From the outside, the barn glowed like a lantern. Inside, guests enjoyed dinner amid romantic shadows created by candles on the table and chandeliers glittering overhead. See more photos in the photo gallery below.
Michael Abrams was evasive about his plans when he invited 32 family members and close friends to celebrate his 50th birthday last year at the Michigan summer house he shares with his partner, Doug Elliott. The ten-acre property just outside of Saugatuck includes a main house, a guest cottage, and a horse barn (now horseless) with an adjacent indoor riding arena.
“We had just celebrated our 20th anniversary on the property with a big party two years earlier; we had 120 people, a tent, a live band,” says Abrams, a Chicago-based interior designer. “But this time we wanted to do something more intimate.” So instead of being the recipient of a surprise party, Abrams opted to throw one for his guests. He sent out invitations embossed with a cryptic hint (an image of a chandelier), asking everyone to wear white and arrive at 7:30 p.m.
But even as they nursed cocktails and nibbled on appetizers poolside at the circa-1901 farmhouse their hosts had so lovingly resuscitated from raccoon-infested squalor 11 years earlier, they must have wondered where exactly they would be dining. There was no indication.
“About nine o’clock, we called everybody to follow us,” says Abrams, and he and Elliott led a procession of white linen pants and flowy dresses to the horse barn, which a few weeks prior they’d had power-washed from top to bottom. “It was a nice little walk, a couple of minutes from the house, and when we arrived and opened the doors, everybody was wide-eyed,” he recalls.
They saw dozens of candles flickering against the warm, enveloping dark wood walls; three crystal chandeliers that Abrams had mounted from the rafters; and a long, elegantly set table sprinkled with glass “diamonds” stretching the length of the barn, flanked on each side by the old horse stalls. Resting on round silver chargers at each place setting were copies of the six-course menu, also embossed with that telltale chandelier. Hovering discreetly were caterer’s staffers, ready to serve.
“We didn’t get up from the table until midnight,” says Abrams. Surprise!
Photography: Matthew Gilson
Wild Mushroom Tartlets
/ serves 4
- 1⁄4 cup olive oil (not extra virgin)
- 1⁄2 lb. assorted fresh mushrooms (shiitake, oyster, morel, and baby bella)
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tsp. chopped garlic
- 1 tsp. chopped shallots
- 1 tsp. fresh thyme, lightly chopped
- 1⁄3 cup brandy or red wine
- 1⁄4 lb. sharp cheese such as Parmesan or Gruyère
- 4 4-inch squares puff pastry
- 2 cups balsamic vinegar reduced to 1⁄4 cup balsamic syrup
- Fresh basil for garnish
1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and sliced mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sauté until all the juices are released and beginning to evaporate.
2. Add garlic, shallots, and thyme. Reduce heat to medium low. Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring often until edges of mushrooms are caramelized. Deglaze with brandy or red wine. Cook until liquids have reduced to thick syrup. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
4. Grate cheese and set aside, reserving a few pinches for garnish.
5. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
6. Place the four squares of puff pastry on the parchment and top with another sheet of parchment paper and another cookie sheet.
7. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and take off the top sheet pan. Carefully peel parchment paper off the puff pastry squares. (They should be about 2/3 of the way baked through. If they are still doughy, place them back in the oven without the top parchment paper and pan and bake until the centers are no longer doughy.)
8. Divide half of the grated cheese among the four squares and spread evenly. Divide the sautéed mushrooms among the four squares and spread evenly. Top with remaining cheese.
9. Reduce oven to 350 degrees.
10. Bake tartlets for 15-20 minutes, until pastry is dark golden brown and cheese is melted and golden.
11. Remove from oven and cut each tartlet into 2 or 4 pieces, triangles or squares.
12. Drizzle balsamic syrup on each plate, arrange tartlets on top, garnish with pinches of reserved cheese and finely chopped basi
Crispy Warm Goat Cheese Salad
/ serves: 4 for luncheon (or 6 side salads)
- 5 small beets
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- Fresh ground pepper
- 4 2 oz. pucks fresh goat cheese
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1⁄4 cup grape seed oil
- 5 oz. fresh organic baby arugula
- 2 tbsp. pine nuts
1. Peel and cut beets into eighths. Toss with olive oil and spread in a single layer on a sheet pan. Sprinkle with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Roast at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until soft all the way through and edges are caramelized. (Can be done up to a day ahead.)
2. Coat the goat cheese pucks on all sides with panko bread crumbs.
3. Heat a nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Lightly coat pan with grape seed oil. Place goat cheese pucks in pan and cook 1-2 minutes on each side, until bread crumbs are brown.
4. Toss arugula with dressing (recipe below) and top each serving with roasted beets, goat cheese, and pine nuts.
/ yields: ½ cup
- ¼ c. fresh raspberries
- 2 tbsp. raspberry vinegar
- ½ tsp. chopped shallot
- 6 tbsp. olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Purée first three ingredients together and then whisk in olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
PhotographY: Matthew Gilson