50 shades of pink

February 13, 2016

We hosted our "2nd Friday Night Party Group's" potluck gathering last night, and since my assigned month fell just two days before Valentine's Day, I considered making that my theme.  Where I live in California, there is no shortage of late winter/early spring flowers and buds in every shade, perhaps even 50 shades of pink.  In fact, as I wandered around my garden to see what would be blooming on party day, I saw nothing but pink.  So I had my theme--this gathering would be all about pink: pink flowers, pink buds, pink linens, pink champagne and pink Valentines.  Two days before the party I  ironed my linens, set up the bar and did the shopping.  The day before the party, I baked the cookies and made the cassoulet. (There are debates raging over the food blogs arguing whose cassoulet recipe is the best, and Julia Child always wins.  It's a time consuming recipe, but I took the few shortcuts she allows, thus making it totally doable.  And it makes a magnificent dinner.)

The morning of the party I took my clippers, walked around the garden and came back in with a huge basket of blossoms.  I spent an hour or two arranging them, then got dressed to run some errands (nothing would make me miss the sale at my local yarn shop!) Now fast forward to a half hour before party time; I put the cassoulet in the oven and lit the candles while my mister lit the fire and filled the ice buckets.  Then he poured us each a glass of champagne and we sat by the fire and waited for the doorbell to ring.

Ahhh, no, not like that at all.

The reality: we were both racing around until the first guests arrived.  "Where are the matches?" "Wait, where are the candles?"  "Ice?  I thought you were getting the ice!"  I was regretting the afternoon I spent running needless errands; the precious hour spent on a pedicure and the wasted time waiting in line to get my husband's watch repaired. Seriously, on party day?  But the key here is: don't panic!  Take a deep breath, do as much as you comfortably can and then enjoy the party as it unfolds before you.  Your guests certainly plan to do just that, so you may as well join in on the fun! And drink that glass of pink champagne, your party is going to be great.


Veggies and Dip
Baked Brie
(placed on a table near the bar)

Lobster Bisque
(served and sipped from small glass cups)

Cassoulet, from Julia Child's The Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1
(served buffet style)

Green Salad
(served on small plates after the main course)

Sugar Cookies
Apple Tasting
Chocolate Truffles
(served buffet style)

Party Tricks
  • Plan your menu around recipes that require only minimal last minute attention. A noted French chef once said, "the mise-en-place is everything." I translate that as "prep as much in advance as possible."
  • If you've invited a crowd and have limited seating at tables, make sure the food is designed so the only utensil your guests need is a fork or spoon--it makes eating from your lap much easier.  And make sure your napkins are over-sized!
  • If you're the guest rather than the host at a potluck, whisk away your dirty platter or bowl after dinner and wash it at home. Your hostess will love you.

Flowering and budding branches are here for such a short time.  Enjoy them even more by bringing them into the home. Just a few thinnings in vases, supplemented with an evergreen or store-bought flowers if necessary, make a big statement.

The Flowers
  • The Western Redbud often grows as a bush in California and can be trimmed as a hedge.  It has large needle sharp thorns that demand respect and deep pink blossoms that appear in February through March.
  • In California, camellias start blooming in January and continue for 2 months.  Most people like to float the blossoms in a bowl, but we have so many bushes in our garden that I don't mind picking large branches to make a wow statement.  The ruffled soft pink one is the popular old-fashioned Debutante.
  • We have a few patches of narcissus and muscari, aka grape hyacinth.  They faithfully pop every every year in late winter/early spring.  I like to place the very fragrant narcissus in the entry way so our guests can catch the scent as they enter.
  • The tulip tree, aka saucer magnolia, is a type of deciduous magnolia that is very popular in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The purple/pink blossoms arrive en masse in mid to late February and completely dominate the sky until the green leaves appear.  We have two trees, a brightly colored one and a softer colored one, and I snip their blossoms regularly.
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  1. Looks like such an inviting party setting. I can just picture coming into your home and enjoying your food and lovely decorations. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Beautiful! I'm hosting Trousseau Tea for my daughter before her wedding in May. You give me inspiration! I wish I had the beautiful gardens you have in California.
    I have Julia Childs book and I will check out the Cassoulet recipe.
    Thanks for this,

  3. This is a wonderful blog. I always knew you were good at everything!

  4. Kristen, I'm pink with envy!!! Everything looks so lovely. Your blog post made me wish we were BFF's and I came to your party! Loved everything about it - Happy belated Valentine's Day!

    1. Thank you Susan! I wish you could have come too!

  5. I love everything about your entertaining style and your beautiful open home, as Casey told me years ago, I would. I would do Martha Stewart Camp Cupcake prison time for that Fronch baker with pewter top. I just went out to gather japonica because it is the ONLY thing blooimg here. Loved the supposed pre-party calm as opposed to the actual frenzy.

    1. Kevin, that French baker was purchased at 75% off. I know that will kill you! It's Arte Italica and was the only way I was every going to own that thing! I use it about once or twice a year, so I'm pretty happy with my purchase!

  6. Oh and the Camellias! I miss Camellias. I had one for 20 years. Every years I wrapped it up in Winter and babied it. Then the Summer of 2010 here killed it and so much more. You remind me to plant a new one.

    1. In the west, Camellias are almost care free! I forget that other places have severe weather and plants that we take for granted are actually pretty delicate. I was born and raised in California, sorry for my ignorance!


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