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

A Fond Farewell

The The “Southern Picnic” themed table at my retirement celebration

A co-worker asked if the Retirement Reception that was organized in my honor was blog worthy. At the time, I didn’t know how to respond because I knew she was speaking about the quality of the food that had been prepared. Since my foodie tendencies are well known throughout my department at a very  service oriented Navy facility that day in and day out does an outstanding job of supporting our war fighters at sea, the” party planners” for this event had paid particular attention to food quality and dĂ©cor. As I came home after experiencing such a truly lovely outpouring of affection I knew I indeed needed to include this extraordinary event in my blog. The food was outstanding but that is not the point of this blog post. The fact that a wonderful group of co workers went out of their way to give me a retirement sendoff  with every nuance of my personality considered is what makes the occasion “blog worthy” (for you, Andrea).

Just part of the tablescape at my retirement reception Just part of the tablescape at my retirement reception
The Glorious Cupcakes served at my retirement reception at work The Glorious Cupcakes served at my retirement reception at work

Not to be out done, my sweet daughter with help from the rest of the family had planned a big retirement bash at Vintage (read my post “Thanksgiving at Vintage” to learn more about this magical place) where long time friends and close co-workers were invited to celebrate MY “Independence Day”.  As the guest of honor, I contributed very little to the affair only making the family Shrimp Spread and a couple of other bites to pass. The rest of the menu was squarely the responsibility of my incredibly talented girl. The Party should’ve been covered by our favorite magazine, Southern Living! From Ham Biscuits and Chicken Tenders with Alabama White Sauce to Market Potato Salad and Gazebo Room Pasta Salad, from Pimento Cheese and Mommy and Mamie’s Cheese Ball, from Spiked Blackberry Basil Lemonade to Troeg’s Sunshine Pils and everything in between……….this get together was fantastic!

The cake , fruit and candy bar at my Independence Day celebration The cake , fruit and candy bar at my Independence Day celebration

Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate- Alan D. Wolfelt

Thanks ever so Jen, Jill, Nikki, Andrea, Jason, Amy and Kay.

I love you all- Mamie, Austin, Pat, Jamie, Mom and Dad, Rick, Laura, Cloey (Nick of course too) and Hailey.

 

Seize the Day!

New Year's Day Pot 'o Tea

New Year’s Day Pot ‘o Tea


Typically, after a whirlwind of cooking and entertaining during the Season, my New Year’s Eve Celebration is fairly low-key. This year will only be slightly different in that due to an especially stressful week past, I’ve decided to “own” New Year’s Eve this year and make it all about me. Still limited to my rather small town surroundings, I’ve planned a day that may rival the celebrations (in culinary terms) of big cities everywhere!

6:45AM- Day drinking begins with the consumption of an entire pot of Constant Comment Tea…in my mind, one of the best everyday tea available. Sipping was especially comforting while watching “The Paper Chase”. Checkout the Bigelow tea website at http://www.bigelowtea.com for some amazing facts and tips (beauty tips…who knew?)

Behold! a French 75 at Sidney Willoughby Run

Behold! a French 75 at Sidney Willoughby Run

2:30PM-An intimate lunch at Sidney Willoughby Run, one of my favorite restaurants! My French 75 paired perfectly with the ever so spicy-sweet Crispy Calamari Pizza with Jalapeno and Banana Peppers. The velvety Sidney Classic Pate was delicious with just the perfect amount of Yuzu Marmalade.

Spicy and Crispy Calamari Pizza

Spicy and Crispy Calamari Pizza

Classic Sidney Pate

Classic Sidney Pate


Read all about the Sidney locations at http://www.restaurantsidney.com and my previous post titled “My favorite Gettysburg Address”

4:30PM-“Into the Woods” at the Theater

By 7:30PM-home to ready-up for dinner and a glass of something Red.

Home at Hodgepodge Lodge

Home at Hodgepodge Lodge

9:00PM-the Main Event: dinner at the Boiling Springs Tavern. BST has been our NYE destination for at least the last 20 years with very little deviation and is without a doubt our home base restaurant. BST is unpretentious, doesn’t give into fads, but consistently serves wonderful food based on a stellar menu and a few nightly specials. In my opinion, the BST fish and seafood selections are the best in the area with the shrimp being especially succulent. The staff at BST is top-notch which explains why the vast number of “regulars” like us know them by name. Michael the bartender has been a BST staple for 20 years, while the manager Kevin arrived shortly thereafter which enables Geoff the owner of this fine establishment, to spend a good deal of time with his family in Florida. Longtime servers include: Erica who never steers me wrong with a menu suggestion and certainly knows her way behind the bar, Jen who not only has a great name, but is one of the friendliest servers I know, Dave who will always tell you what he thinks about everything and Stacy who is a fine example of hiring local in that she as many other BST employees got jobs while in or shortly after graduating from the local high school.

I like that BST is "old school" and will still serve a salad with entrees....nothing but the freshest greens here!

I like that BST is “old school” and will still serve a salad with entrees….nothing but the freshest greens here!

Cajun Shrimp with Basmati Rice....Scallops added

Cajun Shrimp with Basmati Rice….Scallops added

This night we were lucky to get a favorite server BA and the best seat in the house (a perk to small town living is that 9PM reservations are usually the last). I added Scallops to my Cajun Shrimp, while my husband added Shrimp to his Mediterranean Scallops (he also swapped rice for pasta….yes, BST will do that). What perfect meals to end 2014!
See their website: http://www.boilingspringstavern.net

By the fire. Best seat in the house!

By the fire. Best seat in the house!

Coconut Tart. Kevin, the manager of BST makes most of the desserts

Coconut Tart. Kevin, the manager of BST makes most of the desserts

Resolved: For 2015 I shall follow a “Meatless Monday” regimen. In doing so, on that one day of the week I will look for guidance and inspiration from a book I gave myself…”Simple Recipes for Joy” BY Sharon Gannon

Thanksgiving at Vintage

The stone fireplace in the Great Room at Vintage The stone fireplace in the Great Room at Vintage

This year marked thirty-three straight years of enjoying my Thanksgiving feast at Vintage and I can’t imagine a more lovely place to spend a holiday that is wholly based on preparing a meal to share with family and friends as a way to give thanks and count our blessings. Although Vintage is my parents home that wasn’t purchased until I had already graduated from college, I like to think I was instrumental in persuading (actually it was full out coercion) my folks to see this beautiful piece of property as the perfect place to spend their retirement years and to hold our most momentous family occasions.
The Thanksgiving guests at Vintage have changed through the years but four of us have remained constant…my mom and dad, my husband (only fiancĂ© the 1st year) and I. We’ve had as many as 12 around the table, but this year it was limited to the four of us and our daughter and son. Regardless of the numbers of attendees, the menu planning remains the same with very little deviation- my dad takes care of the turkey, my mom decorates the table and does the stuffing and makes the family shrimp spread recipe while I scour through all my Cookbooks and Magazines to come up with sundry recipes I want to try. My daughter has taken over the Mashed Potato prep and this year made two fabulous desserts. Get a load of this……

While the menu may be extensive, for me it’s a perfect testament of my many blessings to share the fruits of the effort with my family who have always appreciated and supported (and in many ways inherited) my culinary obsession. Likewise, the warm and welcoming atmosphere maintained by my mom and dad that Vintage holds enables us to put our significant areas of concern aside for just one day of the year. I truly hope you all have a “Vintage” in your life as well.

Sherry Creamed Mushrooms, Pimento Cheese Creamed Spinach, Asparagus with Crispy Pancetta and Apple Cider Glazed Root Vegetables adorn the Sideboard. Sherry Creamed Mushrooms, Pimento Cheese Creamed Spinach, Asparagus with Crispy Pancetta and Apple Cider Glazed Root Vegetables adorn the Sideboard.

5 Stars are awarded to the Pimento Cheese Creamed Spinach, the Apple Cider Glazed Root Vegetables, the Salted-Butter Apple Galette and Marbled Gingersnap Pumpkin Tart (both desserts made lovingly by my daughter). The Sherry Creamed Mushrooms have always been to die for and “our” Shrimp Spread is legendary.

The Great Room of Vintage The Great Room of Vintage

“Food, in the end, in our tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity.”- Louise Fresco