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Myra Naseem

The writer with her daughter Giselle and mother Myra Naseem during a recent vacation to Disney World. Photo from Lyla Gleason

By Lyla Gleason

I’m turning into my mom, and that’s a good thing.

With nearly a decade of motherhood under my belt, it still surprises me that I sometimes feel like a newbie. I mean, motherhood is a large part instinct, a bit of luck and a whole lot of on-the-job experience, but without employer feedback and promotions, it can be tough to know how you’re doing. Raising a small human is definitely challenging, but luckily for me, I have the support of friends and family who cheer me on at every turn.

Now that the terrible toddler years have long passed, and the dramatic tween time is upon me, I find myself thinking more and more about my school years, and I’m seeing my mom in a new light. How did she manage two kids when I am exhausted with just one? How could she pack our lunches every day without the slightest hint of annoyance? How could she cook every night? Every night! OMG!

I’m sure this is true of every generation, but I’ve developed a newfound appreciation for my mom, Myra Naseem, and all that she managed to juggle as I was growing up. As a single mom raising two girls in the 1970s and ʼ80s, the odds were definitely stacked against her, but I had no idea. Our lives were full of kid-focused activities and outings, baked treats and visits with friends and family near and far.

When my mom tired of her home economics teaching job and decided to start her own catering business out of our kitchen, my sister, Kaneez, and I got to watch her leadership skills develop right before our eyes. She treated her employees as family and spent so much time explaining the right way to do things, just as she had with us. She was still teaching, explaining to “hold it from the bottom,” but in a mom-boss way.

As my sister and I headed off to college, my mother’s catering business Elegant Eating moved into a Stony Brook storefront, and my mom and her business partner Neil were well on their way to becoming known throughout Suffolk County. Business flourished, parties grew larger, and they moved into a bigger space with room for cooking classes and luncheons in Smithtown. Elegant Eating has catered hundreds of parties for the local community, celebrities and politicians, and they have managed to remain on top of the trends in this challenging business.

Over the past thirty years, I’ve watched my mom successfully raise her business and enjoy her newest job as Mama Myra, grandmother to Giselle. I am happy for her accomplishments, but best of all, I’m happy that I can now appreciate all her mom-boss tools that I’ve inherited.

I may not see the physical resemblance everyone else notices, but I do see our similarities more and more, and I’m cool with that. My mom’s patience, flexibility, understanding, ability to put others first and determination have helped me become the person I am today, and hopefully, I’ll be able to pass these qualities along to my daughter.

Lyla Gleason is the founder of the blog Globetrotting Mommy.

The Smithtown Historical Society will host its first Victorian Tea Party on Sunday, April 14. Photo from Smithtown Historical Society

By Melissa Arnold

Whether it’s a holiday celebration or a football party, a rite of passage or a family outing, there’s something about food and drink that brings people together. In families, shared meals can be the perfect setting for passing down traditions, memories and personal history.

Cienna Rizza knows this intimately. A self-described “dyed-in-the-wool Long Islander,” some of Rizza’s fondest memories involve sharing tea with her mother and British grandmother. 

Rizza valued those experiences so much that she began to share them, hosting tea parties for friends that eventually grew to include their friends and even strangers. Armed with a deep knowledge of tea party symbolism and rituals, she created the Mad Harlot Tea Society, an organization seeking to empower and connect people from all walks of life. Taking on the persona of Miss Penelope Proper — a whimsical, rabble-rousing British authority on all things tea — she has shared her message of joyful, unapologetic confidence with women of all ages.

“Penelope is a free spirit, a leader for women who want to get out of the box. Although she is a character, she brings out the best in people and is still very ‘me,’” Rizza said. “While every tea party is a bit different, you can always expect a warm, loving atmosphere.”

On April 14, the Smithtown Historical Society will welcome Miss Penelope as she hosts a Victorian-style royal tea for ladies in the beautiful Frank Brush Barn. Proceeds from the afternoon will benefit the historical society.

“The Smithtown Historical Society works to preserve the historic properties in our town, and we seek to expand and improve upon programs for both adults and children,” said Executive Director Priya Kapoor. “All these activities require funding, and we have been fortunate enough to have the support of our wonderful friends and neighbors in Smithtown.”

The historical society holds a variety of fundraising events throughout the year, but this is its first tea party, Kapoor said. The idea was suggested by Myra Naseem, co-owner of Elegant Eating caterers in Smithtown.

“As a Smithtown resident since 1960, I feel that it is my town and I want to help it to be the best it can be. In the past, we’ve catered tea parties for bridal and baby showers and occasionally a Red Hat party — occasions when someone is looking for a dainty experience,” said Naseem. “I met Penelope Proper some time ago at a tea party where she was seated at our table. You can’t just sit next to that lady without totally enjoying her character.”

Naseem and Miss Penelope have carefully crafted the menu for tea time, which includes traditional fare — fresh-baked scones, tea sandwiches, berries and clotted cream, minicakes, tarts and more. Each guest will have her own individual teapot with a variety of teas to sample and enjoy, along with sparkling water or cider.

Miss Penelope loves revelry, so she’ll lead the group in some games and raffles throughout the afternoon, as well as the opportunity for pictures on the grounds. In addition to the food and frivolity, guests will be treated to a brief lesson on the history of tea and tea parties on Long Island, which grew in popularity following World War I. 

The Royal Victorian Tea fundraiser will be held at the Smithtown Historical Society’s Frank Brush Barn, 211 E. Main St., Smithtown on April 14 at 1:30 p.m. Please note, this event is limited to 30 people and is for women only.  Hats, gloves and costumes are encouraged (though not required) and prizes will be awarded for the fanciest hat and most historic costume. Tickets are $50. To reserve your seat or for further information, please call the society at 631-265-6768.

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Double double toil — but it’s no trouble decorating for Halloween for a Smithtown resident whose creativity knows no bounds.

Myra Naseem, owner of Elegant Eating, brings a fun and almost whimsical spirit of the holiday alive in her Smithtown home. She handcrafts dolls into witches holding pumpkins and brews, their clothes made from scraps of antique cloth and drapes. Spiders are set out to guard potion vials marked with  titles including “Graveyard Dust” and “Moth’s Delight” throughout the various rooms of her house.

The decorations create a spooky atmosphere that showcases  Naseem’s talent, both in the kitchen and out, while providing a one-of-a-kind atmosphere for catering events.