It was an idea that began in the first few months of 2016 — or more precisely, if I’m being entirely honest, it came to me on New Year’s Eve of 2015.
I was alone in my apartment (yes, very much like Bridget Jones), and while I dreaded the idea of making a fuss out of the last night of the year, I decided to instead focus on what I would enjoy doing most.
In the past, I had enjoyed my annual tradition of picking up some of my favorite cheeses at Murray’s, popping by my boutique wine shop for a really nice (~$30) bottle of chilled chardonnay, and then heading home to rent a movie while I waited for texts to come in with plans for the night ahead. It was always an afternoon I took for myself to celebrate making it another year in New York. I could mentally sweep aside the emails, the rent checks, the clamor of the garbage trucks at midnight — all those things that take the shine off the city I love most.
But last year, as I sat with my cat, feeling too tired to hop the subway to midtown for drinks with an old friend, I vowed to celebrate my next New Year’s with a dinner party, as nothing makes me happier than having the people I love most together around a table eating, drinking, and laughing.
I had no other vision for the evening than that, but it was an idea that took on a life of its own.
By Labor Day, my childhood friend from Maine and his parents offered to host the evening on their farm in Bucks County. By October, I narrowed the theme down to ‘stopping by woods on a snowy New Year’s Eve,’ as the vision of arriving to the farm conjures up the imagery of my favorite poem from Robert Frost. By Thanksgiving, invitations were sent. And by Christmas, the guest list was capped at 16, with friends flying in from as far away as Dallas for the occasion.
Come the night before New Year’s Eve, I arrived to the farm with printed menus, custom-labeled champagne bottles, and wedges of Murray’s Cheese. I arrived to find the kitchen stocked, decorative birch trees lit in the corner of the dining room, and a table that would have made anyone stop by these woods on any given evening.
When the morning of New Year’s Eve came around, I made my way to the kitchen to begin finalizing the details of my timeline.
When you’re hosting a dinner party of any kind, it’s all about the prep work. I like to spend dinner at the table, not in the kitchen.
By 5pm, friends old and new arrived. The cheese plate was arranged, drinks were poured, and the evening was underway.
The first course was a tray of carrot ginger soup served in mugs by the fire. That meant I could have time to arrange the beet and burrata salad in the kitchen.
Candles were lit, the fire was started, and it was time for friends to sit.
We each read a line from the poem that I had printed on the back of the menus. After the salads were cleared, dinner was served buffet style in the kitchen where there was roasted salmon, beef tenderloin, butternut squash with sage, green beans and garlic, and smashed roasted potatoes with rosemary.
Dessert was affogato — a simple two-ingredient dessert of vanilla ice cream and hot espresso. Strawberries and chocolates were passed and a champagne toast (of many) was had.
After a sparkler send off to the barn, we gathered around the piano for some songs before the dancing began.
It was perhaps one of the most memorable evenings of the year. It was a true group effort and team collaboration that made everything come together so beautifully.
But even more than that, it was an evening among the kind of friends who would have stopped by from wherever just to be with one another, and perhaps to also watch the woods fill up with snow.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.