Wednesday, May 20, 2015

My Favorite Memorial Day Ideas

When I was a small girl, Memorial Day was a big event.

The men hauled out the smoker and a charcoal grill, and the women would hang out in the kitchen. Everyone had a chore--someone was in charge of beverages; another gathered store-bought buns (and made cornbread, too). It took a village to orchestrate side dishes and desserts. The older kids helped the younger ones set the table, and Lord help you if the knives were turned the wrong way.

Meanwhile, the long driveway would fill up with cars and trucks. 

 After dinner, we would drive to the cemetery and set out flowers and small flags. 

When I got older, I quickly learned that holiday cooking required unique skills. It's a juggling act, isn't it? You've got to coordinate appetizers, an entree, side dishes, salad, bread, beverages, and dessert. If you're hosting a pot luck, your kitchen duty doesn't end--you must make room in the fridge for your guests' dishes--and while you're at it, clean the counters for cakes and pies. If you've invited a crowd, you'll need Styrofoam ice chests, too.

I still struggle with holiday cooking. Over the years, I've tested various dishes that promised to feed the multitudes. Some did, some didn't. Others aren't worth sharing (like the time I made a layered Napoleon pastry, and it came apart and skidded sideways onto the refrigerator shelf--when I opened the door, it flew out and hit my dress with a splat).
But some dishes are keepers.

Minty Watermelon Lemonade
Printable Recipe
                                                                                                Serves 4 to 6

Basic Sugar Syrup:
2 c. water
2 c. granulated sugar
mint leaves

Place water and sugar in a saucepan. Stir. Bring to a boil, then lower heat. Reduce liquid until it reaches a syrupy consistency. Add mint leaves. Cover the pan and remove from heat. Remove mint before serving. Store in a clear Mason jar and refrigerate. Use in watermelon lemonade, lemonade, or iced tea.

Watermelon Lemonade:
2 cups water
1 seedless watermelon
juice of 1 lemon
2 or more ounces sugar syrup

Cut 1/2 watermelon into cubes and freeze. Put remaining watermelon in a blender and puree (or use an immersion hand blender). Strain the mixture and discard seeds and pulp. Mix puree with water, lemon juice, and sugar syrup (to taste). Serve over watermelon "ice" cubes and crushed ice. Garnish with mint.

A super easy tart is always welcome at my holiday table.
Festive Berry Tart

                           Printable Recipe                             
1 box Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets, defrosted
1 box each of raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries
Jell-O vanilla instant pudding mix
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 8 oz carton mascarpone
1/4 to 1/2 cup powdered sugar (depending on how sweet you like mascarpone)
1 t. vanilla extract
1 egg (for egg wash)
few drops of fresh lemon juice
few tablespoons powdered sugar for dusting
fresh mint
Preheat oven according to instructions on the puff pastry box. (I put my oven on 380).
Roll out each square of puff pastry dough. Place first square on a greased baking pan. Place second sheet on top of the first. Beat the egg. Brush pastry edges with the egg wash.
Bake 15 minutes or until pastry is brown. Remove from oven and cool.
The pastry will be unbelievably poofy, but it will deflate later on. Trust.
Meanwhile, make the pudding according to instructions on the box. Chill.
Mix the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and cream. I used a wire whisk.
Spread the mascarpone mixture onto the top layer of the cooled pastry, deflating the poofiness somewhat. Spread the pudding over the mascarpone. Arrange berries on top of the pudding and sprinkle the whole thing with powdered sugar. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream. Garnish with sweet-smelling mint.
Serves: 8 (if they have normal appetites). Otherwise, it's half for you and half for me.


A blueberry tart can be made ahead, and it's super easy.

Sugared Mint Leaves (garnish)
1 egg white, whisked
granulated white sugar
Demerara Sugar (optional)
mint leaves
baking rack
Dip a small paintbrush (or, if you dare, a clean finger) into the egg white
and paint mint leaves (one at a time). Think happy thoughts. Let your inner child emerge.
Sprinkle sugars over the leaf and place leaf on a drying rack. The sugar will dissolve. Do not despair. Be patient. Apply more sugar until the desired coating is achieved.


A small celebration can feel huge (yet cozy) just by eating outdoors.

Grilled Vegetables
Slice zucchini, eggplant, and red bell peppers.
Toss with extra virgin olive oil, then season with Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
Grill until tender. Garnish with Italian parsley.

Side dishes have always baffled me. When I try to plan a menu, I can't seem to get beyond generic choices--roasted asparagus, green beans, baked beans, mashed potatoes. Now, there's nothing wrong with those items, unless you follow in my footsteps and create all green side dishes. Or three different potato dishes. I am fond of hand pies, mainly because they can be made ahead, giving me time to concentrate on colorful sides. 
Hand pies are portable, versatile, and will please a crowd. They're super easy. I've had excellent results with store-bought, refrigerated pie dough sheets (in the dairy case). To create the pies, I used a little gadget (below, look for the red, plastic device). Place a circle of dough into the bowl of the gadget, add your filling (sweet or savory), and close the gadget. Bam--there's your unbaked pie. Use leftover dough to make designs on top of the pies (I bought nature/floral-inspired cookie presses at Williams Sonoma). Brush the pies with egg wash and bake. 

If you don't want to be stuck in the kitchen all day, a slow-cooker is the answer.
Crockpot BBQ Sliders

1 Boston butt or pork roast of your choice (4-6 servings)
4 slices bacon, uncooked
1 cup chopped red onions
1 cup chopped bell peppers (red, orange, green)
paprika, salt & pepper, chili powder
1 beef bouillon cube plus 1 c. warm water or 1 c. beef broth
2 to 4 T red wine or red wine vinegar
Slider buns
1 bag of slaw mix
white wine vinegar
sugar; salt and pepper

First, make the slaw. Place slaw mix in a bowl and add mayonnaise and vinegar. I don't have a recipe for this, sorry. Add a little mayo at a time. Season with salt, pepper, and sugar. You can add poppy seeds if you like. Mix well. Cover bowl and refrigerate. 
Prepare the roast. In large skillet, fry bacon and set aside (save grease). Rinse roast and pat dry. Season with paprika, chili powder, salt, pepper (I season heavily, covering every inch of the roast).
Into the skillet, add 1 T butter and 1 T oil (or bacon grease).
Sear roast on all sides. Remove from skillet and place in Crockpot.
De-glaze skillet with a few tablespoons red wine (or red wine vinegar), stirring the bottom of the pan continuously. Add chopped vegetables and sautee until tender and clear. Add vegetables to Crockpot. Add bouillon/water mixture or beef broth. Cover the pot. Cook on high for 6 hours or until roast is done. 
Remove roast from Crockpot. Using two forks, shred the meat. Add your favorite barbecue sauce. Place BBQ in slider buns, add sauce, if desired, and top with slaw.


Frozen puff pastry dough is the perfect vehicle for an easy, totally decadent dessert.

Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Tarts

1 package puff pastry shells (frozen)
Godiva Dark Chocolate Sea Salt  (squares--on the grocery's candy aisle)
Drizzled chocolate (Smucker's Special Recipe Dark Chocolate Sauce)
Star cookie cutter
whipped cream

Before baking puff pastry shells, press a small star cookie cutter into the top (and center) of each shell. Bake the pastry according to directions.  Remove from oven. When pastries are cool,
pop out star centers and set aside. Cut Godiva chocolate into pieces and place into shells.
Bake about 3 to 5 minutes or until chocolate has melted.
Remove from oven and cool.
Add whipped cream. Drizzle with chocolate sauce or melted chocolate. I'm fond of store-bought
chocolate sauce for a quick topping. I zapped the jar in the microwave for 20 seconds, then used a fork to add tiny squiggles over the cream and pastry.
Place "star" pastry cut-out on top of the whipped cream.
Dab a little whipped cream on the bottom of a raspberry and place on top of star.
You can add shaved chocolate, if desired, or raspberry jam.
The variations are endless, and all are easy!

Each bite is layered with the crunch of pastry and bittersweet chocolate, with a whisper of sea salt.


My mother used to say that a party menu isn't complete without non-food, personal touches--you know, centerpieces and pretty dishes or paper plates. Mama wanted her guests to feel pampered and loved in every way; she would go into her yard and cut flowers and weeds, just anything she could find, and put them on the table.
One year, a kind soul gave us a dozen melons. I used one as an impromptu vase.

Red, white, and blue dishes are so festive--and "poppers" make cute, little surpises for guests.

Outdoor spaces can be set up like little rooms. An old table makes a great dessert or fruit "bar."

Mother likes to mix red and white polka dotted dishes with white pottery. This combo works for Valentine's Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, and Christmas. When I was little, we would shop at Sweet Georgia Brown's, a junk store that was crammed with all kinds of goodies. That was way back in the 60s. Mama found Limoges and Haviland for pennies. She also found cute, little (and big) serving pieces. Her greatest joy was to "shop" for friends and family. She knew which friend loved blue, which aunt collected dog figurines, and which niece needed a few extra Lenox "Autumn Harvest" plates to finish her set.

Mother always said that the best way to be happy is to forget yourself and make someone else happy--while dog figurines were nice, food was the best way to put smiles on our faces. 

To this day, a lemon meringue pie makes me clap my hands. But I'm also fond of pound cakes and any kind of BBQ. 
What's your go-to, happy holiday food?

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  1. Thanks for all the wonderful recipes. Your family sounds just like mine, only we are from Virginia. Oh the food was wonderful and we had such great times. Then we would go to the cemetery and put flowers on all the relatives. graves.
    What wonderful memories of happy times - where did they all go.
    Have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend.
    How's Zap?

    1. Zap is doing better. He got real picky about food--Bandy and I were cooking everything we could think of for a diabetic dog--and I was afraid it was a Bad Sign. But my friend Jain at A Quiet Life suggested that I try strained baby food, and Z. has perked up like a puppy.

    2. So glad that he is eating better. I am a diabetic also and I have eliminated almost all of my carbs from my diet. I don;'t know about that in dogs, but it would help. Give Zap a big hug.
      Enjoy your weekend.

  2. My favorite holiday food will always be my Cornbread Dressing!! I get delirious just thinking about it and everyone loves it, which makes me very happy.
    I love your tables and recipes!! Where did you find the great galvanized tray in the first picture? I love it!

    1. Cornbread is high on my comfort food list--and holiday, too. I found the tray a few years ago on Amazon--it was a set of 3, all sizes. Type galvanized tray in the search box, and bunches will come up. I saw a cute one with rope handles the other day.

  3. What a delightful post down memory lane! So funny, just this afternoon I was looking at 3 of your desserts I had saved before Pinterest :-) I remember almost every single pic you shared, lots of sweet memories! Holidays scream bbq to me, we will be repositioning this holiday, I am guessing McDonald's will be our only menu :-(

  4. Wow Michael Lee, all your picnic items look fabulous to me! I'd be more than happy to share the other half of the Berry Tart with you...LOL!! I always enjoy reading the memories you share with us. Funny how our happy times revolve around food and family.

  5. That all looks wonderful. Your hand pies are so pretty!

  6. The BBQ Sliders sound really good Michael! Lovin' your pretty red, white and blue pie dish too:@)

  7. What a feast for the eyes and tummy all your Memorial Day treats are! Your beautiful berry tart is calling my name this morning! My sister and boys are coming to visit for the weekend, I may have to pick up two watermelons after seeing your beautiful watermelon vase :)

    I'm glad to read that Zap is holding his own :)

  8. And you live where? I'm on my way! What a fantastic feast! Beautiful recipes,old pictures(love them) and you have my plates!
    Have a Great Memorial Day! I wish I was there it looks fabulous!
    Blessings My Friend,

  9. What time will you be serving? Everything looks so beautiful...I am going to make that berry tart, yummy!
    Have a great weekend, ML.

  10. Put me down for lemon meringue pie! This is an charming post, ML. Makes me want to pull out my red, white, and blue but it's all in storage. We are in full throttle here with plans to move. Daunting experience! ;-)
    Hope to be back to blogging and visiting more soon.
    Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

  11. I love this post with pics and recipes! We have a family get together at a cousin's house....and watching the dishes of food being put out is always fun! I am making a huge loaded potato casserole. If I can I will snap pics and post on the blog to share with everyone. I am almost ashamed at how easy it isn't! Ha! But for me a dish needs to be super easy as well as delicious! I am getting lazy in the kitchen. Ha!
    Have a great weekend...
    and I have an old fashioned fresh salad recipe for foodie Friday that I will post.

  12. I loved this post, Michael. The pictures are wonderful and so is your Mother's advice... "the best way to be happy is to forget yourself and make someone else happy".... so true :)

    I'm also hungry now, so thanks lol


  13. Wow! What a post. It all looks great! Will forward to friends and make some of these!

  14. OMG I am so much a lemon meringue pie girl! I need to make one! My mom took the recipe right off the side of the Argo Corn Starch box and it's wonderful! All this food is making me drool. Where do you live exactly- I'm coming your way if you are serving even half of this!! LOL... WhenI was a child our family got together for Memorial Dan, 4th of July and Labor Day. There was always a group of tables outside covered with tablecloths. Everyone had a dish to bring and grandma and grandpa provided the meat to grill. I remember walking around with a wedge of watermelon and spitting out seads! Good times. :-) That quote your Mom had is wonderful. We should all think this way a little more often. Wishing you a very nice weekend ahead! Liz

  15. Oh my! I am coming along with you! We just went to the cemetery! I have been deprived!

  16. Such yummy recipes and cute patriotic decor! Have a wonderful holiday weekend!

  17. When I was a kid it seems as though we had a lot more barbecues than I do now, and they were big affairs. I always looked forward to them because there would be lots of kids to play with, great food, and the opportunity to spend a lot of time outside, even into the darkness. Whatever happened to such celebrations? Everything looks delicious here, but the Watermelon Lemonade is calling my name.

  18. Ah, holidays and food, playing with cousins, swinging on the front porch, so many remembrances as I read your post. Don't you wish we could have one more Sunday afternoon at Mama Hughes!

  19. Sweet! Your post brought back so many memories of family gatherings which were celebrated in much the same way. Plenty of relatives and food. I especially enjoyed the family photos. Your red, white and blue tablesetting with poppers is so charming. Oh....those care free Memorial Day weekends. Cool drinks, watermelon delicious food and luscious desserts. I am so nostalgic. Thank you for sharing such wonderful recipes. Have a great holiday weekend!

  20. The food looks sooo good!! I had to pin it all! Thanks for joining Home Sweet Home!

  21. Gosh what an amazing post. My eyes are popping out of my head from your awesome inspirational and gorgeous pics!

    Your ideas and thoughts are awesome. Thanks so much for getting me in such a mood for summer parties, ML!!! ♥