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Homegrown Appeal:

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Last week my mom showed up at my door at midnight. She woke up early in Boston and drove straight down to North Carolina, anxious for some great beach time. Like any good Italian, food followed her.

Upon arrival, she handed over a big brown paper bag filled with goodies: wrapped mozzarella, various homegrown herbs, sweet sausage, prosciutto, a few tomato plants from my grandfather’s garden, wine and, of course, cannolis. The next morning we bought seafood by the seashore, and when we returned home to grill with my grandfather’s ingredients, I couldn’t help but wonder how family recipes live on and adapt.

Nowhere in my family’s arsenal of formulas does it call for mahi-mahi, but we made it work. Between the garlic, sliced bread and my husband sticking his fingers in the pot of linguini, I thought about the generations before me whom have tasted the same heritage-based comfort food. Local cookbook co-authors (who also happen to be sisters), Patricia Bell and Bonnie Rasmussen, have had similar ideas inside their own coastal kitchens.

In the spirit of family and nostalgia, Rasmussen and Bell have created “Food from the Family Tree: Bygone Days Meet Modern Ways.“ In essence, it’s a cooking expedition of over 200 compilations of down-home culinary cuisines, which aim to inspire cooks of all levels to revisit their roots. Still, it’s efficient for present lifestyles. The idea: to take the home-style comfort food Bell and Rasmussen enjoyed during childhood and make it healthier for today’s contemporary cooks. Together they added international ingredients to the recipes so they are modern in appeal, health-conscious and maintain comfort. Better still, all proceeds from the book’s sales support local nonprofits, like the historic Bellamy Mansion and the New Hanover County Library Foundation.

“After my mother died, we were executors of the estate,” Bell remembers. “As we were dividing and sorting her things, we came across her recipe box with all the old family recipes. Instantly, we had this nostalgic feeling. We said, you know we’ve got do something with this. It’s a generation that’s going to be lost. That’s what inspired us.”

Bell and Rasmussen recall most fondly a little concoction called “Tuna Noodles.” “We selected the ones we really loved and remembered [for our cookbook,]” Bell continues. “Over the years the recipes evolved each time we made the dish. The hardest part was writing everything so it could be reproducible by someone else. Sometimes we did a dish three or four times before we put it in the cookbook.”

Meant for grandmothers, mothers and daughters, Bell assures even men of the household will appreciate their work. In the end, it will evoke cherished memories, regardless of genders. The skill level runs the gamut, too.

“There are some recipes that are very simple and some that take a bit more time,” she says. “There are also some that you can stockpile, freeze or prepare ahead of time. I’ve always said, if you’re making a stew make twice as much and freeze half of it. My sister and I will make spaghetti sauce twice a year, and we’ll make a big vat of it!”

“Food From the Family Tree: Bygone Days Meet Modern Ways” is anything but pedestrian as it portrays little details that really take readers inside family. Details like the 100-plus musings of clever and fanciful food and kitchen gadgetry illustrations fashioned by Rasmussen herself. In total, Bell and Rasmussen took two years to complete the project from start to finish.

A former “Gourmet” magazine editor for 25 years and current Port City resident, Bell is also conjuring two more cookbooks. One of which she’s already started. “Our family has always cooked,” she says. “Grandmother was of the generation where women stayed home and everything was made from scratch. Everything she did was rich and creamy, not really healthy, but boy was it good! In this cookbook we wanted to keep the feeling of honoring the three generations of family and still be healthy. It truly was a labor of love. It shares all our family secrets. Well maybe not all our secrets, but enough.”

Considering the coastal South’s love for all-things seafood, Bell is kind enough to share a fresh crab meat spread with encore readers—perfect to enjoy after a day at the beach! {recipe below}

“Food From the Family Tree: Bygone Days Meet Modern Ways” can be purchased at Two Sisters Bookery located in The Cotton Exchange, Seasoned Gourmet in Lumina Commons and at The Fisherman’s Wife off Airlie Road.




1/4 cup fat-free cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup fat-free or low-fat mayonnaise
1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
1 teaspoon packed grated lime rind
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
1 pound lump crab meat, drained or any juices and picked over

In a bowl cream together the cream cheese, mayonnaise, and sour cream and stir in the rind, lime juice and cilantro.  Add the crab meat and fold the mixture together gently so as not to mash up the crab meat until the mixture is well combined.  Serve the spread with crackers or small toasts.  Makes about 2-1/2 cups.

P&B’s Hints:  Scoops of this “spread” nestled in a bed of lettuce and accompanied by Kirby cucumber rounds, grape tomatoes, and avocado slices make a lovely first course or summer luncheon salad.  The spread is also a great filling for tea sandwiches.

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