Linda was on a mission. She and her husband, Mike, were hosting a farm-to-table feast at their home north of Kansas City to benefit their church. She stopped by on her hunt for the dishes and linens and other supplies she would need to create a beautiful fall table in her barn.
A gourmet cook, Linda is known for her parties. And as she told me about the menu she was planning that would celebrate the fresh flavors of the local farms, dairy, bakery and distillery, she was so excited. But she deflated like a tire with a nail in it at the thought of spending the weekend transforming the barn into a dining room for 12.
Me? As I listened, my mind became a slideshow of tables set to dazzle. We had a match made in heaven. I told Linda, you focus on the cooking, and let us do the decorating.
Linda does everything first class. She’s been a customer, and my friend, since 1989 when she moved to the area. After they purchased Stony Oaks Farm, a 210-acre stretch of pristine farmland outside historic St. Joseph, the first thing they built was the barn.
They hired an Amish craftsman to construct the building. The second floor was designed for entertaining and has been the site of many a party, including the family’s Thanksgiving dinners and kids’ graduation celebrations. We couldn’t wait to get our hands on it.
As you can imagine, when you work with a team as creative as the visual design artists, everyone had a million ideas for the party, with stacks of Pinterest boards to show. After working it out the Nell Hill’s way — cussing and discussing and wrangling with different looks — we came up with a vision. Instead of the cliché fall barn images, we set a scene of rustic elegance. Bruce and Dillon brought it all to life.
The table was a tapestry of textures, built with one rich and inviting layer after another, starting with kilim rugs used as tablecloths. Tartan napkins served as place mats. Spode dinnerware gave the feeling of fall.
Guests were welcomed to the table with a unique place card: a tree branch wedge inscribed with their names. The barn is not heated, so we draped tartan throws over the back of each guest’s chair so everyone could wrap up against the chill of the fall evening.
When there is this much going on in your dining area, it’s best to keep your centerpieces simple. We filled towering glass vases with branches of bittersweet and surrounded them with clusters of votive candles.
Against this beautiful backdrop, Linda wowed her guests with her unforgettable farm-to-table feast that showcased the bounty of the land: butternut squash soup served in pumpkin bowls; a salad of figs, prosciutto, walnuts and Parmesan cheese; beer brined grilled pork chops; roasted onions stuffed with caramelized onion potatoes; apple cabbage slaw; bourbon toffee date cake; and a rustic apple tart. My stomach is growling just thinking of it!
It was such a joy for us to be a part of making this benefit dinner such a success. We love all the good things you all are doing out there to make our communities, and our world, a better place.
This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at nellhills.com.