In Love with Winter Squash

It was a dismal year for tomatoes in the garden. But where tomatoes failed, winter squash thrived! Behold, the harvest! (Well, not counting the four I pitched due to some burrowing insect, and the one upon which a mole feasted. Cheeky fellow!)

My excitement over winter squash reaches almost childhood-Christmas levels! In fact, they are a lot like presents. First, they appear in the something tempting in a store window. And you stroll past them for months while your admiration and enthusiasm only grow. And each time you pass, you delight in how wonderful they will be when they are opened (and cooked). 

And then the day finally arrives when they can be purchasing that long-awaited present! So much fun! And you bring them home and stash them in some secure and safe place in the house...peeking at them every once in a while...just to check on them and admire them anew. And then, like Christmas day, you bring one out in the heart of winter and roast it up in the oven...filling the house with its aroma of buttery and cinnamon-coated goodness...and present it to your family to "yums" and "ahhhs" and your squash-loving heart is just filled to the brim!

And if all that wasn't enough...just look at their form. I love the way they pose so elegantly for pictures. 

Autumn's Country

-from our drive last week-

Autumn's Country

This is Autumn's country
We are driving through--
Stubble fields, pale golden;
Sky, wild-aster blue.

Goldenrod and rose haws
By the dusty road;
Water trickling wanly
Where spring freshets flowed.

Smoke from hillside clearings,
Tantalizing hints
Of orchard spices--apple,
Nut and peach and quince.

Red leaves on the maples,
Purple-clustered vines--
This is Autumn's country;
These, its certain signs.

-Ethel Romig Fuller

Autumn Dinner Under the Stars

I adore creating happy memories for people! It is a passion of mine! My mind is always swirling with fun memories to make with the people I love. Two memory-makers that I've been contemplating for some time are an old-fashioned harvest party and hoedown AND an elegant autumn dinner under the stars. The first one is quite ambitious, and I haven't worked up to it yet. But last Saturday night, we brought the latter one to life!

The general plan was:

-invite some of Colette's friends and some of ours
-cook over an open fire
-self-serve cocktails
-table setting with real dishes, crystal, vintage flatware, tablecloths
-fresh flowers
-lingering conversation around the dinner table and the firepit 

The day of the party arrived and rain was in the forecast for the entire day until 3:00. Yikes! I tried not to stress out about that, but just forged ahead with preparations. And the weather forecasters were right, as it stopped almost exactly at 3:00, which gave us two hours of prep time before the fire needed to be kindled and another hour before guests arrived. Perfect!

We went to work setting up dinner tables and serving tables, stringing lights, bringing chairs out of the house, setting the table, pulling wool blankets out of our collections and draping them over chairs to ward off the chilly night, and dinner prepping with a careful eye on timing everything right.

For the table service, we used tartan napkins in lively shades of autumn mixed with our classic white dishes and vintage restaurantware appetizer plates. (Vintage restaurantware dishes and ironstone are perfect for outdoor events and picnics, because they're practically indestructible.) Looking through my collection of vintage Bakelite flatware, I chose the butterscotch- and golden-colored pieces for this party. Wine glasses, crystal water glasses, glass water bottles, hurricane lanterns and votive candles, pewter napkin rings, and pewter tankards filled with safflowers completed the look.

Everything was in readiness for our guests to arrive! 

The menu was planned to allow for some aspects to be made ahead of time and others to be cooked over an open fire. *virtually all menu items were gluten-free*

- MENU -

Self-Serve Apple Cider Cocktails

Mushroom, Sundried Tomato, and Mozzarella Dip
(cooked over an open fire) with Garlic Toasts

Garlic and Herb Rubbed Pork Loin
(cooked over an open fire)

Salad of Field Greens with Apples, Pomegranate Seeds, 
Pepitas, and Feta - dressed with vinaigrette 

Whole Grain Rice with Dried Cranberries and Parsley

Cornbread with Butter and Raw Honey

Gourmet S'mores

Some day, when I'm more proficient at the open fire cooking, I'll blog with tips and recipes about the whole process. But I'm really just learning myself still. So for now...quick tips on the easiest parts of the menu.

Self-Serve Apple Cider Cocktails - Set out: 8 oz. glasses, ice bucket with scoop, measure, bottle of bourbon, pitcher of freshly-pressed cider, bottles of San Pellegrino, and the following instructions:

- Fill glass with ice
- One part bourbon
- Two parts cider
- Top with San Pellegrino

Gourmet S'mores - We used to make homemade marshmallows in a variety of flavors when we wanted to step up our s'more game. But now we've discovered that, instead, it's much easier to substitute Ghiradelli chocolate squares for plain Hershey chocolate. For this party, we chose caramel-filled milk chocolate squares and bourbon-caramel filled dark chocolate squares. Yum!

I had as much fun creating the evening as enjoying it as it happened!
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