Downsizing provides time for Dee Dee Harper to return to love of cooking


By Ann Cipperly

After decades at a busy career, Dee Dee Harper downsized and has returned to her first love of cooking. With less work, she now has time to prepare her grandmother Nonnie’s dishes, experiment with new recipes, to entertain and help with food donations for events and fundraisers.
Dee Dee’s business, Ellis-Harper Advertising, which she formed in 1981, was the first advertising agency in East Alabama and among few woman-owned businesses.
When Dee Dee was 5 years old, her mother passed away. Her father was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and was transferred to England at the same time as her mother’s passing. Since Dee Dee’s maternal grandmother “Nonnie” did not want her to leave the states, she was moved to Gadsden to live with her.
Dee Dee grew up with Nonnie and spent time in the kitchen helping her cook. She would roll out pie crusts and assist her grandmother in baking her famous coconut cakes for gifts during the Christmas season.
Since her grandmother could not drive in her later years, “the moms” included Dee Dee in the car pool to and from school. At Christmas, Nonnie and Dee Dee baked luscious coconut cakes with lemon curd filling to give as a thank you to those in the car pool. “There would always be a cake for the minister too,” Dee Dee remembers.
One Christmas while trying to remove fresh coconut from the shell for the cakes, the knife slipped, causing a small cut in the center of one hand. Now, the tiny scar reminds her of the happy days in her grandmother’s kitchen.
Her grandmother was a charter member of the Book Review Club, and when it was her turn to host a meeting, Dee Dee helped her prepare homemade chicken salad and banana bread that she cut into thin slices for making small sandwiches filled with cream cheese.

The chicken salad was made with lots of finely chopped celery and small chunks of chicken combined with homemade mayonnaise or Duke’s mayonnaise, chopped chives, lots of pepper and lemon juice. The chicken salad was accompanied with fresh fruit.

Except for cakes and breads, Nonnie cooked without recipes, which is how Dee Dee learned to cook. Both she and Nonnie were “intuitive cooks.” She often doesn’t measure, which makes it difficult to share recipes. “When it’s good, I can’t tell people exactly how to make something,” she laughs, “ but when it’s not good, I don’t know how to keep from repeating it.”

After high school, Dee Dee graduated from Auburn University with degrees in journalism and Spanish. For her internship, she worked as editor of Alabama Living, the magazine for the Rural Electric Association, for the electric co-op system of Alabama.

She then went to work for an advertising agency in Montgomery. After a year there, she had an opportunity at a large agency in Birmingham where she became copy director.

After marrying and moving back to Auburn, Dee Dee became director of marketing for Opelika National Bank. She was active in the early days of the Opelika Arts Association, now the Arts Association of East Alabama, a member of the First United Methodist Church of Opelika and was active in many civic and charitable organization.

She left her position at the bank, which was then owned by AmSouth, in order to have a more flexible schedule when her daughter, Katy, was born.

Dee Dee opened Ellis-Harper in the early 80s, with her maiden name “Ellis” because of her advertising career in Birmingham. The business grew rapidly and the pace became “frantic.” It employed ten staff members and as many freelancers. At one point they handled the advertising for 13 banks across the Southeast, among other businesses, including Bonnie Plants nationally until it was sold to Miracle Gro. The business received many awards over the years.

“I worked so hard for decades,” says Dee Dee. “I gave up much of my ‘fun’ cooking over those years. I still loved to cook, but just didn’t have time to try many new things and stuck to my intuitive cooking since that comes naturally to me. It was just faster.”

Now with more time, she has pulled out her notebook with menus and Nonnie’s recipes to enjoy cooking once again. She prints recipes from online to try. She has grouped them together with clothes pins and has written the category on each pin to keep them organized.

While holidays are favorite times to cook and use her china and crystal, she enjoys offering hospitality. She is savoring a slower lifestyle. A member of the War Eagle Garden Club, she is a master gardener and grows fresh herbs.

Dee Dee was married to the late Judge Robert M. Harper. Their daughter, Kathryn “Katy” Caddell Harper, is married to Alex Doss. They live in Auburn and have one child, Robert, who is 6 years old.

Katy followed in her mother’s footsteps with her own web, social and creative marketing agency, Here Molly Girl, named after their beloved dog.

With her black and white cat perched on the porch, Dee Dee enjoys looking over her worn notebook filled with treasured recipes, as she plans menus to prepare for family and friends, taking each day without the frantic pace. “I’m now able to do work for clients I love and cook for the people I love,” she says, “and I enjoy that immensely.”

Shrimp Pasta
This is my go-to dish, and it is quick. Portions are approximate, since there is not much you can do to mess it up! You’ll end up adding your own touches, like sherry or white wine, Parmesan or even the tiniest little pinch of tarragon.
4-5 servings linguine, angel hair or spaghetti noodles
½ large red bell pepper, chopped
½ small green bell pepper, chopped
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves minced garlic (or California blend garlic powder)
1 large Vidalia onion, coarse chopped
1 lb. fresh or frozen medium or large shrimp, raw, peeled, deveined
½ can chicken stock or broth
Chives, coarse chopped
¾ cup half and half
½ stick butter
Cook pasta in salted water 10-14 minutes to desired consistency. Drain and set aside, keeping warm.
Sauté bell peppers and garlic in olive oil, adding onions after 2 minutes. Cook until onions are transparent. Add broth and shrimp, cooking only until shrimp start to turn pink. Add cream and green onions, stirring until shrimp are cooked through and mixture is creamy. Stir in chives and butter.
May be served over individual portions of pasta or mixed with pasta for buffet.

Impossible Lemon Pie
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup water
1/2 cup lemon juice
½ cup Bisquick
3 eggs
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup coconut
Preheat oven to 350. In blender, combine all ingredients except coconut. Blend on low for 3 minutes. Pour into greased 10-inch pie plate. Let stand 5 minutes.
Sprinkle coconut over top. Bake 35-40 minutes until knife inserted near edge comes out clean. Allow to cool and set.

Nonnie’s Banana Bread
For parties, Nonnie would thinly slice the bread and make small sandwiches filled with cream cheese.
¾ cup white sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup shortening
2 eggs, slightly beaten
3 mashed ripe bananas
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 level tsp. soda
Chopped pecans, optional
Cream together sugars and shortening. Add eggs. Then add remaining ingredients and mix together.
Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake one hour at 350 or until tests done by inserting a toothpick near the center.

Party Seafood Mold
One of my favorites. I hope for leftovers, so I can make a sandwich!
1 can tomato soup
3 envelopes Knox unflavored gelatin
2-3 cans shrimp and/or crab, drained, picked, rinsed (can use frozen, salad shrimp mashed, fresh crab)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened and whipped
1 cup Hellman’s or Duke’s mayonnaise
1 1/2 cups finely chopped celery
½ cup finely chopped onion
1 jar chopped pimiento, drained
Tabasco or cayenne to taste
Dissolve gelatin in water per package directions. Bring soup to low boil, stirring to avoid scorching. Remove from heat.
When gelatin is completely dissolved, add to soup. Stir in cream cheese. Add remaining ingredients except seafood and pimiento. Pour into blender or food processor for a short pulse. (Do not puree. . I sometimes just use a mixer.) Stir in seafood and pimiento. Pour into a 4 cup mold greased with mayonnaise. Refrigerate 4-5 hours until firm.
Unmold onto platter, “frost” top with mayonnaise and decorate with paprika and parsley. Serve with crackers as an hors d’oeuvre or on lettuce as a luncheon entrée. Can double for 3 qt. mold.

Mushroom Sandwiches
Helen (Mrs. Marshall) Connor
Amazingly good to be so simple. I had to beg Helen for the recipe!
1 large can mushroom stems and pieces, drained well and chopped
½ small onion, grated
Good mayonnaise to mix to spreading consistency
¼ cup chopped parsley
Mix all and let sit to blend for a few minutes.
Makes spread for 6 whole sandwiches, crusts trimmed – 18 finger sandwiches, 3 per whole sandwich.

Cracker Salad
Brown Torbert, Saugahatchee Country Club ca. 1975
This has become my “signature” summer dish. I had the beloved Johnny McEachern cater it for an Opelika National Bank picnic. He added some extras like cheese and celery, and it was wonderful too. This is the original.
Spread fresh tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces, over the bottom of serving dish about 2 inches deep. Add layer of chopped Vidalia onion, about ½ inch deep. Then add ½ inch layer of chopped green bell pepper.
Salt and pepper well. Seal with Miracle Whip or Hellman’s mayonnaise. Be sure to cover edge to edge. Chunky-crush Ritz Crackers for a generous layer on top.
Refrigerate 1-2 hours but not overnight.

Andy’s Restaurant’s Famous Peanut Butter Pie
Marie Crimm and Roz Stern
Baked 9-inch pie shell
Blend with hands or pastry blender:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
Put half of mixture in bottom of pie shell.
In saucepan, mix:
2 egg yokes
2 cup milk
½ stick butter or margarine
Dash salt
Cook until thick. Add ½ tsp. vanilla.
Cool. Add remaining peanut butter mix and pour into shell.
Cover with whipped cream.

Fresh Apple Cake
I love this! So moist. I leave it a wee bit underdone for an almost gooey inside.
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup white granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup vegetable oil
3 diced apples (can leave peel on)
1 cup chopped nuts (also raisins, if you like)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
For topping: 1/2 pkg. butterscotch chips, optional
Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a 9 x13-inch baking pan.
In a large bowl, mix sugars, eggs, vanilla and oil. Add dry ingredients. Mix well by hand. Batter will be stiff. Fold in chopped apples and nuts.
Spread batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle butterscotch chips on top, if desired.
Bake until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Glaze while still hot.
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/3 cup milk or half & half
½ cup butter
In saucepan, combine brown sugar, cream and butter. Bring to a boil and continue cooking for 2 1/2 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour over warm cake.

Chess Cake
1 stick butter, softened
4 eggs, divided
1 box of yellow cake mix
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
Box of confectioners’ sugar
Combine butter, 1 egg and cake mix and spread in bottom of greased 10 by 13 inch pan.
Cream together cream cheese and 3 eggs, adding one at a time. Blend in the powdered sugar. Spread over base layer. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Cool well before serving.

Sad Cake
This is a dense, moist cake. This one is, sadly, like a cake that wants to be a chewy bar.
2 cups Bisquick
2 ¼ cups packed brown sugar
4 eggs, slightly beaten
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp. vanilla
Grease and flour a 9 by 13 inch pan. Preheat oven to 350.
Thoroughly mix all ingredients. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting.

Mushroom “Tartels”
1 Tbsp. butter
½ cup chive and onion cream cheese spread
1 can refrigerated crescent rolls
8 oz. pkg. fresh mushrooms, finely chopped
¼ cup grated Parmesan
2 tsp. fresh chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 350. Melt butter in skillet on medium heat. Add mushrooms and sauté for 5 minutes or until tender, stirring often. Add cream cheese spread and Parmesan. Cook and stir until cream cheese is melted. Remove from heat and set aside.
Unroll dough into 2 long rectangles, pressing perforations and seams together to seal. Cut each rectangle into 12 squares. Place 1 square in each of 24 mini muffin cups with corners extending over rims. Firmly press dough on bottom and up sides of each cup. Spoon about 1 ½ tsp. mushroom mixture into each cup.
Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Sprinkle with parsley. Cool in pan 5 minutes before serving.

Bechamel Sauce for Creamed Spinach
Dee Dee serves Creamed Spinach in a chafing dish with small pastry shells on the side.
5 Tbsp. butter
5 Tbsp. flour
2 ½ cups warmed cream or milk
Frozen spinach, cooked
Garlic to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
In saucepan, cook flour and butter on low until thickened but not browned. Add warm cream and stir until shiny and thickened.
Add spinach, garlic and seasonings.
Note: Creamed sauce can be used for creating other dishes.

Chicken and Orzo
I just make this without measuring, and it’s always turned out fine. So, if you’re a measurer, you better come by my house when I’m making it!
Simmer at least 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts with onion and celery coarse cut pieces and salt and pepper in water to cover for 25 minutes. Set aside chicken breasts.
Bring the stock with vegetables to boil, then add orzo pasta (4-5 cups stock and one-third of a 1-lb. box of orzo). Reduce heat to simmer. Stir occasionally to keep from sticking. Boil on medium until all the stock is absorbed. Remove from heat.
Before serving, add butter, cream or milk and coarse cut garlic powder to warm orzo. Add anything else you like, such as oregano, rosemary, even Velveeta. Serve as side dish to the chicken.

Hot Vidalia Dip
It’s easy and delicious.
1 large Vidalia Onion, coarsely chopped
7 oz. pkg. shredded Italian three-cheese blend
1 cup good mayonnaise (light or regular)
1 Tbsp. grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 325. Mix first 3 ingredients. Spread mixture into 9- inch pie plate. Sprinkle with Parmesan.
Bake 45 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Serve warm with crackers, pita chips or Fritos Dippers.

Poached Eggs
Don’t laugh. It’s hard to get poached eggs consistently perfect.
4 large eggs
1 Tbsp. distilled white vinegar
Salt and pepper
Bring 6 cups water to boil in Dutch oven over high heat. Meanwhile, crack eggs, one at a time, into colander. Let stand until loose, watery whites drain away from eggs, 30 seconds. Gently transfer eggs to 2-cup liquid measuring cup.
Add vinegar and 1 tsp. salt to boiling water. With lip of measuring cup just above surface of water, gently tip eggs into water, one at a time, leaving space between them.
Cover pot, remove from heat, and let stand until whites closest to yolks are just set and opaque, about 3 minutes.
If after 3 minutes whites are not set, let stand in water, checking every 30 seconds, until eggs reach desired doneness. (For medium-cooked yolks, let eggs sit in pot, covered, for 4 minutes, then begin checking for doneness.)
Using slotted spoon, carefully lift and drain each egg over Dutch oven. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Grasshopper Pie
It’s a classic from the “Leave It to Beaver” era, but I’d forgotten about it until I started looking through recipes.
1 ½ cups finely crushed Oreos or chocolate wafer cookies
¼ cup melted butter
One ready-made chocolate pie crust
½ cup evaporated or whole milk
32 large marshmallows
¼ cup green crème de menthe
3 Tbsp. white crème de cacao
1 ½ cups whipping cream
Green food coloring
Andes mints/dark chocolate curls of chips, optional
Preheat oven to 350. In medium bowl, thoroughly stir together crust ingredients. Reserve 2 Tbsp. for garnish. Press remaining crumb mixture evenly onto sides and bottom of 9-inch, preferably glass, pie plate. Bake 10 minutes. Cool on rack at least 15 minutes.
Filling: In 3-quart saucepan, heat milk and marshmallows over low heat, stirring constantly, just until marshmallows are melted. Refrigerate 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture mounds slightly when dropped from a spoon. (If it gets too thick, place the pan in a bowl of warm water and stir until thinner.) Slowly stir in crème de menthe and crème de cacao.
In large chilled bowl, beat whipping cream with electric mixer on low until cream begins to thicken. Increase speed gradually and beat until stiff peaks form. Fold in marshmallow mixture. Add 3-4 drops green food coloring as desired.
Spread mixture in pie crust and sprinkle with reserved crumbs. Refrigerate 4 hours until set. Add the dark chocolate curls, chips or a few Andes mints as desired for a pretty presentation. Store covered in refrigerator.

Robert DeNiro’s Bloody Mary Recipe
John and Trish Lindler came upon DeNiro’s favorite bartender in the bar of the William Randolph Hearst-built hotel near Times Square in New York City. DeNiro suggested the addition of the sherry, and it’s been a classic there ever since.
Makes one large drink.
Bloody Mary mix of your choice
1 jigger sweet sherry
5 shakes Worcestershire sauce
1/3 jigger A1 sauce
½ tsp. horseradish
Lemon wedge and lime
“Heat” to taste.
1 or more jiggers vodka
Combine and mix.


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