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A Sweet Night: Knox Dinner Under the Stars And Gabriella's Scoop Night

Java: There were a couple of "summer sweet" events in Hartford and West Hartford Thursday night

There were a couple of "summer sweet" events going on in Hartford and West Hartford Thursday night, and they both boasted quintessential summer goodness.

At the Unitarian Society of Hartford, there was a new look, a sea of pristine linen-covered tables under candlelight that shared the mood with twilight, and the sweetest part of the near-perfect summer sunset scene, fresh food, came mostly courtesy of chefs who donated it to Knox Inc.'s annual Garden Party @ Twilight fundraiser. FOX CT's Jim Altman was the evening's emcee.

"This is the kind of night I will remember when it is cold, snowy, gray and all you can do is dream about warm weather," said David Adams, who was among the crowd that turned out for the event to raise funds for the nonprofit group that promotes a greener and healthier community.

For the VIP guests, the evening also included a tour of the adjacent football-field sized Watkinson Community Garden, where proud "gentleman" farmers, if you will, showed off their summer's worth of fresh, sweet produce and herbs.

"I've been doing this for 19 years," said Hartford resident James Wilks as he explained his garden plot and how and what he grows in it each year.

Java just had to ask, given his year-after-year success with vegetables so pretty you just couldn't wait to taste, how does your garden grow?

"Oh, the usual stuff," he laughed. "I weed and water. But I also talk to my plants. They seem to like it."

A host of local restaurants including Grants, Majorca, Vito's and Bear's Smokehouse provided an array of food boasting fresh ingredients, including lobster sliders, tomato marmalade, gazpacho and couscous, prompting some diners to consider getting their own hands dirty next year in the name of "local grown."

"I have helped my dad in his garden and in the yard," said Jahmal Rollins, one of several people from Aetna, the major sponsor of the event. "I don't know, maybe someday I'll try a garden of my own."

 Meanwhile, over at Blue Back Square, there was also some summer sweetness going on — the chocolate-chip-cookie-dough and chocolate-fudge-brownie-with-whipped-cream-and syrup kind. And it was all for a good cause.

Gabriella Giordano, 12, of West Hartford, started a little birthday fundraiser about seven years ago -- when she was a 6-year-old and a new open heart surgery survivor -- to benefit the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. That once-shy youngster who would barely answer any of Java’s questions is growing up fast, and on Thursday she once again hosted her party fundraiser.

All Java can say is "You’ve come a long way, baby."

The annual event has grown each year, and on Thursday it moved from the Ben & Jerry’s on South Main Street to the main court at Blue Back Square. And what a party, er… fundraiser it was!

There was live music, contests, giveaways, celebrities from town, WFSB’s Mark Zinni, Mark Dixon, Susan Raff, Courtney Zieller and Erin Connolly and WTIC radio’s Gina Host, a who’s who of Connecticut Children’s staff and a lot of people who wanted to make her new year a good one.

“I am so excited so many people are here,” said the now chatty and oh-so-healthy middle-schooler who has moved on over the years from sitting quietly at a table to “hanging out” with a slew of friends who turned out with their families to donate money, eat ice cream and support Children’s Medical cardiovascular care center.

“We’re hoping to raise $10,000 tonight,” said the birthday girl, noting she considers the fundraiser her own tradition now, with no plans to ever give it up.

"I’m just excited and happy that so many people turned out,” she added. “It makes me feel so good."

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