One of the last formal writing assignments I worked on as the pandemic set in last March was reviewing the cookbook Open Kitchen by Susan Spungen. The cookbook was designed for entertaining a crowd and my copy was filled with sticky notes of recipes I planned to cook for my next dinner party. I had no idea that I would have to wait fourteen months before I could safely open our home to friends and family for an official gathering. The arrival of the COVID vaccine and lifting of social distancing restrictions happened to coincide with my fortieth birthday this May. My husband jokes that I’ve been planning this party since our wedding and truthfully he’s not that far off.
This past year has brought unimaginable change. While I have never felt closer to my husband and three kids, it’s been eighteen long months since I’ve seen my dad and brother and almost as long for many of our closest friends. In that time, we moved out of the city, I gave birth to our third, our older kids started different schools and I’ve begun to build a new community outside of Brooklyn. In the midst of it all I spent almost four weeks in the hospital on bed rest before our baby was born. During those long days and nights separated from my family, I would put myself to sleep dreaming of the party I would plan when the pandemic was over. Fast forward to this spring, I finally had the privilege of opening our new home to some of our dearest friends and family to help celebrate my birthday but more than that, the return to a somewhat normal life.
As we are all craving human connection again, these kinds of celebrations will start to take on even more meaning. Personally, I have made a conscious effort to try and slow down, be more emotionally present and savor these moments. In the past I often got caught up in the planning of an event, overly stressed about the details of a party at the cost of missing the purpose of the gathering itself, to connect in meaningful ways with others. For me, hosting is not just a creative outlet but a way to express my love, help forge connections and build community.
As I set forth to plan my party, I passed on the chance to cook myself knowing that the precious time with guests was more important than slaving over the stove in the kitchen. I enlisted the help of the unbelievably talented Brooklyn based chef Zahra Tangorra (her restaurant Brucie in Cobble Hill which since closed was one of our favorites). We planned the menu together, a deliciously fresh, spring forward meal with abundant fresh herbs and vegetables she foraged from Union Square Farmers Market. Skirt steaks were brought in from our local butcher Paisano’s Butcher Shop and Zahra even figured out how to recreate homemade marshmallows for s’mores over a bonfire, the perfect end to the evening.
While Brooklyn was very much represented at the table, over the past several months I’ve discovered some really special local businesses in Northern Westchester. I asked Amy from Hayfields Market in South Salem to help with flowers. I picked up loaves of fresh bread from 123 Dough in Pound Ridge which specializes in ancient grains and even mills their own flour. I was afraid not everyone would be a fan of s’mores so picked up a box of fresh cookies from Susan Lawrence in Chappaqua. It was such an honor to have Zahra in my kitchen, she and her team executed the menu of my dreams flawlessly. I’ve included the entire menu below as inspiration for future dinner parties and gatherings.
The evening certainly lived up to my dreams, as much as the delicious food it was night filled with warmth and the comfort of having loved ones in our home again, a backyard filled with laughter, endless bottles of wine, clinking glasses, full bellies and the lightness knowing that with the arrival of the most glorious spring has also come the end to one of the darkest years I hope we’ll ever have to endure.
A Spring Forward 40th Birthday Menu
Crostini with roasted & raw heirloom radishes, herb butter, fresh horseradish
Homemade Stracciatella with snap peas, hazelnuts, bomba calabrese
Grilled Grass Fed Skirt Steak with green olive salsa verde, burnt carrots, grilled lemon
Farro Risotto with mushrooms, ramps, English peas
Spring Greens with shaved asparagus, scallions and lavender vinaigrette
Homemade S’Mores served by the campfire