Monday, August 13, 2007

The Hostess with the Mostest

It seemed like my mother was always having dinner parties. My father was a career army officer, and there was a certain amount of after-hours entertaining that came with the job. Add to that the fact it was the '70s. I think people just entertained more back then--real entertaining, I mean, with no children allowed, the women wearing dresses, the men in suits, cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, scotch and sodas.

For the life of me I can't remember what my mother served for dinner. I remember some of the appetizers, in particular cheese puffs kept warm in an electric warming basket. I remember wooden cheese boards laden with gouda and Triscuits, and cut glass bowls filled with cocktail peanuts. But what stays with me most vividly, in all their considerable glory, are my mother's dinner party desserts.

My mother made two desserts for her dinner parties. The fall-back, the old favorite, the go-to dessert, was pineapple upside down cake baked in a cast iron skillet. To assemble this masterpiece, one laid out the pineapple rings in the skillet's bottom, plopped a marischino cherry in the center of each one, and scattered pecans hither and yon. The pineapple, cherries and nuts were then drenched in yellow cake batter, and the whole thing was pushed into the oven for an hour.

It must have made a fair-sized cake, because there was always enough left over the next day to be cut into three slices, one for me and each of my brothers. I always dissembled my piece as I ate it, plucking off the pecans first, then the cherries, and finally lifting off the pineapple slice and popping it into my mouth. What was left was the yellow cake with its residue of pecan oil and pineapple juice. Oh, and bits of whipped cream. My mother always served pineapple upside down cake with Cool Whip, which my brothers and I layered on top of it like frosting.

But there was never any chocolate mousse left over. Imagine, if you will, the lightest, sweetest ladyfingers layered across the bottom of a glass loaf pan, to be covered with a chocolate confection three or four inches deep, and topped with another layer of ladyfingers. The chocolate was laced with something--a splash of bourbon?--that added a dash of mystery to it. It was a grown-up taste, a taste that went with the Scotch and the cigarettes we picked out of the ashtrays the next morning and pretended to smoke.

Chocolate mousse was not for children; it was strictly the provence of the grown-ups. The other day it occurred to me that I may never have eaten an entire piece of it. I know I licked the beaters, and I'm sure I stuck my finger in the mousse when my mother wasn't looking. After the dessert plates were cleared from the table, I mostly likely snuck down to the kitchen to examine them for smidgens of leftovers. But I don't recall ever sitting down to a full dish and eating to my heart's content.

I have struggled with my weight my entire life, and I have a new theory why: I think I eat and eat and eat, hoping one day to be as satisfied as I know I would have been had I had one piece of my mother's chocolate mousse.

Maybe I should e-mail her for the recipe.

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