An autumn celebration.
Inventing holidays is one of my favorite party tricks. There is always an excuse to get together, and “fall-afel” the first week of autumn is as good as any! The beauty of inventing a holiday is that you own it. There is no script to follow, and people don’t know what to expect—which means carte blanche to design the day. For the host, it’s liberating to host an event that has no official expectations or traditions. For the guest, it is pure whimsy, which can bring a smile to even the most reluctant party-goers!
Some parties have months of lead time and planning, and others come together in a week or two. This was the later. We dropped invitations into the mailboxes of a few neighbors (no time to wait for mail delivery), and to our surprise everyone was available for dinner the following week. After a long hiatus on parties during COVID, we had floated a lot of ‘we should get together’ promises out there, and this was a chance to corral some neighbors and make time to gather.
The purpose? Saying goodbye to summer, welcoming fall, and enjoying fall-afel. Well, falafel. It’s one of my husband’s specialty dishes. This was a late-September house party in Indiana, with many young families and children. The weather was perfect for porch sitting, and we knew that the temperatures would soon drop, so we extra-very-much enjoyed the time outside.
The invitation always sets the tone for the party, and this one was meant to be light and easy. It sent the message of, “No need to shop for the right outfit or bring a gift. Just come.” Even though the invite was a DIY creation (designers, don’t gasp, but I made it in PowerPoint), and took all of five minutes to create, I received compliments for it. It goes to show you that even the smallest effort at those special touches is noticed and appreciated.
The last-minute request
Science tells us that much of the joy of parties and vacations and other things we look forward to is in just that—the anticipation. Building up a buzz can be quite simple yet powerful. This was a party for our neighbors, so I knew everyone would be walking (not driving) to the party. Two hours before the party, I texted all the guests with a surprise request. “Fall-afel Fest 2022 starts as you leave the house. Collect 5 of the most colorful leaves or seed pods you can find and bring them with you.”
I wasn’t sure how it would work out, but everyone came with a fist-full of leaves, and a few guests brought garden clippings as well! A couple commented that they had not noticed any leaves changing, but as you’re directed to look for fall color, and you become more mindful, you do indeed begin to see it. Exactly what I wanted…to get that fall buzz in the air…
We used the leaves to make leaf crowns. This craft idea from Studio Rosie Creations requires three things – strips of brown paper bags, leaves, and a stapler. It could not be easier, and the kids were delighted to be crowned. I find that kids often slip by as adults are greeting each other, but not this time. I met everyone on the porch and was able to collect the kids’ leaves and make the crowns for them as they arrived. It gave me a precious minute with each child before they ran off.
We kept it simple with clippings from the yard, some supermarket sunflowers, and some dried weeds. When you have little time to decorate, and little budget, my tip is always to hang it. It draws the eye up, creates a new dimension to any space, and dangling/swaying things are soothing.
While all the guests were neighbors, they were not close friends, and some were meeting for the first time. I set up a simple conversation prompt—what’s your favorite thing about fall?—to get people talking and sharing.
The menu for Fall-afel Fest 2022 was bright and colorful with grapes everywhere, but no candy corn yet…We had 10 children in attendance, so hot dogs seemed necessary, but otherwise it was a fresh menu with lots of Mediterranean flavors.
- Falafel and fixins – we serve it with half-rounds of pita, taratur (tahini sauce), chopped scallions, minced parsley, sliced radish, pickled turnips, chopped tomatoes, and fresh mint leaves
- Grape pizza, not schiacciata but sort of
- Italian potato salad (peppers and potatoes with garlic and parsley), which is a fall dish for me because we’d eat it on grape-crushing day every fall
- Roasted cauliflower with magical zhoug (jalapeño cilantro sauce) from Cookie & Kate
- Turkish red lentils and bulgar, with sesame leaves for scooping, because we had a ton in the garden (see recipe from Give Recipe)
- Kale salad with red cabbage, sweet potatoes, almonds, and pepitas; tahini honey dressing from Swedish Hill in Austin by way of Camille Styles (Predictably, the after-party recipe request was for the salad dressing!)
- Hot dogs, because we had 10 kids in the group
- Baked apple cider donuts with maple brown butter glaze from Half Baked Harvest (except I made mini muffins with the same recipe)
- Supernatural brownies from Splendid Table, because otherwise there would have been no chocolate on the table and what kind of party is that?
- Big batch of Apple Cider / Ginger Ale Punch from this super-easy recipe on Food.com
Here’s to a wonderful season!