He was Nuttier than a Fruitcake

I’ve always hated fruitcake. I never could understand why anyone would think Fruitcake was an appropriate gift to give or worst yet serve on your holiday table where there should be much more desirable sweets. My most vivid memory had been going to my step- grandmother’s house as a kid and seeing a tray of sliced fruitcake along side a tower of fig-filled cookies, date-nut spirals, crystallized grapefruit peels and dried apricots ……. nothing a child of any age would want to consume. Truth be told, most of the food served at Grandmother Esther’s was awful. Esther was a fine Professor of Music at Edinboro State Teacher’s College, but as a fine or even fair cook she was not. I was told by my mother that Es had an illness in the 1940s that altered her sense of taste so she really didn’t know what good food tasted like. I didn’t buy it, I think she reveled in annoying her step-son-in-law (my dad) and step grandchildren by serving us gross food. Perhaps I’ll write a future blog post about that but for now I digress. I hate fruitcake.

My husband did not hate fruitcake. In fact he loved it. I dare say his favorite might’ve been those loaves you could get at a drugstore usually sitting aside the fake tin of Danish Butter Cookies that was only sold November-January (and now probably 70% off). After years of debating the reason for the very existence of fruitcake and pleas from my husband to try making one, four seasons ago I defied my culinary values and agreed to make a fruitcake.

I set rules. The cake would be considered one of his Christmas gifts as the expense, effort and shear horror of what I would experience was gift worthy. Likewise, the cake would be unveiled on Christmas day in the company of only our immediate family and never, ever appear on our dining table after that. If he liked it, my husband was permitted to share it with known fruitcake lovers only. If he didn’t like it, we would never speak of it again.

I chose the recipe for “Dark Fruitcake” out of “The Joy of Cooking”. I bought all the ingredients right down to the currants and citron and all those other candied fruits that stick together in clumps and dates that are almost impossible to chop. I mixed everything in a gigantic bowl and used a 12-cup ring pan. My fruitcake weighed a TON. I baked it for many, many hours and then cooled it for many, many, hours. Surprisingly, once cool the menacing dark glob came out of the pan okay (Jeez it was dark. Maybe burnt? It didn’t smell burnt, just fruitcakey.). I covered the behemoth with brandy-soaked flour clothes, wrapped in multiple layers of plastic wrap, stuck it in a super-sized zip-lock bag and placed it in the cupboard of my antique dry sink. That was 3 weeks prior to Christmas day.

My man loved the fruitcake I had made. That year, he might’ve shared a tad, but mostly he ate it himself over a course of about two weeks. With each passing day he told me he loved me more than the day before because I had become a fruitcake maker. It was clear that another family tradition had begun and the following Christmas would include a homemade fruitcake.

So the next year there was indeed another two-ton fruitcake made that tasted similar to the first. Last year though I got bold and decided to make three large loaves instead. The idea being that now my fruitcake gift was even more fun because my husband could taste the cake at varying ages and share more easily since now his fruitcake had gained a small following. He finished the first loaf in about a week. The second loaf took him just about through basketball season (those who read this blog often know my husband was a basketball coach). To him, this was the best fruitcake ever! I’ll never get over the fact that my husband could love a gross food so much. For him, my fruitcake was right up there with the very best of my recipe rotation.

This is where my story gets a little sappy. You see my husband never got to his third fruitcake loaf. He unexpectedly died on February 18th of last year. Needless to say I never gave that fruitcake aging in my antique dry sink a thought until this holiday season, over a year since it had been baked. My daughter, son and I knew the holidays would be hard for us but we were determined to make the best of it while keeping our papa and husband in our hearts. I had suggested to my daughter we open the fruitcake on Christmas day to see what became of it then throw it away. I forgot all about it so the holidays came and went without the fruitcake making an appearance. Just yesterday (it’s January 7th) I remembered a Hallmark Christmas Movie featuring an 100 year old fruitcake (it’s called “Broadcasting Christmas”, I looked it up). That made me go right to the dry sink to fetch the last fruitcake loaf.

I took it out, unwrapped it’s many layers of plastic wrap and brandied cloth. It was still moist, dark and smelled thick of molasses. I took a bite. It tasted as gross as always. That same gross taste that my husband loved only now the brandy flavor was magnified. I took another bite. This time it tasted so much better. I could taste the love I put into making it. I could taste my love! Almost a year since my husband had passed and I was enjoying his fruitcake! In the end the gift I made for him became a gift to me. And that gift is going to keep on giving at least another year. I wrapped that “dark brick of molasses filled love” again in a brandy doused cloth, applied multiple layers of plastic wrap, put it back in the zip-lock bag and in the cupboard it went. Next Christmas, if I don’t think it’ll kill anyone, I’ll make my kids take a bite and share some with my husband’s fruitcake fans. I may keep any remaining for the following year but probably not.

I still think you’ve gotta be nuts to like fruitcake, but in this first week of January 2020 having a few bites was a gift to me. Live each day, be kind to one another and share the love.

“Political advice is a bit like your average Christmas fruitcake: something everyone gives and no one wants.” ~ Bob Dole

History, It’s in the Making (or It’s all about the Shrimp Spread)

The Easter Tablescape this year

The Easter Tablescape this year

As an Army Brat, an Officer’s daughter no less, one of my Mom’s jobs as so many other Officer’s wives was to entertain. We had lots of Cocktail Parties, Sit-Down Dinners, Luncheons and Teas at our home wherever we were stationed. That being said, I became interested at a young age in the art of entertaining. I also picked up one of my Mom’s habits that has defined me in oh so many ways! You see, just as my mother before me, with each and every social ocassion I host, I produce an “Index Card” that not only lists what I served, but what I liked, what I didn’t, who was invited and what notable occurances happened before, during or sometimes after. They became a historical record of sorts that through the years has served as a  remembrance for me of days gone by. I can tell you for instance that I made Chicken with Bell Pepper and Onion Confit (Bon Appetit September 2001 Issue) for my Mom’s  birthday dinner 3 days after the Attacks of 9/11. It is documented that my son had Hardee’s Chicken for four birthdays in a row (ages 3-6), yet by the time he turned 12 his tastes had become so refined that I prepared Pepper-Seared Tenderloin w/Horseradish Cream. According to my index card that same sweet boy used the “F” word in front of his grandparents at my Dad’s 80th Birthday (hopefully the Sausage Ratatouille I made buffered the shock). My index cards fit perfectly in a sweet pastel basket where 35 years of entertaining is recorded. I’ll admit, I’ve missed an ocassion or two here or there and some cards lack detail compared to others. By and large though, the cards tell a lot about my family’s past.

A few statistics:

I have 204 recorded occasions. ( I know this is where you that know me are trying to tally how many parties you were invited to!)

I’ve hosted 18 Ladies Luncheons and Teas. The first one was the luncheon I had for my Bridesmaids in April of 1981 where I served my sure to be famous Ham and Egg Roulade which I have never made again! According to the card though, it was delicious and appeared in “Home Entertaining” magazine.

40 parties were Christmas parties (yes, some years I’ve had more than one) and remarkably I’ve had several Labor Day get togethers.

Of those Christmas/Holiday Parties, I served Shrimp Spread 22 times not to mention the countless other times as well. This brings me to the other portion of this post….

 

The ever faithful Shrimp Spread. This time made by my 88 year-old Mom just the other day.

The ever faithful Shrimp Spread. This time made by my 88 year-old Mom just the other day.

The Shrimp Spread

Apparently not all families serve “our” Shrimp Spread as a matter of routine. I know for a fact that it became a family staple for us in 1969 when my Dad was stationed in Fort Sill Oklahoma. The “Guided Missle Department Cookbook” was a collection of recipes contributed by the wives and was housed in a two-ringed binder with a bright red cover and is where this coveted appetizer first appeared. Somehow my mom is no longer is in possession of this publication, but no matter as the glorious Shrimp Spread recipe has been rewritten, shared and republished many times over.  When friends come over for repeat visits they immediately look for the Shrimp Spread. Who knew canned shrimp (always use the tiny or broken, mushed up!) could be the base for shellfish heaven? I’ve shared the recipes more times than I can count and the recipe now appears in several local Cookbooks either submitted by me or a friend I shared it with. Amazingly, I poured through 60 Shrimp Dip/Spreads on the “AllRecipes” website and not a one was precisely the same as “ours”.

I’m not gonna lie, as I’ve written before, I don’t make ANY recipe exactly as written. In this case when I double the recipe (and I always double the recipe!) I adjust some of the ingredients upward (hint, hint you can always use a bit more egg). I use green onion and I truly believe fresh parsley is a must although I know one particularly picky friend of mine who loves this stuff uses onion powder and dried parsley.

Well used recipe card as you can see

Well used recipe card as you can see

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In my other life as a Contract Negotiator, we were constantly reminded that “documentation is key”. I strongly believe this is the case in our personal lives as well. Be it through writings, photographs, recordings, momentos or simply memories engraved in our minds, holding on to those experiences one way or another gives us a sense of family, friendship and belonging.

This blog post is dedicated to my dad who passed away on February 5 2016. A true Officer and Gentleman who shared my passion for collecting memories and experiencing life through his tastebuds. You will be forever missed.

The table is set at my Dad's beloved "Vintage"

The table is set at my Dad’s beloved “Vintage”

 

 

 

A Food Frolic

A Lettuce Centerpiece confirmed we were having a Springtime Brunch indeed

A Lettuce Centerpiece confirmed we were having a Springtime Brunch indeed

Last weekend my adult children (I call them the DC Contingent) came from our Nation’s Capital to partake in what I dubbed as our “Spring Frolic Weekend”. We kicked everything off on Friday evening by meeting in the booming (not) town of Biglerville PA. It is there that you’ll find a gem of a restaurant called Fidler and Company Craft Kitchen (http://www.fidlerandcompany.com). My kids have been raised at my hand so needless to say they, too, have Foodie-like tendencies and fortunately Fidler’s fit the bill for our reunion. I’ve been there once before for brunch and dinner. The past dinner experience, while delicious, was somewhat disappointing in that I was told AFTER I ordered the Pork Belly and Kimchi Pizza that they were out of dough. I had tried thwarting the same situation this time by providing a veiled threat in my email reservation request ……”you better have pizza dough this time”. Unbelievably, one of the first snippets of information our server gave us when we settled  at our table is that they were out of pizza dough! Did I just hear that? Fortunately and not a second too soon one of the Fidler brothers (Dan, I believe) came over to greet us and told me he had held back enough dough to make two pizzas for us. Saints be Praised! We ordered the Pork and Kimchi Pizza that I was cheated out of last time and in a stroke of good fortune we were able to enjoy the special pizza of the evening……..thinly sliced beets, sautéed spinach (or maybe arugula, I forget), goat cheese and horseradish cream-yum! More appetizers followed as my son (credited with the photo below) and daughter both ordered the impressive and tasty Steak Tartar. The presentation was outstanding as the server lifted a glass filled with smoke from the steak and quail egg once the plate was placed. My Entrée was the Duck Salad which was fabulous, while my husband ordered the Swordfish Special that was delightfully prepared.

Impressive Steak Tartar after the smoke has been lifted

Impressive Steak Tartar after the smoke has been lifted

We split up among the girls and the boys on Saturday. The girls continued with the Food Frolic theme by lunching at Garryowen Irish Pub (http://garryowenirishpub.net) in Gettysburg. I been to the Pub once or twice for a beer, but this was the first time I had eaten there. I was more than pleased with my Salmon Roulade Salad. The Pub is in an old Civil War era home so the eating areas are broken down into a variety of rooms. The room we ate in was recently opened and very charming in décor. I definitely would go back for lunch or dinner. After lunch we visited our “go to” place near Gettysburg if the weather is halfway decent…. Hauser Estate Winery (http://hauserestate.com). The view from the Tasting Room is beyond compare and the wine is more than drinkable. Since we had just had lunch, we chose not to get cheese with our tasting or glass, but believe me you’ll want to try the Bay Cheddar from Conebella Farm….it’s great! (http://conebellafarm.com)

The dressing served with this salad compliments perfectly. That's crab rolled in the smoked salmon!

The dressing served with this salad compliments perfectly. That’s crab rolled in the smoked salmon!

 

The Main Food Frolic Event occurred on Sunday at Brunch hosted by none other than yours truly. As always, I had spent the better part of the week prior (when I wasn’t at my real job, of course) planning and prepping. What fun I had preparing the Spring Menu and Tablescape! I have to give a shout out to Dave and Rachel who operate the best flower shop ever , The Whimsical Poppy (http://thewhimsicalpoppy.com), for having beautiful Lettuce Planters again this year!

The Menu:

Homemade Corned Beef Hash- a recipe I saved from Southern Living years ago. I roast the Brisket a few days before and then chop with the potatoes and pepper. Believe it or not, a bit of nutmeg makes all the difference.

Oven Roasted Bacon- the best way to cook a lot of bacon in my opinion. Just set raw bacon on a rimmed baking sheet covered with crinkled foil, place in the oven THEN set the temperature for 400* and walk away for about 20 minutes.

My Heavenly Chicken Salad with Lettuce wraps

Deviled Eggs

Spring Vegetables with Warm Vinaigrette – recipe in the April edition Food Network Magazine on page 118

Pimento Cheese in Cucumber Cups- from the new cookbook “Lighten Up Y’all” . This cookbook is really great. I love the photography and the author, Virginia Willis, has done a grand job of slimming down many Southern Comfort Food recipes. (http://virginiawillis.com)

White Cupcakes with Creamy Frosting- No kidding, I made the best cupcakes using Pillsbury Purely Simple White Cake Mix. Without added preservatives and artificial flavorings, this mix creates a cake to rival traditional wedding cakes. Likewise, I tried Duff’s (the Ace of Cakes) canned White Creamy Frosting and had to keep reminding myself I didn’t make it from scratch. Both products can be found at your neighborhood grocery store.

There you have it. By 2:00 pm the DC contingent and my lovely parents were on the way to their homes, my husband settled in to read the Sunday paper and I started the process of cleaning up all the while reminding myself that this is what I love to do.

Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity. ~Voltaire