Today I’m thinking about my mother, who died three years ago but is still very present in almost everything I do. I hear her voice when I’m cooking and can’t find the right spices and I cook her specialties regularly. I totally miss her mashed potatoes, a secret that she took with her to the great test kitchen in the sky. She was a really great cook , nothing fancy, just simply gorgeous food and she WAS the Barefoot Contessa long before Ina Garten even thought about picking up a chefs knife. She could throw a party for 50 without a fuss with 24 hours notice. My mom was a working woman but it was her way to have dinner every night at the dinner table, with candles, wine and cloth napkins. By the way did you know that if you want to use cloth napkins but dread ironing them that all you need is a brick? This was one of my mothers best tricks…she kept a brick right by her dryer and when the napkins came out she’d fold them while still warm, stack them and then place the brick on top leaving her with perfectly pressed, ready to use napkins at anytime!
My mother is the reason that I can cook and I loved watching her in the kitchen. She could throw a dinner party on a moments notice because she was always prepared to entertain. She had one part of her freezer and pantry stocked especially for such occasions and always kept her bar ready for drop- in guests. I still do too because you never know who’s coming through the door and for me just like my mother before me, Food= Love. She taught me that entertaining well didn’t have to do with how grand a spread you put out, but everything to do with how welcome you make your guests feel. A wedge of runny Brie with fresh fruit and a tin of smoked oysters and a bowl of camponata (eggplant appetizer) were her staples, she always had them around as well as a loaf of thin white Pepperidge Farm tea sandwich bread. A simple tomato bisque, usually from a can (but now with so many good organic varieties in a box you won't need Campbells!), enriched with a touch of cream or coconut milk, flavored with a touchof sherry and served in her mothers demitasse cups, became another great conversation starter. When you have an entire roomful of people who don't really know each other well, talking about the different cup patterns really does work as an ice breaker!
Mom also always kept a bag of shrimp in her freezer which she could thaw in an instant. Take those shrimp, mix them up with about 1/2 a cup of vegannaise (she used Hellmans!) and a 1/2 a cup of sour cream, add about 5 tablespoons of chopped fresh chives and season with cayenne, Worcestershire sauce and a dash of salt and pepper. Stir and serve with little forks or toothpicks and buttered toast points. Those 5 things, arranged graciously and set on her coffee table with pretty little plates a good bottle of wine or champagne and a vase of flowers were simple, delicious and satisfying. If you don’t have flowers, walk out into the garden , scoop up a few posies that you’ve planted dirt and all and repot them in some pretty tea cups. I promise that they’ll never notice that they’ve been gone for the short time that you’ll have them inside! When I’m teaching people to plan simple parties I always encourage them to have a signature cocktail that they can throw together at the drop of a hat. Mine is a delicious mixture of things that I always have around, lemon soda, Crème de violette (this is succulent heady stuff all you perfumistas!), limoncello, citron vodka, peach bitters and blackberries, fresh when in season, frozen when not! Just take a tall glass, fill with ice and a few of the blackberries. Then pour a jigger of citron vodka into it, and a tablespoon each of the crème de violette and limoncello. Top off with the lemon soda, a dash of the blood orange bitters and garnish with some fresh thai basil. That’s all! A signature drink that you can whip up in an instant kicks off the conversation on a surprise evening beautifully!
I guess that I’m saying all of this because to me it’s more important with whom you’re eating than what you’re eating and I want you to always feel comfortable having people in your home and enjoying their company. My mother had tricks that made it easy to entertain well and she was always prepared to use them. I think that we miss a lot of opportunities for relatedness because we’re so concerned more with what it looks like instead of simply just enjoying ourselves and life’s just too short. The world is spinning faster than ever before and now more than ever we need to sit down , break some wonderful bread together, drink some excellent wine and really talk about what matters. Don’t be intimidated, just try it! Trader Joe's is a great source for healthy appetizers that you can keep in your freezer and serve at a moments notice. Go to TJ Maxx and get a few good glasses, some pretty little plates and some napkins. Keep it all in a special place and don’t touch it except for occasions like these. You’ll thank me, I promise.
I hope that you had a wonderful Mothers Day! All of us are mothers to something or someone. If you’ve ever given birth to a great idea, or a project you’re a mother. If you’re gay and you have a child , you’re a mother. If you’ve got a dog, cat or even a chicken you’re a mother. You don’t need a uterus to celebrate this special day , just a whole lot of love!
Photo of Crème De Violette from www.thekitchn.com Photo of Camponata from www.wellonwheels.blogspot.com
Photo of Family from source unknown