The decision about a theme each year comes to us in different ways. When we first began, we tended to stick to country or region themes, Greece, Spain, France, Southern, Chicago, etc. One year we decided that our themes should center around our favorite cookbook or chef.
That year, a couple of months before our Gr8 Dinner Vince and I went to Seattle to visit our daughter and ate at one of our favorite restaurants, Lark. As it happened, Chef John Sundstrom had just released a new cookbook, LARK – Cooking Against the Grain. Chef John was at the restaurant that night and he was happy to sign four cookbooks. Those cookbooks became the invitations. Each one was handwritten on the book’s paper bag (remember, we only have to do 3!). And the invitations were delivered with one of the tools that each cook would need to complete her assigned recipe. (Granted, I spent a little more on these invitations than I normally do, but I considered them gifts to my friends. And everything was useful!)Chef John creates recipes for his restaurant based upon the regional and seasonal foods available. And all of the dishes are fresh, fresh, fresh. This fresh and local theme made the planning simple. All the recipes were from the Lark Cookbook. And for the decor we used a natural linen tablecloth and the centerpiece was created with foliage from our yard. Pick up a natural colored linen tablecloth the next time you see a sale, it is a versatile color and easy to launder. The color and texture will take you from very casual through to a little more fancy; and you can pair any color napkins with the tablecloth!It’s great that our farmer’s market in town is on Saturdays. The morning of the Lark dinner we walked to the outdoor market and were able to get locally sourced vegetables and seafood to follow the spirit of Chef John’s cooking and complete the evening’s meal.We like to add an activity so Vince came up with the idea of renting bikes and taking a tour of our small town. There is an electric bike rental store just around the corner from our house. We made arrangements ahead of time with the store, but kept it a secret from the rest of the Great 8. We just told them to dress comfortably for an activity. What fun we had! As soon as our friends arrived, we told them the plan and took our ride, when we got back to the house everyone was ready for a drink and some appetizers! It was a Gr8 way to start the evening.
Unstructured Salad with Green Goddess Dressing (Lark Cookbook)
Lamb Chops with Honey-Glazed Carrots (Lark Cookbook)
This seems like a complicated menu, but if you are organized, it comes together nicely. Two weeks before the dinner sit down with a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine!) and a pad of paper. Read all the recipes and make a time-line. Much of this menu could be made ahead of time. This eliminated a lot of the same-day prep. Plus, don’t forget, three of the dishes were being brought by the guests!
As the evening progresses and it is time to sit for dinner, you will be in the kitchen prepping the salads and cooking the main dishes, etc. If your friends are like ours, we generally all gather in the kitchen and pitch in where we can to help with the last minute stuff. That is half the fun of the party!