My mother was a wonderful hostess. She was among the cadre of suburban post-WWII wives who decorated their homes with modern furniture and bold colors, attended museums and live theater, and experimented with continental food different from the Eastern European food they had grown up with. When she died, I snagged a slim hardback cookbook from her kitchen. The book, published in 1957, was Thought for Food: A Cookery Book for Entertaining Occasions, by Cecily Finn and Joan O’Connor. It is a quirky, witty cookbook that reads like a mash-up of the culinary and conversational musings of Dorothy Parker and Norah Ephron.
For instance, under the category “Occasions of Love” you find “Dinner for a New Love, an Old Love and an Old Love’s New Love.” The “Aim” (which means the goal of the meal), perfectly toned, includes one detailed sentence requiring careful reading:
“Very complicated. Putting it as simply as possible, we would say: to flaunt your new love before your old love and at the same time, and in the nicest possible manner, to show your old love’s new love that, were your new love not so much more attractive than your old love, you could, if you so desired, bring him to heel again with the flick of an eyelash.”
Don’t try finding the book as it’s long out of print. But an Internet search for Cecily Finn will turn up the 2020 novel, Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies, by Vicky Zimmerman. This is a lightweight, chick-lit, food-focused romance, in which Kate, about to be 40, is food-obsessed and seeks true love. She diverts herself from heartbreak and overeating by volunteering to demonstrate cooking to the senior residents of the Lauderdale House for Exceptional Ladies. There she meets 97-year-old Cecily Finn—yes, the author of Thought for Food—and the two bond, despite Finn’s sharp tongue, depressed attitude, and disapproval of Kate’s choice in men. This is a story about the value of books, food, and friendship.
In one more serendipitous discovery, we learn that Vicky Zimmerman, who usually writes under the name Stella Newman, is actually Cecily Finn’s granddaughter. In an interview at the end of the book, she apologizes for making her good-natured, kind grandmother into a “spikier, more irritable” character in the book.
I’m pretty sure my mother never cooked from this book, given its pristine condition. But I am sure she relished the smart and funny take on food and events.
Thus, in the style of Thought for Food, I invite you to a:
Festive and Ritualistic Post-Pandemic Outdoor Gathering for Qualifying Participants
“If we don’t have each other, we go crazy with loneliness. When we do, we go crazy with togetherness.” —Stephen King
This is not your usual gathering. The combination of garlic and creativity makes for a potent mix. Presuming we are fully vaccinated and steadfastly mask-wearing in public places, we will gather to hug heartily, drink abundantly, and eat voraciously. Invite those with a sense of fun and a bit of gallows humor to this event. Keep the sanitizer handy for messy eating and greeting.
A long or round table—think Tuscan feasts in Villa vineyards—strewn with branches and fresh flowers in Mason Jars, battery-operated candles, plenty of compostable and eco-friendly plates, flatware, cups, and napkins.
Le Grand Aioli
- Garlic mayonnaise
- Roast chicken
- Cooked fish or seafood
- Fresh veggies from Farmers’ Markets or your garden
- Garlic Mayonnaise: Scratch recipes abound online or you could just buy a few jars from the store. There are many commercial versions, not as good as homemade, but adequate. Have enough to slather on everything.
- Fresh herbs: Mint, parsley, basil, dill, and cilantro. When you are done with the garlic, chewing on parsley or mint might remove the flavor. (I say why bother? You shouldn’t have invited anybody who doesn’t like or can’t handle garlic!)
- For those who won’t or can’t tolerate garlic (poor souls!) offer Greek yogurt with cumin, lemon or lime juice, and a mixture of chopped fresh herbs. Or good quality plain mayonnaise will do.
Le Grand Cookie Buffet
- A variety of purchased or homemade cookies: Shortbread, ginger snaps, chocolate chip, Snickerdoodles
- Array of toppings: Lemon curd, fudge sauce, homemade preserves
- Fresh berries: Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries
Process: Choose topping, spread on the cookies you like, top with berries. Consume.
Burning Mask Event*
A short, but safe, distance from the table designate a space where, over the course of the gathering, an amorphous structure is created from branches and other burnable materials supplied by participants. Its many arms and other protuberances will be decorated with masks and other pandemic-related paraphernalia, and completed with an artistic wrapping of TP. (Admit it, you have a year’s supply stashed at home.) Tap into your inner teenager for this.
At the appointed time, the well-fed participants gather to declare whatever helps them to feel unburdened. Written statements can be added to the blaze. Someone with a penchant for barbecue lights it up. Watch in wonder and sing whatever songs of merriment and liberation that you remember: “Happy Days Are Here Again,” “Freedom,” “Celebration.”
*Intended to be ceremonial and celebrational, only. Please continue to wear masks as directed by the CDC.
Before Rebecca Crichton worked for Boeing, taught leadership development, or became executive director of the Northwest Center for Creative Aging, she was a caterer, recipe developer, and food journalist. She has taught cooking to seniors and others, and she can reel off food ideas and recipes for any part of a meal or event. She believes in easily prepared, healthy, and taste-filled food that delights and satisfies.