My back was on fire. My fingers were like dough. My hiney felt as though I’d been sitting on a cement curb for 6 hours waiting for the start of some parade. And, I could no longer deny that I do indeed need some form of optical assistance. What I could have whipped out with minimal practicing, twenty-years ago, now required hours, days, weeks at the piano; however, I did not breathe a word of my aches and pains to my main squeeze. I did not want the “glutton for punishment” speech.
Not but a few weeks earlier, I had gleefully agreed to play the piano at the 70th Birthday party for a dear friend’s mother. A show tunes sing-along. Soloists. Women dressed in cocktail dresses from various decades. Men in vintage tuxedos. Gimlets being served upon entering. Cole Porter playing in the background. A stately, 100-year old home. “No gifts please” but donations graciously received for the Letty Owings Center. And, at the center of it all, a grand piano. How could I refuse?
As I grabbed the stack of music and stepped out of the car into the frigid air toward the century-old mansion bathed in twinkling lights, I hoped I wouldn’t make a fool of myself. My daughter and I rapped on the door and were immediately escorted into a picture of elegance with candlelight dancing everywhere against a background of carved wood molding and guests mingling, glasses in hand, in front of a magnificent staircase.
I declined the gimlet (I needed all my wits possible) and headed to the piano for the run-through. Only the night prior, one of the soloists had called me in a panic, wanting to lower the music key of the song. “I need it to start on the A below middle C and I’m going for a Patty Austin jazz style.” I was only able to grant her request thanks to the invention of the internet and so, with me at the piano and she singing away in her veiled pill box hat and siren red nails, we pulled off a respectable run through. Soloist Two in her little black dress, her mane of beautiful blond hair and her multiple strands of pearls was quite a bit more comfortable in the lime-light and her run-through went off without a hitch.
And so, the party went….greetings and laughter. Air kisses and warm embraces. Dim lights and sparkling rhinestones. Clicking glasses and trays of hors d’oeuvres. Coats being whisked up the staircase. A table full of delectable finger foods. Stuffed mushrooms at center stage.
We gathered in the living room before an enormous fireplace to “roast” the Birthday girl in her svelte black dress from the late 60’s, her peter pan collar of rhinestones and the gardenia tucked behind her ear. Friends and family from different decades of her life took the stage to regale us with stories about her and as they followed, one after the other, a theme took shape. A theme, which grew from the thought that the Birthday Girl was lying about her age. That there was no possible way she was 70. That she didn’t look a day past 50. Poems were recited. Letters were read. All debating the age of the Birthday Girl. At one point we all joined in on an original rap song which had us shouting out over and over, “…and she’s still hot! ….and she’s still hot! ….and she’s still hot” Every woman’s dream. I started pining away for my 70th Birthday Party.
The soloists were up next. A few gimlets too many, left the pill box beauty wordless but she hummed, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, beautifully. Soloist Two sang My Funny Valentine in a lovely, awe-inspiring vibrato and was completely free of inhibitions thanks, again, to the elegant little gimlet. Upon the conclusion of their songs, words were passed out and the sing-along began. One song after another….Oklahoma, Cabaret, Wouldn’t It Be Loverly, Some Enchanted Evening, I Dreamed A Dream. And, not just the women. Rounding out the four part harmony, I could clearly detect the tenor and bass. And, as I played with the voices surrounding the piano, the light dancing off the walls, the genuine jubilation of the guests, I was grateful to have been included in this momentous occasion. The “back on fire” had been worth it. Of course, the late hour, the gimlets (again), the inability to resist over-dramatizing while singing songs such as Memory left my daughter wide-eyed with a half-smile as she innocently observed these “adults” enjoying the festivities.
At some point, the lid to the keys was put down. Coats were passed out and guests disappeared into the clear, cold night. Shivering, we hopped into the car. My daughter’s eyes betrayed her sleepiness as we stole away across the river. And, I smiled to myself while I drove, secretly planning my Septuagenarian Birthday party.
Simple, Yet Elegant, Stuffed Mushrooms
I was inspired to make these little delectable bites from a post by The Pioneer Woman, whom, if you haven’t checked her out, is an absolute hoot. And, as I have said before, I do love mushrooms so, of course, I spent my downtime at the above mentioned soiree standing around the finger-food table eating the stuffed mushrooms; however, as much as I love to eat stuffed mushrooms, I really don’t enjoy making them. They’re messy and time consuming. So, I came up with this little ditty of a recipe. Only 3 ingredients. Fast. Easy. The only hitch is they must be consumed while warm. Once cold…well, it’s like eating a cold, grilled cheese sandwich.
15-20 medium-sized white button mushrooms
A hunk of blue cheese (I used the Stilton that they are selling at Costco for the holidays.)
A handful of walnuts, cut into 15-20 “chunks”
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Clean your mushrooms, then pop out the little stem revealing the hidden hollow below. Break off bits of your blue cheese and generously fill the mushroom’s hollow with it. Place the stuffed mushrooms on a cookie sheet and pop in the oven for 8 minutes. When the buzzer goes off, pull your cookie sheet out of the oven. Top each mushroom with a piece of walnut and pop back in the oven for another 8-10 minutes. Pull from oven and let sit for 1 minute or so. Then, serve and enjoy….preferably with friends and a glass of champagne.
Yield: 15-20 stuffed mushrooms
All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009