By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Food Columnist
Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. Lovers lay careful plans for elaborate getaways and romantic dinners (unless the mother-in-law arrives on Feb. 13 for a week’s stay—sorry about my poor timing, John). Young children paste tissue paper and doilies to shoe boxes and scrawl their names to assorted heart-shaped cards, which they proudly deliver to friends and teachers. Heart-shaped cookies will be baked in assorted sizes, decorated in shades of pinks and reds, adorned with sticky fingered sprinkles and shared with a whole lot of love.
Beyond partners, parents and children, love can be found in all shapes and sizes. It can come and go fleetingly or have staying power that makes a profound impact upon our lives.
Lucky for me, I have someone I love dearly, a person who came into my life during the days of my misdirected youth. She was aptly named Grace: tall, slim, and lithe. Her manners were impeccable, her fashion sense modern and I fancied everything about her.
I worked for Grace and her late veterinarian husband, Bob, for many years. Those were important years when I was young and impressionable, and to this day I give them credit for my strong work ethic. They taught me new skills and helped me shape my life with steady goals.
Grace taught me that less is more, especially when it came to makeup. She was quick to remind me that long dangling earrings were best saved for “carnival girls,” and prompted me to say, “No, thank you,” instead of, “Oh, ick.”
Armed with a fresh degree in home economics and avant-garde vision, Grace designed a home in the late ‘60s that is timeless and practical to this day. Though I already knew my way around a kitchen, I’d never seen anything like her modern-equipped one with a JennAir range and built-in small appliances. Grace and Bob loved to entertain, and many days, if the clinic was slow, I walked to their home next door and helped Grace as she prepared party food that was exotic sounding to my ears and foreign tasting to my palate.
I chopped onions for beef stroganoff and buttered and layered phyllo dough that she’d carefully dot with ricotta filling and fold like a flag. Sometimes I would peel eggs for her famous potato salad, served on warm summer days.
I came with a few skills of my own, including Catholic schoolgirl penmanship. This served me especially well the time I was asked to hand address dozens of fancy black envelopes. Nervously, I dipped the nib into the well of silver ink before carefully scribing names onto invitations for a black-tie ball. Never had I felt so sophisticated!
Collections of dishes and dining accessories for every possible occasion were available to use, and I loved digging through the dining room cabinets to find a perfect piece of silver to polish for the elaborate buffets set on long tables in the stone entry way.
In her home I had my first cautious bite of Steak Tartare and sipped a chilled vodka gimlet. I sampled Iced Vichyssoise, and though I loved the first spoonful, I loved the way the words rolled from my tongue even more.
Between us we’ve prepared foods for wedding receptions (including my own), 50th wedding anniversaries, Hawaiian luaus and pig roasts, milestone birthday celebrations, and life celebrations for those who left us behind.
Grace defines me as the sister she always wanted and the daughter she never had. I define her as my saving grace. She is godmother to my children and has been my confidante and mentor for more than forty years.
Do you have someone who you love and adore, a mentor or muse? Perhaps they even changed your life? Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to let them know how much they mean to you. Thank them by starting the evening with this delicious cheese and crab dip. Serve with plenty of champagne and lots of love.
Great appetizer to take to a party. This time of year when Dungeness crab is in season and reasonably priced, I make two and freeze one for later. Well wrapped, the frozen one will keep for up to six months.
•2 tbs olive oil
•3 cloves garlic, minced
•1 pint cream
•1 pint plain Greek yogurt
•1 (7 oz.) jar roasted red peppers, drained and
•1 (10 oz.) package frozen spinach, squeeze
out excess liquid and chopped
•1 cup fresh picked crab meat (reserve a
little for top)
•½ cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
(reserve a little for top)
•½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese (reserve
a little for top)
•½ cup grated parmesan cheese (reserve a
little for top)
•1 tsp salt
•1 tsp pepper
•1 tbs fresh parsley, chopped fine