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We’re Hosting a Party, Old Sport! — How to Throw a Gatsby Summer Soiree

June 9, 2013 in American literature, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Cocktails Inspired by Literature, Food, Music, Summer Fun

So you want to throw a party, old sport? A fabulous soiree that those on the East Egg would envy from across the bay? Now, I’m no Jay Gatsby, but I think we can put something together that’s pretty spectacular.

SETTING:

The ideal way to create a decadent party-going atmosphere would be to find yourself a mansion on the water as close as possible to old money (Newport, Rhode Island, perhaps?). Surround yourself with well-manicured gardens, and extravagant sunset views are a must!

Barring the many years necessary to acquire the funds (and the availability of appropriate historic mansions), it is possible to create an almost-as-good environment in your own home. Dim lighting is a necessity, and tastefully hung strings of white lights can foster an intimate setting. Your daily household clutter will, of course, be hidden away, and simple table cloths will add a feeling of elegance.

ENTERTAINMENT

Scrounging up an orchestra complete with oboes, trombones and saxophones would be for the best, but a playlist chock-full of speakeasy-flavor jazz music will do the trick as well. Duke Ellington would be a great place to start, but you can also find lengthy 1920s playlists already compiled on music sharing services such as Spotify.

COSTUME

A dress code, of course, will get all attendees in the right mood. If men do not own “white flannels” akin to Nick Carroway’s threads, elegant dress in the form of bowties, fedoras, and pastels of all types will be considered acceptable. Women should plan on sticking to the 1920s flapper style of loose dresses, long pearls, extravagant broaches, and flowered and/or beaded hair pieces. Oh, and shawls! Shawls of all types!

Fortunately, with the recent Gatsby film release, your party has plenty of inspiration. Create a ‘lookbook’ of preferred dress using images from the film adaptation to inform. Brooks Brothers also has created a fabulous line of menswear called (unsurprisingly) “The Great Gatsby Collection”.

FOOD

A buffet table laden with appetizers is the best way to encourage mingling and social levity. Gatsby himself served pastry pigs (today’s oh-so-delicious pigs in a blanket work just fine), as well as spiced ham and roasted turkey. To maintain an hors-d’oeuvres only rule, you should slice up the meat before rolling and anchoring with a toothpick. Throw a cherry tomato or olive on top for a flashy garnish.

Molded salads (jello, anyone?) were popular in the ‘20s; lemon cakes were served in Gatsby, as was fried chicken. Add in citrus delights where you can — nothing screams 1920s wealth like fresh fruit. I also don’t think any guests would object to a few anachronistic (yet delectable) contemporary dips added to the menu, but that’s up to you as the host.

DRINK

The most important part of a Prohibition-era party: the drinks. Keep the alcohol flowing and your party is bound to be a smashing success. Gin and whiskey were popular liquors at the time. Champagne aplenty is a must, and fresh orange juice on hand will lead to thirst-quenching mimosas once the party extends to the early morning hours. While Gatsby was partial to lemons and lemonades, I don’t think your guests will object to a little lime included in some of the following drinks.

  • Gin Rickey: A refreshing libation perfect for those warm summer nights. Gin, lime juice, and club soda in a Collins glass will get any party started.
  • Mint Julep: Whiskey, mint and a dash of sugar will make any lady (or gentleman) swoon with pleasure.
  • Highball: This simple drink was popular during the 1920s. Bourbon is the spirit of choice mixed with craft ginger beer right in the highball glass (perfect for speakeasy-level secrecy).
  • The Royal Highball: Popular among the upper-echelons of New York society, this classy beverage demands fresh strawberries, champagne, and Cognac.
  • Sidecar: This gem is made of Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, in a 4-2-1 ratio that’s best served in a standard cocktail glass garnished with a lemon rind.

Remember to stock ice in abundance to guarantee maximum drink freshness!

GUEST LIST

Send out your formal invitations about one week in advance to create an air of exclusivity, but make sure to inform your guests that they are free to bring whomever! Because large parties are really so much more intimate, don’t you think, old sport?

Enjoy!

 

Henry Beston: A Summary of his Life and Achievements

October 2, 2012 in American Authors, Biography, Nature Writing

It is here at Eastham beach on Cape Cod that Henry Beston found his first refuge, in a house that he had built for himself after returning, weary, from WW1.  One September in 1926, Beston came to this retreat – which he called the Fo’castle – and stayed on as autumn turned to winter.

Beston wrote, “the fortnight ending, I lingered on, and as and as the year lengthened into autumn, the beauty and mystery of this earth and outer sea so possessed and held me so that I could not go.”

During this time, he observed the cycles of nature and compiled many of the writings that would make up his classic memoir of the seasons, The Outermost House.

When he returned from Cape Cod in September 1927, Elizabeth Coatsworth was waiting for him, and he married her in 1929. Unlike Beston, who wrote slowly and painstakingly and liked to put down deep roots in beloved places, Coatsworth was a prolific writer and traveler.

Their Maine farmhouse was the inspiration for Beston’s other well-loved book, Northern Farm. But it is The Outermost House that stands out – as his daughter Kate has suggested – as the main contribution that Beston would make to a society which he felt was losing its connection to nature. In Beston’s graduation book, a college friend summed up Beston’s love of the natural world with a cartoon imagining of Beston’s gravestone, engraved: “He Hated Machines.”

Beston took Elizabeth to the Fo’castle for their honeymoon, but after their marriage, his base was in the Maine homestead of Northern Farm, with his wife and two children. Even in his family home, he preferred to work in solitude. His year in solitude at the Fo’castle would always be the template for his difficult, yet contemplative path as a writer.

Beston is a nature writer in a great American tradition, from Thoreau to Rachel Carson – though he himself was not sympathetic to Thoreau, finding him too “cold”. But Rachel Carson – like Beston, a passionate advocate for environmental conservation – was a disciple, and later a friend.

The Fo’castle was used by the Audobon society until it washed away in a storm of 1978, but the Beston society is hoping to rebuild it.

Biographical Snippets: Beston

  • Born June 1, 1888, Quincy MA
  • Served as an ambulance driver in WW1 – 1915
  • Began a writing career after WWI
  • Had “the Fo’castle” built in 1925
  • Spent much of the next few years there in solitude
  • The Outermost House published in 1928
  • Married Elizabeth Coatsworth in 1929
  • Donated Fo’castle to the Audobon Society in 1959
  • Died April 15, 1968
  • Fo’castle washed away by a storm in 1978
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