A FEAST FOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS | A SIMPLE GUIDE
One of the definitions of the word “feast” in the Oxford English Dictionary is
“A plentiful supply of something enjoyable”
This really sets the scene for what a feast at its best can and should be: a gathering of both people and sustenance in a spirit of abundance.
To me, abundance does not necessarily mean a table groaning under the load of copious amounts of food (although it certainly can). Rather, it speaks of sharing what you have, be it a simple supper of bread and cheese or an elaborate four course meal, with the people you love. It is feeding the body as well as the soul.
A feast should also be a reminder of the great privileges we enjoy. A table set with food, plentiful or not, and surrounded by cherished people is sadly not a matter of course for everyone. Appreciation and gratitude for what we have will deepen the joy in sitting down with our family and friends and encourage us to truly relish the food we share.
We hope the following will provide you with inspiration to curate your own feast, great or small!
Food & Drink
While Santhya and I both love a proper sit-down meal, for a more relaxed approach (both in preparation and consumption) nothing beats a good selection of sharing plates. Having everything prepped in advance, ready to share all at once, also means that you actually get to enjoy the people you have invited. Instead of running to the kitchen every five minutes to check on your food, you can mingle with your guests and enjoy what you have prepared.
Personally, we like a mix of cold and warm dishes but you could easily go with just either, depending on the weather, season or location (or your cooking skills). Here is what we prepared for this feast:
Assortment of cheeses - choose a mix of hard and soft cheese and add some goat’s, sheep’s and blue cheese too, to keep it interesting
A variety of cold/cured meats - if you have a local butcher you trust, why not ask him/her to curate a selection for you? When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a classic salami, mortadella or parma ham. A left-over Sunday roast, sliced up is also really nice
Olives, plain and stuffed - If you don’t like olives, try sundried tomatoes, artichokes, gherkins or pickled pearl onions
Dips/Spreads - hummus is always a winner (we like the recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook), as is some simple yoghurt or cream cheese mixed with fresh herbs. Santhya also made a delicious and colourful beetroot spread from I Will Not Eat Oysters. I also really like this smoky aubergine dip from Smitten Kitchen.
Crackers/Bread - nothing beats a freshly baked Pain de Campagne or Baguette. For the cheese, I like a classic oatcake (Nairn’s are great) or water cracker
Canapés - don’t overthink these, it does not have to be complicated to make an impact. We used the beetroot dip, spread on toast and topped it with cooked beetroot slices, crumbly goat’s cheese and a zesty slice of orange. As an alternative, we topped some Pain de Campagne slices with avocado, crème fraîche, pears and a dash of cracked black pepper
Eggs - simply half some hard-boiled eggs and arrange on a plate. Or take it one step further and top with a dollop of mayonnaise and a ruby-coloured pomegranate seed. Feeling super fancy? Classic Deviled Eggs are always a winner. I like this recipe from Lisa Bryan
Portobello mushrooms - these supersized beauties are perfect for stuffing, since they are basically an edible serving plate. We simply filled ours with couscous, herbs and some cottage cheese but I really want to try this recipe from the Minimalist Baker for the next feast
Kale salad - we served this warm, with a simple vinaigrette dressing and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds. This recipe with almonds and garlic also sound delicious. We love kale and did a full post an a variety of recipes, if you need further inspiration
Fruits & nuts - try to use whatever is in season (bananas are sadly never going to be in season were we live); we found the most delicious pears at the local farmer’s market. To accompany the cheese, dried fruit like figs or apricots are also a tasty choice. Also, a few walnuts, almonds or cashews add a nice crunch and some texture
Drinks - at this time of year, I really like a fruity Chardonnay. This one from the local Aagne winery is lovely. Once we enter the hotter months, I will be serving one of my favourite white wines, also from Aagne, Irma la Douce. This is summer in a bottle! If you don’t serve alcohol, it is always nice to offer a variety of flavoured waters. Simply add some sliced fruit, berries or herbs to a carafe of fresh water. I really like a lime and mint combo
Table Setting & Decoration
You don’t have to pull out the family silver to create an impressive table setting. I personally like to get inspired by the food I am serving, both by the theme of the ingredients (e.g. Meditteranean, simple platter of cheese and meat, etc.) and the visual aspects of it (e.g. is it very colourful food, mostly greenes, etc.). Looking at the season and what it has to offer in terms of flowers, textures and colours is also a good place to start. And sometimes, nothing more is needed than the food itself to set the scene. If you are looking for more formal decoration inspiration, fear not! We have a post coming up soon, sharing our tips and ideas for two table settings and some simple flower arrangements.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
crockery - while I do love a matching tableware set, for an event that is more relaxed like this feast, “mismatched” crockery can look really nice and it’s a great occasion to use all those random serving plates you might have sitting in your kitchen cupboards. I am very fortunate to have inherited a lot of beautiful antique dishes and tableware from my grandmother. If you are not as lucky and don’t have a large stash of crockery, charity shops are a great place to look for antique serving plates, casserole dishes and whiteware in general. And because this kind of crockery is often considered old fashioned by the general public, you might be able to find real bargains. Also, get creative with what you have. For example, why not layer a salad into a glass vase or put the bread and crackers in an old biscuit tin? If you don’t have a dedicated cheese board, you could pre-cut the cheese and arrange it directly on the table (put a nice linen or cloth napkin underneath to protect the table).
Table linen - again, you can go as big or as simple as you want. For a low-key affair like this feast, a full set of table linen would feel over the top, especially because people are likely to be less stationary and move around a lot. A stack of simple white paper napkins and a few finger bowls (if you serve very greasy or “hand-held” food) are often enough. I prefer linen or cloth napkins because they can be re-used and look a little more sophisticated. As with the crockery, classic table linen like damask napkins can often be found at charity shops for a good price. If you are the practical type and have a sewing machine, you could buy some fabric (linen or cotton) and whip some up yourself!
Flowers & other decoration - I suspect that most table decorations are lost on the people invited to an event, unfortunately. Nevertheless, it is a nice gesture to have some sort of decoration on the table to tie everything together. Some single flowers, dotted around the table in little vases or even just a scattering of petals and/or leaves on the table are simple but visually effective. Also, see what other things nature has to offer. In autumn, a few colourful leaves or an arrangement of fir cones look nice. In spring/early summer, pick a bunch of dandelions and arrange in little bouquets. And when in doubt, light a few candles and you are all set.