Saturday, May 29, 2021

A Fantasy Tea Party Celebration Interview Showcases How to Balance Family, Career, & Community, Plus Tablescape & Menu Ideas


It seems like almost yesterday that my dear Homegrown friend, Nancy Valarella, reached out to me to suggest that she and her culinary cohort, Myra Naseem, be interview guests on my recently-launched Ladies Who Lunch Conversations show on Facebook. 

She had me at Tea Party!

Nancy suggested our upcoming interview segment feature a Mother’s Day Tea Party theme. 

Oh the possibilities!  I was transported to visions of elegant Bridgerton, Barry Lyndon, and whimsical Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter for a fantasy tablescape and fashions ....

Meanwhile, Nancy was explaining that Myra is affectionately known as “Mama” Myra by her family and close friends. This prompted me to invite my own Mother, Virginia, to co-host the special Mother’s Day Ladies Who Lunch tea party with me. 

This was to be my first "Double Feature" interview, meaning two ladies to interview on the guest side, and in turn, two at my table: Me and Mother. Just to balance things out. And allow me to showcase my beautiful Mother :)

I know Nancy from my Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook. As you will see and hear in the Ladies Who Lunch interview, we have had a few Thelma & Louise adventures! 

From the start, Nancy was abuzz with the food and drink possibilities and ideas about their pretty table design to highlight the springtime tea party. See, Nancy possesses not only a culinary cachet but also a “look-book” styling talent that embellishes an entertaining composition, in every season. From the get-go, the stars were aligning portending this was going to be a truly elegant episode. 

From her first postings on social media, Nancy showcased the incredibly beautiful, antique china sets her father-in-law brought back from Japan where  he was stationed while in the service.  


I was gobsmacked. Not only for their delicate charm and macaron colors but also because they are still in pristine condition. Not a broken handle or chip in any of the pieces!  That’s surely tender loving care and respect for the entertaining tableware…

You can view Nancy’s china art sets on her Facebook page: @What’sCookinLongIslandLocavore and at her Instagram: @lilocavore495 to see her museum-worthy china art. 

We also owe deep gratitude to SerendipiTea   

Flavour Fields, and Hither Brook Floral & Gift BoutiqueNancy, Myra, and me thank you from the bottom of our homegrown hearts for sharing your exquisite products - the best ingredients ~ that elevated our cocktail and food recipes. We unabashedly recommend these tea blends. And don’t get me started about Flavour Fields’ microgreens, herbs, spices, and be-still-my-finishing-touches heart: edible flowers. Please check out these inspired growers and small business wonders. 

Speaking of wonders, during the Ladies Who Lunch episode, we learned how Myra acquired her “Mama Myra moniker.” (Wow. I always love a kind of alliteration but I think this is a first for me to showcase three!) and how her B.S. in Home Economics from SUNY and a master’s degree from NYU, and teaching job in Patchogue High School all continue to contribute to what is now her decades-on success in her catering and cooking classes career. Listen to how she describes her teaching and instructional pedigree… 

Along with her partner, Neil, Elegant Eating has been a catering gem in the Smithtown/Stony Brook area for over three decades. 

Nancy noted that “Elegant Eating food tastes as good as it looks. In addition to putting food in our bellies and smiles on our faces, both Neil and Myra have been actively supporting the community. In 2017, Myra and the team were honored by the Smithtown Children’s Foundation for their effort and support within the Smithtown community.”

This fall, 2021, the Smithtown Historical Society is honoring “Mama” Myra for her steadfast support and will be recognized with the “Rockwell Award.” 

Here’s a bit of context for the Rockwell Award: 

The Rockwell Award honors the memory of Charles Embree Rockwell, who through his generous donation of Roseneath Cottage and the surrounding property has enabled the Society to grow and become an integral part of the community. This year’s recipient Myra Naseem, co-owner of Elegant Eating demonstrates this same generous spirit through her contributions of goods and services to the Smithtown Historical Society’s many events. By donating numerous culinary creations and exquisite tablescapes as well as providing top level service, Myra has helped to make our events beautiful and successful. It was because of Myra’s generosity and talent for adapting during the pandemic, that the Historical Society was able to hold a compliant celebration of our 2020 honorees this past October. Myra has also generously provided delicious treats for other events such as our Honoree Breakfast and our Evening with a Star Interview series; garnering praise and appreciation from attendees. Additionally, Myra has brought many new sponsors to the Historical Society and it is for this generosity of spirit and willingness to work for the good of the Society that we wish to thank Myra.

Please view the Ladies Who Lunch episode to understand better Myra’s advice for female entrepreneurs looking to start and grow a burgeoning business…“If you are willing to put the time and effort into it, anything is possible” are some of Myra’s pearls of wisdom and inspiration.

Nancy, too, is an inspiring woman. After a career in technology, Nancy became a full-time Mother and caregiver to her three daughters. When the youngest entered middle school, the desire to re-enter the world was fulfilled by food writing and volunteer work.

While writing for hyper-local publications, she was asked to chair fundraising events for Stony Brook University’s Nutrition Department and the Smithtown Children’s Foundation. Nancy later became an Advisory Board Member and Public Relations contact for the Smithtown Children’s Foundation.

You can purchase Myra’s cookbook and help support this effective community Foundation. In 2015 Nancy was honored with the Inspirational Community Leader Award given by the Smithtown Children’s Foundation.

Nancy is proud to note that she has had the honor of cooking alongside regionally renowned Chefs Guy Reuge and Tom Schaudel, has rubbed elbows and has shared banter with culinary icons Martha Stewart, Chefs Bobby Flay, Tom Colicchio, Michael Symon and restaurateur extraordinaire, Danny Meyer.

Nancy’s foodie chops include: recipe development, cooking contests winner.  I regret that I only recently learned she had a recipe featured in the Wall Street Journal!  

Nancy also had a recipe featured in Newsday for her Spiralized Zucchini Noodles with Poached Chicken Tenders.  

I so love that Nancy wrote that she has stopped counting the number of cookbooks in her collection. We all need more cookbooks!

In fact, as you’ll hear on the Ladies Who Lunch Conversations I am going to strongly advocate that a smart publisher take on Nancy to create a Polish inspired cookbook, with a kind of deconstructed or derivative take on some classic dishes.  I think this style of ethnic recipes is ready for its moment! All good, healthy, traditional comfort food with a twist of updated elegance and style. 

Don’t you agree? 

Nancy has also been a catalyst for all things local in her environ as a Farmers’ Market Manager & Cooking Demonstrator at Long Island Greenmarkets. In addition to numerous local publications, Nancy’s writing has been published regionally in Edible Long Island and the Long Island Press. 

Nancy and Myra are truly inspirational: managing family, career, and community. We salute these great dames and I’m proud to have had the opportunity to explore their journeys.  Not to be outdone, my mother Virginia also shares her ability to balance a career as a registered nurse with raising a family.  

I’ve always admired that Ginger Rogers’ quote about “doing everything backwards in high heels” to emphasize that ladies make it look easy in spite of difficulty.  

I bow to you inspired ladies. I salute you.  And really ~ every day is Mother’s Day.   Thank you, Nancy, Myra, and Mother!  It is a lovely Tea Party indeed. And you not only inspired my early-May tablescape but you also prompted me to showcase my childhood tea party set! Girls love tea parties.

This episode fueled a unique, fun, Bridgerton meets Alice in Wonderland, Mad Hatter tea party tablescape! You all can see a video capture on my YouTube. (and subscribe too, please.) wink. 

Entertaining table decor and inspiring women is a potent combination for fun and fantasy and all good things…. Cheers.