Sunday, November 24, 2013

Reggie Throws a Dinner Party, Part I

Today's post, the first of two, discusses the planning and preparations for a dinner party that Boy and I hosted at Darlington House last weekend.  I thought it might be of interest—at least to one or two of my Dear Readers—for me to share just how we do it here at Darlington.

One afternoon a month or so ago I said to Boy that I was itching to have a dinner party to celebrate the arrival of autumn, and to entertain a group of friends—some of whom we knew well and others we'd like to know better—to an evening of pleasant conversation, flowing libations, and delicious, hearty fare of the season.

Boy and Basil at the Hudson Farmers Market in Hudson, N.Y., the week
before our party, to meet with our beloved caterer and also our flower lady

Throwing a successful party, in Reggie's view, requires planning, forethought, teamwork, and effort.  Although a party can be a casual affair, where guests freely mingle and help themselves to drink and food laid out at a buffet, one must never confuse "casual" with "effortless."  The term "effortless entertaining" is a particular pet peeve of Reggie's, and it sets his jaw on edge whenever he all too frequently comes across it in magazines breathlessly describing the entertaining styles of certain social animals.  Believe me, Dear Reader, "effortless entertaining" is a fantasy concept, indeed.  For a party worth attending doesn't just happen.  It requires work.  And why shouldn't it?  Anything worthwhile requires effort to achieve.  Fortunately Reggie enjoys all the preparations and planning that go into a creating a successful party.  He finds it fun.

One's enjoyment in undertaking such efforts is helped, though, when one is able to share said labors with others, at minimum with one's spouse, and—when possible—with one or more professionals employed to assist in making said event a well-run affair.

Christine Jones of the Red Barn
at her stand at the Hudson Farmers Market
Baker, caterer, restaurateur, and friend

When Boy and I entertain at Darlington House, we gauge the level of assistance we require by the number of guests invited and the type of entertainment provided.  When we have another couple over for cozy supper of four, we take care of it entirely by ourselves, setting the table, cooking and serving the meal, and washing up afterwards.  When there are six of us, though, we hire someone to help us out with the final food preparations in the kitchen, serve at table, and clean up afterwards.  When there are eight or more we surrender the cooking entirely to a chef, who is usually supported by an assistant and where the guests are attended to by at least one, and sometimes more, servers.

That way we get to enjoy our own party, rather than be enslaved by it.

The Cedar Farm stand at the Hudson Farmers Market
I ask you, who needs Manhattan's flower district when the good ladies
of Cedar Farm are so close to home?

Since we determined that there would be a total of ten of us at table for this dinner party, our first step was to contact our beloved caterers, Christine Jones and Bert Goldfinger of the Red Barn, who've helped us out with many parties, to see if they were available (and willing) to cook for us.  Once we determined that they were (Hooray!), we enlisted the help of a woman who helps us serving at parties, to see if she was available to attend to our guests, and were delighted that she was.

Marilyn Cederoth of Cedar Farm Wholesale
Plants-woman extraordinaire

Once we had the staffing of the evening in hand, we turned to assembling our guest list.  We invited a number of people who had entertained us who we liked and wished to return the favor to (see Reggie's Rules of Social Reciprocity), and we also invited some people we had never entertained before (two recent arrivals in the area, one of whom I first met twenty or more years ago), with the end result being a mix of singles and couples.

With guest list in hand, I picked up the telephone and started calling my hoped-for guests to invite them.  Please note, Dear Reader, I did not impersonally email or text my invitations, I telephoned them.  For when throwing a dinner party one should always strive to invite one's guests telephonically, in order to personalize said invitation.  Of course when throwing larger parties, say cocktails for fifty, it is understood that one sends out invitations via the post office (or, increasingly these days, by Paperless Post).

Olde Hudson on Warren Street in Hudson, N.Y.,
is a regular stop for us for specialty foods, and
where we stocked up on last-minute treats for our party

Once our guests had accepted, I then sent them reminder cards (in the mail) one week ahead of the party with the requested arrival time noted, as well as the dress.  For this dinner party we asked the men to wear jacket and tie.  It seemed a bit too early in the season to force ask our guests to haul out their formal wear for a country dinner party.

The marvelous Hudson Wine Merchants
on Warren Street in Hudson, N.Y.,
was the source of all of our party potables

On a parallel path with assembling our guest list we met with and had any number of telephone and email exchanges with our caterer to come up with a menu for the evening that was appropriately autumnal, and decidedly delicious.  As I've written elsewhere, Boy and I are of the school of entertainers who shy away from serving over-handled and fancified food at dinner parties.  We and our friends eat out in restaurants all the time, to the point that it really isn't all that special.  But it is special to be invited into someone's home for a dinner party these days, since so few people have them anymore (or at least invite us to them when they do!).  When I either give or go to a dinner party, what I really want to eat is what has come to be known as "comfort food."  And that's what we serve at Darlington House dinner parties—unfussified "home-style" cooking made with care and from the best available (ideally local) ingredients.  Not one's mother's plain, everyday get-it-on-the-table cooking, mind you, Dear Reader, but rather dressed up comfort food.

While we were planning the menu with our caterers we also contacted Marilyn Cederoth of Cedar Farm Wholesale.  Marilyn helps us with flowers at Darlington House.  We arranged for her to come by the house the day of the party to fill the Chinese urns in our drawing room with autumnal branches and to provide arrangements for the dining room table and the table in our entry.

Rural Residence on Warren Street in Hudson, N.Y., is an
invaluable source for candles for parties, among other things

The day before the party our groundsman/handyman/all-around godsend, Rich, brought in a crew and did a thorough leaf clean up and tidying of the property, so it would be in tip-top, manicured shape for the party.  We also contacted our favorite wine merchant in the area, Michael Albin of Hudson Wine Merchants, to put aside cases of white and red wine, and also one of champagne, and a replenishment of the bottled liquor we like to have on hand at parties.  Reggie also stopped by a specialty food court near his office in midtown Manhattan to pick up some before-and-after-dinner treats to augment the already planned food and drink.

Cases of champagne and wine, delivered and ready to be chilled for the party

With these and other advanced arrangements taken care of, we then drove up to Darlington from the city on Friday night, ready to embark on the preparations the next morning in order to be ready for our guests when they arrived on Saturday evening.

Next: It's Show Time!

All photographs by Reggie Darling


  1. You are blessed to live where you do and to have available all that help and resources. It makes entertaining fun for people like us who enjoy having guests. And you are so right...effortless entertaining my foot!

  2. Dear Reggie,
    I can see that you and boy put a great deal of thought into making your dinner parties a success for your guests!

    The Arts by Karena

  3. Much to be learned here Reggie, thank you for these excellent tips. In the last year or two I have found the role of hostess a bit trying to the point of tears. I think I've just realized, thanks to you, that I need help with these events. The truth is even a dinner for 8 is quite the undertaking.
    I am very much looking forward to part two!

  4. I feel as though I've got my invite in hand, am choosing my outfit, and deciding on what day in advance I shall wash and blow dry my hair:).

  5. Thank you for doing a party the "real" way!

  6. Having attended a dinner at your home, I can attest to all of the behind the scenes work that goes into making a flawless dinner party! xo

  7. One of my readers sent me a link to a British TV show she cooked for. Although her fellow contestants felt her food was excellent, they gave her low grades because she spent all the time in the kitchen and none with her guests. Many of us who love to cook forget that entertaining is just that. It is really not fun to have your host missing for most of the dinner! Excellent to have help so that you can entertain. Also excellent to plan so efficiently.

    Looking forward to the party!

  8. I think my invitation must have been lorst in the post?

  9. Reggie's a master a the cliffhanger...

  10. I do think it is good to state the expected dress - I have received invitations stating "Fashion Forward", Country Chic, Creative Black Tie, and Semi Formal- none of which gave me any idea as to what was expected- thought about a kilt, cowboy boots and a "No fat chicks" tshirt once but thought better of it-

  11. Hello Reggie,

    I could not agree more with your sentiments when it comes to "effortless" entertaining - absolute poppycock I say!

    Of course a good deal of effort is exerted if one is to throw a dinner party worth throwing. My husband and I enjoy the entire process of hosting a dinner party. We often call it "dinner theater" due to all of the
    preparations and stages of conducting what we hope will be a memorable and relaxing occasion for our nearest and dearest. I am saddened, however, at what seems to be a lack of interest in hosting such gatherings in one's home. I'd hate to see the dinner party become a thing of the past. Won't you do us the honor of joining us for dinner one evening in our home if you were ever to visit out side of the country?

  12. Well, we're on the same page when it comes to fussified over fancy food for a home dinner party. When the food is too fancy, it make everyone feel a bit stiff, I think.

    I like simple dishes, fresh local produce where possible and good, stiff drinks. :-)

  13. Cant wait to see the PARTY.

  14. Love the reminder card- Just this week I ran into a friend who said " Oh I just sent you an STD"- long pause, concerned look on my face, when she said " you know a 'Save the Date' "- boy was I relieved

  15. Great post!

    I'm afraid the second post is missing. The link is broken and it can't be found.

    I wonder if you would be so kind as to put it up again.


Please do comment! I welcome and encourage them, and enjoy the dialogue.

Related Posts with Thumbnails