It is my belief that anything done well in this world is a balancing act.
It's like magic: someone, an individual or a team, are working very hard to make it look effortless.
And nowhere is that more apparent than at the perfect dinner party.
And no one on this planet makes the more perfectly effortless dinner party than my friend Maryann Kissane.
I don't know if it's because she's half Italian, or because the other half is Irish, or because she was smart enough to marry Jim. But mainly it's because she's an extraordinary woman. She's a still waters run deep kind of woman, who thinks about food, plans ahead, makes lists. But she's flexible. She adapts. She delegates, especially when her friends like Debi and Eileen are such good cooks, too. She's got the balance just right.
Because once the guests arrived, she can listen, with that infinite grace that all women long to possess, and few can. I've never known a couple with more capacity of joy in their lives than the Kissanes.
Maryann and I met when we were 18 or 19, before this photo was taken, before she met Jim and had Julie and Ben, on a semester abroad, in Copenhagen. We travelled together, with other friends, and somewhere between Italy and Greece, we became like family.
And then they bought the mill, in Tranquility, New Jersey, spent ten years renovating it, while Jim built his architecture practice, living in the farmhouse on the property, keeping baby Ben from managing not to kill himself while helping Daddy hammer and saw (I remember once, telling Maryann a story, with Julie, who couldn't have been more than four, waiting for me to finish because she was taught it's impolite to interrupt adults, and when I was nearing the punch line, she finally blurted out, 'Mom, Ben fell in the river again.')
I met my future husband during those years, and would escape the city - New York City - jump on a bus and an hour and a bit later, be in paradise for days on end, running from the inevitable conclusion that, while not as perfect as Jim (who is, really?) he actually was my own particular knight in shining armour.
Now their kids are grown, and are in new romances of their own, and somewhere along the way, we've been sailing together and becoming close with their friends, their extended family.
And in the summer, whenever humanly possible, we convent at the Mill, on the river, and feast until the sun goes down. And then linger, long into that magic hour, over grilled meats and vegetables, baked brie with honey and nuts, freshly baked foccacia with blackberries and rosemary, strawberry salsa: whatever is abundant, and fresh.
Then when it is still dark, the fairy lights come on, and the magic begins.