A COOKBOOK TO BENEFIT THE MEMORIAL SLOAN-KETTERING CANCER CENTER IS FULL OF RECIPES, ENTERTAINING TIPS AND ANECDOTES ILLUSTRATING THE DEDICATION OF ITS VOLUNTEERS
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A celebratory luncheon set in the 18th-century dining room of an idyllic Connecticut farmhouse kicked off on a sunny afternoon. What seems like the indulgence of a privileged group of six women was actually a gathering of dedicated and hard-working members of The Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC). All members of the Society's cookbook committee, the women were invited to Greyledge Farm in Bridgewater, each toting a favorite recipe for the occasion.
Park Avenue Potluck CELEBRATIONS (Rizzoli, 2009), is the brainchild of former MSKCC board president Coco Kopelman, who suggested the Society create a cookbook as a fundraiser. She appointed Kelly Forsberg to head the cookbook committee, and the team began collecting recipes from Society members, doctors, volunteers and other hospital staff. Rizzoli enlisted the help of former New York Times food critic Florence Fabricant to help give focus to the cookbook, as well as lend a professional touch.
Park Avenue Potluck CELEBRATIONS offers a wealth of entertaining ideas, party-planning tips and heartwarming personal stories from some of New York's most celebrated hostesses. The cookbook, organized by season, gives readers a sneak peek into their homes. Although important as a fundraising tool, co-chairman of the cookbook committee Barbara Tollis, who became involved with the Society more than 20 years ago, says, "Our first and foremost objective was to make the book a reflection of the excellence of MSKCC. We have funding initiatives in research and imaging technology that will revolutionize patient care."
To honor this, Libby Fitzgerald, a Society member for more than 10 years, decided to treat the women to a day at her family's Greyledge Farm, where cattle graze on lush grasses and sip water form the Shepaug River Valley. Her three young sons, all of whom work in the family business—one of them ran a farmstand this summer, educating customers about the importance of all-natural beef for a healthy diet—helped prepare the luncheon. As her family is also actively involved with the Roxbury and Weantinoge Land Trusts, Fitzgerald considered Greyledge Farm an apt setting to at once soak up the scenic Connecticut farmland and celebrate a cookbook composed of poignant, homespun tales of families in their kitchens.
She also wanted the luncheon itself to serve as an example of exactly the sort of relaxed entertaining the cookbook espouses. "Each woman prepared her favorite recipe from the cookbook," she explains, "And each person had a role in decorating the room, setting the table and making the day a special event." Fitzgerald brought out her best china and stemware for the occasion; Society member and luncheon guest Nancy Conway lent antique pony carts, which pulled double-duty as the bar.
While Park Avenue Potluck CELEBRATIONS organizes recipes by holidays, the women were given license to simply pick their favorites and prepare them ahead of time in true potluck fashion. "My cardinal rule of entertaining: relax and enjoy yourself," says Society member Muffie Potter Aston. "When you're relaxed and having a great time, your guests will, too—I guarantee it! Nothing stifles a party faster than a stiff hostess." In this spirit, the women enjoyed Ebba's Apple Cider Punch and Water Chestnut-Bacon Skewers even before heading to the table.
The meal began with Butternut Squash Soup with Parmesan and Sage. A Chicken Caesar Salad Platter made of free-range, hormone-free chicken from Fitzgerald's farm and Texas Corn Pudding—the Fitzgerald boys did their part by shucking corn—comprised the main course. With Favorite Apple Pie for dessert and The Best Biscotti served later with coffee, the cookbook committee members agreed that the best approach to entertaining can be low-key and low-cost, as long as you make your guests feel special.
Heather Leeds, the Society's president, was happy to be a part of this jovial group, and believes the afternoon belied the greater cause of the cookbook itself. "We are dedicated to providing support and help to patients and their families," says Leeds. "The cookbook has stories that speak to the heart of who we are." Tollis relates to Leeds' sentiments. "The cookbook is a marketing tool for the Society to let people know what it is that we do," she says. "It carries a message of hope."
That morning, Fitzgerald started her day by riding her stately Thoroughbred/Clydesdale MacGreger through the open fields alongside fellow committee member Chesie Breen. And at the day's end, thanks to warm, open-door hospitality (and delicious cookbook offerings) guests continued on their way with full bellies and happy hearts. Recipes are on the following page.