Dinner Party #6 at the Neighbor's Table in Dallas
You know those moments in life where everything just seems really right in the world? Where you feel truly present and completely self-unaware? Not to say that you lose a sense of yourself, but where you can get out of your head long enough to really notice those around you, to appreciate their beauty, and tap into a far greater story than your own. (And in so doing, actually become more fully yourself.) And have you ever felt so lavished with love – in such an over-the-top, undeserved way – that you just can't help but want to pour it right back into everyone else? I hope you have experienced what I'm talking about, because if you have, it's life-changing. This happened to me a few weeks ago in Dallas, and it turned my world upside-down.
If you're reading this, chances are you've been following the #cookbookroadtrip. You probably know that I drove across the country and threw 8 dinner parties in a month, and you've probably read about some of the ups and downs that came along with such a crazy challenge. Each dinner was a true labor of love, and took months of planning (not to mention days of on-the-ground work) to pull off. And then there was Dinner #6. I did nothing. N-O-T-H-I-N-G. OK, I showed up. I helped season a few dishes that had already been prepared. I shared about the book. And I was lavished with love and encouragement by a group of (mostly) total strangers.
The red door in Sarah's yard, welcoming us to her table; Sarah and me, standing in front of her Neighbor's Table.
Let me back up and explain. This dinner took place at my friend Sarah Harmeyer's house in Dallas, around a 20-person dinner table in her backyard dubbed "Neighbor's Table." Her dad built the table for her a couple of years ago because she wanted to be able to have people over for dinner, but lacked the space in her small home. In 2012, Sarah's theme word was 'Community,' and she set a goal of hosting 500 people around her table that year. Not only did she meet her goal, she kept going, and hosted another 500 around her table in 2013, through all manners of community gatherings: block parties, neighborhood potlucks, charity fundraisers, and casual dinners with old and new friends. Everybody that comes to Neighbor's Table gets a chance to sign the table, which at this point is covered with scribbled signatures. Four huge letters lean against a fence by the table: L-O-V-E. That simple word represents everything her table stands for.
I met Sarah by accident back in December, when a snowstorm left her stranded an extra night in NYC, and she tagged along with our mutual friend Diane to my West Elm "Bubbly & Bites" class. Sarah and I clicked immediately in our brief conversation after class – I loved her radical commitment to creating community, and I knew that we'd one day share a meal at each others' tables. Sure enough it all came to be. A few months later, Sarah came to NYC for business and we had dinner at my yellow table and we talked and dreamed for hours. She recently expanded Neighbor's Table from a backyard mission to a national one: she and her dad are creating and selling handcrafted tables (like her own) with the goal of 'inspiring ordinary people to love extraordinarily.' With the purchase of a table, people have access to all sorts of practical resources, from recipes to hosting tips, and an online platform share their stories.
Me, signing the Neighbor's Table...a proud moment indeed!
Sarah is one of THE most inspiring people I've ever met, not only because she's living out her purpose, but because she loves people so well. When I told her that I wanted to hold one of my Cookbook Road Trip dinners at Neighbor's Table, she said without hesitation, "Absolutely." Given my travel schedule, the only night that worked was the night after our Austin party, which normally would be a little crazy to pull off since there's a 3-hour drive in between cities!).
But Sarah insisted that she wanted this to be a restful stop on my journey – she asked me to send her a menu of my recipes and that she'd take care of the rest. I tried to protest, and she just said, "Let us bless you." (Little did I know what I was in for...)
Kris Drayovitch's gorgeous flowers and table decor...wow!
After dropping Elise off at her aunt's house, I pulled up to Sarah's at nearly 4 pm. There was a huge red door propped up against a tree that said "Welcome Yellow Table Y'all!" (Amazing.) Guests were coming at 6 pm, but Sarah had everything totally under control: a team of girls (including our mutual friend Diane) had been cooking all afternoon, making a bunch of my recipes: herbed quinoa salad with roasted summer vegetables, a watermelon, feta, and mint salad, roasted honey-Dijon salmon, raspberry oatmeal bars, and a gluten-free Key Lime tart. It was so crazy to walk into the house just hours before guests arrive, and have all the food totally prepared. I was overwhelmed with their kindness and generosity.
The stunning table; Kris holding a platter of my Dijon-honey salmon.
I wanted to help, but there was nothing to do: the table was already set, the wine was chilled, and soon the incredible Kris Drayovitch arrived with boxes full of THE most incredible flower arrangements in little clay pots. She also hand-wrote menus and name cards, which she glued onto toothpicks and stuck into lemons by each place setting (such a cute idea). Sarah met Kris at a recent West Elm dinner that she (Sarah) hosted, and after hearing about Kris's love of flowers and table-styling – she works in finance currently – Sarah asked if she'd like to style this dinner. I was BLOWN AWAY that this was her first time doing this. Is she not amazing?! Another of Sarah's friends brought crostini with goat cheese and my fig olive tapenade for appetizers, and everyone brought wine to share.
The excitement and energy was palpable as people arrived, and there was so much ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the table, you'd have thought we were at a wedding. Sarah asked the super-talented Sam Melton to take pictures and Jordan Stricker of FiftyFiveOnePointFour to shoot some video. (Check out the video he shot of the evening!) We all gathered in a circle, glasses of bubbly in hand, and Sarah introduced everyone. Once again her gift for loving people came out, as she took time to build everyone up and share each person's gifts and dreams with the group.
After a prayer, we sat at the table and dug into the feast, passing around family-style platters. It was so much fun to meet so many inspiring people (like bloggers Ronne Rock and Leigh Liebmann), to hear stories of people pursuing their passions, and to get a chance to share my story with them. Everyone blew me away with their enthusiasm for the cookbook, and their collective desire to support me and see the project funded. It's amazing to see how, exactly one month later, not only is the cookbook funded, but it has gone above and beyond anything I would have ever expected.
This night around the Neighbor's Table left me forever changed. The love I received that night is not something that can be easily forgotten. It not only confirmed my belief that gathering people to connect around the table is vitally important, but it has challenged me to love extraordinarily. To not worry so much about what I say or what I accomplish, but how I make others feel. That's what matters.
Sarah, keep on shining...you're a bright star, my dear, and you've inspired me more than you know.
Feasting at the Neighbor's Table; the beautiful Ronne Rock and Kris Drayovitch.
Photos: Sam Melton
Styling: Kris Drayovitch