Hello from Flagstaff, Arizona! It's crazy to think that six of our eight Yellow Table gatherings this month have already happened! After cooking in all sorts of kitchens (some huge, some tiny, some makeshift) I feel like I could throw a dinner party with my eyes closed now. Ha! I'll be sharing photos and details form each one with you over the coming weeks, but today I'm thrilled to feature Dinner Party #2, held outside Raleigh, N.C. with Megan & Mike Gilger of The Fresh Exchange blog.

I've written about the Gilgers many times on this blog, as they are not only excellent collaborators, but dear friends. They are such inspirations to Brandon and me, and have been so incredibly supportive of our endeavors. They flew out to NYC a few weeks ago to shoot my Kickstarter video, and I'm so blessed to call them friends! In addition to running a blog and a business, they host a series of dinner parties all over the country called A Simple Evening, which Megan styles, Mike photographs, and local chefs prepare the food. They have friends literally everywhere, so the guests are always a fun mix of creatives and artisans. We collaborated on A Simple Evening last year in Northport, Michigan, so it was an obvious choice to partner with them again to throw a Simple Evening/Yellow Table gathering for this cookbook road trip.


The location for the gathering was the stunning Beausol Farm, about an hour south of Raleigh. The farm belongs to Chris Heavener, one of the owners of Videri Chocolate Factory, and his fiancé Michelle Rider. The property is gorgeous, with a magazine-worthy garden full of flowers and herbs. We knew we wanted to have the dinner outdoors, but a week before Megan told me that there wasn't a table or chairs big enough to seat 12. No problem - we just decided to have a picnic and sit on blankets!


Megan brilliantly created a low table using stuff from her house: she placed the tops of their IKEA desks on cement blocks and covered them with painter's drop cloths. She laid some pretty blankets around the table, and set it with a collection of plates and silverware she had collected from thrift stores. She and Michelle created little wildflower bouquets from the garden for the table, and they finished the simple look with lots of votive candles and tiki torches (both for light and to keep the mosquitoes away!). We filled a big steel bucket with ice and loaded it up with wine (from Whole Food's Top 10 Summer Wine Picks).


The setting was so dreamy – a garden picnic at dusk - I felt like I was in the middle of A Midsummer Night's Dream. I love Megan's simple way of styling - so approachable, yet so elegant, and it was truly the perfect sophisticated summer picnic. Elise and I made most of the food at Megan and Mike's that afternoon, and finished plating everything at the farm. I wanted to create a menu that was flavorful and light, and that could be served cold or room-temperature.


For appetizers we made a crudité platter with Lemon Parsley Tahini Dip and Crostini with Brie and Sundried Tomato Tapenade. For the main course, I served Apricot-Dijon Roasted Chicken Thighs with my favorite Summery Quinoa Salad (with roasted eggplant, zucchini, squash, and tomatoes) and Haricots Verts with Shallot Vinaigrette. For dessert, we made Raspberry Oatmeal Pecan Squares, and Chris brought a selection of delicious chocolates from Videri for everyone to try. (The dark chocolate caramel sea salt is my favorite!)


One of my favorite things about doing this series of cross-country dinner parties is meeting so many incredible people! The guests at this party were so, so nice, and all so talented. There were Megan and Mike, of course, then Taylor, who recently started working with them at their design and branding firm Wild Measure. There were Tara and Ryan - Megan and Mike's neighbors who graciously hosted me at their pretty home. Tara is a yoga instructor and massage therapist who currently works as a nutrition specialist for a hospital, and Ryan is a chef (whose resume includes Gramercy Tavern and Blue Smoke in NYC) and culinary instructor.


Sam and Meredith brought freshly baked loaves of bread from their bakery Boulted Bread. (Meredith's actually an architect, but she designed the bakery's very cool logo.) All of their bread is made from heirloom grains, and they are in the process of building a mill so they can start creating their own grain blends. The bread is truly the best I've ever had in the U.S. – it's slowly fermented and made from the best of the best ingredients, so the texture and taste is out -of-this-world. It was fun to see Jake and Shannon again, owners of the popular restaurant Capital Club 16. I had met them last year in Raleigh at another Simple Evening gathering where Jake made all the food. (Which, I might add, was incredible!) And then, of course there was Chris and Michelle, who were such gracious hosts. Michelle is a total green thumb, and creates homemade balms from the herbs and plants on her property. She sells some of them at the Farmer's Market, but hopes to one day start a business to sell her creations.

It was such a magical evening, meeting new friends, sharing great food and wine, and celebrating the launch of the cookbook Kickstarter campaign! Hard to believe this was already two weeks ago...it was the perfect way to kick off the trip. A huge thanks to Megan, Mike, Chris, Michelle, Whole Foods, and VW for making this night possible. And to Elise for all of her cooking help, and to Boulted Bread and Videri Chocolates for the delicious goodies!


I have to say as a little postscript to this post: beautiful pictures only tell part of the story. This night ended up being absolutely perfect, but the day leading up to it (as is often the case!) was total chaos. First of all it rained less than an hour before the guests arrived and we had no back-up plan for rain. (Luckily it cleared up just in time!) Megan and Mike were in the midst of packing up their house to move 2 days later, and ended up putting an offer on a house that afternoon AND rushing a friend to the ER. I, on the other hand, was totally sleep-deprived and stressed over the delay of launching my Kickstarter (everything I'd written had accidentally gotten deleted the day before so I was literally finishing writing everything in the midst of kitchen prep!).

All that to say is this: as my friend Rebecca Rebouche says, dreams don't happen in a vacuum. There's always going to be real-life craziness happening, which is all the more reason why we SHOULD take time to gather around the table. The table is a place of solace in the midst of real life – a place of connection and love and beauty – a place to know and be known. It's a place to celebrate the goodness in life, and in each other. And if we let busy-ness win (and prevent us from gathering), we lose. There were a zillion reasons why this dinner wasn't practical, but I could not be more grateful for this magical night and this special group of people. It's an evening I'll remember forever.


Photos by Mike Gilger