The Golden Rules of Gatherings: An Interview with Erin Gleeson of The Forest Feast

By Matilda Davies

Erin Gleeson, California-based photographer, educator, blogger, and author of The Forest Feast cookbooks has an unreplicated eye for creating atmosphere. The relationship between menu, tablescape, and setting is never a slave to theme, but instead rooted in the purity of bringing friends and family together for connection and conversation.

We here at House Method don’t need an occasion to bring people together. In fact, the downswing between the holidays and the first note of warm weather is just the time to invite friends over for no reason other than the joy of gathering. To pull us out of our winter blues, we asked Erin about her golden rules of gatherings. Here’s what she had to say.

Photo by Erin Gleeson of The Forest Feast

Photo by Erin Gleeson of The Forest Feast

How do you approach menu planning for a gathering?

First, I ask if anyone has any food restrictions, then I look and see what has come in my farm box that week (or what is in season). Then I think about how much time I will have the day of the gathering and if it should be something I can make ahead or not. I like to offer four to five items: an appetizer, a couple salads / vegetable sides, and a main course. Then I usually serve cookies, chocolates, or something store bought for dessert. (Or ask a guest to bring dessert!)

What about drink planning? Should you prepare for any guest’s taste or choose only a couple of drinks?

I usually think about drinks seasonally. If it’s summer, I might serve something with berries or peaches. If it’s a holiday, perhaps something with bubbles. And I’ll try to do seasonal add-ins, like pomegranate seeds in the fall. I like to make one cocktail served in a pitcher, then offer beer, wine, and a non-alcoholic option like seltzer, juice and/or water.

This orzo black bean salad recipe from The Forest Feast Gatherings is perfect for vegetarian guests (photo by Erin Gleeson of The Forest Feast)

Choose from four flavorful tea recipes for larger gatherings (photo by Erin Gleeson of The Forest Feast)

There are no strict rules when it comes to creating a striking floral centerpiece (photo by Erin Gleeson of The Forest Feast)

Clementine cocktails—a gathering essential for warm, summer days (photo by Erin Gleeson of The Forest Feast Gatherings)

Do you ask guests to bring anything or do you handle all the prep yourself?

If people offer, I usually ask them to bring drinks or dessert. Unless it’s a potluck!

Favorite host/hostess gifts to give or receive?

Unscented candles or a jar of flowers picked in the backyard.

Any tips for making new friends or plus-ones feel welcome and comfortable?

When people arrive I try to introduce them to others they don’t know as we offer drinks. Then when we sit down at the table we sometimes go around and ask everyone to say the best part of their week. This can offer little tidbits to ignite conversation later.

Also—having a table of six people or fewer will keep most of the dinner conversation to the whole group (rather than small break-off conversations) which I think can make people feel more included.

Photo by Erin Gleeson of The Forest Feast

Photo by Erin Gleeson of The Forest Feast

How do you balance being a host and enjoying the night with your guests?

It can be hard! But hosting with someone else makes it so much easier. (I couldn’t do it without my husband! He’s a natural when it comes to entertaining!) Also, choosing simple recipes and preparing as much as you can in advance helps.

How do you tactfully bring the night to a close?

First, we’ll start clearing the table. If that doesn’t work my husband will jokingly say, “Ok! You guys can stay as long as you want but I’m going to bed!”

If you had to name three rules of hosting a gathering, what would they be and why?

  1. Get a friend to help you! This will allow you to relax a bit more once the guests arrive.
  2. Ambience, ambience, ambience! Low lighting, candles, and some good music go a long way.
  3. The conversation and vibe are more important than the food and details. People will remember the conversations they had more than the signature cocktail, complicated recipe, or intricate centerpiece you made. Don’t stress about the details and make time to chat with your guests—that’s the purpose of all this in the first place.
Photo by Erin Gleeson of The Forest Feast

Photo by Erin Gleeson of The Forest Feast

Any tips for hosting last-minute gatherings?

  • Serve champagne! It’s an easy way to make any night feel like an occasion.
  • Go to a gourmet grocery store deli and buy lots of sides to serve alongside pasta, a frozen lasagna, or pizza.
  • Boxed soup is easy and fun with popcorn on top.
  • Creamy polenta or Gnocchi are also quick, delicious vegetarian main course options.
  • Light a candle or two!
  • Music! I usually choose old jazz, like Blossom Dearie, or bluegrass, like Punch Brothers.
  • Serve vanilla ice cream for dessert with peanut butter and honey drizzled on top. So easy but a little different and so delicious. Let guests make their sundaes at the table.

All photos, except the header image, are courtesy of Erin Gleeson from The Forest Feast.

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