Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Progressive Dinner Party

I can’t remember exactly when it started—maybe around ten years ago—but a group of friends, all of whom live within a few blocks of each other in Bristol, started having a progressive dinner party on a mostly annual basis. A few of us have been involved from the beginning: Chris and I, Porter and Dave, and Pete and Katie. Other couples have joined along the way. You’re probably familiar with the idea—you rove from one house to the next, eating a different course at each home prepared with the host’s own creative flair.  

Sometimes we have themes and this year it was “small plates.” There would be nine of us, or five different preparations, and since we’re all getting a little older we wanted to keep it on the lighter side—as much as possible, that is. The plan was to progress in a big circle around the neighborhood, starting at our house with cocktails and appetizers. In an effort to channel warmer weather, Chris and I went with summer drinks: Pastis (Chris’s favorite apéritif), Limoncello over ice, and French rosé. Bruschetta made with a Red Hen baguette and topped with shaved fennel tossed in lemon juice and olive oil complemented the drinks. 

I also soaked dried cherries in Cognac, heated them, and spooned them on top of a wheel of Blythedale Farm’s Camembert, also warmed. Delicieux, if I say so myself, in a retro kind of way.

Plump green olives, one of my favorite accompaniments to an apétitif, rounded out the appetizers. We started the evening at 6:00, knowing it was going to be a long night, and aimed for an hour and a half at each house. 

By the time we were on our way to Pete and Katie’s, we were already a little behind schedule, although nobody seemed to mind.

It has only recently dawned on me that the men are mostly the chefs in this group. Pete had whipped up a puréed tomato soup with a floating cheese crouton

and a zesty, shredded salad fragrant with cilantro and lime. 

He always adds a homey touch to his meals, and this time it was sliced apples. Katie, for her part, made a spectacular centerpiece out of mosses and crocuses from their yard. 

She and Pete are landscape architects, so none of us can compete with their finesse with all things plant-related. Not that there’s any whiff of competition during the progressive dinner.

Conversation was rollicking by this point, and wide ranging. 

We all could have easily hunkered down here for the evening, but Dave’s wizardry in the kitchen still awaited.

Since Dave’s business often takes him to Mexico, he decided to treat us to some authentic Mexican cuisine. And a treat it was—from the marinated beef to the minced turkey, from the savory black beans to the spicy peppers. 

All rolled up in miniature tortillas and topped with garlicky guacamole, this meal definitely channeled the sun.

The final stop was Troy’s house. He, Sheri, and Shawn were going in as a threesome for dessert, since Shawn’s wife Jen was out of town at a conference. Shawn impressed us all with his berry and pastry creation, 

and Sheri, a newcomer to the group, impressed us further with her vegan chocolate cakes, complete with vegan ice cream and chocolate sauce. Some of us had a plateful of both desserts.

A handful of people ended up in Troy’s hot tub until the wee hours. Some years we end up dancing, sometimes playing games. One year somebody (who no doubt wants to remain nameless) broke out their kids’ Halloween costumes. You get the picture.

At one point in the evening, we toasted the progressive dinner party, long may it run. I thought of Pam, Troy’s former wife, whose spirit had been there with us the whole night—in the laughter, the stories, and the antics. A few years ago, before cancer took her, we had all stood around their kitchen island eating Chicken Marbella—just another stop as we made our rounds throughout the neighborhood.


  1. This sounds truly wonderful! Thank you for sharing this! I vicariously "made the rounds" from one enchanted kitchen to the next and am inspired by this portrait of friendship and community at its best.

    1. Thanks, Linda. It's one of my favorite food nights. A fun way to share a meal and always a lot of laughs!