By Elizabeth Maker
After over a year of lockdown, two friends from Washington were conversing about their experiences with pandemic-induced “insanity” when, encouraged by some good news about vaccines and decreasing Covid cases, they exalted over a spontaneous idea: A party! A vaccination celebration barn party!
So, Olaf Soltau, an investment consultant, and Jessica Masters, a sales director for Roku, planned the perfect panacea for 50 friends, designed to help and celebrate the businesses and people hit so hard by the virus and its many manifestations.
“I went from interacting with literally hundreds of people a day in the city, to two people a day, my husband and our infant,” Masters says of the culture shock that ensued from quarantining at what was normally their weekend home in Washington. “Of course, I love being with my family, but being shut down from the outside world for so long, sometimes you can feel suffocated, like you want to jump out of your own skin.”
Besides asking guests to contribute to the costs of the event, Soltau suggested they donate to the Torrington-based Susan B. Anthony Project, which serves victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. “I learned that since Covid hit, domestic abuse in Connecticut rose 70 percent,” Soltau says.
For the venue, they enlisted brothers Patrick and Quincy Horan, who run Waldingfield Farm in Washington, and threw a “reawakening” party in the 1800 square-foot, post and beam barn that was built from pines planted on the property by the Horans’ ancestors.
“We were just so honored to be a part of it all,” says Patrick Horan. “People were going out of their minds. Restaurants were crushed. So many shops closed. We were finally starting to see the light, like life was coming back.”
The menu was maybe a metaphor for that thought: organic spring greens donated from Waldingfield, and mushrooms, onions, and flowers foraged from around the woods and fields of Litchfield County. Bolivar Hilario, the chef at Swyft in Kent, and his partner, Briana Genarelli, “literally went walking around and found the most amazing gifts from the earth,” Genarelli says. “We had foraged ramp oil for the bread, made from this perfect little patch of ramps under a tree I stumbled upon just walking down the road,” she says. “We made mocktails from foraged lilacs, water, lemon, and vanilla. I happened to find an organic bush of lilacs in Kent, and we cold-steeped the petals in water and preserved them in the freezer. I mean, wow! Delicious!”
The chefs, Hilario from Swyft, and Paul Pearson from the White Hart Inn in Salisbury, created a unique feast that included spiced strawberry shots (strawberries donated by Potter Farm in Washington), vegan tartlets with avocado tofu, turbot with roasted fennel and chimichurri, grilled king oyster mushrooms with pecan sauce, and smoked hay buttermilk ice cream with foraged spruce oil.
Genarelli also made use of the abundantly blooming state flower, mountain laurel, for simple yet sophisticated centerpieces on the dining tables set in the warmly-lit rustic barn. “It really was like a dream,” says guest Kathy McCarver, owner of KMR Arts in Washington. “Everyone there together, no masks, sharing this joyous, almost forgotten freedom.”
Generosity flowed, with wine donated by Spring Hill Vineyards in Washington and Hopkins Vineyard in Warren, and bourbon provided by Litchfield Distillery. The owner of the Warren General Store, John Favreau, covered the cost of the live jazz performance by the Andrew Di Nicola Quartet.
“We are by no means out of the woods yet,” Soltau says, acknowledging that people are still dying from Covid, including his aunt in Germany who passed while he was planning the party. “But we need to move forward, to honor the victims, dead and alive, and know that we are beating this thing.”