Saturday, December 10, 2011

Just Garden Fundraiser: the long version

You can read the short blog that I wrote about this event at the Miller CC Garden site here. Here is more of the same, plus some back story, details no one cares about but me, and a little snarkiness.

First, the lead up: My dear friend Justin asked me way back in early September if I wanted to help him throw a fundraiser - maybe a small dinner? - for the Just Garden Project, which his friend Stephanie runs. Anyone who has ever met me knows I'm genetically wired to plan any event in my path so of course I said yes. I also thought it was a good opportunity for the Miller CC Garden (which I essentially manage as the "volunteer coordinator," a volunteer position unto itself) to get some name recognition and do something great for the community. After many fits and starts of picking a date and location, we settled on Saturday December 3 at Justin's house as a Secret Cafe style dinner with two seatings: 4-6 and 8-10.

Justin and I had a few planning meetings in which we brainstormed where to get donations, what we would need in terms of kitchen items and place settings (which was, by far, the most complex logistical feat considering 20 people across 5 courses), and how we'd find 40 people who wanted to give us $40 each. We each put in a lot of leg work getting donations from the community and although there were a few weeks when it was sort of touch and go, we ended up with tons of local sponsors (Full Circle Farms, Loki Fish, Calf & Kid Artisan Cheese, Stumptown Coffee, Essential Bakery, Madison Market Co-Op, plus personal donations from my parents, Justin's friend Paul, and a girl I know through a friend who, incredibly, gave us 26 BOTTLES OF WINE and a bottle of champagne just for me) and 32 reservations (thank heavens, 20 at each dinner would have been way too big). Then, the weekend itself was upon us.

When I got off work on Friday, Justin and I went grocery shopping together, dropped everything off at his house, and then went our separate ways to work on our long lists of to dos. Justin had a house to clean, potatoes to mash, and carrots to roast; I had most of the menu to prep and I didn't get started until 8:30.

I couldn't have done it without Katie and Shawna who came over and helped me until the wee (VERY wee) hours of the morning. Here I am at about midnight, roasting the 8th or 9th squash:

The next day I slept in until about 10 and then got busy by going to the University district farmer's market to pick up salmon and my parents' house to get a table and chairs. Once home I fried all the white bean croquettes, packed up my car with tons of food and other supplies, and made it to Justin's around 2 in time to start setting up. I was running a little behind but luckily my new friend and neighbor Dustin came up, finished the frying while I took a shower, and helped me load my car, so I was only about 10 minutes late.

Justin had to go pick up the other volunteers so for awhile it was just a girl who also volunteers at the Miller CCG named Katy plus me, and the two of us put the 3 tables in every possible configuration across the two connected rooms (laughing a lot in the process) before finally settling on the best layout. Then Justin showed up with the other volunteers and Robyn appeared shortly thereafter, and we all sprang into action on many tasks: arranging flowers, setting the tables, ripping lettuce for salad, slicing bread for crostini, arranging roasted garlic (I'd roasted 12 heads the night before), bleu cheese, goat cheese, and fresh bread nicely on the tables, and about a dozen other things that needed to get done. It was really amazing how well we all worked together, especially since most of us didn't know each other. But the ability of everyone to anticipate exactly what needed to be done made for an unexpectedly smooth evening.

Here is a picture of the guests at the second seating; you can just barely see the third table in the second room:
Here are some pictures of the food. I wish I'd taken more of the prep, the beautifully laid tables, the guests and volunteers, and better pictures of the meal, but it was so busy it was hard remembering just to snap these few.

Course 1: Red leaf and arugula salad with roasted beets, chopped almonds, and pomegranate seeds:
Course 2: Roasted ginger masala squash soup garnished with chives:

Course 3: Herb and mushroom risotto (which I slaved over, TWICE - one for each dinner - until my wrist and forearm felt like they were going to fall off):

Course 4: Option of Keta salmon with garlic and rosemary spread or white bean rosemary croquettes (which were unexpectedly and INSANELY GOOD), plus roasted honey Dijon carrots, mashed sweet potatoes and mashed Yukon potatoes (this plate was so big and people were already so full that we packed a lot of these to go):

Actual frying of the croquettes; we reheated on broil which worked like a charm:

Course 5: Option of baklava, pear cake with rum sauce, or vegan chocolate pot (all three made by friends of Justin - bless them!) with French-pressed Stumptown coffee:

Can I just say -YUM! The food was so freaking good, one person asked 'where the chef had studied' and many others asked for the recipes.

The 4-6 seating was such a fun crowd and donated a significant amount of money so we were all sort of high on our success until we realized we had to do it again. We quickly threw the table cloths and napkins in the washer, ran a load of dishes (otherwise we did everything by hand - Robyn and Katy were the real stars there), started plating the salads and heating the food for dinner #2, and had the tables set just in time for the first guests to arrive.

The second dinner was somehow even more smooth since we'd figured out timing (for instance, I started the risotto earlier...) and also it was a smaller group, BECAUSE (warning: snarkiness):

1) Someone who had RSVPed for the first dinner for 2 people brought 3 adults, plus a toddler. Justin, who is incapable of being annoyed by broken social codes, was thrilled at the extra guests; I, who have to breathe deeply to control my social code annoyance on a daily basis, was highly irritated that it made us look like we weren't prepared to seat the number of guests we had and also gave an audible 'really??" about the presence of a toddler; luckily the dynamo volunteers scrambled to set an extra place and the group helped contribute to both the fun atmosphere and the increased donation.

2) Two people who had RSVPed to the second dinner didn't show. No call, no email, nothing. This was obnoxious unto itself, compounded by the fact that they were the only two vegan reservations we had at either dinner. We designed the entire freaking menu around them which took a lot of thought and consideration (cooking with olive oil instead of butter broke my heart a little), bought special ingredients (for instance, nutritional yeast so their risotto could have the same Parmesan texture), and made them a special dessert... and, nothing. I was pissed. I wrote a very nice email the next day saying we were sorry to have missed them, we hoped everything was ok, and it wasn't too late to donate to the organization. NO RESPONSE. I just couldn't let it go so a week later I wrote a short, slightly bitchy one-liner which of course instantly got a response. People are so predictable. (End snarkiness.)

The no-show really was my only complaint about the whole night since the extra guests in the first one were so jovial and generous. I still can't believe how well it went, and I had a blast with the volunteers -we had so much fun drinking champagne, eating what didn't get served (we ended up having almost the exact right amount of food for everyone, including volunteers, to eat, with just a little left over) and just horsing around in general, all while being very productive. My kind of crew:

Here are Justin and I at the end of the night - we look pretty dang good all things considered!

Between both dinners we raised $1,500, which was our goal and is the cost of building a new garden for a low-income family. Pretty cool that we directly helped a family feed itself.

A lot of people asked us if we'd do something like this again. I don't plant on hosting a fundraiser again any time soon, and I was swearing up and down that I was going to put a stop to my event-planning-for-free madness, but knowing me, yes -we'll probably do it again next year.

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