These photos mean so much to me, and this is the final set of photos I’m sharing from The Alchemy of Hospitality! Seeing bits of my work, as captured by the Sweet Root Village team, gives me all the feels and causes me to yearn for another gathering. For bringing folks together around a shared dinner. For sitting down and sharing conversations with newcomers around the table. After receiving hundreds of images from Sweet Root Village, it’s so difficult to narrow down to a number that can be shared in just one blog post. If you’ve been following along, you know that I divided up the retreat into six posts: a rustic wintry tabletop, gathered and foraged florals, and then by day (1, 2, 3, and today is day 4).
This last full day of our retreat was a busy one! We started off with breakfast and then launched straight into our workshops: cheesemaking with Chef Chris and then the prepared pantry/canning & preserving with Melinda. Students were able to assist Chef Chris with making mozzarella cheese, which was served as an appetizer later in the evening at our grand supper. After starting the cheese, students moved to the dining room to learn the basics of a prepared pantry and then a hands-on workshop making apple preserves with Melinda.
Then, everyone put their skills to work as we prepared to welcome 35 guests for an Autumn long table supper on the front lawn. The weather was uncharacteristically warm for November 1, so we were able to dine al fresco, with a campfire roaring nearby (the original plan was to hang curtains on the porch and use propane heaters; I love when the weather cooperates in the least expected way possible). Students helped in every area for this dinner: some prepared the feast in the kitchen with Chef Chris, they foraged for our foliage table runner, they calligraphed place cards, strung lights, set up benches, welcomed guests, poured wine, served our feast, and entertained at the table.
This supper was the ultimate culmination of all we had learned over the course of the weekend, and it was wonderful! One of my favorite aspects of dinners and gatherings is the behind-the-scenes: preparations, plans, and working with a team, and then watching everything unfold on the day-of. Since the retreat had been so intimate with just 9 students and a handful of helpers, our students were able to very closely see the ins and outs of hosting a small group…for every meal & for different types of meals (continental breakfast, 4-course semi-formal dinner, indoor picnic lunch, rustic French supper, etc). With this long table dinner, we wanted our students to experience everything that goes into hosting around 35 guests…a small crowd! It was such a joy guiding our students through the various elements of making preparations for our guests. My favorite was watching the vision for the table unfold!
Tabletops are one of my favorite things to style. They’re one of my favorite places to sit, to converse, to eat, to share others’ company. The table is a place where everything collides. Food, people, glasses, textures, colors, foliage…it’s an overwhelming rush to the senses. You’re seated next to someone you’ve never seen before. By the end of the evening you don’t know how you’ve lived without them. Stories are shared about shucking corn on Grandma’s back porch. Memories are stirred, friendships are made.
All the while, the preparations that went into the dinner, are going by, perhaps unnoticed by the captivated guest. The hours planning a menu and deciding which linens and plates and paper for the place cards. The 50 chicken breasts that were grilled to perfection over the open flame in the backyard, by the light of the fire (and occasional iPhone flashlight). The many minutes spent measuring the table placement to ensure it was perfectly in line with the 200+ year old tree and the lights that were carefully strung overhead, just in line with the center of the table. The fresh mozzarella appetizer, which, merely moments before, had been just plain milk.
It was for these moments that Melinda and I hosted The Alchemy of Hospitality. Each of these beautiful pieces, when placed together, are what made this retreat and dinner possible! These moments are what make hosting anyone: your husband at breakfast, your extended family at Christmastime, a group of ladies for Bible study. The glamorous & unglamorous alike; all the wonderful, real moments in bringing people together for shelter, food, conversation.
Before I wrap up my thoughts on The Alchemy of Hospitably, there were a few more little [huge] contributions that made the retreat possible. First, we had so many helpers that we could not have functioned without. Tamara and Lauren, Rebekah M, Rebekah K, Alyssa, my darling mom, my husband, Chef Amber, Lauren, Abigail, Steve, & Isaiah. I am probably forgetting a few who gave part of themselves for the weekend. You are such blessings and you are loved and I am so grateful for your help, friendship, advice, prayers, and constructive criticism! Everything!
Also, a huge thank you to our sponsors who donated some of mine and Melinda’s favorite home & kitchen wares for each of our students to take home. Here’s the complete list:
Sawyer Ceramics :: ceramic butter keeper
Farmhouse Pottery :: laurel crock
A Heirloom :: wooden cocktail muddler
Facture Goods :: wooden spoon
Anna Made Yours :: knit kitchen washcloth
Mountain Feed & Farm Supply :: canning kit
Knead & Know :: wooden charcuterie board
Bomisch :: forged iron shears
Piper & Leaf :: loose leaf tea
Salt & Sundry :: salt & salt cellars
Jennifer Olmstead, Tonic Site Shop :: workshop booklet design
And last, but certainly not least, I leave you with this stunning film that Joy from Mornings Like These created from The Alchemy of Hospitality (watch it in your browser, full screen, hi-def). Joy so wonderfully captured the spirit of the weekend…and watching this video again makes me want to have an Alchemy reunion. Who’s in?
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