I’ll come clean. The first time I heard of pop-up dinners in white was on Top Chef. The next time was in a Groupon for Le Diner a SF. I missed the window to buy the cheaper tickets so one day, I found myself on the Handmade Events website. It was there that I learned about the PopUp Wine Country dinner in white. I had to go.
The concept was so alluring. You sign up to get the email updates. Then one day, they start selling tickets. But all you know is the date and that the dinner is happening “somewhere in the Sonoma wine country”. Then on the day of the event, you get another email disclosing the location. Hundreds of people descend on that location at the specified time, dressed in their finest white, armed with their best table decor, and equipped with their tastiest provisions and friends. You bring everything you need for your little party, other than the table, the chairs, the music, and the location. Another thing that jumped out was that it was a leave-no-trace event. Guests are encouraged to use real dishes, real knives and forks, and to take any trash and recycling they generate back home.
So the idea was hatched. Our party of four would be me, Boy, my brother and sister-in-law for some sibling good times. But that’s just where it started.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, here are even more (better) photos from the official event photographer, Nicole Nelson Photography. The first 10 are of our table and the final two show the amazing ambiance (and our table is in the far bottom left corner at the very back). And for even more event photos, check out the official album on Facebook.
Now on to the details.
I am something of a planner. So almost a month before the designated time, I was already working on the menu and the supplies. Given that we would have to go to some Sonoma destination, the food had to be edible cold and not terribly perishable as we’d only have the cooling capacity we brought with us. It also had to be salt-free as my sister-in-law is the fabulous Sodium Girl (here is her post about the event). But I didn’t want to skimp. Sodium Girl was going to take the main and Boy and I were going to take the charge on all of the other courses and the decor.
Here is the menu we came up with.
Bruschetta made with homemade salt-free sourdough, mascarpone spread, and roasted tomatoes
Endive cups with curry chicken salad
Cheese and salami
Asian noodle bowls, courtesy of Sodium Girl
Angel food cake
Lemon curd whipped cream
Hot tea and coffee
- 2 pints of cherry tomatoes (preferably from the farmer’s market)
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced as finely as you can or crushed in a garlic press
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 8 oz mascarpone
- Fresh basil, minced
- Sour dough bread, sliced thin and toasted
What we did
Before we get into what the steps were, let’s talk tomatoes. Now, I noted that it’s best to get really nice fresh tomatoes from the farmer’s market if possible. The reason is that I’ve roasted cherry tomatoes many times at this point. I’ve done the plastic-cartoned pints from Whole Foods. They just don’t have the same kind of water content that really makes this bruschetta sing.
Okay, so what we did. I took the tomatoes and popped them into a baking dish big enough so the layer was only one-tomato deep. Then I drizzled the olive oil (plus or minus some) over the tomatoes and added the garlic and ground pepper over that. I popped the dish in the oven at 375 for about 40 minutes, or until the tomatoes had burst open, the juices were flowing out, and the skins were all wrinkly and delicious. Then the tomato part was done. I scooped out the tomatoes to cool and reserved the liquid.
Next I turned my attention to the mascarpone spread. I used mascarpone because it’s very low in sodium and has a slightly sweet flavor that pairs so nicely with the garlic and tomato. I put the mascarpone in a bowl, mixed in a bit of the reserved tomato juices and garlic (most of the garlic in fact). I used just enough to add some flavor to the mascarpone but not so much that the cheese became soupy. I’d recommend adding one teaspoon at a time until it’s a consistency you like. Last but not least, I tossed in about two tablespoons of the minced basil and mixed it all together.
The last component was the bread. Boy is a skilled bread baker and he’s been tending a sourdough starter for about 3 years. He made two beautiful loaves with no added salt that were safe (and delish) for our Sodium Girl. If you don’t bake bread yourself, just make sure you get a nice crusty rustic loaf that you can slice thin.
To prepare for the dinner, we cooled the tomatoes and toasted the bread so it wouldn’t get soggy after it was topped with the mascarpone spread and the roasted tomatoes. Then we packed up each component separately to stay as fresh as possible.
The endive cups
This one was easy as I’d made this exact appetizer for Thanksgiving the year before and it wasn’t even my recipe! For the curry chicken salad, I used Sodium Girl’s recipe with some slight modifications. Instead of celery, I used fennel (that’s what she calls for in her cookbook version…not my genius idea) and instead of cranberries, I used fresh pomegranate arils. The pomegranate gives the dish an extra crunch and they were just going to start their season in time for our October dinner. The only other change is that I diced everything up small enough so that it would fit in a tiny little endive leaf comfortably as that was going to be the vehicle of choice from plate to mouth.
So for the dinner, I had the chicken salad prepped and in a container and the endive leaves separated, washed and safely in a Ziplock bag.
The angel food cake
Thankfully for this one, Sodium Girl’s cookbook also came to the rescue. She has a fantastic low-sodium angel food cake recipe. It does call for chocolate which I left out given my accompaniments with the cake, but besides that, I just followed directions!
To prep for the evening (and partly because the angel food cake pan I inherited from my grandmother caused the cake to break in half as I was taking it out of the pan), I sliced up six pieces – two extra…just in case. I wrapped each one in plastic wrap to keep them as fresh as possible and then placed them in a plastic container so they wouldn’t get smashed.
The lemon curd
I love lemon curd. I knew I wanted to serve this on top of the angel food cake since ice cream wouldn’t work (both for the sodium content and for the lack of a freezer). So lemon curd was my topping of choice…one of them, anyway.
I love the Joy of Baking lemon curd recipe. I used that as my base and then I whipped up a cup of heavy whipping cream and mixed the two together to create a lighter, whippier lemon curd fluff. This too went into its own glass container. I have a lot of glass containers…
The raspberry coulis
In addition to fresh raspberries as a garnish, I like a little coulis with my cake and curd. I copped out on making up my own proportions and used the Gourmet 2001 recipe. I made this well in advance of the dinner and had it frozen in a mason jar. I defrosted it the day before the dinner and it was perfectly ready to go.
This one was pretty simple. With dinner, we brought 3 options – various bottles of wine, ice water (we froze the bottle half full the night before so it would stay cold as it melted), and sparkling lemonade.
With dessert, I had to top of the evening with a warm beverage because the sun would be down and things would be cooling off. I packed our two REI insulated bottles in the very last moment before we left for the dinner so their contents would stay piping hot. In one, I packed hot water and took a variety of tea bags. In the other, I packed black coffee.
Supplies in this case are a little different from decor. The supplies made dinner service work more smoothly.
- Trash bags – in white of course, for any trashable debris
- Lysol wipes – to wipe off dirty dishes before packing them away
- Paper towels – back up to the Lysol wipes
- Packing paper – to pack up the dishes so they stay safe and sound and unbroken
- Ziplock bags – for any leftovers that don’t work back in the glassware / jar extravaganza
- Cake dish – for angel food cake and raspberry display
- Butter dish – in case we needed butter!
- Serving utensils
- 4 small cutting boards – to serve the cheese/salami plate, endive cups, and bruschetta
- Jar of pillow mints (also known as buttermints or pastel mints)
Oh the decor, the decor. I will admit…I think I had a little too much fun with this and Amazon Prime made it a little too easy to order all kinds of white decor goodness.
We had a burlap cloth to cover our table and a white lace table cloth to go on that. And even layered onto that, I had another burlap ribbon table runner.
To illuminate the table, we brought both real tea lights and large and small LED tea lights. To house these, we brought wine bottle candalabras a top Madame Preston wine bottles from Preston Vineyards that we filled with white sand and a lantern candle holder. To all of that, we added Ikea Skurar candle holders, lanterns, and plant pots with white dahlias.
For a little extra comfort, we splurged on Ikea Justina chair pads to top the provided chairs.
Lastly, there was the tableware. We brought our fancy silverware that is silver and gold plated. We brought white linen napkins which I tied up with pieces of twine. We brought stemless wine glasses and mason jars for water glasses. And for the plates, bowls and tea cups, it was all about 4 sets of Anthropologie’s Piecrust dinnerware in white.
Unbeknownst to us, our decor choices were spot on for the breezy outdoor conditions. The wine bottles with sand were good weights on the table cloth and everything was fairly low so unlike some of the other party guests who had very tall decorations and vases, we didn’t have anything catch in the wind and tumble over. The real tea lights were a massive failure since they just wouldn’t stay lit but the bountiful LED lights provided just enough light.
So there you have it. Boy and I arrived on the day at the secret location, revealed to be CornerStone Sonoma. It’s an amazing place full of gardens and art installations. It made for a truly fantastic backdrop for the evening that would unfold.
All guests could arrive at 5 and the napkin wave to kick off dinner was scheduled for 7:30. We got there at 5 o’clock on the nose, laden with bags and boxes of goodies. We picked our table and began setting up. My brother and sister-in-law arrived around 6:30. We had some time to walk the gardens and look at all of the other tables. It was really spectacular to see what people had come up with.
Finally, there was the napkin wave, we feasted on our dinner, and then danced in the CornerStone barn to a live band.
It was an amazing time and I highly recommend it. And though I haven’t elaborated nearly as much on the event itself as I did on all of the prep and things we brought, the whole process was just….a delight. Planning the menu and the organization, picking the place settings, practicing the table set up at home to see how it looks, and finally getting to enjoy all of it as one part of a spectacular whole evening. It was truly wonderful. Can’t wait to do it again next year.