“Tiny Hot Dogs” by Mary Giuliani
From awkward schoolgirl to Caterer to the Stars, Mary Giuliani weaves together a collection of hilarious memories, from professional growing pains to her long journey to motherhood, never losing her sense of humor and her love for everyone’s favorite party food, pigs in a blanket.
Mary’s utterly unremarkable childhood was everything she didn’t want: hailing from a deeply loving yet overprotective Italian family in an all-Jewish enclave on Long Island. All she wanted was to fit in (be Jewish) and become famous (specifically a cast member on Saturday Night Live). With an easy, natural storytelling sensibility, Mary shares her journey from childhood home to the stage and finally to the party, accidentally landing what she now refers to as “the breakthrough role of a lifetime,” catering to a glittery list of stars she once hoped to be part of herself. Fresh, personal, and full of Mary’s humorous, self-deprecating, and can-do attitude against all odds, you’ll want to see where each shiny silver tray of hors d takes her next. You never know when the humble hot dog will be a crucial ingredient in the recipe for success, in building a business or simply making life more delicious.
Pizza in a Cup
I first watched Carl Reiner’s film, The Jerk, starring Steve Martin, when I was eight years old, and it changed nearly everything about my sweet suburban life (let’s go with “for the better,” although I suppose you should read this and decide for yourself).
As I was watching The Jerk nearly nightly and well past my bedtime, mornings were rough. They would usually begin with my mother shaking me violently, pulling off the covers, and yelling at me to brush my hair and teeth, get dressed, and come to breakfast.
Eventually I would make it to the breakfast table, where my sister, Nanette—whose perfect barrettes matched her perfect dress (perfectly)—would be finishing the last few bites of her cereal while quietly reading another American classic (electively). Nanette my mother understood, whereas she often looked at me with love, yes, mixed with something mystified, like “Really? This came out of me?” as she shook her head and prodded me to finish my pancakes. A honk in the driveway, and there was Bus 24 idling by our house, waiting to take us on our long journey, forty-five minutes away, to the next town and to school.
We lived in Great Neck, Long Island, a predominately Jewish neighborhood, and we couldn’t be more Italian if we tried. My father had a moustache (as did my sister and I). Since neither yeshiva nor the public school down the street was an option, my parents sent my sister and me to the Catholic school in a neighboring town, where we were the only students from Great Neck and were thus quickly labeled “those weird girls.”
I dreaded every minute of that forty-five-minute bus ride. My sister would always get on the bus before me, take the first seat to the right, and bury her face back in her book. I would follow behind, with my crazy hair, half dressed in a dirty uniform with pancake syrup on the side of my face. But unlike Nanette, I opted for the back of the bus. Since we were the only students on the entire bus who came from another town, we were mysterious, and with mystery came a lot of whispers, stares, and speculation. We were teased and made fun of relentlessly, until one day I realized that since there was already a big mystery surrounding who we were, it was my obligation to fill in the gaps. If we were going to be the talk of the bus, I was going to give them something to talk about.
My exaggerations (okay, lies) were easy to get away with, as my sister had mastered the art of ignoring me and mostly stuck to her studies. So while I held court in the back of the bus “big fishing” it, my sister was conveniently too far away to interfere. The film The Jerkserved as the inspiration for my tall tales.
Me: “Yes, Anna Maria Russo, we have a bathtub shaped like a clam and a red billiards room.”
“What’s a billiards room?” a boy named Tom would ask.
“It’s a place to play pool and where you display your stuffed camel collection.”
As “wows” and “ahs” and “what elses” were thrown my way, I was loving the attention.
“Mary, do you really have a tennis court and a pool?”
“I have three pools, Vinny, and a water cooler that dispenses red and white wine, and sometimes I sneak a little vino.”
This went on for weeks, the crowd on the bus growing larger each day. At one point, I had the entire bus believing that I had a disco in my basement, that my father drove a yellow Lamborghini, and that I had a dog named Shithead who could smell danger from miles away.
And then one day, the unthinkable happened: a girl at school actually wanted to have a playdate with me! Me, the girl with one eyebrow from a faraway town who smelled like pancake syrup. I remember being excited and terrified at the same time. I quickly told her yes, and a date was set.
In the days leading up to her arrival, I did my best to fill in the gaps between my boasting and reality. I put two blow-up pools next to our existing in-ground pool (I never told them what kind). I begged my cousin Scott to bring over his mini pool table and created a makeshift billiards room in my basement. I put a blinking flashlight in our spare “junk” room, stuck a tape in my boom box, and poof! I had a disco.
My mother asked what I was doing as I moved a fern from the living room into my bedroom to create a jungle for my “pet monkey.” I told her I was setting up for my friend Anne Marie’s arrival.
“Mom, please please please please serve us our pizza in a cup like in The Jerk!” I pleaded. The Look, a muttered response, and she returned to the kitchen.
When Anne Marie arrived for our playdate, I was panicked. I took her quickly on a tour of the house to see all the things I had fabricated, making excuses for why Iron Balls McGinty (my bodyguard and another character from my beloved film) wasn’t there to play with us and how the arcade I’d boasted about having, with its very own Ms. Pac-Man machine, had been destroyed in “the flood.”
“It was just terrible, Anne Marie, just terrible. Our giraffe drowned in that flood, too.”
Slowly Anne Marie started to realize that the only thing drowning was me in my sea of lies. In the nick of time, my mother called us upstairs for lunch. She had cut up our pizza and put the pieces into little cups with forks, just as I had described. Anne Marie smiled, sat down, and began to eat her lunch.
I sat there waiting for her to get mad or angry, to call me a liar, to tell me that she was going to expose me to the entire school. I waited and waited as, piece by piece, Anne Marie quietly noshed each bite of her pizza in a cup.
When she was done she placed the empty cup down, looked at me, and said, “Mary, this pizza is really good. Can I come back tomorrow?”
My lucky break with Anne Marie created a monster; because from then on I was deeply wedded to the idea that my fantasy life would always trounce the real world. I’ve continued to believe this theory to this day, which explains why I’ve made a pretty nice living creating unique party experiences for clients who have seen it all. I encourage those on the fence, whose imagination is perhaps… lacking… that turning their garage into a disco is always a great idea, or I encourage them to take a chance by serving only hot dogs and martinis at their next soiree, and when I suggest that we try to contact the real Elton John to play at the end of their event for the ultimate party Wow!, I really do believe I can make that happen. Point is, nothing is impossible. If you can dream it, you can do it (or at least some variation of it, like my makeshift billiards room).
Many years later, at the moment I felt I had finally “made it,” I went on eBay and purchased my very own Ms. Pac-Man machine. Anne Marie, feel free to stop on by anytime and take me up on that game I promised you thirty-five years ago.
Deconstructed Pizza Skewers with Roasted Tomato, Fried Mozzarella, and Basil Aioli
MAKES 24 PIECES
As good as I am, it’s quite hard to convince my clients to eat pizza out of a cup, so here is how I pay homage to my favorite childhood meal.
¾ cup light mayonnaise
⅓ cup basil leaves
¼ cup baby arugula leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1½ teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
1 half-pint container red or yellow grape tomatoes
1 package small mozzarella bocconcini (24 pieces)
½ cup breadcrumbs
For the aioli, blend mayonnaise, basil, arugula, lemon juice, garlic, Parmesan, salt, and pepper in a food processor until completely smooth.
In a pan, warm a teaspoon of olive oil on medium heat.
Add the tomatoes and stir to lightly cook and slightly blister their skins. Remove and cool.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg. Dredge the mozzarella in the egg and then in breadcrumbs. Fill the frying pan with olive oil, heat until 400 to 450 degrees, and fry the mozzarella balls approximately 30 seconds each or until golden brown on all sides. Set aside on a paper towel to cool.Once the mozzarella is at room temperature, use a toothpick or skewer and poke through one tomato then one mozzarella ball, dotting the tops with the basil aioli. Repeat.
PRAISE FOR TINY HOT DOGS:
“Mary Giuliani is not a name: it is a promise. Like a guarantee on the box, her name attached to an event, a book, a menu, a meal, is a golden ticket to good times. Mary makes me smile, laugh, cry happy tears, and she always leaves me hungry for more of her wisdom, her humor, and her stories. I raise my glass in a toast to the hostess with the to celebrate this, her most personal, touching, and delicious work yet!”
“No one tells a story like Mary Giuliani and she does it with great recipes, too! To read her deeply personal memoir is to feel that you’ve connected with a dear friend who’s thoughtful, funny, and truly unique. I love this book!”
“Giuliani’s entertaining memoir is packed with satisfying stories and recipes that readers will guiltily enjoy.”
“Giuliani has to spare in these life-filled, rib-sticking (and-tickling) stories.”
About Mary: Mary Giuliani is an author, party and lifestyle expert, and founder and CEO of Mary Giuliani Catering and Events. Mary has appeared on The Barefoot Contessa, The Chew, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Moltissimo with Jimmy Fallon, and is a regularly featured guest on The Rachael Ray Show. Mary’s first book, The Cocktail Party (Eat, Drink, Play, Recover) came out in 2015.