Before I introduce you to my new friend, dioramic artist Debbie Martucci, I must share with you why this week’s “Marie’s Kitchen” will be my final regularly scheduled column. After more than seven years of bi-weekly deadlines, I realized that the two books I’m writing will never come to fruition unless I sequester myself and devote huge blocks of time and attention to the task.
Plus, my husband, Jim, and I want to free up more time to travel. Like Dinah Shore, we want to see the USA in our Chevrolet — my Chevy Equinox! Just trying to visit our four children and four beautiful granddaughters requires a spreadsheet; they live in Maryland, Illinois, California and Alaska.
And reason No. 3 is that I want to become proficient with my Nikon DSLR camera to take nature and outdoor photos, as well as food photos. Along with photography classes, I will have to practice, practice, practice.
When I wrote the first “Marie’s Kitchen” food column on Dec. 15, 2006, I thought that, like so many other things in life, the column would run its course, that I would run out of people and organizations to highlight, and it would die a sweet, slow death. But when I realized how many great cooks, chefs and talented people still surround me, I knew that I’d be 102, still putting recipes into print.
It’s difficult to type when you’re crying. This was/is a difficult decision, because writing “Marie’s Kitchen” for the Coastal Point has brought me such joy. I’ve met so many wonderful people who give so much to their families and to our community — many of whom have become dear friends. My editor, Darin McCann; Publisher Sue Lyons; my Alaskan Inuit Art Director, Shaun Lambert; Production Manager Bob Bertram; and the entire Coastal Point staff, are a class act.
On this, the 10th anniversary of the Coastal Point, I extend my heartfelt congratulations to this dedicated team for a job well done! I am proud to have been associated with them for more than seven years.
When Darin and I met at Kool Bean Café to discuss my decision, we shared lattés and a few Kodak moments. When he asked me if I would consider popping in now and then with a column, when the spirit moves me, I gave him a definite, “Yes!”
So, thank you, dear readers, for years of loyalty, as well as the gifts of your time and treasured recipes. And if you have an idea that will light my fire that you’d like to see in print, such as a new chef, or a friend who blows you out of the water with his/her expertise in the kitchen, or your own expertise (we all need to pat ourselves on the back more often), send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And now — Debbie Martucci:
In the photo in today’s column, one cannot begin to appreciate the intricacies in Debbie’s dioramas. She creates 3D effects under glass domes, in boxes and in lanterns. Even up close and personal, I was transfixed by the delicacy of the art — intertwining birds, butterflies, mermaids, fish and other sea creatures, brides and grooms with carriages, teddy bears and fairies, surrounded by realistic flora, fauna, flotsam and jetsam.
Some of her handmade creations also have subtle lighting, which casts a surreal glow inside the domes. Just when you think you’ve captured the total effect, your eye catches something else that escaped your attention on the first or even the second go-round.
I met Debbie when I wrote the column highlighting the Calico Tree clothing and gift shop in Bethany Beach, where some of her work is displayed. I immediately liked her. Don’t you love it when that happens — instant like?
Debbie was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Hyattsville, Md. She lived in the same house until she married Rick Martucci in 1973.
“We moved to Ocean View almost four years ago,” she said, “looking forward to enjoying our retirement years.”
Debbie started cooking when she was 13 years old.
“Along with my older sister, we were in charge of preparing the family dinner. Before my mother returned to the workforce, she taught us how to cook and bake. And after I married, my mother-in-law taught me how to prepare some Italian dishes,” she said.
Although she doesn’t claim a “signature dish,” she said that when she visits her son, he always asks her to make ziti. Debbie laughed, saying, “I just learned from the back of the ziti box and improvised a little.”
She enjoys making comfort foods, but certainly doesn’t limit herself. She’s not much of a recipe-follower, preferring to let her free spirit guide her, and she takes great pride when she says that she cherishes her mother’s recipes.
“One of our favorites is my mother’s French-Canadian meat pie, known to us as tourtière.” Debbie shares her mother’s recipe in today’s column.
Rick and Debbie have been married for more than 40 years. They have two sons who live in Maryland — one who is married with “three fabulous children,” and their younger son who is now engaged to be married. Debbie’s mother passed away a year ago, and her father lives in Fenwick Island. They’re looking forward to celebrating his 89th birthday at the end of this month.
In 2005, while visiting Washington, D.C., Debbie met an old friend at an arts-and-crafts show.
“He was a prominent dioramic artist in the D.C. area,” she said. “We rekindled our friendship and, after that, I often helped him with his shows. After a couple years, he agreed to guide me in the dioramic craft. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I took to the craft, and I’ve been working at enhancing my skills ever since.”
In the beginning, Debbie treated the craft as “just a hobby.” But as time went on she created a business using her initials — D.A.M. Inspirations.
“The largest piece I have made is about 30 inches high,” she said, “and the smallest is about 5 inches high. I create nature, seasonal (Christmas, weddings, Halloween, Valentine’s Day), fairies and beach scenes with whimsical figurines. Currently, I have made more than 200 one-of-a-kind pieces.”
Debbie visualizes a finished piece and continues to work on it until it matches her visualization.
“Much of my work is custom-ordered,” she said. “I often finish a piece and set it aside for a few days. Then I get it out and do the final tweaking.”
Before Debbie’s dioramic business took off, she spent 32 years as a trained dog groomer. At first thought, the two professions seem totally unrelated, but Debbie sees the similarities. She treated each and every dog as a unique work of art, grooming and tweaking until she was 100 percent pleased with the results, just as she does with each diorama.
For the gals who are reading this column, I suggest that you place it where your significant other can see it and read it. With a colorful bold permanent marker, highlight words like: “Valentine’s Day,” “bride,” “groom” and “carriage.” Then add your own words — perhaps an upcoming significant birthday or anniversary, or write, “Just because you love me.”
All you have to do is provide a starting point, and Debbie Martucci’s imagination runs with it. She will create a one-of-a-kind treasure that you will want to display in a prominent area of your home for all to see.
And here’s a thought: If your guy, like mine, is difficult to buy for, why not create a diorama in a box or a lantern to highlight one of his hobbies, such as hunting, fishing, sports, poker, trains or antique cars? Both of my brothers are big-time Philadelphia Phillies’ fans, so I can see a diorama filled with Phillies’ memorabilia, including ticket stubs from attending the games.
And here’s something really cool: If you have treasures of your own that are tucked in drawers or are not displayed to reflect their true meaning in your life, gather them together and trust Debbie to incorporate them into custom-made creations for you. I have a large collection of small angels and crystals, so I’m already brainstorming a spirit-filled diorama for myself.
Her large workroom is filled with items she collects in her travels. She tucks them into labeled boxes and bins, just waiting for the customer’s order that will bring them to life.
My 10-year-old granddaughter, Emmy, dreams of swimming with dolphins and hopes that when she grows up, she’ll suddenly turn into a mermaid; she’s a dreamer, like her Grammy. Debbie has several dioramas with both dolphins and mermaids, so for Emmy’s next birthday, I’ve already commissioned Debbie to design the perfect diorama for her. And my 7-year-old granddaughter, Annabelle, loves fairies and ballerinas, so…
In July 2000, Debbie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She said, “I find that doing this type of work is very therapeutic for me. As my neurologist told me, using both sides of your brain is very important. Although I was on medication for almost nine years, I have not taken any medications for the past five years and I’m doing just fine!” (Since my younger sister also has M.S., Debbie’s news made me very happy.)
You can see several of Debbie’s creations at www.DAMinspirations.com. And if you’d like to meet her to purchase one of her creations or discuss a custom-made diorama of your own, call her at (302) 829-8487.
As promised, here is Debbie’s mother’s recipe for French-Canadian Meat Pie.
French-Canadian Meat Pie
• 1/2 pound ground beef
• 1/2 pound ground pork
• 1 small onion chopped fine
• 1/2 teaspoon Bell’s Seasoning (found in the spice section in a yellow box with a blue-and-red turkey on the front — weird, huh?)
• 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 6 single Saltine crackers, finely ground
• 1-1/2 cups water
• 1 package of two refrigerated pie shells
Method for French-Canadian Meat Pie:
In a large fry pan, crumble beef and pork. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the pie shells, and bring to a simmer. Cook slowly over low heat for at least an hour. Let cool and then put the mixture into the bottom pie shell. Cover with the second pie shell and cut several slits in the top to allow steam to escape. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. and bake the pie for only 10 minutes at that temperature; then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F. and bake for another 60 minutes, or until the top is brown. Yield: 6 servings.
I have a spicy palate, so Debbie’s Sausage Dip — a recipe given to her by one of her neighbors that uses both regular and hot sausage, along with Ro-Tel tomatoes and green chilies — tempts my taste buds.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
• 1 package (16 ounces) regular Jimmy Dean bulk sausage
• 1 package (16 ounces) Hot Jimmy Dean bulk sausage
• 2 cans (10 ounces each) Ro-Tel diced tomatoes and green chilies
• 1 block cream cheese (8 ounces)
• 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Method for Sausage Dip:
Crumble both packages of sausage in a fry pan and thoroughly cook and drain. Mix the drained sausage with all the rest of the ingredients and place into a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve with Tostitos Scoops.
I can’t eat chicken, but I can substitute thick slices of turkey breast tenderloin to prepare Debbie’s Catalina Chicken.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
• 4 chicken breast halves
• 1 jar apricot preserves (12 ounces)
• 1 small bottle (8 ounces) Kraft Catalina dressing
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger (or to taste)
Method for Catalina Chicken:
Brown the chicken and place into a baking dish. Put a dab of preserves on top of each breast and then mix the rest of the preserves with the Catalina dressing; mix in the ginger; pour over top of the chicken. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. During the last few minutes, put the casserole under the broiler to brown. Yield: 4 servings.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
• 1 large bunch of broccoli, chopped; or two 10-ounce packages of chopped frozen broccoli, thawed
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1 small onion chopped fine
• 1 can (10 ounces) cream of mushroom soup
• 1/2 cup Hellman’s Mayonnaise
• 2 cups Cheddar cheese, divided
• 1/4 cup melted butter or margarine
• 1 package (7 ounces) herbed stuffing mix
Method for Broccoli Casserole:
Cook broccoli. Combine eggs, onion, soup and mayonnaise. Place a layer of broccoli into a casserole; add a layer of cheese, a small amount of the eggs mixture, and repeat layers. Top with the stuffing mixture and drizzle melted butter on top. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Yield: About 6 servings.
Debbie’s Peanut Butter Balls are no-bake. When my granddaughters next visit, I know they’ll have lots of fun helping me make this recipe, and we’ll all enjoy popping them into our mouths!
Peanut Butter Balls
• 3/4 cup melted butter
• 2 cups 10x confectioners’ sugar
• 1 package graham crackers, crushed fine (that’s one sleeve of crackers from a box)
• 2 cups peanut butter
• 1 large package (10 ounces) chocolate morsels
Method for Peanut Butter Balls:
Mix together butter, sugar, crushed graham crackers and peanut butter. Refrigerate for two hours. Then, roll batter into balls and dip into melted chocolate. Place balls on waxed paper on a cookie sheet and refrigerate until firm.
A bag of Hershey Kisses is listed in the ingredients for Debbie’s Peanut Butter Kisses. I don’t know exactly how many Kisses are in a bag, but the key to this recipe, of course, would be to plan about how many cookies you will make and have enough Kisses on hand to top that many cookies. The number of cookies will depend on how big or small you roll the balls. Debbie has not used the new Gluten-Free Bisquick for this recipe, but she said it’s worth a try for those who are gluten-intolerant. And if you have more Kisses than you know what to do with, my two granddaughters would love to take them off your hands!
Peanut Butter Kisses
• 1 can (14 ounces) Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
• 1 cup peanut butter
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 cups Bisquick
• 1 bag Hershey Kisses
• Granulated sugar
Method for Peanut Butter Kisses:
To the condensed milk, add the peanut butter, egg and vanilla; mix well. Then add Bisquick and mix well. Refrigerate for one hour. Shape into balls and roll in granulated sugar. Place 2 inches apart on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes. While the cookies are baking, unwrap enough Hershey Kisses so you’re ready to press a chocolate kiss into the center of each hot cookie immediately after removing from the oven.
(Editor’s note: If you have recipes to share, or recipes you want, contact Marie Cook, Coastal Point, P.O. Box 1324, Ocean View, DE 19970; or by email at ChefMarieCook@gmail.com. Please include your phone number. Recipes in this column are not tested by the Coastal Point.)