The weekend is drawing to a close – a blustery, windswept close here in our small corner of England – but it’s been a rather magical one. We’ve had a brief but promising flurry of snow prompting Harry to announce, rather prematurely, the imminent arrival of Father Christmas, and we’ve had walks through the autumn leaves and evenings snuggled in front of the fire. Like all the best weekends though, it began with a lovely event; dinner here with some of our closest friends on Friday night.
Usually when we’re hosting dinner, it’s something of a mad rush; whilst in my head I imagine myself uncorking a bottle of wine and pottering around the kitchen in a form-fitting silky number as delicious smells waft from the stove, I am more usually arm-deep in bath time suds whilst my husband does emergency runs to buy forgotten ingredients, and the first guests to arrive have to tactfully remind me that I have only made-up one eye before getting distracted, and thus look like a freeze-frame from a You Tube video on how to apply eyeliner. In the early days of dating my husband, I even managed to accidentally lock myself in the bathroom during the early stages of a dinner party (don’t ask how; it’s surprisingly easy I promise you..), and had to eventually ring him from my mobile phone to come rescue me. This, after 20 minutes of waiting for him to notice my absence, I should add.
So, my history as a hostess is a somewhat chequered one, and evenings with us are nothing if not excitingly unpredictable – or so I tell myself. On this occasion however, I managed to pull it off; the table was decorated with nature’s finest autumn finds, the menu was delivered without culinary disaster, and I even remembered all of my clothes and make-up. I think I shall retire at this new-found high; it’s surely downhill all the way from here…
In a nod to Halloween, I added shimmering grey bat wings to small gourds and nestled them in martini glasses at each place-setting; I drew these freehand onto a piece of card stock then made small incisions into the sides of the gourds to slide them into place. The name cards were glued to small pins which I pushed into the stalks. I added tiny seed pearls to the tips of the wings.. and then decided I had better stop faffing around and concentrate on the actual cooking and cleaning *sigh*.
First though, I printed out menus onto end-pages from an old book and pegged these to each napkin; I’d bought a handful of yellowing paperbacks in our local charity shop with a view to using them in some crafty fashion, and they ran through the printer very simply; on one side guests could see what they were eating, and on the other were excerpts of letters by Evelyn Waugh – I carefully didn’t ask which side was more gripping..
Over the course of a day or so, I added odd bits and pieces to the centre of the table; blush roses and vibrant chrysanthemums, a selection of pumpkins and gourds which Harry and I dragged back from our excursion to the pumpkin patch (Harry picked up a small gourd and announced ‘my hands are all full Mummy; come along, you bring the rest!’, and marched jauntily to the car. I see he has mastered the art of delegation at the tender age of almost-3).
Quail eggs, walnuts, corks and pine cones gave our guests something to examine and play with between courses and whilst chatting (though playing with fresh quail eggs after a couple of glasses of wine is a hazardous old business, as we found out)
As for the food itself, I tested out a recipe from my new favourite read; a magazine called The Simple Things, which is a sort of pared down Martha-like celebration of slow food, nature and living in the moment; their chicken and leek pie won the popular vote and will appear again on our table, just as soon as our arteries recover.
But possibly the best part of evenings like these is having managed to choose a husband who invariably says those magic words at the end of the night; ‘you head on up to bed; I’ll clear up down here…’