Here August sits, frozen. But really it’s now months behind. These photos are a window, as autumn descends, into the Shenandoah Valley where Rebecca Gallop of A Daily Something & I hosted “Gathering From Scratch” a workshop retreat where we taught photography, styling, and the art of putting together a small gathering from scratch, from the food to setting the table. You can find Part I here. In a way, this retreat was an ode to tabletops. An obsession of mine. One of my favorite things in the world to style. One of my favorite things to photograph. One of my favorite places to be, sitting at a simple but beautiful table graced with food of the same sort.

Why the table? The collision of senses at the table is unparalleled. A truly great gathering can consume you. It can lift you up. A song about the sea colored in piano keys, emanating from a record player. Smoke from a charcoal fire wafting in from outside. Soft linen & glass carafes. A red wine stain. A knee touching another knee it’s never touched before under the table. And not moving away. A friend, maybe one you don’t know very well yet, telling her secrets disguised as self-deprecating stories. Or maybe that one is me. Hot soup. Creamy panna cotta. The crunch of greens. Acid. Salt. Water. Wine. A splash of floral cordial. It’s a symphony, the dinner table. It demands that you be present. It’s an art if you let it be.

As I go into the coming year, I’m already meting out the months in dinner parties, gatherings, and retreats. In tables. You can find more information on upcoming dinners, workshops, and retreats all over the world here. Be sure to join the mailing list if you’d like to know when tickets go on sale! My goals for the tables of 2015 are simple and as follows:

1. Simple menus. I want technique and ingredients to reign supreme over every menu I write in the coming year. I want a cappella flavors.

2. More music. I want to integrate playlists into my meals. I’d love to create a degustation menu to go with an album or playlist. A dish for each song. Anyone remember those shoe-gazey listening parties? How about listening-dinner parties? A song, a course, a conversation. I’d love to use the dual sensory experiences of food & music to give people an emotional experience.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Or hire it. These things are a lot of work. Friends, family, and kitchen helpers are invaluable. I am not a super being. I need help.

4. Mind the details. I want to find the details of the details. The soap in the bathroom. The walk down the drive. I want to consider every moment my guests will have & make it beautiful. More lists, more prep. And all of that so that when it’s actually happening, I can be more present.

5. More collaboration. Beautiful things happen when we work with artists, chefs, and fellow creatives that inspire us.

Speaking of tables, you can find an interview I did for Common Table Co. here. It includes such valuable information as my ideal last meal (spoiler: it involves gummies).

What are your goals for your tables?

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