For Ashley of Gather and Feast, the people surrounding the dining table are just as important as the fresh produce and foliage adorning it. It’s hard to believe that she only recently started sharing her love for “beautiful, yet low fuss” gatherings, and in the six months since she started her blog, she’s also launched a free recipe ebook with nutritious eats for Morning, Noon and Night, as its title suggests. With careful attention paid to using wholesome foods and in-season ingredients, the Australian foodie plans her party menus according to products that are at their peak of quality and flavor. The result is a host of recipes that are free of gluten, dairy and refined sugars, yet Ashley still encourages chocolate for breakfast and whipping up a killer trail mix. Click through the slides to see how she masters simple, effortless entertaining as she hosts one of her gorgeous gatherings that’s also a true feast for the eyes.
My must-have entertaining tool:
The perfect serving boards and dishes. Rustic wooden boards and beautifully handcrafted dishes are an easy way to add color and texture to a table. I have an obsession with homewares. My collection of bowls, plates and vintage cutlery is ever growing!
Where do you shop for special homeware pieces?
One of my favorite homeware stores in Australia is “Mud” (they also just opened a store in Soho, New York City.) They have the most beautiful handmade dinnerware in the most divine colors. I’m also a BIG fan of supporting local artists and makers. I love to find vintage cutlery, plates and enamel ware in antique and thrift stores and while traveling.
Current favorite color palette for parties:
I love neutral linens, raw wood and a touch of green… using either foraged greens from my garden or visiting my favorite florist who has the most unusual and lush selection of foliage and flowers.
Any tips for putting together a balanced menu?
I like to think of my menu as a story, it needs to have a beginning, middle and end. I usually start start by choosing the main item first, and complementing it with sides and salads based on the season, the weather and the occasion of the gathering. Then I’ll choose a starter and dessert to match.
The entertaining rule I rarely break:
Preparation is key. I like to prepare as much as I can in advance so I can spend quality time with my guests.
How long in advance do you start prepping for a dinner party?
Depending on the occasion, I’ll usually start planning and gathering various styling items a week out from the event. Most of the food and table preparation I’ll purchase and prep the night before. Prepare vegetables, marinade, make the dessert, set the table. Then if anything unexpected happens I have time to fix it.
My signature entertaining dish:
One of my signature dishes is ironically one of the easiest to prepare! It is simply a large platter of fresh and dried fruit, nuts, dark chocolate and any other fun food items I can find in the pantry, all piled high on a beautiful rustic board. This one features my favourite French soft cheese, fresh honey comb, figs, muscatels, roasted almonds and lavosh.
Tell us about your centerpiece:
On the table I’ve used beautiful, lush fresh fig branches. I also recently used kumquat branches for another dinner setting that looked amazing with their bright green foliage and pop of orange fruit. Wild apples and pears are also beautiful branches to style a table with. I love to find foliage from the garden (or raid my families gardens, especially for kumquats and camellias). It’s amazing what beautiful things you can find in your own backyard!
Tonight’s gathering was set under one of my favorite trees in the garden, a perfectly shaped ornamental pear tree. This was actually the first time I’ve hosted a dinner under that tree… the perfect debut! We live on an acre so there’s some wonderful little pockets around the garden for entertaining. The table is actually made from recycled factory pallets my sister in-law’s dad created; I just love its rawness!
My standard hostess outfit:
Usually a comfortable fun dress and ankle boots (although if I’m indoors I’ll most likely be barefoot.)
Pictured here: Ashley’s watermelon and strawberry salad with pistachios, honey and fresh mint, served with vanilla bean yogurt cream and vanilla and rose shortbreads.
The perfect dinner party playlist includes:
My husband Mike is great at putting together the perfect playlist. He has a different playlist for every occasion… Christmas, road trips, dinner with friends, and even baby showers! Some of our highlights include James Vincent McMorrow, Ray LaMontagne, Yuna and any vintage jazz.
My dream dinner guests:
I would love a big collective dinner with the many creative souls around the world that I have grown to love and admire… oh and my favourite, Mimi Thorisson (actually I would love to be a dinner guest of hers!)
Cocktails aside, what do you usually pour for your guests?
I always love to serve mineral water in a large jug with freshly sliced lemon, lime, mint and fresh fruit.
Always in my refrigerator:
Sparkling water, fresh berries, almond milk, greens, parmesan cheese and eggs.
The taste I’m always craving:
Anything frozen! I love gelato, ice cream, frozen fruit, and even frozen peas! Growing up my mum would often give my brother, sister and I frozen peas to snack on. We thought they were little green ice cream dots. Ha! Even now, I still love eating them.
On the menu for tonight:
Lemon and thyme baked chicken.
The perfect crunchy roast potatoes.
Pumpkin salad with cumin yogurt, pomegranate, fresh parsley and seeds.
Kale slaw with red cabbage, balsamic and roasted almonds.
Fresh sourdough bread with french butter.
Watermelon and strawberry salad with pistachios, honey and fresh mint, served with vanilla bean yogurt cream and vanilla and rose shortbreads.
Your wine of choice:
I love a deep, rich, red wine. Tonight we drank a beautiful vintage Australian shiraz. There are many beautiful local wines to choose from in Australia. We are spoilt for choice!
What (if anything) can be daunting about entertaining?
Definitely the weather. I love entertaining outdoors, and the weather is the one thing you just can’t control.
When weather doesn’t cooperate, what’s your backup plan?
I’ll keep a close eye on the weather forecast and make a decision a few days out. I’m lucky enough to have a large entertaining area inside that I can fall back on and a few outdoor gas heaters I can use in the cold winter months. I actually had an outdoor lunch planned a few weeks ago that I had to cancel as the weather man said we were in for the biggest downpour in months. When the day came around there wasn’t a drop of rain!
The restaurant meal I’ll never forget:
NOPI. Yotam Ottolenghi’s amazing restaurant in London. It was one of the most delicious, fresh and flavour packed meals I have ever experienced. Their apple and gingerbread with celery sorbet dessert was incredible!
My entertaining style in 5 words or less:
Natural, fresh, relaxed, fun, deliberate.
You threw a wonderful gathering right in your backyard! How does having Melbourne as your big backyard, if you will, make your entertaining dreams possible?
There is SO much talent in Melbourne. I have a few favorites and their work makes a number of appearances in my food photography.