Sunday, February 8, 2009

You're Invited to a Special Dinner

VP at Veg Plotting has recommended a great way to beat the February blahs, suggesting everyone host a dinner party and invite up to 5 special guests. The ever-creative VP has challenged us to think of who we would really like to invite with no concern about limits of time or place.

This sounded like a great idea to me, but first let me explain that I don't "do" dinner parties. Get-togethers at the Prairie Estate are infrequent, usually family affairs, but nearly always casual.

I break out the china and silver once, maybe twice, a year for holiday dinners, and only then to keep them from getting too dusty or tarnished. If I'm going to invite friends over, we're more likely to grill out in good weather or have something simple like Italian Beef rather than a 5-course meal. For tonight's dinner I want to keep it simple so that I can enjoy my guests instead of fussing in the kitchen. Lasagna, a salad, and garlic bread will probably be on the menu since they can all be prepared ahead of time. And for dessert--my favorite thing to make--we'll definitely have something chocolate. Maybe I'll search through some of Joey's recipes for something truly decadent.

Now as for the guest list, the people I would really like to invite are my blogging friends, gardeners or not. I couldn't begin to limit my choices to just 5, so I am going to invite 3 special guests and extend the invitation to everyone. Since many of you are planning your own dinner parties, I've postponed mine until tonight so more of you can attend. Just let me know an hour or two ahead of time so I know how many chairs to set up.

Assuming many of you will be able to make it, I'm going to move the party downstairs to the basement family room. I no longer have a formal dining room, so my dining room table and china cabinet now reside downstairs. For our family dinners, the adults can linger at the table after dinner and still keep on eye on the little ones as they play in the adjacent play area. I have plenty of room for setting up folding tables, but if we run out of room, perhaps a few of you more petite guests could sit at the kids' table, if you wouldn't mind. As hostess, I would be the first to sit here, and I can assure you the chairs are very sturdy, though one's knees do ache after an hour or so.

Now as to the special guests, I had to think long and hard. VP has assembled a very prestigious guest list, and I would expect many of the rest of you will be inviting some famous landscape designers or gardening experts who are published or have their own television shows. But I really don't know too many famous people in the field of gardening, although there are two icons in the field of literature I would like to invite.

Certainly, if I could invite anyone from any era, first on my list would be William Shakespeare. Although I've never read that he was a gardener, old Will must have known a thing or two about plants because there is so much flower imagery in his writings. A second guest I'd love to meet is Emily Dickinson, who as we all know was about as tuned into nature as one could be.

However, Will's theatre schedule will probably prevent him from being able to attend, and Emily doesn't like to socialize much. So instead, I've invited three local gardening experts who love to share their knowledge with others. Unless you live in central Illinois, you won't be familiar with them, but local gardeners will appreciate their knowledge of plants for this area and problems with pests, diseases, or the weather in our gardens:

1.Sandra Mason: a horticulture unit educator for the University of Illinois Extension in Champaign County who also trains Master Gardeners in the area. She can be seen on several local television gardening segments and shows, but is the most familiar to me as the writer for a weekly column in our local newspaper. Sandra's column covers so many topics related to gardening and landscaping that I have become a faithful reader every Saturday. As a local gardener, her tips are related specifically to this area, so I know if she says it's time to plant tomatoes, then I'm going to get those seedlings in the garden as soon as possible. It was her column that identified those pesky tiny bugs flying about last fall as pirate flies, and another column of hers that gave me information about the woolly worms I wrote about in October. Last week's column was a humorous piece entitled "You know that you're a serious gardener if . . ." This sounds a bit like Carol's Garden Geeks, doesn't it? One of her many answers to this question was..."You're a serious gardener if in the middle of winter, you start cultivating the mold in the refrigerator just to see something grow." I haven't tried that one yet, but I depend on her expert advice in many other gardening projects.

2. Dianne Noland: a horticulture instructor at the University of Illinois who also hosts the weekly "Illinois Gardener" which airs on our local PBS station. The show is a question and answer format in which Dianne and two or three other guest experts answer gardening questions from viewers' calls. Dianne says in her bio, "I teach landscaping, so it's my vocation. But gardening is my avocation." I am not a faithful viewer of this program, but I do watch it occasionally. However, I was lucky enough to attend a workshop last spring with Beckie led by Dianne entitled "Fun in the Garden." She covered a wide range of topics in this talk, including some design techniques, container planting, and adding whimsy to the garden. It really was a "fun" workshop because Dianne is such a cheery and enthusiastic gardener you can't help but like her. I would think her college courses are very popular--no dull professorial lectures here!

3. Judy Faire: a charter member of the county's Master Gardeners, "Miss Judy" is best known as one of the hosts on a local radio call-in program on Saturday mornings, "Coffee with the Plant Experts." After listening to her for many years, I've concluded that if she doesn't know the answer to a gardening question, then you don't really need to know the answer! Judy works at Prairie Gardens, a local garden center, and is often found motoring through the aisles on her scooter, answering questions from customers. Prairie Gardens holds many gardening workshops, and yesterday Beckie and I attended our first one this spring on starting seeds indoors. Judy was one of the presenters and, as expected, gave a comprehensive guide for success in seed-starting from choosing the proper containers to transplanting the young seedlings.

After my disastrous first attempt at starting seeds last year, I was eager to learn what I had done wrong. Judy's workshop pointed out how to avoid the mistakes that I made last year so that I could avoid damping off or having seedlings die when I transplanted them to a bigger container. It was certainly an hour well-spent, and to top it off, all participants were given a 20% coupon off anything in the store.

Coupons in hand, Beckie and I made our way, along with most of the other workshop participants, to the seed starting supply aisle. We purchased the potting medium recommended by Miss Judy--a bag each of perlite and peat moss for a 50/50 blend--rather than a commercial blend. We limited the rest of our purchases to a few peat pellets and seed trays since our time was limited--after all, I had a dinner to prepare!

With these three ladies as special guests, we should have a lively dinner conversation that I suspect would last well beyond the dessert and coffee. So if the lasagna doesn't quite turn out as I expected or the garlic bread is a bit burnt around the edges, I think you might be willing to overlook it. I'll put on another pot of coffee (I do make good coffee, if I do say so myself), open another bottle of wine, and set out some chocolates. After all, this evening is all about friendship, gardening, and having a good time!


  1. That is just the sort of menu that I prefer to make! As you say, you can prepare Lasagne in advance therefore avoiding the worry that it won't come out right! Also, as you know, I love chocolate!

    I find the thought of entertaining stressful, but if I get up the courage, it's always good fun.

    Your invite sounds so good (and I'm not a gardener) but can I gate crash please?!

  2. Dear Rose,

    I love that you moved your dining table to a space where every one can participate...perfect. Speaking of perfect...the menu sounds delicious followed by something chocolate from Joey...Yummy! Coffee...good coffee and chocolate always makes up for any dinner mishaps!

    Thank you for including us all in the invite...even though I don't know your local garden gurus I love meeting enthusiastic gardeners.


  3. I'm coming! I love lasagne and garlic bread and salads! Plus I'd love to meet all these folks and especially you. Love your china hutch.

  4. Suburbia, You are definitely on the guest list! Come early and stay late:) I know that we will be talking about much more than gardening.

    Gail, I wasn't happy when we moved that I couldn't find a place for the dining room furniture, but it's worked out well. I'm not a formal kind of gal, anyway:) Yes, you would enjoy these 3 ladies, and they would love to hear all about your Garden of Benign Neglect.

    Tina, Lasagna is one of my favorites, too; I could eat any kind of Italian food every day of the week:) You would have a great time with my guests, and you could share some info about Tennessee gardening.

  5. What a delightful post Rose. I would eagerly accept the invitation to come to this party and I would gladly sit at the childrens table as long as I could listen and join in on the conversaton at the "adult" table.
    Good luck with your seeds this year. I am sure you will do wonders with those seeds this year.

  6. Rose - that's just my kind of dinner - count me in! I see Surburbia's here too - we live quite close, but haven't met yet, so it'd be great to have the opportunity :)

    I don't think it matters most of us are unfamiliar with your gardeneing guests - gardening breaks down the barriers, so I'm sure we'll be talking non-stop in no time :)

    Our local garden centre has talks too and a garden club. I go there with my blog and garden pal Threadspider just like you do with Beckie.

    Thanks for putting together a great post as usual and being such a charming hostess to us hordes!

  7. These are wonderful guests, mostly because I didn't know of them before. Lasagna is a favourite food of mine, but could we maybe degenerate into a wee bit of a food fight too? No one has offered to have one yet!

  8. Can it be vegetarian lasagne? Sorry to be a nuisance!
    I love the place setting with trowel and garden fork!
    Should be a very good evening and there will be lots to talk about tough what I could say about my garden right now is not very much, I'm afraid.Things don't get any better.

  9. Rose, I love your lasagne and so would all your guests. The 3 locals you have chosen would be delighful guests. I never tire of listening to them talk about gardening and plants.

    Yesterday at the seminar, I was again amazed at the knowledge Miss Judy has on any subject to do wotih gardens and plants.

    I know your dinner party will be a hit and talked about in gardening circles for years to come.

  10. Your party sounds perfectly delightful, Rose, and I'm honored you thought of me for finding a decadent chocolate dessert (I do have many, simply click on the top on my site :) Lasagne is a yummy choice, love it, and I could learn much from your honored guests. But the best part of the evening ~ lingering over coffee with you!

  11. Hi Rose.....what a lovely idea.....and how generous that you invite us all....of course I accept.....
    I would be quite happy with the glass of wine and chocolate.....I am a simple soul, and they are two of my most favourite things when I sit down in the evening....and I love good coffee.....

    As for your guests, how delightful, I am sure I would have so much to ask, and so much to learn.....

    What fun, when is it??

  12. Oh! A garden party in the middle of February! I would love to listen to everyone chatter and laugh as I savor the lasagna and chocolate. It's always interesting to learn from gardening experts, but I would leap at the chance to meet everyone I have "talked" to over the last nine months. Thank you so much for the most generous invitation!

  13. That sounds like a great dinner party and lasagne is my favourite! I only usually entertain members of the family, too. My cooking leaves a bit to be desired, unfortunately. I worry that stuff won't be properly cooked, then often overcook it instead.

    I gave up with growing things from seed. My stuff suffered a lot from damping off. I only plant a few seeds in post, now - those that are OK outside and then I transplant them when they are big enough.

  14. Oh, sorry about that. When I said 'in post', I meant 'in pots', of course!

  15. Your dinner party sounds like fun. I just want to know which guests have to sit at the "kid's table" for two. I remember eating downstairs in the "rec room" with the kids while our parents and guests got loud and rowdy upstairs at the giant dinning room table. I'm pretty sure that's the only time they had to tell adults-only jokes.

  16. Lisa, I would love to have you come, and how kind of you to offer to sit at the kids' table:) I'm feeling much more confident about seed-starting this year after the workshop.

    VP, Thanks for hosting this--it was fun, although a bit difficult to choose 3 guests. The locals I've chosen would have a great time getting to know gardeners from all over. Beckie and I have attended quite a few gardening events in the past year--it's so much more fun going to these with a friend, isn't it?

    Jodi, We've never had a food fight here, but with the grandkids I'm used to cleaning up messes around the table:) I think gardeners, no matter who or where they're from, can always find something to talk about.

    Maggie May, No problem--I like spinach lasagna, too; will that be ok? Notice we're hosting this in February when there's a cover of snow over the garden. I'd be too intimidated in the summer to have any gardening experts visit my garden:)

    Beckie, We could just sit back and listen--and take notes, couldn't we? But I have a feeling this party would be more than informative; lots of fun and laughter as well. Doesn't this weather make you antsy to start those seeds??

    Joey, I try not to make desserts too often, as I'm the only one in the house with a real sweet tooth, so I find myself eating most of them. I love having an excuse to make them, though--your decadent chocolate cheesecake tops my list of recipes to try for the next dessert occasion.

    Cheryl, Wouldn't it be fun to have a REAL meeting of some of our favorite bloggers? The party is this weekend, but I would love to have you come when the weather is warmer so we could go bee and butterfly-hunting in the garden, and you could see some of your seeds growing in my garden.

    Morning Glories, Welcome back! And I agree, the best part would be meeting fellow bloggers. There is an opportunity for this--in Chicago in late May.

    Mean Mom, Your cooking sounds like mine:) Perhaps I should look into a caterer... Last year was the first time I tried to start seeds indoors, and it was a rousing failure. I'm hoping for better luck this year, but many seeds will be sowed directly in the ground when it's warm enough just in case.

    Weeping Sore, I certainly won't MAKE anyone sit at the kids' table:) I enjoyed it when I was young to avoid listening to the boring conversation at the grown-ups' table.

  17. I'm giggling over the kids' table. I've sat at those too many times in the not too distant past (when the kids were in preschool.) How lucky you are to be so close to U of I & its horticulture school & test gardens.

  18. It sounds like your evening was filled with laughter and fun and who could ask for more than that - except chocolate - which I see you are also providing.
    An Artist's Garden

  19. This sounds like a wonderful party! Count me in and may I bring a container for lasagna leftovers? It runs a second behind Pizza for my favorites. :-)

  20. Oh no, I didn't get my invitation until after the event. That will teach me to check blogs more regularly.

    I hope you will give us a course on seed starting. I'd love to learn what works for different gardeners.

  21. Thanks Rose, I would love to come early and stay late. It would be great to talk :)

  22. MMD, I've sat at that table many times with my grandkids coloring or making Play-Doh creations:) We are very lucky indeed to have the U of I so close; there are so many resources available through them that we don't take advantage of enough.

    Karen, I've decided that chocolate cures a lot of ills:) Glad you could come!

    Skeeter, Definitely bring a container! I tend to always make too much:)

    Marnie, In this world of cyber reality, I think you're still in time for dinner:) I might do a blog post when I start my seeds, but I can only share the tips I've learned so far. It remains to be seen whether I will be very successful.

    Suburbia, Good! You could use a girls' night out:) I do intend to email you soon--I've been too busy to do much of anything here other than read a few blogs.

  23. Dear Rose,

    Thank you for your dear sweet words on my blogaversary...they mean a lot to me. I can't wait to see you and beckie and well, everyone in May!


  24. I'm very sorry I couldn't make it to your dinner party Rose. It sounds absolutely divine.

    I can only imagine the conversation was wonderful along with dinner, dessert and coffee.

    Fun post Rose!

  25. Your guest list sounds great Rose and I'm sure your evening was great fun. With an Italian mother lasagne is one of my favourite foods :) I too would have relished the opportunity to meet the bard. As a teenager I studied ' A Midsummer Nights Dream' and have never forgotten Oberon's speech beginning with the words:
    'I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
    Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
    Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
    With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine'

    It sounds so beautiful and imagine the perfume !

  26. Gail, You're very welcome! I just made hotel reservations for Spring Fling:)

    Susie, As I told Marnie, since this is a cyber event, time is negotiable--you're still welcome to come:)

    Anna, Thank you for including those beautiful lines! "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is one of favorite Shakespearean plays, and believe it or not, I just saw a shortened version of it on stage this past weekend--my granddaughter played Puck. You can imagine how proud I was of her!

  27. Wait, I actually WANT to sit at the kiddie table--the dishes look fun! :)

  28. Oh what fun! And I love the menu. Sounds just like what I'd make. Lasagne always comes out right - there are so many flavours they all blend together. And chocolate for dessert? Can't go wrong there.

    Good luck with the seedlings. It is fun to get a headstart on spring gardening.
    Sounds like you and Beckie had a good time.

  29. Monica, I forgot to comment about your dishes--I think I may have antiques in my cupboard!

    Wendy, I like to cook dishes that are foolproof, as you say. I hope my seeds do well--the planning is one my favorite parts of gardening:)

  30. That is also what I do with guests. I cook lasagna, chinese bahmi or Indonesian rice. Or the Dutch hotchpotch or stew.

  31. When in doubt serve Italian food is my motto, too, Rose - and I even like the garlic bread a little burnt so thanks for the invitation!

    With that guest list your party will surely be a lively one.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose


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