The smile says it all.

When 12 friends crowd into a tiny NYC apartment to celebrate the birthday of a dear friend, to squeeze onto couches and borrowed chairs and share a meal around a beautiful table (that you’d never guess had been found, discarded on the street that day), with story-telling and laughter and much toasting, something magical happens. It’s as though time is suspended. You get a glimpse of something bigger than this life – a hint of how things should be, a taste of what we long for. Through the candlelit glow, smiles seems brighter, friendships deeper, and though you may not even remember what you ate the next day, that night you could swear it was the best thing you had ever tasted. We need more of these evenings. These are the sweet times. The birthday girl summed it up best:

“I was given the rare and beautiful gift of knowing just how precious a moment is when you are right in the middle of it. Many, many times throughout the evening, I looked around the table with amazement. My life, just as it is, is one I love. The gifts before me – dear friends, good food, and abundant laughter – were more than enough. My cup overflows.”

This fabulous and festive occasion – which I had the privilege of being a part of – was the 30th birthday of my lovely friend Rachel Carter. The party took place at her apartment last weekend and between her beautiful "Winter White Theme" (check out her table decor above), delicious menu (she planned, I cooked), and fantastic friends, it really was an epic evening. The party was beautifully documented by the ultra-talented photographer Sara Beth Turner (that's her, whipping off the Champagne cork below!), who just happens to be one of Rachel's three roommates. Sara Beth has such a gift for capturing the essence of a moment with her photos. Her shots, especially these black and white ones, really portray the spirit of the evening, and I am so honored to feature her photography on The Yellow Table. Thanks SB!

Rachel, being quite the hostess, made up a variety of snacks for people to munch on when they arrived: prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, white bean dip and crudités, spicy nuts with rosemary, and a few cheeses with fig jam and crackers. Everyone packed into the kitchen and sipped on bubbly while I finished up the cooking.

The birthday gal had chosen the menu in advance ("I wanted to to have a menu I'd be excited to have at someone else's dinner party," she said): roasted salmon with a Champagne dill sauce, roasted new potatoes with olive oil and sea salt, and a simple green salad with cucumbers and lemon vinaigrette. The menu was flavorful and light, and was so easy to throw together right before the party.

For dessert, Rachel really something decadent (it was her 30th after all!) and wanted to try making a tiramisu. I insisted on making it – the birthday girl shouldn't make her own cake! – and I had so much fun making it into a round birthday shape (using a springform pan) rather than a traditional rectangle. I changed up the classic recipe a bit, eliminating the raw egg yolks, and using Kahlua in place of the marsala wine. I also used a mix of chocolate and vanilla lady fingers, which not only tasted great, but made for a beautiful presentation. (Recipe coming soon!)

But where Rachel really went all out was on the decor – I'll let her tell you about her theme:

"I was inspired by a favorite blogger of mine, Joanna Goddard from Cup of Jo, who threw a "recession chic" dinner party several years ago. The decor from her party was winter white with lots of candles, snow, a birch bark log, and of course, flowing red wine! I liked the winter white theme (mixed in with a healthy dose of glitter!) because it's easy to find white Christmas decor on sale, and white is usually inexpensive and readily available. As I envisioned it all coming together and procured supplies, my selections took on a more "Narnia~like" quality. This seemed the perfect vision of a magical, wintry, outdoor place. Honestly, though, I didn't know how well it would come together until we started lighting the candles..."

Rachel just so happened to find the perfect log for the centerpiece the weekend before in Vermont, which she lugged home and spray painted white. She also found a mirror on the street (gotta love NYC!) which she used as the base for the centerpiece, garnished with some berries and ferns from Michael's. She pulled the whole look together with piles of glittery white fake snow ("to cover all the ugly edges!"). Rachel's a kindergarten teacher, so she's especially gifted at crafts. She made the snowflakes pictured above, which she hung from the ceiling above the table. Truly, a winter wonderland...

I love this picture of Rachel and me in the kitchen pre-party...we had so much fun plotting and scheming about this night, and I'm so glad it all came together so well. Here's to many more dinner parties...!!

The rest of the pictures don't need much in the way of explanation. They pretty much speak for themselves. The evening was magical, and I am so grateful for the friendships – old and new – that were represented here. And most of all, I'm grateful for Rachel, her friendship, generosity, creativity, and zest for life. It's contagious. Happy Birthday!

A special thanks to:

The birthday gal: Rachel Carter

Photographer: Sara Beth Turner

Everyone else who made this evening so special!


Coming soon...!