Now that I'm back from my crazy cookbook road trip, the question I get asked a lot is: "What was your favorite dinner party?" Of course that question is impossible to answer, because each dinner was so unique – the setting, the people, and the menu were totally different for each party, and each gathering had its own special feel. There wasn't one dinner party that I didn't absolutely love. But there were a few that felt a little extra magical, and our New Orleans party was definitely one.


The dinner was held at the beautiful French Quarter apartment of my (new) friend Joy Wilson (a.k.a Joy the Baker). She literally just moved to New Orleans from Los Angeles a couple of months ago, and was gracious enough to say yes to hosting the party even before she had left LA!


It was my first time in New Orleans, and I was super excited to explore the city. I was also looking forward to reconnecting with my friend Rebecca Rebouché, an incredible artist who splits her time between New Orleans and a treehouse an hour north of the city. (Check out this video of her dreamy!)


Given that Joy was new to the city, and Rebecca was born and raised in the area – and not to mention the fact that both of them are really talented and inspiring women! – I really wanted the two of them to meet. So I invited Rebecca to the dinner, and Joy invited two local bloggers – Juley Le of Upperlyne and Summer Suleiman of Healthy Summer - to join us. With Elise and me, plus Hannah McSwain (the photographer who shot these gorgeous pictures!), it made for a very cozy dinner for 7. (Which was a nice change after our previous dinner for 25!)


It's always a bit of a risk when you throw a party for a group of people who don't know each other. There's the risk of it feeling forced or unnatural, or having to endure surfacy conversations. Not with this bunch! Within moments of everyone arriving, we were out on the terrace, drinking Bourbon and ginger beer cocktails that Joy whipped up, laughing hysterically over the voices we give our pets, and trying to do our best diva-ish Sophia Vergara impressions. (Which of course looked ridiculous and made for more laughter.) We snacked on watermelon-mint-feta skewers and marinated olives, and at one point Joy's cat Tron snuck up on the table and tried to swipe a few.


The view from Joy's terrace is incredible–it looks out over the French Quarter with all its wrought iron and balconeys and beautiful rooftops. At one point a horse-drawn carriage clomped by, then a small parade, and eventually the sun slowly set over the city. It was all just so relaxed. No one was in a rush, there was no agenda, just lots of girl talk and laughter.


We eventually sat down at the table for dinner. Rebecca had created beautifully hand-written (and watercolored!) menus, and brough a big bunch of gardenias from her yard. Elise and I made a spicy shrimp saute with garlic, tomatoes, and white wine, couscous, and an arugula salad with radicchio, fennel, Parmesan, and pine nuts. For dessert, Joy created a beautiful strawberry-raspberry crostata topped with vegan coconut pistachio ice cream. Needless to say, it was incredible.


Despite the wonderful food and wine and the dreamy setting, it was the women there who really made the evening shine. We all shared our stories, talked about our dreams – and risks that we'd taken to pursue them – and recounted old boyfriend dramas (as girls do!). By the end of the night, after sitting around the table for hours and hours, we felt like old friends. I was honestly sad to leave at the end of the night! I wish the seven of us lived in the same city so this could become a weekly event. (And I sincerely hope the rest of the girls do have another dinner, even without me!)


But this incredible night made me realize, once again, how much we NEED nights like these in our lives. Nights to slow down, to share our stories, to connect, and to laugh. Life gets way to serious way too fast. If there's one thing New Orleans taught me, it's to stop and celebrate the present moment.

I hope you enjoy these lovely photos by Hannah McSwain...she so perfectly captured the night on every single level! Also, a huge thank you to Joy for hosting, to Rebecca for doing the beautiful menus, to Elise for her help in the kitchen, and to Whole Foods Market for providing the groceries and wine!


All photos by Hannah McSwain