Learning from The Master

I learned to entertain at home from a master: my mom. Years before there was Martha Stewart, Ina Garten or The Food Network, there was Patsy Fitzgibbons creating magical meals served at beautiful tables. And, I was lucky enough to have a ringside seat.

It was Mom who taught me that advance planning is key; she had a checklist a mile long for each party. No detail was ever too small for her not to notice: ice, flowers, mixers, the cocktail napkins, guests allergies, food likes and dislikes- she was all over them! She knew that all the details taken together set the stage for a great party- one that no guest would want to leave.

And it was from Mom that I learned the power of place cards. Mixing guests and helping them find common ground with each other was my mom’s way of growing everyone’s universe. It also was very handy for corralling the occasional problem diner-a seat next to either my mom or my dad usually kept even the most difficult guest in line.

Food was also key. My mother was a good cook. She was not a chef- but she was very, very good with a recipe (she still is, by the way, she just doesn’t do it anymore.) Each meal was thought out carefully and in its entirety. And, she was careful to mix old stand-bys with new creations- creating a vibrant yet comfortable meal for her guests. Sure, there were a few culinary near disasters-who hasn’t had those- but my mom’s grace under pressure was always supreme. An over-gelled chocolate moose or a runny side was no match for my mom’s style and finesse. She simply poured everyone a little more wine and charmed her way through those disasters.

Which brings me to sense of humor. Having a good one was so important to my mom’s success as a hostess. She knew that taking herself or her party too seriously was deadly dull and that laughter was the best way to make her company relax and feel at ease. I can remember centerpieces with footballs for the Superbowl and inflatable legs clad in black stockings and pumps for a Miss America party. Who wouldn’t have fun at those?

I have been thinking a lot about Mom and the “entertaining gene” because a good friend recently asked me just how The Dinner Dilemma started. I realized as I answered that the seeds of it were sown pretty much at birth. Mom, unknowingly, started it all. And I am so grateful that she did. Growing up with such an elegant, graceful, fun cook and entertainer served to make me fearless in the kitchen because it was just what I saw. So thank you Mumsy-Doll! And, without further adieu, here is one of her favorite hors d’oeuvres recipes!

One note- do not let the ingredients throw you- this is fabulous and drop dead easy!

Crabmeat Tiddley
Makes one 10” pie plate or casserole
11 oz cream cheese
2 T Miracle Whip
2 T Worcestershire Sauce
1 T lemon juice, fresh
1 small to medium onion- minced
Heinz Chili Sauce
12 oz lump or jumbo fresh crab

Mix cream cheese, Miracle Whip, Worcestershire, lemon and onion well. Spread on the bottom of a pie plate or casserole.

Add ½ bottle of chili sauce in a layer. Cover with crabmeat. Serve with crackers.


  1. Suzanna
    Posted October 22, 2010 at 7:07 am | Permalink | Reply

    No wonder mine didn’t taste the same! I only used cream cheese, but people ate it all up anyway!
    This was a terrific post and such a nice tribute to your lovely mother.

  2. Mary
    Posted October 22, 2010 at 7:50 am | Permalink | Reply

    Loved this Caroline – great picture and even better story!

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