Sunday, December 23, 2018

Party Season

  I've often said, my grandmother, Edie, loved a party, an occasion, any type of gathering.  Especially if it was in honor of her.  Her birthday is December 30th.  It is only fitting that the following blog post details a memory of her entertaining style.

Party Season
  My grandmother, Edie, enjoyed entertaining.  However she was never one to slave in the kitchen or go to extremes cleaning her house before numerous guests arrived.  She just turned down the lights, lit some candles and prepared a few easy to put together bites along with an amply stocked bar then let the party begin.  With a shortage of caterers on Cape Cod back in the days when she was hosting cocktail parties for the upper crust of society in Falmouth, MA, she embraced any means of short cuts, and hacks-as we know them to be called today.  Her recipe file filled with newspaper and Women's Day magazine clippings is chock full of recipes using canned ingredients and speedy methods to keep the cook out of the kitchen and in the mix of the party.
  Sometimes Val happened to bring us kids for a visit the day after such an event.  I loved hearing the names of some of Grammy's guests: The Clausons, who owned a car dealership, The Faxon's, old money (hospital wing), The Eastmans, proprietors of the hardware store on Main Street, to name a few.  I imagined them dressed in their finest, helping themselves to such exotic delicacies as Vienna sausages, Swedish meatballs and Grammy's show stopping Mock Lobster Dip, molded into the shape of a fish and surrounded by Saltine Crackers.  The ice in their glasses of vodka or whiskey (light on the mixers), clinking as they chatted, gossiped and laughed in the dim lighting of the dining area and living room in Grammy's house in Greengate, the then  "it" neighborhood in Falmouth.
  It all seemed so glamorous to me.  After all, the only parties we hosted were children's birthday parties and the occasional cook out, fun but not very fancy.  I always wished to attend such a sophisticated soiree.  Finally, at fifteen years old, I was granted that wish, well, sort of.  My best friend, Jenny and I were asked to help out at one of Grammy's larger holiday cocktail parties.  We dressed up for the event: I wore a nicer sweater and a skirt and fixed my hair to look appropriate.  Our job was to take the guests' mink wraps, heavy overcoats, evening bags, and silk scarves and place them "carefully" on Grammy's bed.  We then snuck off to the kitchen to sample the "hors d'oeuvres" using fancy frill picks to stab the Swedish meatballs  and an elegant cheese spreader to smear globs of port wine cheddar on Triscuits.  Once the party got into full swing, Grammy relieved us of our duties and sent us off to my aunt's old bedroom for the night, where we laughed and giggled about the guests until we fell asleep.  In the morning, she was up before we were, still wearing her gold charm bracelets and sipping black coffee.  She made us breakfast: ice cold Tropicana Orange Juice and toasted Thomas' English Muffins slathered in melting peanut butter. When Val picked us up to go home, Grammy handed us each a check.  In the memo, written in her swirly script, "Party Help".
  I came across a letter the other day in that same unmistakable hand.  Grammy wrote me in 1997.  She had found a snapshot of me in a party dress taken when I was about seven years old.  On the flowered note card she congratulates me on a new job, hopes it's going well.  In the next sentence, she implores me to also take time for my social life.  "because it's really important not to be just a 
work-a-holic.  Work hard and play hard as long as you can- it makes life such more fun!"

Mock Lobster Dip
(for a party)

1 can crab meat
1 can tomato soup*
1 cup mayonnaise
1 (1/2 lb.) package cream cheese
1 package Knox gelatin
1/4 cup green pepper, chopped very fine
2 tablespoons onion (chopped fine, also)
1/4 cup chopped celery (fine)

  Melt cream cheese over low heat.  Add tomato soup until well blended.  Add gelatin and mayonnaise, stir well.  Add the rest of the ingredients and pour into greased mold.  Chill well before serving.**

* I am guessing that the soup should be condensed, preferably Campbell's
**Probably should chill overnight, at least 6-8 hours.

Grammy and Pressy  celebrating their December birthdays before a night on the town.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

My New Book: Notes From Val's Kitchen: Stories, Food and Life on Cape Cod

  So, I wrote a book.
  Well, actually, I put together a collection of my favorite blog posts from 2008-2016.  Can you believe I have been writing this blog for that long?  I definitely cannot.  The posts are organized by subject instead of dates which makes for an interesting analysis of my thoughts on my childhood, motherhood, my family and, of course, my friends.  It's all wrapped up in a paperback that you can snuggle up with in bed or throw in your beach bag.  The reading is light enough that you don't need to think much about it and most of my musings include recipes, too.  So you can make a snack or a cocktail or both if you want something to go with the entertainment.
  It's been a long journey, compiling the posts, editing and formatting.  Go easy on me if you find any errors, I hope there aren't too many that I've missed.  I had some superb help with the technical aspects from my friend, Patti Fitzgerald and great assistance from Stefanie Morrison with my grammar and punctuation.  There are so many people who are special to me mentioned in my stories, that I must thank. And thank you most of all to Val and Dick, my parents who inspire all of it.
  If you feel inclined to get a copy for yourself or someone else (makes a great gift!), please click on the link below.  By the way, I am always available for autographs especially if you bribe me with a cookie.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Falmouth Bulletin Throwback, December 2010: "Nutcracker Sweet"

  A throw back from my days when I wrote for the Falmouth Bulletin.  This story appeared under the column: "Lessons From Val's Kitchen" in early December of 2010.  Eight years later, Ava is still in love with dance, still dancing in the Sea Captain's Nutcracker this weekend: November 24th and 25th.  However, she has graduated into one of the "older" dancers, now wearing satin pointe shoes and an icicle tiara.

Chocolate and Cherry Mice for your holiday table

Nutcracker Sweet

  "I’m so excited!”  Ava said as she rolled out of bed early this morning, her eyes still smudged with black liner and her long locks sticky with hair spray from dress rehearsal the night before. We were at the theatre pretty late last night just as we were all week for practice with the rest of the Sea Captain’s Nutcracker cast. Every night we left the theatre around 9:00pm, way past her usual bedtime of 7:30pm but every night she bounded down the concrete walkway under the light of the moon as if she was ready for more. Her energy is contagious which is a good thing because before she got up, I sat with my cup of coffee wondering how I was going to get through two performances. All of the mom’s had a job; mine was to help with the hair and makeup and thwarting inevitable backstage catastrophes like “Fritz” losing his only pair of white tights and the little sea pearl who suddenly has to use the bathroom as the stage manager calls “places everyone!”
  Ava never tired watching all of the “older” accomplished high school age dancers during the long practices at her dance school. I had to drag her out after each four hour session was finally over even though she spent such a short period of time practicing her own part and the rest of the time observing. It seems she just can’t get enough of satin pointe shoes and leg warmers.
Being involved in a large scale production is exciting but the costumes make it more so. Ava couldn’t wait to put on her mouse hat complete with pink and white felt ears, and sparkly gold whiskers made out of pipe cleaners. The outfits were over-sized and baggy. They made all the kids look like they were fat mice who had been stuck in the dryer for a cycle. The mice in the fight scene added a touch of comedy as they jumped and scurried about cheering and jeering. Of course, this scene was far too short in my opinion! But when the few minutes were over, Ava waited patiently back stage for her next part, eager to change into her  “sea glass” costume and color with her friends until she was called back to stage during Scene 3.
  I understand Ava’s excitement. The ballet always seemed so magical to me, and still does. Ever since my grandmother took me to Boston when I was about ten yrs old to see the Nutcracker, I have loved the music and hummed along, visions of Sugar Plum Fairies dancing in my head. Tchaikovsky’s music is my go to sound track for holiday baking. Just hearing the first few notes of the “Overture” gives me the motivation I need to wrap the last few gifts I have left to put under the tree. I took ballet as a child but retired my dance shoes around age eleven; I’m sure much to the relief of my dance teacher. I was a bit too uncoordinated and self conscious of my chubby body. And I could never get my legs stretched enough to even closely resemble a split. In spite of all this, my love for the music remains and every time I hear the horns announce the beginning of the “March” during the party scene, I recall the sparkly tutus, elegant dancers and elaborate decorations that remind me of Christmas. I played my worn Nutcracker CD the other day to get myself into the spirit of the season. Ava kicked off her shoes and pirouetted a few times across the kitchen floor, eventually crashing her long gazelle like legs into some furniture in our small house. She picked herself up and kept on going, unfazed by any obstacles and completely entranced in her love of dance.

Six year old Ava as "Lead Mouse" and Fourteen year old Ava as "Ice and Wind"

  I discovered these “mice” this summer at the 3 Dogs CafĂ©, Rockport, ME I duplicated them in my own kitchen to surprise Ava after her performance. Children love to eat the cute critters but a steady hand is needed to add the eyes, nose and ears. Enjoy these on your holiday buffet or any time of year!

dessert mice made out of maraschino cherries and Hershey Kisses with almond sliver ears sitting on top of an Oreo half
Chocolate Mice

Chocolate Mice
(Makes 24)

24 Hershey’s chocolate kisses
7 oz. semi sweet chocolate chips, divided
1 10 oz. jar maraschino cherries with stems
12 Oreo cookies
Slivered almonds (small package)
2 teaspoons instant coffee
Tooth picks

  Set out all ingredients needed: Unwrap kisses and place in a small bowl. Place 6 oz. semi sweet chips into a sauce pan and heat over very low heat, stirring frequently until melted, then remove from heat.  Select 24 cherries with stems attached, drain and place into a small bowl. Open Oreo cookies by slicing through filling with a small knife. Place open halves onto a lined baking sheet. Cull through almonds and place 48 unbroken slivers into a small bowl.  Moisten fingers with water and smooth out any dings and white marks on kisses.
Begin each mouse by holding a cherry by the stem and dipping it into melted chocolate spooning chocolate over cherry to completely cover. Drip off excess and place chocolate covered cherry on an Oreo half. Place a kiss on its side and gently press the flat end into the chocolate covered cherry to attach the head. Place 2 almond slivers into the chocolate just behind the flat edge of the kiss for ears.  Continue until all mice are made to this point.
 Place remaining ounce of semisweet chips into a microwave safe bowl. Add instant coffee and microwave at 30 second intervals until just melted. Stir until smooth.  Using a toothpick, dot eyes and a nose onto each mouse. Let mice set for 3-4 hours until firm. Store for 2-3 days in an airtight container.

This holiday season, Andrea Norris can be found humming along to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker while making treats at her home in East Falmouth, MA. For more recipes, go to: