Friends of my parents lived in Newport, Rhode Island and the husband had recently taken a position with a company in New York City. The wife wanted the flexibility to take the train south to spend long weekends with her husband at their apartment in the city. She also wanted someone to help her with the house and children. Enter me. I didn’t want to spend another summer working in the catalog department of Lord & Taylor so I jumped at the chance to spend the summer in Newport.
The family treated me exceptionally well but I was a bit overwhelmed with running a house and taking care of four children, aged 13, 12, 6, and 2 and two huge English sheepdogs. I knew the kids well as they used to live in our neighborhood in New Jersey before recently moving to Newport. When I caught the two oldest smoking a joint on the Widows Walk one night, I told them they weren’t allowed to smoke on my watch. They told me they weren’t allowed to smoke when their parents were home either. Life’s tough.
Meanwhile, the six-year old recently discovered matches and after he tried to set the garage on fire, gasoline tanks and matches were confiscated and hidden. And the two-year old, well she was this adorable toddler but monitoring her was tantamount to herding a cat. At the end of the summer, I decided I wanted my tubes tied. Of course I didn’t go to that extreme, but I didn’t have my first child until I was 35.
There were many things I did learn the summer of ’81, among them:
- There is nothing like a fresh summer tomato sandwich: 2 slices of homemade bread, a ripe tomato picked from the garden, sliced and layered on the bread. Add a sprinkle of salt and it tastes like summertime.
- Zucchini grows like kudzu (the fast growing vine that covers the southeast). Facing a huge pile of zucchini just picked from the vegetable garden, I bought my first cookbook dedicated to zucchini called “The Zucchini & Carrot Cookbook” by Ruth Conrad. I still use it today.
- Butter is king. One of my responsibilities was to go grocery shopping. To save money (an admirable trait), I bought margarine. All I had to do was make a batch of chocolate chip cookies with margarine to see the error of my ways. Ever since, I’ve been committed to butter. Call me a butter snob if you will. There is a difference; everything tastes better with butter.
- The Cuisinart is the ultimate extra kitchen appliance. The family had two cuisinarts in their kitchen as both parents were very much into cooking, especially fresh foods out of their huge garden in the backyard. I learned how easy food preparation can be with a good food processor. Shredding vegetables no longer took double-digit minutes and the machine was a huge time saver when making cole slaw. Most cole slaw is overly creamy for my tastes but the following recipe is not. Full of crisp shredded cabbage, carrots, green pepper, and onion with a light mayonnaise sauce, it’s a prefect summer accompaniment to sandwiches and grilled meats. And, it’s so simple to make with a cuisinart.
1 cup Hellman’s Light Mayonnaise
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
8-10 cups of shredded cabbage (I use half green and half red)
1 cup of finely diced carrots
1/4 cup of finely diced green pepper, optional
1/4 cup of finely diced Vidalia onion, optional
Stir together the first 6 ingredients
Add the shredded and diced vegetables and toss.
Cover and chill for several hours.
Before serving, toss again.
In December, 1981 when my parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told them I wanted a cuisinart. Back then, the cuisinart cost about $200 which was very expensive. But, it was all I wanted and on Christmas morning, it was under the tree. Thirty years later, I still have it. My cuisinart is a heavy little workhorse and when people make fun of my “vintage” kitchen appliance, I don’t let it bother me as this machine has never failed me in 30 years. And, it’s probably made about a thousand pounds of cole slaw through the years!