Gail D'Antonio makes artichoke buttons

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Gail D'Antonio loves to entertain. She's equally comfortable with impromptu dinners with neighbors as she is with elaborate parties.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Gail D'Antonio adds a teaspoon of pesto to her Artichoke Buttons.

 

Fresh mozzarella cheese melts over pesto, dried tomato and artichokes after just 5 minutes in the oven.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

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Gail D'Antonio makes artichoke buttons

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print story Published: 4/29/2009 12:01 AM | Updated: 8/19/2009 10:22 AM

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You might call Gail D'Antonio the "theme queen."

This woman loves to throw a party, and she says it's just easier to start with a theme and add recipes and décor.

A Deer Park resident, Gail grew up in an entertainment-oriented family, so she didn't waste any time sending out invitations once she and her husband, Bob, got married.

"We had a four-room apartment in the city, and for our first party we had 45 people over for an open house," she says. "People were sitting on the stairs; they ate us out of house and home."

Even a bowl of broken cookies on top of the fridge was discovered and devoured.

"When people say to me, 'We just don't have the room to entertain,' I don't buy that," she says. "If you want to have a party, you'll do it no matter what."

Gail could write the book on Halloween parties, a longtime tradition when her son, now 17, was growing up because his birthday fell at the end of October.

One memorable year she hid "body parts" in the woods near her home: a pair of jeans stuffed to look like legs, a mask, fake hands and feet. The kids searched for them and duct taped them together in the basement.

The big thrill came when they threw the monster into a homemade "transformer" and out popped a real live monster, a friend dressed in the same clothes.

"The kids were just screaming," she remembers happily. "We've kind of always gone over the top."

Everyone is out of therapy now, and Gail concentrates on themes like Cinco de Mayo, Caribbean barbecues, St. Patrick's Day and, most recently, a full-on St. Joseph's Table for six friends.

A traditional Sicilian celebration in March, it honors St. Joseph with an elaborate feast, often presented on a multitiered altar.

"We had so much fun, so much food," Gail says.

That's no joke.

She started with deep-fried calamari, a big antipasto tray and baked artichokes dressed up with pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.

She followed with spaghetti, meatballs and Italian sausage, brachiole made with flank steak and lemon chicken.

For the salad, she prepared her own creamy garlic dressing, and just so no one would leave hungry, she served bread with olive oil and parmesan.

"They couldn't believe that this food just kept coming," laughs Gail, who selected guests "who really like to eat."

For dessert she served homemade Lemon Ricotta Cookies, and macaroons.

Of course, Gail had to set the scene.

She dressed the table in a red-and-white checked oil cloth, served wine in little juice glasses, just like the old-time Italians did, and created a small altar to St. Joseph with candles, a figurine from her Christmas Nativity, a cross and tiny white Christmas lights. She loaded it with fruit, desserts and a loaf of bread in the shape of a shepherd's staff.

"This is how wacky we get, but it makes it more fun," she says.

Between major theme parties Gail cooks most meals at home and likes casual, impromptu entertaining for friends, testing out new recipes.

"If you can't experiment on your family and friends, who can you experiment on?" she asks.

Next up: a beach party this summer at their home on Lake Michigan. The theme?

Might I suggest "Jaws."

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