Meeting people on the dance floor can be a little strange. You see them on the dance floor. You smile. You might dance beside them. Heck, you might just dance with one another, but forget their name just as fast as a tuck turn. It takes time to build a friendship when chatting in short spurts in the seconds between songs. Just after Mystery Man and I married we met another Swing dancing couple who recently moved to the area. Through the fits and starts of communicating at dances we learned we had a lot in common. ‘Mr. Zoot Suit’ and ‘Vintage Thread’ were also recently married, had a vintage wedding, and a big band at their reception – just as we did. We were surprised and quite lucky to have met them and the friendships continued to grow. Just a year later we vacationed together at a beach outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Zoot Suit’s folks had graciously donated a week of their time-share on the shore. We took full advantage of not only being in a beach hot spot, but the culinary hot spot of Charleston. Sun and sand by day, gourmet restaurant by night. We happened upon a local eatery called Al Di La and took a chance it might be good food – after all, their tagline was ‘A Northern Italian Trattoria’. Mystery Man and I are pretty much open to any culinary experience, but Mr. Zoot Suit is not – he is more of a meat and potatoes man. So, we figured we couldn’t go wrong with Italian fair. Our appetizer arrived at the table – Prosciutto Wrapped Stuffed Figs, and Mystery Man and I dug in with instant delight. Wanting to share this Heaven-on-a-plate, we offered some up to our friends. To our shock and disbelief, Mr. Zoot Suit was just as delighted with the dish as we were, and instantly ordered another round. The server obliged with the very last serving – it was a seasonal dish and we were quite lucky to have had it. Prosciutto Wrapped Figs First, figs have a very short ‘season’ here in the Midwest. They are shipped in from California and you have to be on your produce ‘game’ to get them before they go mushy or moldy. I happen to have several friends who know of my fresh fig obsession and text me whenever they spy them. Next, get the best prosciutto money can buy – don’t worry, we only need twelve slices for the twelve figs we bought – and that is nowhere near a pound. Your deli counter specialist will gladly sell it to you by the slice. I purchased this at Dorothy Lane Market and it is so yummy! Gather your ingredients and equipment. Figs, Gorgonzola cheese, prosciutto, a muffin tin and foil. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cut foil into squares and line each recess of the muffin tin. Using a paring knife, cut the stem off of the fig in a circular motion (like you would hull a strawberry). Widen the opening with your pinky finger to make room for the cheese filling – being careful not to tear the fig down the side. Fill the fig with Gorgonzola and wrap the prosciutto snugly around. Place one fig in each muffin tin recess. Bake about 20-30 minutes, or until the prosciutto is slightly crispy around the edges and the cheese is bubbling. Note – you can stuff and wrap in advance! Complete all the steps and wrap (tightly! you don’t want things to dry out) your muffin tin in saran wrap. Refrigerate for up to a day and bake as directed.
Around 1983 Mom and Dad took a huge step into the electronic age. The T.V with fake wood grain, knobs, and a temper, was replaced with a sleek black beauty complete with a remote control. Beneath that beautiful television was our very first VCR hiding behind the glass of a shiny new stand. In the kitchen sat a box with a door, window and touch-pad. Yes, a microwave!
I don’t quite remember how or why we ended up with all of these new things at once. Maybe Dad won the drawing at the American Legion in town again. It might have been the reward of a big catering job, or perhaps just good old fashioned puttin money in the bank. Whatever it was, my sister and I were excited at the idea of making dinner in less than five minutes and eating on the couch while enjoying a movie.
One weekend soon after our new purchases, they came home with the Star Wars movies. I had never seen them even though I had an Ewok stuffed animal. Mom laid out snacks on the coffee table. Microwaved popcorn, cheese ball and beef roll-ups. We gathered our drinks and sacked out on the couch for an evening of fun. I am pretty sure we watched all three movies that weekend. But at the age of six, my attention span was not very long, so I missed pieces here and there and probably snoozed through some too.
The evenings of snacks and movies were few and far between. In fact the only other two I can recall were Top Gun a few years later and Dirty Dancing a year after that. But in all the time that passed in between, one thing was constant. Mom always made the same snacks.
In my college years the Star Wars movies were released in theaters one more time. My friends were movie buffs and some of them found it necessary to dress in costume for the big release nights. We stood in line for hours on the night of the first showing, and once inside we had our bags of popcorn and enormous sodas by our sides.
The theater went dark and the crowd clapped and screamed in excitement. The famous yellow words scrolled up the star-studded screen into space. The music boomed in our ears and I reached for my first bite of popcorn. Suddenly, I was overcome by a familiar craving. I needed a Cheese Ball.
Just last week we took the family to Star Wars Weekend at Disney World. Some things never change – I still wanted a cheese ball so I came home and made one.
Chipped Beef Cheese Ball
1 – 8 ounce package cream cheese
1 medium onion
6 oz thinly-sliced corned beef, chopped into ¼ inch squares (you can use a Buddig 2 oz package)
• Soften the cream cheese (leave at room temperature for an hour, or unwrap and microwave 15 seconds at a time until softened).
• Place the onion in a food processor and blend for about thirty seconds. Transfer to a mesh strainer over a bowl and press the juice out with a rubber spatula. You will need 2 tablespoons of juice.
• Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or a hand held mixer), combine the cream cheese and onion juice until it is smooth and completely integrated – about a minute on medium speed.
• Reserve 1/4 cup of the chopped beef and set aside
• Add the remainder of the chopped beef to the cheese mixture and combine – about ten seconds on medium speed.
• Form the mixture into a ball using a rubber spatula. Turn out onto serving platter, or plastic wrap if serving later.
• Cover the surface of the ball with the reserved chopped beef.
• Cover and chill for up to two days.
• Serve with assorted crackers.
NOTES: I usually double this recipe for a crowd and make one large ball.
While it is cool to say we have posh British friends, that is not the reason we are friends with R & S at all. Ok, I take that back, some of the reasons have to do with their British-ness, but I am quite certain we would still be friends regardless of their birth country. It all started roughly ten years ago when Mr. and Mrs. Air Force were being PCS’d (moved, in military terms) to England. Mr. Air Force learned there was a Royal Air Force chap within his offices who he should seek out for advice.
R & S agreed to give them tips on fitting in across the pond and Mr. & Mrs. Air Force returned the favor by introducing them to Swing Dancing.
Enter Mystery Man and I – fellow Swing Dancers of Mr. & Mrs. Air Force for years.
Our first impression of R & S was they were a little shy and to be honest, we had trouble understanding them at times with their accents and British colloquialisms. These things did not prevent us from getting to know them. We found it very interesting to be in their company and enjoyed learning about their culture and teaching them how to Swing Dance.
Mystery Man and R share a passion for technology and can talk for hours about hardware, software, apps…. S and I enjoy a bit of gardening, recipe sharing and can talk on and on about kitchen crockery and gadgets. But with all that in common, I think the real reason we are such great friends is because they are some of the most genuine people I know. Giving. Gentle.
Most Friday evenings they come over to our house for after dinner drinks and a chat, but only after my two children climb on them like jungle gyms, demand books to be read and are given the mandatory high-fives in all directions before bed time. My babies squeal with glee when I announce it Uncle R and Aunt S are coming over. R & S don’t have children of their own, but they have embraced ours with all the love they could ever give.
This is one of the many recipes S has shared with me and it continues to be a favorite for parties. I will typically throw it together a day in advance then transfer it to a small crock pot for the gathering. It can be served with crackers, a nice rye bread, tortilla chips or what ever your heart desires.
7 Ingredient Artichoke Dip
1 14 oz can artichoke hearts (drained and chopped)
8 oz feta cheese (crumbled)
1 cup mayo
1/2 cup and 2 oz Parmesan cheese (I use Parmesan or Romano)
2 oz jar pimentos
1 large garlic clove (minced)
pinch black pepper
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees
• Combine all ingredients and place in a 9” baking dish.
• Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until hot and bubbly.
Serve hot, or transfer to a small crock pot on low for more lengthy parties.