This week I've been sharing a spring dinner party for six I hosted in my small Brooklyn apartment. I bought a bunch of pretty lilacs and tulips, strung a few lights, and rearranged my living room to create an colorful indoor garden party where my friends could sip cocktails, snack on appetizers, and then sit down to a vegetarian meal over candlelight.
Today I'll show you the full party and how it all came together, from the pre-party prep to serving the food, from the table setup and decor to my makeshift cocktail lounge. It really was a delightful night, topped off with an impromptu jam session after dessert. (Roasted strawberries inspire singing, in case you didn't know.)
The Day Before
I had hoped to start prepping for the party earlier in the week, but unsurprisingly, life got in the way and I found myself unable to really start anything until the day before. Thankfully, that's really all I ended up needing, since the menu prep was easily spread out over two days. On the day before the party I made the rosemary-chipotle nuts, the watercress soup (sans dumplings, which are best made a few hours before serving), and prepped my no-knead bread dough for its overnight rise.
Setting Up the Party
There were five main elements to getting my apartment ready for this party:
- Make simple flower arrangements for the table from a few market- and- store-bought bouquets.
- Move my dining table into the living room, and a few of my lounge chairs where the dining table used to be.
- String lights across the room, right over the table.
- Set the table.
- Write out a menu to hang on the wall.
Thankfully my friend Nelly came by a few hours before the party and helped me arrange flowers and write out the menu. I also had my wonderful husband, Tyler, string the lights and take control of the cocktail-making, serving, and general hosting duties once our friends started to arrive.
Party Tip #1: Have a helper! Enlist the help of a friend or significant other. Assign them set-up or clean-up tasks. You will be busy in the kitchen and you will not have time to do everything. Reward them with drinks, kisses, and the promise of forever friendship.
As far as arranging my apartment, what I did was remarkably simple yet had a huge effect. My living room and dining area are all in one big room, but the dining table sits up against a wall. It didn't feel special enough to have the dinner in that corner, nor was there any way I could string lights over the table in its current set-up.
So instead I pushed my sofa closer to the window and moved my dining table to the center of my living room. Then I moved two lounge chairs and a side table from my living room to where the dining table used to be, which also happens to be right next to our liquor cabinet. (Ahem, mixology station, as my husband would want me to say.) Presto! A makeshift cocktail lounge.
Doing this simple switcharoo also enabled me to string lights right over the dining table. I used two sets of indoor-outdoor globe lights from Target ($12.99 each). To string the lights, we put two nails into the wall on one side, and two nails into the top of my wooden bookshelf on the other side. That's it! It was so easy, and remarkably sturdy.
Party Tip #2: Don't be afraid to rearrange your apartment for the occasion. Swapping a few pieces of furniture or moving a few things into the bedroom is well worth it if it opens up the room, enables you to hang lights, or gives you easier access to the kitchen or bar area. Or space for break dancing.
Here's what my living room looked like before...
And here's what it looked like after!
Here's what my dining area looked like before...
And here's what it looked like after I made it into a cocktail lounge!
For the table setting, I relied on the beauty of lilacs and tulips, a dozen tea lights, and a wheatgrass centerpiece to really set the mood. The gold-rimmed Mikasa dishes are my wedding china, and played beautifully against my linen tablecloth (which I've written about before) and woven abaca runner from West Elm. A few hot pink napkins, both solid and patterned, added a final colorful punch.
After the apartment was ready to go, I set out to finish prepping the food. I'd already roasted the strawberries for dessert that morning, and my bread dough was rising and ready to go in the oven. About an hour before my guests arrived, I started roasting the vegetables and made the dumpling dough for the soup.
As soon as people started arriving, my husband took over cocktail duty and served cucumber-rosemary gin and tonics
alongside spiced nuts and the cream cheese, arugula, and radish toasts.
Party Tip #3: As soon as your guests arrive, give them something to hold in their hands. This makes people feel more at ease. Ideally you'd give them a drink and a few small appetizers, but hey, if you'd like them to hold a ukelele or a vase of flowers, you could try that, too. No. Don't try that. Stick to drinks and snacks.
While Tyler was serving drinks, I was busy trying to make soup dumplings in the kitchen, which turned out to be an unexpected crisis when they wouldn't come together! As Emma
and I later realized, I accidentally used twice as much milk, which is why my dumpling dough was a dumpling batter. I fixed it by adding more flour, but as a result my dumplings weren't as neat or goat-cheesy as yours probably will be if you make the recipe
Yay for people using the cocktail lounge!
When the appetizers were getting low and everyone was a cocktail or two into the evening, I served up the bowls of soup in the kitchen and brought them to the table. I had thankfully timed the ricotta pretty well, so we were ready to sit down and eat right when it came out of the oven. And the bread was still warm!
We served two kinds of wine with the meal, a white wine and a rosé, at the recommendation of The Kitchn's resident wine expert, Mary Gorman-McAdams. I emailed her my menu, and she came back with a few options. I chose a bottle of the 2011 Gavi di Gavi Vigna di San Martino and a bottle of the 2012 Wölffer Rosé, both under $15 — and both delicious and just perfect for this spring meal!
Party Tip #4: Do an ice breaker at dinner. The wackier or funnier, the better, but really anything that gets people talking or reminiscing is good. We picked "first childhood crush." Me: Elijah Wood. Flipper really did a whopper on me as a child.
About halfway through the soup I excused myself from the table briefly to put the strawberry squares in the oven. They only need to bake for about 20 minutes, so they were done by the time most people had finished the main course. We cleared the plates and then I served the squares with a pot of lemon verbena tisane splashed with a little St. Germain. It was the perfect palate cleanser — light, refreshing, and just a tad sweet.
Just to show you how easy it was to rearrange my living room to accommodate the dining table, after dessert we cleared the plates, collapsed two sides of the dining table, and moved it on out of the living room! Then we returned the living room to its normal setup, brought out the extra wine and roasted nuts, and let the sunset outside take us into the night.
Party Tip #5: Have an 'after-dinner' playlist ready, something chill, dreamy, and mood-enhancing. Try this playlist if you want! You want people to feel like life can't get any better than it is in that moment. Good food, good friends, good music. Ahhhhhh...
A Spring Vegetarian Dinner for Six
And that was my spring vegetarian party for six! Besides the dumplings snafu, it really went almost exactly as I'd hoped. And I was pleasantly surprised how easy the decor came together. I'm really not a crafty or DIY person, so if I can do this, I know you can!
Tomorrow I'll share a few flower arranging tips (again, super easy — anyone can do what I did!) and on Friday I'll share five tips for throwing a dinner party in a small apartment. Thanks for letting me share my dinner with you!
Featured Party Resources
At the Table
The Food and Drinks
More posts in this series
Gatherings from The Kitchn: Spring Vegetarian Dinner for 6