Sunday, October 18, 2009

Strangers At My Table

The plan was simple. Dinner for six at our house on Saturday. The menu was set, the flowers were in full bloom and the fridge was stocked with ingredients. Then, that day, an unexpected illness created two empty seats at the table. We were down to four.

I called my neighbor two doors down to invite her and her husband over last-minute, but as fate would have it, they were throwing a dinner party as well.

Suddenly, an impulsive notion hit me. What if we combined our friends and our food and had a spontaneous communal dinner party at our house? They and their guests could dine here and then afterwards, we could repair to their home for al fresco dessert in their sumptuous garden.

My neighbors, being good-natured and fun-loving souls, agreed. Plan B was a go. In three hours, eight people -- four of them total strangers -- would be at our doorstep. As I hung up the phone, a brief twinge of panic coursed through me. Would this really work?

The Divine Italian was galvanized into action. From the kitchen, I heard the opening strains of a culinary orchestra. A lush cacophony of chopping, slicing, dicing, blending, pulsing and grinding filled the air.

I added four more place settings to the table and sent out an urgent bulletin to every chair in the house that I was calling them in for immediate conscription.

Extra champagne glasses were set out, a doppelganger hors d'oeuvres tray was assembled and the house was subjected to an intense primping session.

I had just applied a last lashing of lipstick when, suddenly, the brass bird knocker announced our guests had arrived.

As soon as I opened the door and saw the smiling faces on my doorstep, I knew that this would be a night to remember. The spontaneous nature of the evening had us all in a state of heightened excitement. We ate, we drank, we chattered, we laughed and we toasted to strangers becoming fabulous new friends.

Our menu:

Sweet pea soup with mint and creme fraiche

Main courses:
Filet of halibut with salsa verde
Beef tenderloin with carmelized onions

Microgreen salad
Sauteed stringbeans
Roasted acorn squash and new potatoes

Toward the end of the meal, I finally remembered to take a photo for posterity.

Afterwards, we hiked one hundred feet to the next house, sat outside in a sexy Shangri-La of a garden, feasted on an extravaganza of marzipan cake with raspberries and a whipped cream and fresh fruit tart straight from heaven, and lost ourselves in wee hour conviviality.

Oddly enough, feeling slightly on the delicate side this morning. I'm chalking it up to lack of sleep (because it couldn't possibly have been the Prosecco. Or the wine. Or my neighbor's legendary pomegranate martini.) I'm craving something fresh and straight-from-the-fields and check the fridge for some of the pea soup from last night, but it's all gone. In a massively kind act, Piero whips me up a fresh batch from scratch.
That, coupled with "Widow Barnaby" by Mrs. Fanny Trollope (funny! divine! j'adore!), comprises my recipe for a night and a day well-lived.


MsWeedle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah Kramer said...

I want the recipe for Sweet Pea Soup! :)

Anonymous said...

That sounds like such a perfect evening (that soup! salsa verde! pomegranate martinis!)- and your home is so stylish and beautiful :) Have a great Monday!

Jane said...

Hi Lisa - lovely lovely spontaneity (now that is a word I had to think about correctly spelling), there should be more of it - so much better sometimes than the well worn same friends, same topics (you know how you sometimes tend to talk about the same type of thing over and over again with certain people). A bit like those travelling friends you meet and then might not see again but it doesn't matter because it was still fun and not meant to be long term or forever. xoxo

Angie Muresan said...

There's really very few things more pleasurable in life than great company, delicious food, and lively conversation far into the night. It makes for an enchanting evening, long remembered.

Anonymous said...

Sponteneity and serendipity are two of my favourite words. Green peas are my favourite vegetable (often eaten by the bowl-ful with french butter and pepper!). Vivienne Westwood's exhibition catalouge is on my coffee table. Orange penguins line the bookshelf. I think you are a kindred spirit and love that you share you life with us all.

flwrjane said...

oh,my. while my life (and my blog) is smallbutcharming, i must admit to feeling a pang of something greenish while reading yours. your house is beautiful, your party sounds fabulous and food delicious. and of course you are such a beautiful writer. thanks for the memories.

The Glamorous Housewife said...

What a wonderful story! And the menu looks amazing. Oh, and the wallpaper by your front door- stunning.

Thanks doll,
The Glamorous Housewife

Blue said...

I always read your posts with great pleasure, particularly the way you can paint a portrait of an event - a rare talent, ma'am.

Do you know of the pea risotto? Apparently Italian and usually made at the start of the pea season. I have made it with frozen peas (do supermarkets recognize such things as pea season anymore) and it was a great hit.

Jen West Design said...

You're husband is a saint.

Debra said...

Oh I love this. Sometimes these impromptu gatherings are more fun than things that we plan and over-think for weeks. It sounds fabulous and what a great way of meeting new friends.

A Super Dilettante said...

Your menu makes me hungry! Your dinner party looks "oh-so-civilised"! I wish I could be a fly on the wall. I love your house (since the first time I saw it in Habituallychic blog)!

Nick Heywood said...

Great post ... I'm a new reader, and most certainly enchanted.

May I ask who makes the stellar wallpaper hung in your dining room? I vaguely remember a Cecil Beaton room with photographed bookcases on the walls, and always dreamt of reproducing it.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Sarah: I'll ask my husband and get it for you. Send me your email.

According to Jane: It really was one of those enchanted to you as well! xx

Jane: I soo agree!

Angie:Ditto times infinity.

Anonymous: Wow. So funny about our shared love of Penguins, Vivienne Westwood and green peas...I like you already! xx

flwrjane: You're so sweet, and I shall dash over to your blog and peruse it asap. Thanks for the tipoff.

Glamorous Housewife: The food was indeed amazing. Thank goodness for my husband and our neighbor who are indeed culinary wizards. I made the dessert and styled the house, small recompense for their labored efforts.

Blue: Yes, I've had pea risotto. On a cold foggy evening in Perugia, in fact. Now that you've mentioned it, I will be sure to put it on our fall/winter menu. xx

Jen West: I know!

Debra: Agreed, agreed. I highly recommend this fresh way to throw a dinner party.

A Super Dilettante: Your Buddhist dinner sounded equally enchanting! xx

Nick Heywood: The wallpaper is from Deborah Bowness. (, I think.) She photographs actual libraries and handtints the paper to your specifications. Wow, haven't seen that Cecil Beaton room. If you have a photo, send it to me! (And welcome to ABL...)

catherine said...

so jealous. invite us next time!

CashmereLibrarian said...

This is a fabulous story!

I'd also like the Sweet Pea Soup recipe!

pve design said...

That last snap made me feel so much better, and the book of course made me feel right at home.

plaisirs simples said...

how FABULOUS! you are definitely a brave one! so glad it went off without a hitch!

katiedid said...

These spontaneous events are undoubtedly more memorable! It sounds like you had a wonderful evening and the menu sounds delicious! And what a kind husband to nurse you back to your old self with beautiful soup!

Thomas Hogglestock said...

I just bought that edition of Widow Barnaby a few weeks ago. Nice to know you are enjoying it.

Julie Anne Rhodes said...

Simply divine! I think we need to do a not quite so impromptu dinner here too!

Amber Smith said...

Lisa - could you tell me, where did you find your lovely light fixture in the dining room above the table? I am stumped in my search and find yours just elegant and classy - also am in LOVE with the rest of that room! Thank you so much!

Ana Maria Linhares Giesbrecht said...

It looks like you had a lovely night... I found so interesting that you would think about calling your neighbors for a party on the same day and even more interesting that they have accepted. I was always curious about cultural differences. Things that are so natural to one culture can be even offensive in others. Everybody thinks that my country is very informal and that people here are quite informal. Indeed we are, but only outdoors. To invite unknown people over is not that easy and I believe we loose a lot for not doing it.
Thanks for sharing with us your lovely Saturday!

Anonymous said...

sweet pea soup recipe (serves 4):

500g/1lb frozen or fresh peas
1/2 small clove garlic
2 tablespoons ex. virgin olive oil
2 trimmed celery hearts
1/2 small white onion
500ml no or low salt chicken or veggie stock (latter for vegan version)

smash the garlic with your knife, roughly chop the onion and celery and sautee the mixture over medium heat to soften: roughly 6-7 minutes. do not burn the onions. if you do, start over.

add peas and stir for 30 seconds. add chicken stock to just cover the peas and raise to high heat, bringing to the boil for 5 minutes.

reduce heat and puree with a hand blender in the pot or in the osterizer in small batches, then return to the pan. add salt to taste. simmer to your desired consistency on low heat. if it gets too thick just add water. let it reduce again if it gets too thin. the thickness of your soup is intensely personal and must reflect the cook's personality.

finish with a dollop of creme fraiche and a couple of mint sprigs as garnish.

after finishing, enjoy your improved life.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

FYI...The aforementioned "Anonymous" is my husband Piero, so Sarah Kramer and Cashmere Librarian, see recipe above...

Susan said...

I love your description of the the evening. Please invite me next time!

Susan Daniel

StuckInABook said...

Wow, it feels like I was there - what fun! Though I'm sort of glad I wasn't, since vegetarians like me tend to mess up spontaneous eating plans... Having said that, I think I'd have been happy just eating that delicious soup.

vicki archer said...

What a brilliant and spontaneous idea...I love it. Those evenings are always the best, xv.

Unknown said...

An evening to remember and a pea soup to be repea -ted...all for a well lived live!
This was such lovely post, just perfect.
I always admire the lightness of your writing about all those daily things...
Love that book!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your sweet comments, AND fyi, Im totally available for drop in dinners. ANYTIME :-)

Sarah Kramer said...

Sounds YUMMY! And it's vegan friendly! Hoooray!


Now I have to figure out how to make a vegan creme fraiche. I think I can do it ... :)

Sesame Jones said...

Amber Smith: I think that light fixture is by Thomas O'Brien. I might be wrong.

Lisa, thank you for sharing this feast with us! And I will try making that pea soup tomorrow.

JMW said...

That sounds divine! I wish I had that kind of sponteneity. Your table setting was lovley.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Amber: Sorry, spaced on getting back to you...The lamp fixture is actually from Restoration Hardware about two years ago. Not sure if they still make it, considering their Axel Vervoordt makeover... But have you checked out Circa Lighting? They have wonderful things, as long as you're prepared to wait to get it... I've gotten a ton of stuff from them, including the Jules Verne-ish fixture over my kitchen table which is from Thomas O'Brien's line.

Easy and Elegant Life said...

A recipe for a life well-lived. Congratulations on making a lasting memory for new friends.

The Goods Design said...

Gorgeous blog! Gorgeous story. Read about you in this month's C Mag and glad I did!

Ashfield Hansen Design Inc. said...

Thank you for the wonderful account of your alternative dinner party!
It seems to me that for those of us who like to entertain, this is how it is supposed to be. Dinner gatherings are not all about ingredients (although they matter!), but about the company and memories that remain!

I think we could all do with a few more strangers at our table!

Thanks again for sharing your experience.

David @ Ashfield Hansen Design

Cathi said...

sounds like a perfectly wonderful evening....the food, dessert and the pomegrante martini's, plus the awesome friends, new and old....fabulous!

style chronicle said...

The table was perfection and the menu looked devine!

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