Friday, June 22, 2007

"Entertaining with Kathi" Food Column ~ June 21, 2007

Chewing The Cud Was Elevated To A High Art
By Kathi Dameron

“Chew your cud Bubele,” my Jewish grandmother instructed.

I eyed her suspiciously. Her graying head was bowed and her lipstick-red smile was smacking in exaggerated bites. My recently widowed grandmother was going loopy at 37,000 feet above sea level.

We were sailing through the clouds between Chicago and Miami.

“Grandma, Do you think I’ll be able to swim with dolphins this summer?” I asked as ear-popping visions of Flipper flooded my head. “Daddy said he swam with dolphins when he was a boy.”

Raising her chin up, grandmother began outlining our agenda, one that didn’t embrace swimming anywhere except private club pools.

Still floating in a foggy bubble, our arrival on Florida soil was wrapped in the blanketing heat of Miami and the welcoming arms of Aunt Bobbie and Uncle Arthur, who had arrived to whisk us off in style in their big white air-conditioned Cadillac.

For the remainder of the summer I found myself planted smack dab into the intersection of Leviticus 11:2-7 and Florida Cuisine. Spending the summer with my grandmother equated to the strict observance of rabbinical dietary laws, swimming in chlorinated waters, making brawkha or giving thanks at least a hundred times a day and being educated on the fine art of Keeping Kosher-Florida Style.

I’d already fallen in love with Florida from watching the Flipper television series, but that summers’ adventures sealed my sentiments with a kiss. I was especially enchanted by the elegant tropical lifestyle of my grandmother’s sister, Eve, who for some mysterious reason was always affectionately referred to as “Bobbie”.

“Aunt Bobbie, I want to be just like you when I grow up!” I said one afternoon as Aunt Bobbie and I picked mangos from the tropical paradise that was her backyard.

During my stay at my grandmother’s waterfront condo, we often dined out at legendary South Florida restaurants with a tribe of elderly aunts and uncles and other silver haired friends, but my favorite dinners were the ones that Aunt Bobbie prepared with exotic fruits, vegetables and flowers harvested from her own garden. Even the best Miami restaurants paled in comparison to the magical mitzvah evenings that Eve Burrell staged at her Miami Beach abode.

Down among the sheltering palms of Miami Beach, I found my destiny. I realized that I wanted to learn how to entertain with the elegance and grace that I had experienced at the home of my great aunt where chewing the cud was elevated to a high art and where I learned about the dietary laws of my Jewish roots.

Years later, a bride asked me to cater an indulgent wedding feast on St. George Island.

“You’ll have to do some research. There are a lot of rules and laws,” she said as she explained what she described as the ‘formidable challenge’ of planning a kosher menu that would equally delight her fiancés family that would be arriving from Israel and her own American family.

A genesis of menus began swimming through the backwaters of my memory; I couldn’t wait to dive in to the planning. Months later when several of the groom’s family members came to me during the reception and said, “Kat-tee! We’ve eaten all over the world. We don’t like American food. But the food we ate tonight is the best tasting food we have ever eaten anywhere “ a tear drop slid down my face as I imagined the pride of my grandmother and great aunt in the heavens above, who had taught me well one summer so many years earlier.

Tropical Fruit Plate with Walnut-Stuffed Figs & Dates accompanied by Mango Raspberry Fluff

On a beautiful crystal platter arrange an artistic display of sliced fresh fruit, some delicate sprigs of fragrant pineapple sage and mint leaves and an adornment of walnut-stuffed figs and dates. Serve with an elegant stemmed crystal champagne goblet swirled with a fluffy concoction of Cool Whip, pureed mango and raspberries.

To make the stuffed figs and dates, simply cut out the center of each fig and place a walnut half inside. Slice open a pitted date and do the same. Roll each piece of stuffed fruit in shredded coconut.

(c) Kathi Dameron 2007

Kathi Dameron teaches private cooking classes and is a personal chef. She owns Kathi Dameron and Associates.

The Entertaining with Kathi column is published every other week in the Northeast Chronicle in Tallahassee, Florida.

Photo Credit: Gisela Royo & SXC

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