With a palette in tow, Bart and Arba North paint a portrait of gastronomic gusto! Their kitchen bursts with innovative concoctions - a wrap-around spectrum of colorful creations.

The pair, artists in their own right, collect recipes like they collect other things.Dinner guests, for example.

"Cooking is my near-favorite pastime," Bart admitted, "and that may be a little dangerous for a man like me who does nothing to work out but mow my own lawn. And that's only 6 months of the year."

But Bart gets a regular workout in the kitchen.

The Norths are known as the neighborhood experts on entertaining, a hobby they've focused on in their lives together.

"We love having dinner parties, sharing with our family and friends," Arba added. "We cook up a storm, then relax and enjoy our guests."

Relaxation for Bart comes during preparation of dinner.

"I'm brazen with a recipe. I can't leave it alone. I look at the print and ponder, then I like to do my own thing, adding what I want so the recipe will be better."

Better hosts are difficult to find.

For five years, Bart invited the whole neighborhood to a holiday open house. Not just the folks on the block, but up to 500 people. Children included.

"I never worried about how many cookies the kids ate, but I did wonder how they'd all fit in the house. Somehow, the clock took over the management of the parties. When we'd get too many guests in the house, the ones who came first, almost responding to the chime of the clock, would leave," he explained.

Whether an intimate dinner party or a houseful of hundreds, the Norths share their expertise in entertaining:

- Plan a menu that can be prepared in advance. "Getting dinner ready ahead of time frees you to enjoy your guests."

- Consider convenience of serving each element of the meal. "Serving pieces can be elegant and ornate, but offer limited function. Select pieces that have more than one use, but are easy for guests to handle. Choose a container that's appropriate to the size and consistency of what's served."

- Insist that guests be guests. "Well-meaning people always volunteer to help in the kitchen, but we like to have everything prepared so people can completely enjoy the luxury of being a guest. We haven't had any trouble encouraging our philosophy since one of our guests, dressed in suede, dropped a pan of barbecued ribs. It may take more advance work, but we find our guests enjoy a rare night off from kitchen duty."

- Select a number of guests to correspond with the purpose of the party. "If you get too many people for a dinner party, you can't visit with each one. We find 6-8 the most manageable number for a sit-down dinner, enough to fill the table comfortably. The size of your house and your budget limits the number of people you invite to an open house."

- Simplify a recipe and coordinate it with time available. "I remember a recipe I prepared that was five pages long and used every pot in the kitchen. It was wonderful, but it should have been! The recipe was too clumsy to every repeat."

- Remember "plain, old, good food" when planning a menu. "Sometimes we get carried away with fussiness in a menu and forget that basic, familiar things are always satisfying. But that doesn't limit exploring new areas."

- Have the courage to try new things. In some ways, cooking is like painting. Some of the nicest things are a result of a mistake, but you learn to leave it alone and it usually turns out better than expected. A mistake creates fear; people are afraid to try again. I keep at it until I get the results I'm looking for."

Consider the lace cookies, for example.

The batter for the cookies is simple to prepare; the cooking and shaping techniques take practice.

Bart offered suggestions for success:

"Grind the almonds in a blender. If you miss a piece or two, it adds interest to the baked cookie. Combine ground nuts with flour and salt to create an oatmeal-looking dry mixture. Measure all ingredients carefully. I use a tiny ice cream scoop to place the dough on the cookie sheet, but a tablespoon gives the same amount. And be sure to use a buttered Teflon cookie sheet; it's the only thing that works. Turn the oven light on and watch the cookies bake. When they are lightly browned, remove them. Using a metal spatula, begin loosening the edges. When the cookie is cooled slightly, it will release from the sheet. Move it quickly to a tumbler and pinch to form cupped shape.

" The cookies are fragile. Once we made 65 for a party, dropped the box and made 65 more. With care, however, the cookies can be made a week to 10 days before a party and stored."

A lace cookie shell creates an impressive container for ice cream, mousse, pudding or sorbet.

Beyond an impressive list of kitchen credentials, the Norths thrive on the unscheduled time of their retirement years.

Arba added, "We wondered what we would do all the time when we retired, but now we wonder how we had time to work. If I don't see Bart in the kitchen, I know I can find him in the basement working on a painting. Or sometimes if we're tired and can't think of anything to do, we go to the hardware store for a board or a nail. Bart loves to browse there."

But then it's time for the Norths to pull out the recipe file, explore menu possibilities and create another guest list.

That's entertainment.

*****

Recipes listed:

Deviled Crab

6 tablespoons flour

1 cup light cream

1/4 cup butter

1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons parsley, chopped

1/2 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon celery seed

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 pound crab meat

Bread crumbs

Make a smooth paste of flour and cream. Heat slowly until warm. Add butter and cook until very thick, stirring constantly. Add some of hot mixture to slightly beaten egg yolk, then stir into remaining hot mixture. Add remaining ingredients; chill 2-3 hours. Shape into about 10 balls. Dip croquettes in fine, dry bread crumbs, then in beaten egg, and coarsely broken bread crumbs. Allow to warm to room temperature and fry in hot deep fat at 350 degrees until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.

Pistachio-Stuffed Apples

1/3 cup coarsely chopped, shelled pistachio nuts

1/3 cup raisins

1 can (6 oz.) frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed and divided

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg or allspice

7 medium Rome of Jonathan apples

2 teaspoons red food coloring

3-4 drops cinnamon oil

1/2 cup sugar

Mix nuts, raisins, 2 tablespoons ofapple juice concentrate, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside.

Remove apple cores and peel all but 1/4 around bottom of each apple. Arrange apples in a shallow baking dish. Add remaining apple juice, food coloring and cinnamon oil. Dissolve sugar in liquid, cover and cook over medium heat until apples are tender when pierced with fork. Turn apples frequently to insure even coloring. Remove from heat and liquid. When cold, stuff 6 apples with pistachio mixture; garnish with greens and slices of 7th apple. Makes 6 salad servings.

Red Pepper Jelly

12 large or 14 small red peppers, coarsely ground

2 tablespoons salt

3 cups sugar

2 cups vinegar

Combine ground peppers with salt and let stand for 3 hours. Drain and add sugar and vinegar. Simmer very slowly for 3-4 hours or until rather thick, stirring frequently to avoid scorching. After 11/2 hours, skim if necessary. Freeze in 6-7 half-pint jelly jars.

Pineapple-Apricot Ice Cream

1 can (6 oz.) frozen orange juice

1 can (6 oz.) frozen lemonade

1 quart apricot nectar

1 can (15 oz.) crushed pineapple

5 cups sugar

1 1/2 pints whipping cream

Milk to fill freezer 3/4 full

Mix all ingredients together and fill freezer to indicator line with milk. Freeze according to manufacturer's directions. Makes 6 quarts.

Lace Cookie Baskets

2/3 cup ground almonds

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons flour

Pinch of salt

Melt butter and add sugar, cooking until sugar is dissolved. Add flour, almonds and salt. Stir one minute. Remove from heat and add milk. Beat until milk is absorbed and drop from teaspoon onto butter cookie sheet. (Use only a bakingsheet with a non-stick Teflon coating, and butter only the first batch.) Bake three cookies at a time at 325 degrees, for 3-5 minutes or until barely brown. Remove from sheet as soon as you can get a spatula under the cookie. Work fast and mold cookie over the bottom of a glass tumbler to form a basket. Makes 12 cookies.