Monday, April 21, 2014

Happy Birthday Mom: Remembering You With Your Holiday Ambrosia

My mother's birthday was a couple of Sundays ago. Sadly, there were no celebrations, no birthday cake or balloons, just a couple of bittersweet moments filled with fading memories when I happened to glance at the calendar and realized that it was once her special day.

My mother died when I was 21 years old, which was more years ago than I care to admit. Her death at 41 became a marker in time for me, replacing the girl I once was, with a young woman who had been forever changed by her death.

Before I totally depress everyone here, I want to say that I did survive.  In time I slowly emerged from my sad place and gradually began to walk in the sun once again. It took years but the sadness of her loss was slowly replaced with fond memories of good times that made me smile instead of cry. The sound of her voice and her laugh, and the smell of her perfume are all memories that I hold very close to my heart.

It occurred to me a couple of years ago that at the time of her death she only had one grandchild, who was just an infant at the time. By the time my sister and I were finished growing our families, there were seven grandchildren in all, six of whom were never held in her arms.

This realization set me on a mission of sorts to tell our children the tales of our family so that they will know who they come from (whether they want to or not). Some of these tales are good, and like many families, some not so good, but that's family for you.

One of the good things about our family is that we come from a bunch of really good cooks that loved teaching the younger generation what they knew. My mother in particular was one of the best. Just about every recipe that I cook has a touch of her in it, whether it is a recipe in itself, a method of cooking or a helpful hint, she's in there somewhere.

This time of year she is very much in my mind and I think of her when it comes to my Easter feast. It seems like mom always cooked a glazed ham. With the ham she would cook up some great sides like summer squash casserole, fresh green beans and new potatoes, but my favorite was her ever present ambrosia.

I guess my mom's ambrosia was more of a relish than a true side dish, which I ate in small bites to compliment the saltiness of the ham. Like most good cooks from the southern part of the US, her ambrosia was a heavenly combination of mandarin orange segments, pineapple tidbits, shredded coconut and marshmallows, all suspended in a slightly tart, sweet, creamy sauce.

So whether you are a grandchild of my mother or a reader of my blog, here is a postcard from the past in the form of an old fashioned well loved recipe. I hope you will make it and enjoy it, and when the time comes, remember me by it, just like I remember my mom when I make it. We would both like that very much.


I learned a valuable lesson when I made this recipe. If you don't want your fragile mandarins to break up, which really didn't bother me too much, but it might have been prettier had they not, then gently fold them in at the very last once everything else has been stirred together.

3 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1- 20 ounce can pineapple tidbits in pineapple juice, drained with juice reserved
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 - 11 ounce can mandarin oranges, drained
1 cup shredded coconut
2 cups miniature marshmallows

Place cream cheese in a small bowl. To the cream cheese add 3 tablespoons of the reserved pineapple juice a little bit at a time, mixing well to combine; set aside.

Whip whipping cream with an electric mixer until it just begins to thicken. Add the granulated sugar one tablespoon at a time along with the vanilla extract. Continue to whip until mixture becomes almost stiff; set aside.

Place pecans in a small non-stick frying pan that has been set over medium heat. Toast pecans, stirring frequently until they are browned slightly and their aroma is released. Transfer to a cool plate to cool completely.

Place pineapple, oranges, coconut and marshmallows in a large bowl. Gently stir to combine. Add the cream cheese mixture, whipped cream mixture and pecans. Gently fold ingredients together until they are combined.

Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Easily serves 8 as a side.

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