Photos by Bryan Dale; Hand-lettering by Megan Gilger

It is safe to say that I love dinner parties. (As in really, really love!) I meet few people who share my passion for gathering people around a table, but Megan Gilger is one of them. We met last summer through a mutual friend (the amazing Amy Anderson) and instantly clicked. Megan and her husband Mike run Wild Measure, a branding and graphic design firm, as well as one of my favorite blogs, The Fresh Exchange. The Gilgers host beautifully curated dinner parties called A Simple Evening – each one in a new location, featuring food by a different chef – which they document on their blog. A few weeks ago, when Brandon and I rented a beautiful farmhouse near Northport, Michigan (not far from where the Gilgers live), Megan and I decided that we should host A Simple Evening together, to celebrate the end of the summer and the beginning of fall.

We teamed up with our friend Cammie Buehler, of Epicure Catering to make the evening a success. Cammie and her partner Andy Schudlich run a phenomenal farm-to-table catering business on a 100-year-old farm in Omena (just 10 minutes from Northport). They source all of their ingredients from local farms (even the flowers!) and their commitment to quality shows. We had originally hoped that Cammie and Andy could work some of their food magic, but with back-to-back events that week, they couldn't swing it. Since Megan and Mike were literally flying in from South Africa the day before the party, I volunteered to do the cooking. (With a dreamy farmhouse kitchen to cook in, and plenty of local farmers' markets, I was thrilled at the prospect!)

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I love this moment in the year where summer intersects with fall. To take advantage of the local bounty, I created a seasonal menu highlighting late-summer produce (heirloom tomatoes, basil) and early fall arrivals (butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, and crisp, local apples). We had 15 people coming for dinner, so I wanted to make simple, straightforward dishes that we could serve family-style.

I bought everything in nearby Suttons Bay and Northport, and Cammie and Andy gave me some local pork tenderloin they had at the farm. The farmhouse has its own wonderful little garden, so I gathered fresh herbs from there. After a morning visit to the adorable Northport Farmer's Market (where I bought beautiful heirloom tomatoes and other produce) I spent the day in the kitchen, prepping for the dinner. I made a rustic Apple-Walnut Cake with Brown Butter Caramel ahead of time, and prepped my ingredients for my favorite Fall Quinoa Salad with roasted butternut squash, spinach, and red onions. I prepped the pork tenderloin, the Brussels sprouts, and sliced the tomatoes for the panzanella salad. Once Megan arrived, she wrote the menu on the very cool chalkboard refrigerator. (See below for recipes!)

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The farmhouse happens to have an amazing 12-person picnic table out back with lights strung up, so all we had to do was add a few stools and some simple design touches to complete the scene. Cammie created beautiful arrangements from local flowers (I especially love the dahlias!) and brought a few accessories like a burlap runner, napkins, candles, and a few extra place settings. She and Megan worked their styling magic while I finished the food. The guests were a collection of the Gilger's local friends – Andy (of Epicure Catering), Hillary and Matt Voight (of Milled Home Goods), Cammie's boyfriend Tyler, and a friend of Mike's from Harbor Springs – plus our good friends Justin Tootla and Jennifer Jackson, amazingly talented chefs who used to cook in the area and now live in Chicago.

Everyone grabbed a glass of wine (favorite local picks of the evening were a 2011 Brys Estate Pinot Noir, the amazing small-production Viva Leelanau Peninsula Brut Sparkling, and a 2012 Bowers Harbor Unoaked Chardonnay) and snacked on local goat cheese with cherry preserves before dinner.

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Just before sitting down at the table, we all headed up to the top of the hill behind the farmhouse to watch the sun dip below Lake Michigan. The sunsets at the farmhouse are always spectacular, and that much more so when shared with good friends and a glass of vino. It was a perfect moment, saying a silent farewell to summer.

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The night was truly magical. I can't think of a better way to transition from summer to fall, than with good friends, great food, sitting around a table with sweaters and a fire nearby. I love Northport so much, not only for its sheer natural beauty, but for the warm, welcoming spirit of the friends we've made there. Thanks to Megan and Cammie for making such a perfect evening possible, and to Bryan for capturing the evening so beautifully. Here's to Fall!

For more pictures and details on the evening, check out Megan's blog post today.

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HEIRLOOM TOMATO PANZANELLA

Serves 8

1/2 pound country white bread or Sourdough

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

2 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

2 1/2 pounds heirloom tomatoes (assorted shapes, sizes, colors), cut into wedges

1 teaspoon fleur de sel

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1/3 cup torn (or sliced) basil

1 pound fresh mozzarella, torn (or sliced)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cut the crust off the bread and tear (or cut) the remaining loaf into roughly 1-inch pieces and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and toss to combine. Spread on a baking sheet and toast for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occasionally.

Combine the shallots and the red wine vinegar in a small bowl and set aside.

Combine the tomatoes in a large bowl and season with 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel and a pinch of pepper. Add the basil and mozzarella and gently toss.

Whisk in the remaining 6 tablespoons of olive oil to the red wine vinegar and shallots until combined. Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel and a pinch of pepper.

Add the croutons to the tomato mixture and drizzle the shallot vinaigrette on top. Using your hands, toss gently. Serve immediately, as the croutons will quickly get soggy!

PROSCIUTTO-WRAPPED PORK TENDERLOIN WITH APRICOT-DIJON GLAZE

Serves 8

2 tablespoons + 1/4 cup cup grainy Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons + 1/4 cup cup apricot preserves

1 teaspoon thyme leaves

2 pork tenderloins (roughly 1 pounds each)

Salt and pepper to taste

8-10 slices prosciutto (about 6 oz)

Thyme springs, for garnish

*Meat thermometer

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons apricot preserves, and thyme leaves. Season the pork tenderloins with salt and pepper and place them on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet.

Spoon the Dijon-sauce over the tenderloins and turn them tenderloins to coat on all side. Wrap each tenderloin tightly in the prosciutto, with the overlapping ends underneath.

Roast for about 18-20 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before slicing.

Whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup Dijon mustard and 1/4 cup apricot jam, along with any pan juices from the pork. Garnish the sliced tenderloin with thyme springs and serve with the bowl of Dijon-apricot sauce.

*The key to juicy pork is having a meat thermometer. Once the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees, it is safe to eat. When you remove it from the oven, it will continue cooking an additional 5+ degrees. Also - it is OK if there's a little pink in the center of the pork. In fact, if there's no pink at all, it means it's overcooked and will be dry. I LOVE the electric thermometers that are inserted into the meat before it goes into the oven, connected a little apparatus that sits on the counter. That way you can moniter the temperature as it rises – and you can even set an alarm to go off when your meat reaches the proper temperature. Genius!

CHARRED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH LEMON AND PECORINO

Serves 8

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (or if large, quartered)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup grated Pecorino

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Arrange the Brussels sprouts on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil and toss until lightly coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Roast for 20 to 25 minutes until the Brussels sprouts are tender and beginning to char on the outside. Let cool for 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, toss with the lemon juice and Pecorino. Taste, and season with additional salt and pepper if desired.