Notes From Swan's Nest

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Are Dinner Parties A Lost Art?

When was the last time you were invited to a dinner party? Or more to the point, when was the last time you hosted one? I don’t mean a potluck gathering or a backyard barbecue, but a real dinner party with a carefully considered menu, a thoughtfully set table, and candlelight. Do people do that anymore? Well, WE do, and lucky for us, so do some of our dearest friends.

My husband Randy and I hosted a dinner party Sunday night. We invited four couples – three of whom we knew well and one that we had met briefly a few weeks ago during a Christmas party. In fact, the initial reason for hosting our dinner party was to get to know this couple better. I’ve been guilty so many times of meeting someone during a gathering and saying, “We need to get together”, only to lose contact because I never took the initiative and followed up with an invitation. Does that sound familiar?

So this time, I sent out e-vites within 24 hours of meeting this couple. It took a day or two to nail down a date that everyone could do, which is how we ended up with a Sunday night. From the beginning, planning our dinner party reminded me why I enjoy the process, from selecting the menu to designing the table setting. I knew everyone would want a tour of Swan’s Nest during the evening, so I took advantage of this chance to give the house a thorough cleaning in the days before the party, eliminating a last-minute rush to make the house guest-ready. Let’s face it – one of the real reasons I think people don’t entertain is because it’s so stressful trying to clean at the last minute! Rule #1 – Clean early in the week!

Since I grew up with parents who entertained frequently, both for business and pleasure, and I was usually a member of the “kitchen crew” for those parties, I have the advantage of years of observing and helping my mother as she prepared for dinner parties. I believe one of the keys to success as a host is advance preparation, but the other is recognizing that hosting a dinner party is an art – an art that can be learned and mastered with a bit of practice. I always experience an underlying current of excitement and anticipation once the dinner party invitations have been extended, because I know guests regard our invitation as a personal gift.

Enhancing that gift is what thrills me as I select a menu my guests will love – most recently, creamy roasted pumpkin soup served in antique Limoges soup cups while we gather in my studio kitchen, followed by an impressive glazed ham, sweet potato medley, and buttery vegetables, served in the dining room with a selection of beautiful wines. And, to leave a lasting impression, a two-layer dark chocolate cake garnished with swirls of chocolate buttercream frosting. Next, creating a tablescape that conveys an unmistakable message to our guests from the moment they enter the dining room….”Prepare to be spoiled”! In this next step, I select a color-theme for the table, design the centerpiece, choose chargers, dinnerware, pieces of my Grandmother’s silver, crystal goblets, placemats or linens, napkins, and accessories.

In these days of social media when we text our friends and face-to-face encounters seem ever more infrequent, hosting a dinner party opens the door to exciting conversations, personal relationships, new discoveries, and laughter. If you haven’t hosted a dinner party in a long time, take the leap and plan a party this winter when folks long to spend a cozy evening together in the warmth of friendship. As I’ve discovered, the gifts of time and friendship offered to our guests during a dinner party, return to me many times over as I gaze around the table and see the joy reflected in their eyes.

-Christy