In just a few weeks the snows will set in, transforming our little Victorian-era mining town into a bustling ski destination for another winter. And those snows won’t recede for eight long, hard months. It’s this time of year, early October when only the most perseverant leaves still cling to the creamy branches of the aspen trees, when the rivers turn icy but still flow and the elk bugle in the woods – celebrating their virility and announcing this year’s rut to their waiting cows. It’s this time of year that we venture outdoors with an ever more fervent sense of urgency – soaking up the late sunsets, the crisp and slightly chilly air and celebrating the luxury of the last few rays of sunshine before winter settles in, blanketing the community under her heavy snows.
So this weekend, with painfully short notice from Foodbuzz that Nourished Kitchen made it to the next round of Project Food Blog, we celebrated the autumn harvest – filling our picnic baskets, gathering a few close friends and trekking down to the Slate River where we spread our tablecloth wide, filled our glasses with a English-style hard cider and dined on a picnic supper prepared entirely from locally grown and harvested fruits, cheeses, meats and vegetables. Here, where the river etches its way across the valley floor at the foot of our namesake mountain, we took our shoes off, lay across the rough ground and, in the long and low light of the setting sun, we toasted the humble luxury of a waning season.
We sipped hard cider, faintly effervescent, borne from an orchard that we visited just a few hours before suppertime. We nibbled at salads of arugula, caramelized shallots, salty and bitter blue goat cheese and the last of the season’s raspberries. I sliced and served a pastured pork tenderloin stuffed with just-picked apples, fresh leeks and fragrant sage all served over a bed of cider-braised kale with dried Bing cherries. We lingered over the meal and our conversation as the children busied themselves in the best of ways that children do: a contest to see who could balance an apple on his or her head the longest, skipping stones across the river’s icy waters and thunderous dancing on the old wooden bridge. Later, as the sun fell deeper into the dark and rugged folds of Paradise Divide, we sank our teeth into the soft flesh of yellow pears, black and Italian prune plums and series of beautiful artisan cheeses. I poured the last of my Alpine Dessert wine from Stone Cottage Cellars – a single varietal wine of Gerwurtztraminer grapes who release their most intense sugars under the peril of a hardy frost. And we celebrated well past dark, until the children’s eyes were rimmed by red and the grown-ups began to yawn.
Of course, a good dinner party is more than food. It’s about atmosphere, communion and celebration. It’s about friends and shared experience. The food? It’s merely a complement to the time you spend with others. So whether you’re serving supper at home or trekking it to the river like we do, remember these three simple tips:
1. cook simply.
Cook simply. It’s easy to weave yourself into the idea of a seven-course supper filled with exotic flavors and complicated dishes, but it’s difficult to accomplish well and without elevated stress. Simple dishes, prepared from fresh ingredients picked at the height of their season, make for some of the very best choices: an easy roast chicken, a simple green salad, a loaf of sourdough bread. Good food doesn’t need a lot of window dressing, The less time you spend fussing over a complicated sauce in the kitchen, the more time you can spend with your guests.
2. remember why your guests came.
Did your guests come for the promise of a complicated Ethiopian wot, an exotic pigeon pastilla? No. While the appeal of complex and exotic dishes may entice them, your guests have joined you to celebrate a timeless human rite: communion among friends, celebration over food. Extend yourself beyond food to facilitating the intimate pleasure of shared experiences – conversation, laughter, games, storytelling, dancing and music.
3. enjoy yourself.
In a quest for perfection, a host can lose sight of the pleasure of entertaining. The pleasure of hosting a supper party can disappear under the weight of worry: worry that the roast beef is overdone, that the dessert hasn’t set, that the wine doesn’t pair quite as well as you thought it should. There’s worry that the dishes need to be done immediately, the children tucked into bed, the coffee heated at just the right time. Instead, prepare the food simple and as best as you can, serve it well, enjoy yourself and your friends. There’s always tomorrow for the dishes.