I love our neighborhood. I've dedicated several posts to the subject - about how crucial I believe a strong neighborhood to be and about how I've always longed for living on a street with fabulous neighbors. Our street is just that. Last December we hosted a casual holiday gathering to meet everyone on our street. That party resulted in many so many fun friendships - a few different couples that we go to dinner with on a regular basis, a new golf buddy for Mike, a morning walking partner for me and the kind of neighbors that will check on Mr. Darcy (or visa versa...) if we're away for the day.
I also recently found out that one of my neighbors mothers is a famous designer... seriously. We walked down to their house one evening (with our own half-opened bottle of wine) so Emma could play with their boys, and I find myself having a drink with someone that is regularly mentioned in Elle Decor, House Beautiful, etc. She was fabulous - I was picking her brain for her favorite paint colors (Ben Moore, White, of course) and recommendations on everything I could think of.
The style of entertaining for neighborhood friends is the sort of entertaining I love. When you think of having the neighbors over, it is casual, unpretentious and relaxed. We often get together with our friends, Annie & George, for dinner. It tends to works better for us to have them over to our house because we after Emma mingles for a little bit and we have cocktails, then we can put her to bed and enjoy a leisurely adult dinner. Which for me means I can eat dinner with out someone sitting on my lap - or taking everyone's napkins off their laps and putting them back in the linen drawer... currently her favorite mealtime activity.
Obviously, I'm more than happy to host, but Annie & George always graciously like to contribute to the meal, since we're not always available to go to their house for dinner. The last time they came over George made his famous Peach Cobbler. It was unbelievable. Unbelievable. This weekend they brought a smoked chicken that he'd rubbed with a mesquite seasoning that was also soooo delicious. You can see why I'm happy to have them contribute to the meal! Here is our menu for the night - I'll be sharing the recipes later this week.
Homemade Salted Soft Pretzels with Mustard & Cheese
Annie & George's Smoked Chicken
Heirloom Tomatoes with Homemade Ranch Dressing
Cauliflower Gratin with White Cheddar & Parmesan
Pesto & Peas Pasta Salad
George's Famous Peach (and Blueberry) Cobbler
So, they brought the chicken and I made sides and dessert. Dividing up the menu is such a fun (and easy) way to entertain because everyone gets to contribute and feel a part of it... instead of one person running around exhausting themselves. I used to shy away from letting guests bring anything, but after hosting my Barefoot Contessa Party in January (we all fixed something from her new cookbook), I learned how much more festive it can be - especially when you get together with the same crew on a regular basis. It gives everyone something to be excited about... and lets the hostess concentrate on fun details like the table setting - something that can get overlooked when you have a really long to-do list.
For the centerpiece I used the wild flowering vine (apparently, it is called "Sweet Autumn Clematis, thanks to a comment below!) that is growing rampantly over our back fence. It smells amazing - like the last sweet thing of summer. I loosely arranged it in a pewter pitcher (Match Pewter, a wedding gift) and flanked it with a pair of "East Hampton Hedge" tapers ($10.50) from my store.
Since I opened my store (1 month ago!) my collection of taper candles has exploded, so I've been on the hunt for various candle holders. I'm in love with these glass ones that are perfect with our wine glasses. You'll never believe where I found them... target. Yes, for about $9 each. I love them. And I love that I have them paired with an expensive pitcher that has rustic, wild flowers spilling out of it... such a mix of high-low accents.
This photo represents the true color of "East Hampton Hedge" well. It is a natural, muted green that has a yellow tone.
About the East Hampton Hedge Color Collection :
I fell in love with the perfectly groomed hedges of East Hampton when we visited a couple of years ago. You can read about our trip and our sighting of the Barefoot Contessa (we were seated right next to her at dinner), here.
When I saw this candle color (the manufacturer calls it Spring Green), I thought East Hampton Hedge was a perfect name for it. I've matched an embroidery thread to it as well, so you can also get my hemstitch napkins embroidered to match (as pictured to the right). And... I can print custom labels to coordinate.
East Hampton Hedge Products:
-12" Taper Candles, $10.50
-Linen Hemstitch Napkins with Monogram, $38
-Cocktail Napkins with Monogram, $22
-Custom Labels, $12
I love using this green color with white flowers because it picks up the color of the green vines and foliage. They would be a good choice for any floral arrangement that features beautiful leaves or greenery... as they say, green is natures neutral.
I used hemstitch cocktail napkins for cocktails and appetizers. The color looks a little dark here - I took this shot it in the evening.
The food prep was so easy - most done in the food processor. I started by grating parmesan cheese in the mini prep, then made pesto.
I love this salad - the combination of the sweet peas, sharp pesto and the salty parmesan is soooo good. Thanks to the Barefoot Contessa.
Then, without even needing to clean the food processor, we made homemade ranch dressing. Emma was helping to squeeze the lemon.
Homemade ranch is so easy - sour cream, milk, lemon juice, garlic, chives, salt & pepper. Whirl.
The Cauliflower Gratin was the most labor intensive - but really, very simple. I steamed the cauliflower for a minute or two, then made a cheese sauce. Topped with panko and parmesan - just bake for 20 minutes before dinner.
I'm not sure where the inspiration for this came from, but I really wanted homemade pretzels. I used Rhodes frozen bread dough (the same that I use for my "homemade" cinnamon rolls) and made it into pretzels. They were so good! I need to perfect it a little bit before I post the recipe and final photos (they weren't sooo pretty), but stay tuned.
I served the tomatoes on a plate and the ranch dressing on the side for everyone to drizzle.
Pesto, Peas & Pasta Salad
Bubbly and cheesy cauliflower gratin.
And... George's Cobbler!