This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you click and/or make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. Gifted products will be noted as such.
It was Tuesday, July 4th, 4 days before my scheduled dinner party and I was about to cancel the entire thing. Invitations had been sent, excitement was building, and I had no idea what I was doing for this party. Rewind two years and I had just thrown a 23rd birthday party that I deemed “the best night of my life”. My friends felt the same way, so when they all put July 8th on their calendars and told me to throw a party, the pressure was on. So much pressure.
But obviously, I wouldn’t be writing this post if the party hadn’t happened. It may have also taken the spot for the new “best night of my life”.
Let’s Break it Down: A Dinner Party in 4 Days
After I got over my initial party planning fear on Tuesday, I set out to start making some of the DIY pieces of the party and planning out my tablescape. I had actually decided on a theme a few weeks prior, Southwest or Aztec, so I already had 5 cacti that I ordered from a cute succulent Etsy shop in California. My mom is classic for cutting down other people’s weeds for flower arrangements (I’m not kidding), so I knew I could count on her for the “flowers”. The brown bottles were literally excavated years before by my dad on a construction site where an old science lab used to be…. Weird! I sprinkled in some brass candlesticks stolen from our fireplace mantel, some deer antlers, two burlap runners strewn sideways… and that’s all she wrote! A big shout out goes to our good friends Lin & Enzo for building and lending those perfect tables and benches from their housewarming/baby shower a few weeks before. They truly set the scene and made decor a breeze!
The crafted elements of the party included feather headbands for the girls to wear, feathers tied around the antique brown glass bottles for the table, and aztec print cloth napkins. This is an Evans family trick. Buy some fabric, cut it into squares that are big enough to fold, and then fray the edges and you’ve got napkins. I can picture every woman in my family doing this on their lap at the beach at some point of my life.
On Wednesday night, I cleaned the house, straightened up the greenhouse (it already looked that perfect), and hung those incredible party lights with my dad. I’m convinced that stringing lights creates all the atmosphere you need for a breathtaking party. So you’re saying I could’ve just strung lights and then served everything on paper plates? Rats… I always lay out as much as I can ahead of time so that when the day arrives, I don’t feel frantic. This includes setting out all the dishes and serving utensils with post-it note labels so I know exactly what food is going in what dish. Thursday was a Costco and liquor store run, which took up the entire night. Friday night was all about food prep with my mom. I made the appetizers ahead of time, as well as cooking the rice, beans, and chicken. Finally, Saturday was game day. I set the table, did a last minute ice run, finished some minor food prep, and had about 3 hours to kill before the party started…so I kicked back with an early glass of sangria. It was seriously a crash course on how to throw a dinner party for 16 in 4 days.
It’s Party Time
The party started at 6:30 on Saturday night with cocktail hour in the greenhouse, complete with sangria and appetizers. Although Cameron wanted to use a classic red plastic cooler (aesthetics, Cameron), we filled an old galvanized wash tub with ice for the beer and wine. I served tacos & taquitos; melon, prosciutto and mozzarella skewers; southwest pinwheels; and spinach artichoke dip. One regret from the party: not parking myself in front of the spread of appetizers, because they were all gone by the end of the night!
After about an hour, it was time for our party of 16 to sit down at that long, welcoming dinner table. I set up a “Chipotle” style burrito bowl bar inside complete with rice, black beans, corn, salsa, chicken, mushrooms, cheese, sour cream, cilantro, tomatoes, and green onion. There were restaurant style baskets of chips and salsa on the table. The group size was perfect, allowing for full table conversations, especially after my cheesy ice breaker; “what is something that has brought you joy recently”? Answers ranged from fun summer reading opportunities to joining the library for the first time to learning hip hop dance. I loved being one large happy family at a big long dinner table.
Homemade sangria, White Girl Rose, and beer were flowing and it felt like everyone was taking in the moment and having a blast. My mom and dad have always prayed, before an event in our home, that our guests would feel an overwhelming peace and love during their time with us. That fervent prayer was surely answered this evening. After dinner, the boys bee-lined to the greenhouse for cigars that I provided (always a bonding moment) and the girls chatted, took pictures, and maybe went in the pool fully clothed 😉
For a simple dessert, I walked around with a box of ice cream sandwiches while everyone sang happy birthday to me. I could have cried to see so many people that I love there that night (even though there were a few key players in my life missing). The rest of the party flew by and made for funny morning stories, like 16 people in our tiny Endless Pool, chats by the fire, and impromptu s’mores at 4 am. As I climbed the stairs to my bed with the sound of morning birds chirping and streaks of sunlight coming through the trees, I knew this was a night we would not soon forget.