First of all, thanks everyone for your interest in the event! Your comments were so heartening; I felt like you were right there with me from preparation through to clean up.
Update: Here is the video of the event
We had a fabulous time, and judging from the recycling bin, there will be a few woolly heads this morning!
We went with 1920s attire and everyone got into the act with enthusiasm. My “middle” daughter, Kirsten and her husband Michael.
Son Adam and his wife, Anastasia (known as Annie in our family).
My honourary daughter, Shannon, who signs herself “daughter #5” when we correspond.
Our friends from Boston, Kathleen and Ron – aren’t they the last word in elegance?
My dearly beloved, Glenn
And of course, ‘Gustus in his embroidered waistcoat, Penny the penguin in her natural tuxedo and Teddy in the tux and top hat.
The dogs waited patiently for their share of the goodies. Taylor always takes these things lying down. Her brothers Burton on the left and Churchill on the right are more eager to be fed.
The event concept was “Celebrating Highclere’s Role in Canada’s History”. As I mentioned in the first blog on this contest:
“The competition entries will be judged by a panel of three judges based on the originality of their event concept, the level of skill and accomplishment in hospitality as judged by reference to the standard required for formal dinners at Highclere Castle and the level of enjoyment obvious from the participants of the event in the photographs and video clip submitted.”
In researching possibilities for the concept, I was intrigued by the visit of Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, to Highclere Castle around the time of the Confederation of Canada on July 1, 1867, which Lady Carnarvon mentions in her book “At Home at Highclere” . The Fourth Earl of Carnarvon was the British Secretary of State for the Colonies at the time of the visit, and three of our Fathers of Confederation were noted in the visitor book, the aforementioned John A MacDonald, George Etienne Cartier, our first Minister of Defence and Militia, and Alexander Galt, who went on to become our first Minister of Finance. Lady Carnarvon makes further mention of her research into the visitors in a blog post in the Community Section of her site, entitled “Highclere and Canada”:
“I discovered in the archives nearly eight weeks of almost daily correspondence between the 4th Earl and the first Prime Minister of Canada Sir John A. MacDonald. Diary entries and letters show the discussion of key elements of the Canadian Constitution, such as how Lord Carnarvon sought to safeguard the rights of minorities, the terms of the Senators and the respective powers of the federal and local legislatures.
It is clear that Highclere Castle was at the very centre of the discussions surrounding the British North American Bill and its drafting. Indeed, it was the 4th Earl himself who took the British North America Act to Parliament in February 1867, which led to the creation of the Dominion of Canada on July 1st of the same year.”
How cool is that? We Canadians have just finished a year of celebrations to mark our 150th birthday, and it turns out that a lot of that is due to Highclere. What a wonderful connection and a good reason to celebrate!
Back to the evening! Once everyone arrived, the first order of business was preparing the cocktails. I insisted Adam put an apron over his tux before starting to slice the lemons (those white waistcoats…).
We used William Yeoward Fern glasses for the cocktails. They’re a modern pattern, but have a real old world feeling.
While the videographers set up in the dining room, we went into the living room to enjoy our cocktails and appetizers. Please come through…
The canapé of pastry cups filled with sour cream and caviar was simple and delicious.
John, who served as footman, executed his duties with smiling calm.
Kirsten’s headpiece was the piece de resistance in flapper attire!
Then it was on to dinner!
Kathi kindly used her calligraphy skills to write the place cards, so everyone could find their place.
The service plate is antique Royal Doulton. The raised gilding feels quite lovely under your fingers, and the delicate scrollwork detail always fascinates me. Such patience it must have taken to draw all that!
The menu card at each place remained for the entire meal so people could pace themselves. I’ll write up the recipes in the next few days, so please bear with me! I will update the post with links to the recipes.
Celeriac Soup Garnished With Duck Confit and drizzled with pumpkin seed oil was the first course…
…which we served with a 2014 Raimbault Sancerre in antique gold twisted stem Venetian goblets.
The antique gilded Moser water glasses remained filled throughout the dinner to offset some of the wine! I had debated using the coordinating Moser red and white wine glasses, but it seemed like Gilded Overkill, so went with the Venetian twisted stem goblets instead.
See what I mean? I think it would have been Too Much!
I prepared the crab cakes that morning, using a recipe I found online at Once Upon a Chef. It was very well rated, and I followed it verbatim. The ratings did not lie; they were delicious.
As we finished our soup, I excused myself from the table to finish the risotto and sauté the crab cakes.
I started the risotto earlier in the evening; it takes about 40 minutes, and I didn’t want to be away from the table that long between courses. It turned out surprisingly well given its stop-and-start production. We took turns babysitting it.
We added the peas at the very end. The Highclere recipe calls for making a puree of the peas to add to the stock, but I had my doubts about how the excess starch from the peas would react with the rice, so elected to use the whole peas instead.
A quick sauté of the crab cakes and we were away.
A very helpful lady at the Summerhill Liquor store recommended the wine pairing for the crab cakes, a Saint Romain White Burgundy (Chardonnay). It was perfect, so thank you Leslie!
The rack of lamb entree, was accompanied by parmesan baskets filled with roasted beets, carrots, leeks, sugar snap peas and fennel. I roasted the beets and made the parmesan baskets (soooo easy) two days ahead of time.
I was somewhat dubious about Leslie’s recommendation for the red wine for this course, but Gerard Depardieu Ma Verite Haut Medoc proved just the ticket. We often drink Italian reds, but felt that a French Bordeaux (called claret in the old days), would be better, and so it proved.
As you can see, everyone enjoyed themselves!
The choice of dessert raised a few eyebrows: “Do you think you’ll get points knocked off for the controversial name?” But Better Than Crack Brownie Parfaits were a sure winner. They’re my daughter Lauren’s signature dessert and I knew we couldn’t do better.
We served Charles Mignon brut champagne with dessert, and the men went on to enjoy port.
The ladies particularly loved the Venetian goblets!
A few more pictures of the table before we move on. The silver candlesticks were from Pottery Barn many years ago.
The Edwardian candelabra were a gift from my Grandfather, and as such, are very dear to me.
I used several different open salts, as I have only pairs. The swans were from Country Dining Room antiques a couple of decades ago…
And I cannot recall where these came from. All the spoons were from a little antique store in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
I’ve had the silver planter in the middle of the table for donkey’s years. The central bit lifts out, so you can drop it off at the florists and they happily fill it. In this case I used orchids from the local grocery store (yes, I know, so déclassé, but they did the job), and added some more orchid bark to fill out the planter.
I checked several different sources for the proper placement of the goblets, and ended up going with one that worked, rather than what was deemed “correct”. In keeping with the spirit of the “correct placement’, I put the champagne and red wine at the back, and the water and white wine at the front.
And in the spirit of avoiding “Gilded Overkill”, I left all the port glasses off to the side to be placed on the table after the meal.
Cleanup was a joint effort, and everyone pitched in. From washing and drying glasses…
The event was an enormous amount of fun, and as one reader commented, it really doesn’t matter whether we win or not, the experience of preparation and enjoyment with dear friends and family was worth every minute of effort.
I’ll be getting a professional video and some photos from the lovely guys at Lights and Lines Production, and will share them with you once I’ve submitted my entry to the contest. In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed our more amateur efforts! 🙂
Thanks again for all your enthusiasm, dear readers.
I’m sharing this post with Between Naps on the Porch.