It’s Christmas and my mother’s been gone four years now. I think of her most at this time because it was her and my father’s favorite season. They loved Christmas and New Years.
They were married on January 8. When my father died on January 7 at the age of 80 my mother remarked they were one day short of their 60th wedding anniversary. I said, what’s one day. You were married sixty years. No, she said, we were married 59 years. And that was the end of the discussion. So like her to be precise.
One thing she wasn’t precise in was her recipes. Don’t get me wrong, she did know a thing or two about cooking. But I rarely saw her use a measuring cup. She would experiment until they were right enough to write, but she still hardly ever used exact measurements when she was doing the actual cooking. So at this time I am starting a new series. I’m going to attempt to cook every recipe she wrote down in her recipe book.
Why my mother’s ghost? I’ll be super honest. “Ghost” is a huge “catch” word. It makes people stop and stare. Perhaps they think it might be a scary cookbook. The actual meaning of the word for me as I was trying to come up with a title was ‘spirit’ as in – how would my mother do this? Or, what would my mother say about this? Or, how would my mother feel about this? You see, my mother cooked with a passion. So for the love or her cooking and for my mother – I give you the first in a series.
Every Christmas that I can ever remember my parents would have a lavish open house. I say lavish, our first home was a little square frame house in South Houston, Texas, with a crack in the foundation an inch wide at which my brothers and I would set traps for lizards on the inside of the house! My mother’s open houses were magical filled with good food, and fun decorations, like the paper fireplace stuck to the wall with tape, the electric “burning” logs giving no heat, the paper streamers made from painted grocery sacks, and the popcorn and cranberry chains we spent hours stringing and placed delicately around the real tree. We always had a real tree and it would perfume the house with the scent of Christmas. It was still a lavish affair in my child eyes. Later down the road of life our houses grew as did the Christmas open houses.
My mother spent days on food preparation. We four kids helped decorate cookies, of course, but we had little to do with the actual food that made the banquet such an affair to remember. I’m thinking of the hot plum pudding, and the steaming wassail, the candies from around the world, the honeyed ham, or the finger sandwiches. I will try to recreate for you each of these things as time goes by.
Each of my endeavors to cook these recipes will come with step by step photos to give you an idea about what it looks like.
The first recipe I will do is one I have made for years with my mother’s blessing. Mine never reached the level of deliciousness that my mother’s would though. You’ll have to try this and make your own adjustments to fit your tastes.
This is my Christmas gift to you, my dear readers: Mary’s Shrimp Dip
1- 8oz Philadelphia Cream Cheese
1 cup Hellman’s Mayonaise
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 lemon (the juice and lemon jest)
1 cup diced shrimp (my mother would say make large enough pieces to look like there’s shrimp in that dip!)
Cook the shrimp. I use the frozen E-Z Peel large shrimp. You can find them in a lot of stores. Bring the water to a roiling boil. Add 3 tablespoons of salt and 1 tablespoon of liquid Cajun Shrimp boil. Add the raw shrimp to the water all at once. (You don’t have to thaw first). Bring to another boil – about a minute or two, let boil for a minute. Turn off and let soak for five minutes. Drain, cool, peel and chop.
Mix it altogether.
It’s always better the next day so make it ahead of the party.
Even if the party is just you, this is so delicious it’s like a party in a bowl.
Remember, don’t increase the lemon if you increase the amount of the dip. (learned that the hard way! Plus, I didn’t read the little side note my mother made. “when doubling only use 1/2 lemon.)