Monday, May 24, 2010

A very special "Bokeh"

When my son, John, made his Confirmation in 2003, he presented his sponsor, his Aunt Mary Ann, with a tussie-mussie to honor her, and thank her for her support during this important religious rite.

A tussie-mussie is a small bouquet composed of flowers and other plants selected for their special meaning. Victorian ladies - and gentlemen! - would entertain themselves composing interesting messages using the language of flowers. Even today, we know that the rose symbolizes love, and that rosemary means remembrance.

So, armed with a "Flowers" Dictionary, we created this bouquet, with the help of our very enthusiastic florist. He had no idea what flowers, from the list we gave him, would be available on Confirmation Day. So we waited until the bouquet was delivered to create a little card which would explain the meaning of each flower it held.
We tucked the card in the tussie-mussie. Finally, the tussie-mussie was trimmed with red satin ribbon; red is the color traditionally associated with Confirmation.
It was a very special day, and John is a lucky guy to have had such a sweet and loving sponsor!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Stargazer lilies

I bought these pink lilies at the supermarket last Saturday. They took their sweet time opening up . . . but it was worth the wait.

My son, John, photographed them while I was at work . . . I don't think I could improve on his composition . . .

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Spring Tea Party

I work with a group of amazing women who have managed, despite our reluctance of mixing business with pleasure, to become friends. We all take turns hosting in our own style; one friend hosts a cookout every year, another hosts an appetizer extravaganza, yet another can't cook worth spit (her words) so she takes the whole gang out to dinner . . . Me, I just love the idea of sitting around cups of steaming tea, sharing finger food and catching up on each other's lives - talking about anything but the latest work craziness that occassionally has us snapping at each other from the stress . . . Besides, it's a great excuse to make cucumber sandwiches . . . I adore cucumber sandwiches . . .

So here was the menu: Egg salad daisies . . .

Rosebud cupcakes . . .

I wish I could say that I cooked all this food myself, but I had a little help from some delightful local vendors. The cupcakes were from Jewel, our local supermarket. When I mentioned to the lady at the bakery that I was having a tea party, she was so enthusiastic about their rosebud cupcakes, that I ordered them sight unseen. They were as delicious as they were pretty . . .

I got to play with my new dessert dishes (more on that later). The napkins were given to me 20 years ago by my godmother, and I used them for the first time at my son David's baptism.

Phyllo tartlets filled with lemon custard and topped with fresh berries . . . Herbed cucumber sandwiches on nutty wheat bread . . . Ham and cheese bites on rye bread . . . Fresh berries with clotted cream . . .

Strawberry Scones, Wild Blueberry Scones, Glazed Orange Scones and Shortbread Cookies . . . all from Panera Bread . . . and if you happen to go there around dinnertime to place your order, go ahead and have one of their Cuban Panini Sandwiches - not authentic but delicious just the same!

I first saw these dessert dishes at Macy's, they are part of the "Conservatory" pattern, in the Martha Stewart Collection for Wedgwood. Then I spotted them at HomeGoods for a third of the price, and, well . . . they were meant to be mine . . . There are six little birds hidden in the design of this plate. Can you spot them?

Here's one of them . . .

Here's another one . . .

Some leftover Baby's Breath that was just too pretty to discard got tucked in a vase . . .

And a little party favor to take home: An embroidered handkerchief . . .

Each was unique . . . just like the lovely ladies who took them home . . .

This is how they ended up being displayed . . . My Aunt Olga gave me this cake stand 18 years ago. I remember the look in my aunt's eyes, hoping that I liked her present, bought at a garage sale, the only thing she could afford to give me at the time . . . there was so much love in those eyes . . . Isn't it beautiful?

A huge thank you to my three boys: My husband, Lee, and my sons, John and David. They sliced bread, spread filling, brewed tea and helped me set up this lovely table . . . and then they thoughtfully took themselves off to do manly things so my friends and I could have the house all to ourselves . . . You guys truly are my cup of tea!

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Who would have thought that this bouquet sidekick could be so pretty all on its own?

And the name is so deceptive - there's nothing lemony about this flower - not in its color or its fragrance.
One more look from a little further back . . .

Bag of Limonium from supermarket flower stand: $2.99
Hours of pleasure derived from arranging, photographing and enjoying said flowers: Priceless.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The summer pillows are out!

I've put away the furry, dark, winter-y pillows and brought out the summer ones. I love them all, but that green one has such a fresh color . . . hmm . . . maybe if I squeeze it, some lime juice will squirt out!

My son, John, gave me the Picasso poster two Christmases ago. Here are Don Quixote and Sancho Panza with the blazing Spanish sun shining down upon them. Cervantes' masterpiece is one of my favorite books, and I have always loved Picasso's rendition of the characters.

I'm beginning to feel warm.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day at Carmela's House

This was the Dining Room in the house where I grew up, but I wasn't born when this photo was taken. Most of these folks left Cuba in the early 60's. I loved the windows in this house. Notice where the children are standing. There was a deep ledge beyond the shutters, and then iron bars for security as well as decoration. All the kids in the family played Hide and Seek in this house, and we all hid behind the windows at one time or another.

This was just the immediate family gathered on a Mother's Day Sunday in the mid-1950s. My grandmother, the white-haired lady, third from the left bore eleven children, eight of which reached adulthood. This is the clan: Kids, spouses and grandchildren. My parents are immediately to the right. My father is the gentleman with the moustache, and my mother is the lady next to him.

I'm told my grandmother ran a tight ship. The day began early in this house, and the soup kettle was set to simmer before breakfast, preparing chicken, beef or fish stock for the noon meals' first course (the main meal of the day was taken at noon). She had a housekeeper and a cook, but she supervised all the work herself. Even the adult children that didn't live here, would stop by for the noon meal, so this crowd was not at all unusual.
With so many mouths to feed, food was simple, but plentiful. Besides a clear broth soup, there was always a bean potage (heavy soup) which was served over white rice, chicken and beef dishes, fried plantains and . . . Carmela's salad. You can see her special salad on the photo below. I was so thrilled when I discovered this photo!
My grandmother claimed that this salad was “strengthening” and everyone was encouraged to take at least a small portion every day. My father really liked it, so my mother learned how to make it. When I started helping in the kitchen, this became one of my regularly assigned tasks. My father didn't like lettuce, so my mother never included it in the salad. It wasn't until I was visiting an aunt in Florida about 15 years ago, that I realized that it was left out because my father didn't like it! Since then, I've added lettuce back in the salad, as Carmela would likely have done.

The salad is quite simple: Butter lettuce, hard boiled eggs, white onions, boiled potatoes and green beans cooked crisp-tender. Then the salad is drizzled with a good quality olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

It makes a great lunch all by itself. For a little extra zing, I sometimes make an herb vinaigrette dressing instead of using the traditional oil and vinegar.

And whenever I make it, I think of my father, looking over my shoulder as I assembled the salad, giving me pointers: “Not so much oil!” “A little more onion, please!” “Did you cook the beans enough?” “Why are you using this vinegar?” “Are we out of the other vinegar we had last week?” He could be as annoying as a little kid sometimes! But I wish he was still around to tell me how to make his mother's salad.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

I celebrated my first Mother's Day by having my firstborn, John, baptized, on May 11, 1989.

We were surrounded by loved ones, but especially meaningful to me, my beloved godmother, Mamá Lala, as always, was standing by my side.

My beautiful mother-in-law, Lillian, was also there to witness the event. Good memories of a very happy day.

Wishing you happy Mother's Day memories . . .

Saturday, May 8, 2010


It's not quite tomato season, and I haven't even planted my basil yet, but I pushed my cart past the bakery at our local supermarket, and the aroma of freshly baked Italian bread was wafting through the air . . . And it's only a few short steps from the bakery to the produce section . . .

I don't think I've ever gotten my fill of bruschetta. The flavors are so evocative of summer. Here's how I make it, but there are endless variations. I love them all!

6 Italian plum tomatoes, cut into very small pieces
6-8 Fresh basil leaves, stems removed, chopped very finely
Fresh garlic, crushed or chopped, to taste (I like a lot of garlic)
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
White balsamic vinegar, to taste (or substitute lemon juice)
Salt and pepper to taste
Shaved parmesan or romano cheese (optional)
1 loaf Italian bread or peasant bread, sliced ½-inch thick
  1. Combine tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper an hour before serving to allow the flavors to blend.
  2. On a cookie sheet, place slices of bread and brush with olive oil. Place the cookie sheet in the oven until bread is slightly browned and crispy.
  3. Remove bread from the oven and pile bruschetta mixture on top.
  4. Shave cheese right on top of tomato mixture.
  5. Make a lot. This appetizer is a crowd pleaser and it goes fast! Buon appetito!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Buttons . . .

The film: War of the Buttons, 1962, black and white, French, with Spanish subtitles.

The plot (as best as I can remember): Two Irish gangs of children fight for supremacy.

The spoils of war: The losing gang's buttons.

One memorable scene: One of the two gangs strip naked (very tastefully done, you only see the boys from the rear, but quite shocking for the times anyway) before going to battle so the rival gang can't claim any buttons.

Despite the trailer, this was no Disney movie. It had a serious anti-war message and a fairly deep plot. And yet, I remember so much of it, so obviously, it touched me on some level.

I remember leaving the theatre thinking that it would be a fine thing to have such a treasure, and buttons were fairly accessible! I have saved buttons on and off ever since. You never know when I might need some swag to use as ransom!

I don't seem to save as many buttons anymore. But there are still those extra buttons that come with blouses and coats that you just can't get rid of because the moment you do, that's when you need them! So I put them away in my little button box, and there they stay forever.

Here's a peek at my little collection . . .

I just found out that there's a re-make of the movie from 1994. Now I may just have to check it out.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

My favorites . . .

Two of my favorites . . . My son, John . . .

And my son, David . . .