Passport to Portugal

It began with a spark. A hint of flavours – lemon, coriander, flame-grilled beef. The warm scent of cinnamon and lemon zest baking – permeating the house. Flakes of pastry dusting the benches, crunchy fish croquettes. The vitality of Portugal descended upon us and I was overcome with the desire to share it.

We hosted our first official Enchanted Table gathering this weekend. A table for twenty consumed our entire living room, plates carefully set out and ingredients prepared.

I spent a leisurely evening pulling together my favourite Portuguese recipes – empadas de galinha, beetroot and sweet potato crisps with coriander mayonnaise, beef espetado, piri piri chicken, chickpea tarts, custard tarts and flourless chocolate cake with lime cream… There were rice dishes, vegetables and salad combinations, cocktails  and sangria – just writing down the names of each recipe made me feel inspired.

Little by little it all came together, friends wrote their names next to dishes of their choice and it felt like the majority of the day of the feast revolved around setting the scene rather than frantically trying to cook enough food to feed 25 people.

I love the way hosting parties gets under my skin. The buzz of anticipation, the ticking over in my mind of tasks to check off to make the day easier. The inevitable last minute flood of inspiration to add a few more dishes to the list. When the first guests trickle through the door, it begins – tasks are shared, glasses clink and children run laughing from room to room, just happy that the adults are finally too distracted to stop telling them to stop touching everything. The kitchen fills up with warmth and conversation, dishes are placed haphazardly on any available space, ‘is there anything I can do?‘ voices ask. Babies are handed from person to person, the costumes cupboard raided, alter-egos assumed. I love the satisfying sound of delight when new flavours are discovered, the chaotic rhythm, the swirl of bodies moving throughout the kitchen, the hum of connection.

It was remarkable when the food was laid out – dishes upon dishes of delicious food coming together. A ruby port and brandy cocktail that went down a little too easily. It almost felt too simple – like all I had done was write down a few suggestions and platters just magically appeared in front of us all. As we all sat down along the endless table, I marvelled at the people around me, the transformation of a space into a place for memories and story to be created.

Of course, the reality isn’t about moving in slow motion to a moving soundtrack. Sometimes I feel torn between the work that goes into bringing the event together and the pressure it can put upon the family. Dave does a lot to get the kids out so that I can order the house and get the food ready. Not five minutes before everyone was about to descend upon the place we were cracking it at the boys to stop opening the glass door with their sticky, corn-chip coated hands. It wasn’t very elegant. I worry too that people might feel overwhelmed with having to bring specific meals and that the stress of cooking something new could take away from their enjoyment of the night.

There is always the post-party readjustment too. I love having events to plan and look forward to, but that isn’t a realistic proposition. There is the distinct possibility that I’m not all sunshine and roses the morning after. Still worth it.

I really wouldn’t trade anything for the incredible experience that is opening our home and lives to make these memories. The Enchanted Table brings together so much that I value. Food, friends, creativity, laughter, anticipation and fun. I’m so thankful that we get to experience it all together. Because life really is so much better when shared.

Let me know if you would like to be a part of our next feast! Or, if you are interested in hosting your own Portuguese-themed Enchanted Table gathering, send me a message and I can share our menu plan and song playlist, even a Google slideshow with images of Lisbon that we didn’t get around to using.

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