dinner parties

Spring dinner

 
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Spring is here! The air smells of maraschino liqueur and my lemon tree is loving the sun. Simple routines like checking on its flower buds gives me so much joy, and I'm savoring every moment of this short lived comfortable weather because summer is near, here in Texas. With my launch of my new site Libation, I've slipped into hectic work mode and I realized I desperately needed to sit back and breathe. And what better way to relax than to invite some friends over for an all vegetarian dinner to nourish our souls? 

I wanted to catch up with my talented creative friends so I invited Lindsey and Dimitar from Era Ceramics and Jo from Hi, I'm Jo  and her new husband Taner. And since Lindsey is a ceramicist and I, a collector of her work, we set the table with all of her hand-thrown plates. We made my own version of caesar salad with fresh anchovies and greens from our garden (a vegetarian option was there for Jo of course), our popular shiso miso mushroom tacos, fresh pasta with arrabiata sauce, tomatoes cooked three ways on buttermilk sourdough bread, truffle pate, and my plum frangipane tart. Lindsey and Dimitar brought a couscous dish made with cauliflower instead of couscous (so good!), and Jo and Taner brought pasta salad. For drinks, we had mojitos with Chareau and lots of wine.

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Friendsgiving

 
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Friendsgiving is easily my favorite time of year. This is the third time I've hosted the event full of traditional food, oaky red wines, mulled apple cider, and multiple desserts. As always, Anthony goes out to the garden in the morning to gather bunches of sticky rosemary, thyme, and sage for the herbed butter he massages in between the skin and the meat of the turkey. The kitchen smells heavenly as our friends arrive early to help set the table. Everyone knows to go to my hutch for a wine glass to start sampling all of the best wines each of us picked out while we wait for the others to arrive. We crowd around the kitchen table, marveling at each other's dishes getting tipsy and hungry. For sides, we have stuffing made with regular bread and cornbread, a sweet potato and marshmallow dish, truffle mac and cheese, two types of green bean casserole, cranberry salsa, two types of gravy, Hawaiian rolls, pecan pie, buttermilk pie, pumpkin cheesecake, and flan. The turkey finally finishes and everyone fills their plates a little to full. Each person says what they're grateful for this year and we celebrate friendships, old and new, with our hearts and stomachs full of beautiful conversations and amazing food.

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Brunch party in our garden (FosterATX + Daphne House)

 

There's nothing I love more than collaborating with local creatives on a project centered around food. As many of you probably know from my blog, entertaining and throwing dinner parties are my favorite way to connect with people through home cooked meals and lots of wine. There's something inherently beautiful about treating guests with hospitality in my own home. It's a way to showcase my love of cooking but in a theatrical way, with a carefully set table and matching plates and silverware. We expect good ambience from a restaurant because that's expected and the restaurant industry is strictly business, but when we walk into someone's dining room that is carefully decorated for the guests with food and drinks prepared by the host, it makes us feel so special and warm inside. And that feeling is what I think the guests of FosterATX become hooked on and keep coming back to. So when the Foster girls reached out to me about a brunch party collaboration, it was a definite yes.

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After having the girls over one night for one of my dinner parties, we've been talking about using our space for a food event. We live in a small home but with a spacious backyard with lots of greenery and character. The theme was "garden brunch" and in my humble opinion, our place was perfect for it. The brunch consisted of a 5 course meal prepped by the lovely couple (Tanner and Maradeth) behind Daphne House, a local catering company. The focus was all gluten-free meals including the desserts. From grits to bruschetta to fried quail, everything was prepared in our tiny kitchen. Sam from Bricolage Curated Florals provided the vibrant centerpieces, and Cathead Vodka provided the vodka for the bloody marys. Loot Vintage Rentals provided the tables, chairs, plates, glasses, and silverware. There were lots of mimosas to go around as well and some amazing golden milk from Crcuma, a food truck in town. It was a day filled with familiar faces and new faces, amazing food, and being in my home without feeling quite like my home. Everyone transformed our backyard into a dreamy space, and everyone involved had a good start to their weekend.

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FosterATX event: a sushi dinner

 

 

These are some moments of inspiration. Because sometimes, I need exposure to new perspectives and styles. There are many reasons why I attend these Foster events, and this is one of them. Sara, Shelby, and Stephanie are three inspiring people when it comes to transforming spaces and designing experiences. They aren't scared to venture out of their comfort zones. A leather shop, thick reclaimed wood tables, vintage brass candle holders, and some Japanese touches. Industrial meets antique meets Asian. And somehow, it all feels perfectly balanced. 

 

A chalkboard sign outside the secret location highlights the chefs of the night: Yoni Lang and Jeffrey Miller. They met during their time at Uchiko, and after going their separate ways for a while, they decided to reconnect for this sushi pop up. Once inside Noah Marion Quality Goods, guests are greeted with Junmai sake from Texas Sake Company at the brass top bar. A neon sign and a row of hammers adorns the bar, providing an old-school yet stylish charm. It's a tight space, so naturally the guests start introducing themselves and mingling. There are place cards at each seat, and I ask the girls about it. We're doing something new. We placed people's dates diagonal from each other so that they would naturally open up and invoke conversation. It's a subtle, yet practical tactic on their part. And sure enough that's exactly what happened. 

Because you see, these events aren't just food events. The name "Foster" comes from fostering a community. And in this busy city that is Austin, it's difficult to meet people. Sure you can go to a bar, talk to someone over loud thumping music and most likely never see them again. But those interactions are quite shallow, filled with uninteresting conversation. I want to get to know people from their core. I don't care what school you went to, or where you work. Tell me about your passions, what you geek out about, what you believe in. I find myself drawn increasingly more to people who can share those things with me, and people who have a creative soul. The ones who care about travel, food, painting, photography, music, writing, anything that brings beauty into this world. People who can create art that is original, poetic. And coincidentally, these foster events naturally attract those types of guests. It's a magical mystery.

Once the guests were seated, conversations started flowing, and so did the sake. Nigori, oak aged junmai, and I can't remember the rest but all very clean and flavorful. And the food... Each course was crafted carefully, with so much intention. All of them being small bites made it easy to enjoy and savor every one of them. They were all delicious, but there were two in particular that stood out to me from the rest. The kinoko sashimi reminded me of a caprese salad; light, refreshing, and herbal. But instead of mozzarella or basil, the chefs used meaty mushroom slices and shiso. The dessert with the soy sauce caramel reminded me of winter days at my grandma's in Japan. We would eat roasted rice cakes dipped in soy sauce and powdered with sugar and kinako during the new year. I was plagued with nostalgia and a sweet, familiar comfort at the candlelit dinner table. And by the time we were wrapping up dessert, it had already been 5 hours of eating and drinking with new friends. A perfect way to end the night.

 

          MENU

Hiramasa Crudo — white ponzu - chive

Hotate — cauliflower - ikura - millet - grapefruit

Kinoko Sashimi — smoked olive oil

Beef Tartare — shiso rivogate - quail egg

Sake Chicharron — creme fraiche - ikura - dill

Bincho — pico de gallo 

Hon Shimeji — thai chili - brown rice vinegar 

Shima Aji — gomashio - nikiri - cherrywood 

Ebi Étouffée — brown roux - holy trinity

Saba Toast — sourdough - tomato - avocado

Crab — charred green tomatos - street corn

Sake Maki — aka kosho - nikiri - shiso

Fruit - cream - soy sauce caramel

 

And if you're curious about the style change in my photos, I'm trying to be more conscious of light ever since my workshop with Don (which you can read about here). Playing with it, moving my subjects around it, finding the perfect angle for it. Light can really change the mood in a photograph I think. And to me, the best photographs are the ones that can invoke some feeling, a little tug at the heart, an involuntary sigh, maybe some goosebumps and a chill up the spine. It's possible to do that, but having good lighting is key. At least that's what I believe. Do you agree?

 

Dinner party!

 
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This post is long overdue. I teamed up with Madeline from the blog Madeline Hall and decided to throw a dinner party in my backyard. Check out all of the yummy goodies we made, in addition to the lovely cake baked by The White Kitten Bakes and props from Kettle and Brine! I met Madeline at the FeedFeed event during SXSW and as soon as I read her blog, I knew we would have a ton in common. We talked about doing a styled shoot together and after a few weeks, we had everything figured out! We had a blast styling the table and getting to know each other.