11.22.2011

Simplicity: The Hallmark of Genius


My mother's name Kathryn Virginia. My grandmother called her Divinia (Virginia jumbled up and pronounced similarly) and nicknamed her Divi. Most Virginia's are nicknamed Ginny or Ginger but my grandmother had her own special naming and language process. My grandmother had her own special way of doing most things. The mother of five, she became weary of hearing "Mom, oh Mom, Mama" from her brood. Once she announced that she was to be addressed as Brenda (not even close to her name: Esther), so for almost a month she would not respond to anything but Brenda.

If you recall, my mom also has her own special, shall we say, language. Recently, water has turned into watzee, Maggie is Magothy, and I’m still Tweeters. I too have fun playing with my words. So I suppose the apple has not fallen far from the tree for the past three generations.


My grandmother passed away when I was about twelve or thirteen years old. I don’t think I knew her all that well but do I have some very specific snapshots of her and her world. First of all, I swear she looked just like Roy Orbison. There was often cream chipped beef on toast happening in the kitchen. And one time, when I was crying about something, she gave me a Monchichi coloring book to try to lift my spirits. I used to love those Monchichis. I remember really loving her bathtub, and I can also recall a hole in the floor upstairs in her house that looked down into the kitchen. I had all of my Christmas mornings at her house in Roanoke until she passed away.


Apparently Grandma made a very involved and very decadent rum cake of which my mom has a very specific, very visceral memory. According to Mom, the cake took days. Part of its process involved wrapping the cake in a rum-soaked towel overnight. Apparently this cake weighed about as much as the family dog. Mom has been trying to unearth that recipe for quite some time now, to no avail.


I’m spending today writing this and trying to track down a recipe that fits the bill for that elusive cake. I'm poring through vintage cookbooks, asking my food cohorts via Twitter, and searching online. I even sent an email to Aunt Babe and Noel. We shall see. If unearthed, this will be the cake served at the December 16th Dinner at Eight. I’ll keep you posted.


In the meantime I am going to share with you the recipe for the most elegant, yet simple, hors d'oeuvres I can imagine. They are little onion sandwiches and they were served at the most recent Dinner at Eight during cocktail hour. I had been hearing about them for years. Mom used to make them in her café back in Richmond and they were a hit. My dad even called me one time after he stopped by a party for their mutual friend, Breeda, where Mom had served them. He said he ate five of them in as many minutes and then had to promptly leave because of his onion breath. I guess they were so good, he sacrificed the party for the sandwiches. Priorities.


The success of this dish depends on the quality of the bread used and the thinness of the onion-slice filling, which must be nearly transparent. I highly recommend using a mandoline. And, of course, you must use Duke’s mayonnaise.





Divinia’s Tea Sandwiches


12 servings


24 slices of a fine-textured white bread
36 small, wafer-thin slices raw sweet onion
1 ½ cup Duke’s mayonnaise
Salt to taste
1 cup minced parsley


Cut the slices of bread into rounds with a small biscuit cutter (or a water glass), about one inch diameter.


Choose small onions and slice them so that each circle will be a little smaller than the bread rounds.


Spread each piece of bread with mayonnaise. On half the pieces arrange the onion slice and season with salt. Cover the onion with the remaining pieces of bread to assemble sandwiches.


Spread the remaining mayonnaise on a wooden board and sprinkle the chopped parsley on another board. Hold each sandwich round lightly between thumb and finger so it will turn like a wheel. Roll the edge in mayonnaise, then in parsley. Set the sandwiches, as they are completed, on waxed paper and chill thoroughly.


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