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Cookbooks, Catering and Memories

Updated on April 15, 2018

Cookbooks are memory makers. I have my Mother's Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that she received in 1948 as a young bride. It is full of stains and smudges w

My husband bought this cookbook for me, for my birthday way back in 1984. What seems odd to me is that my birthday is in January and our youngest child, Katie, was born in September 1983. So she was barely 4 months old when I got my hands on this great cookbook.

There is a reason that matters. Back then, I had just begun toying with the idea of catering. We needed extra income and with 2 kids under 3, working outside the home wasnt feasible. But that didnt mean I couldn't do something to bring in extra cash. And I loved to cook and had been told for years that I was a good cook. I didn't consider myself Julia Child by any measure. But I knew enough to stick to the things I was good at and not mess around with tried and true. Although I will admit to adding garlic to almost every dish I made.

So when I got this cookbook, I devoured it. I read and re-read it, marking pages which had recipes I knew I wanted to try.

These were the years of chicken salad made with grapes and walnuts and spinach salad that was to die for and stuffed mushrooms and 7 layer salad. These were classic 80s dishes that most anyone who lived through those years, will surely remember.

I tried all of them out on friends (except the dreaded chicken salad with grapes and walnuts). Sidenote: in my mind, chicken salad made the old fashioned way with onions, celery and mayonnaise was perfectly fine, acceptable and needn't be changed.

I had joined Welcome Wagon after Katie was born in order to meet other young Moms and get involved in the babysitting co-op and ladies bowling and an arts and crafts group.

I don't know if most young mothers still do things like this. I suspect not since most of them now have careers outside the home. But back then, it was different, not right, not wrong, just different. Those groups got me out of the house and with 2 little ones in tow I would go to Tuesday bowling and find a few hours of sanity and Patrick and Katie made friends in the bowling alley nursery.

There was also a group called the dining in group. Several couples would meet once a month and each couple was responsible for bringing a dish to share with everyone else for the dinner. Now, its important to note that these weren't just pot luck, throw anything together you feel like dinners. We really outdid ourselves and stretched way beyond meatloaf and mashed potatoes. We pushed our limits with different cultures and dishes most of us had never tried. And we learned a lot.

We had a planning meeting where the wives decided on the menu/theme of that month's dinner and we discussed dishes we would serve for the dinner and then we chose the dish we wanted to prepare.

It was a huge success, an incredible amount of fun and I learned along the way, some great tips and ideas on cooking for a crowd. I had never had wild rice and when Cherie made wild rice for a German dinner one month, we all learned that wild rice took forever to cook. I had no idea since I had never had it, but it was so good that I wanted to make it myself and made a mental note to remember that it needed to cook a long time.

The best of those nights were the dinners that the guys planned and prepared! You might think that with the guys doing the whole thing that we drank dinner. And while there was a trash can full of "Hairy Buffalo's" (recipe posted) the guys made an outstanding dinner and we girls were really impressed.

I loved the entire idea of cooking and entertaining so when I got my Discover Dayton cookbook, the idea that I had been tossing around in my head of catering, really began to take off.

It wasn't just the actual preparing of a dish that I loved. It was the presentation. It was the extra touch that got me referrals for weddings, graduations, birthday parties, Christmas parties etc.

One of my most requested baked items was rum cake. I had made these for years for my mother in law because she loved them. And they were very easy to make and since Im not a baker when I found something that was easy and people loved, I replicated it over and over. When I catered a Christmas party that first year and the hostess asked about dessert, of course I suggested a rum cake. It was relatively unheard of in those days, but after that party, I had several people phone me to book their party as long as I would serve rum cake.

It was a giddy feeling knowing that something I made pleased complete strangers who were willing to pay me!

Another Christmas hit was my Almond Pinecone. It was a very simple cheeseball recipe with bacon and scallions, cream cheese, garlic, onion and parsley. But the presentation was WOW! The entire thing was shaped into the shape of a pinecone....wide at the top, narrowing to a point at the bottom. And then the whole thing was studded with whole almonds stuck into the cheeseball. All of this was set off with a sprig of pine needles stuck into the cheese at the top. It was served on 3 paper doilies red, white and green all on a silver platter with a variety of crackers. It was a big hit.

I loved doing summer parties because the menu could be so varied. Teriyaki chicken skewers grilled ahead and then chilled and served with a teriyaki dipping sauce, on a bed of leaf lettuce, accompanied by fruit salad displayed in a hollowed out watermelon, cold rice salad served in Chinese takeout containers, and individually wrapped fortune cookies was one menu that got lots of requests.

I loved coming up with new ideas for serving and presentation. To me, it wasn't just how good the food might taste, although that was the reason I did well to begin with. But if it tasted good AND looked good, I knew I had something special to offer my clients.

I would serve dips in hollowed out red cabbages or frozen desserts in orange shells. The popular beer cheese in a hollowed out round of pumpernickel was a big request back then.

Stuffed mushroom caps were so popular and so versatile. You could stuff them with sausage, with bread crumbs, with chopped mushrooms and onions, with cheese. You could bake them with broth, or wine (my fave), or butter. You could wrap them with bacon (who could say no to that?). You could just about do anything with a whole mushroom and it would sell and be requested again and again.

Another big favorite from the Discover Dayton cookbook was called Asparagus Bites. These were incredibly simple, and somewhat inexpensive to make. Simple white bread with crusts trimmed off and rolled out flat was the basis for the bite. The cheese filling was blue cheese, cream cheese, crumbled bacon which once mixed was then spread on each slice of crustless bread, topped with an asparagus spear (from the can no less!) The whole thing was then rolled up and cut into thirds and then drizzled with melted butter. The recipe said you could use margarine but I found out a long time ago, there are some things you shouldn't skimp on and real butter made a huge difference. Popped into the oven for 15 minutes and before I could even tray them up, they would be gone. I can literally still feel the crunch of that baked, white bread and the sweet, buttery taste of those roll ups as I bit into one.

All of this parlayed into my ultimate dream called the Brown Bag.

Stay tuned for the story of my home delivered, brown bag lunches to offices, in the area I lived in. I recognized the need for this and dreamed up a concept and made it happen.

My husband bought the Discover Dayton cookbook for me, for my birthday way back in 1984. And now 34 years later I am remembering what it was like to be young, raising kids, without a lot of money, but full of hopes, ideas and dreams and making those dreams come true.

Almond Pinecone Cheeseball


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