The Cape Ann Theater Collaborative begins production of Neil Simon's comedy "Rumors" at Gorton's Theatre, home of the Gloucester Stage Co., on the weekends of March 23 and March 30.
In the comedy, a collection of affluent Manhattan couples arrive at their hosts' apartment, an evening supposed to celebrate the host and hostess's 10th wedding anniversary, but the servants and the hostess are missing and the host has shot himself in the ear.
A psychologist, the deputy mayor of New York City, a politician running for state Senate and wives spend the evening maneuvering guns, each other, the media, the law, and a strange kitchen.
The characters are all self-important, if not neurotic, wealthy New Yorkers, who, if allowed to leave the stage and go away for the weekend, would certainly end up in the Hamptons, shopping for weekend supplies at 1990s culinary triumph "The Barefoot Contessa."
So, in honor of the upcoming performance, I'm going to remind people of cookbook author Ina Garten, the way she took a blessedly intuitive sense of style and taste and produced a wildly successful empire, and the beloved, functional Barefoot Contessa cookbooks.
(The original "Rumors" opened in New York in 1988 and ran for 535 performances. Chris Baranski won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play.)
In 1978, Ina Garten had been working in the White House Office of Management and Budget.
With no professional experience in the food business, but wanting a distraction from office life, Garten and her husband bought a small specialty food store in the Hamptons, and named it The Barefoot Contessa.
For the next 18 years, the takeout shop served Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic, Mexican Chicken Soup, Eli's Asian Salmon, Roasted Shrimp and Orzo to crowds of celebrities who just couldn't stay away, the shop was so lovely and the food so perfect.
The dishes became as famous as the celebrities who lined up for them. At the Westhampton Beach shop, they would bake 2,000 blueberry muffins on a Saturday morning, and they would be gone by 9:30.
In 1998, Garten sold the shop and began to write cookbooks, which introduced those of us who didn't summer in the Hamptons to her direct, clear path to style and taste. The cookbooks became as legendary as the shop.
As almost everyone claimed, the recipes "worked," perhaps because Garten approached cooking as a woman giving a dinner party, not as a chef or cooking school graduate. Garten, much like Martha Stewart, invented recipes for the person inviting guests to her home, a person who, along with shopping for and making a delicious meal, needed to get her house clean, the table set, and herself showered and dressed, different pressures than the white-toqued chef with Brillat Savarin lessons swirling in his sauces.
A word of caution with Barefoot Contessa recipes: Most of them will make you as instantly popular as they made Ina Garten.
I baked her coconut cupcakes for an event once, and spent the next two years repeating the effort. Every time I was invited to anything I was asked to make those amazing cupcakes.
I'll be baking them again for the March 24 performance of "Rumors," at which refreshments will be served during intermission. The characters will all be wishing they were in the Hamptons at that point in the production, so we'll bring a little bit of the Barefoot Contessa to Gloucester.
The Barefoot Contessa Coconut Cupcakes
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature.
2 cups sugar
5 extra-large eggs at room temperature
11/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
11/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
14 ounces sweetened, shredded coconut
For the frosting:
1 pound cream cheese at room temperature
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
11/2 pounds confectioners' sugar, sifted
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In three parts, alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry. Mix until just combined. Fold in 7 ounces of coconut.
Line a muffin pan with paper liners. Fill each liner to the top with batter. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a baking rack and cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the frosting. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, cream together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla and almond extracts. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until smooth.
Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with the remaining coconut.
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Food for Thought runs weekly in the Times' Taste of the Times section and is written by Heather Atwood, an author and mother from Rockport. Questions and comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her blog at www.heatheratwood.com.