nearly a year we were able to attend this together (you can see that one right over here) and it was just as amazing as ever. 

If you aren't familiar, our favorite local bookstore, Browsers, in Olympia, WA, hosts a quarterly cookbook book club, and we were welcomed in to attend and style the event. The concept is simple: once a season they pick a cookbook, and members make a dish and bring it to share. A dinner party ensues as everyone sits down to enjoy a meal and conversation together in the loft space above the bookstore. It's such a great idea, and proves books don't have to be high literature to be a connecting force. This was their spring event, and members were to cook from either Delancey or A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. 

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For this event we wanted to keep the vibe springy and cozy, while still maintaining a modern aesthetic to match the feel of Wizenberg's books, and to reflect the season. We cut up some bunches of eucalptus from Trader Joe's and wove them around various candles in a color palette of sage, rose gold, and white. We also evenly spaced flower arrangements from Fleurae along the length of the table for a good dose riotous springtime color. The table was set, the wine was opened, and all that was left was to wait for guests to arrive. 

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We have to admire the complete transformation this space has undergone since the last time we were here. The bookstore did some major renovations and reimagined the entire loft space as well as the retail space directly below it to update their safety standards and to modernize the look. Those months of construction were well worth the time, because it is absolutely stunning now; we can hardly believe it's the same space!

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With the arrival of all sixteen guests bearing various bowls and platters of delicious things, the evening really got started. Everyone was invited to load up their plates and sit down for good food and even better conversation. Every time we've attended, we've noticed there is always this warm, buzzing energy as people connect and laugh together. It always feels like a whole table full of friends even though most people were meeting each other for the first time. We were especially excited to get to meet our instagram friend Krysta in real life!

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It took hours for the conversation to wind down and the food to disappear from the tables. Half empty bottles of wine and guttering candles were strewn along the table as everyone filtered out and another wonderful event came to a close. Thank you, Browser's for hosting this event and allowing us to take part in it!

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VENDORS

Styling | The Ardent Biblio

Venue | Browsers 

Flowers | Fleurae

Pottery | Mariella Luz

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!