The Cliff House, a small, wonderful Victorian hotel, once hung over the rocks in Winthrop. Auntie Joe worked there every summer as a waitress. Mrs. Baum, the owner, relied on her for many things, including cooking advice, even though she ran a kosher kitchen, not exactly the strong suit of my Italian aunt. “Often wrong, but never stuck for an opinion,” was her philosophy though — just like the rest of our family.
All during my high school years I worked as a dental assistant in Maverick Square, East Boston for Sam Kane. After four years with Sam, and with his encouragement, I decided to become a dental hygienist. I needed to make money for my tuition that September at Tufts, a whopping $800 a year. With Auntie Joe’s help, I was able get a job as a waitress, based on my aunt’s willingness to train me in the art of “kosher service.”
Many of my patients at Dr. Kane’s office were also regular diners at the Cliff House. This led to many surprises when the same people I assisted in the dental office by day I’d help serve by night. “You’re certainly an ambitious young lady,” I would frequently hear. The transition from one job to another wasn’t so hard. All I had to do was take off my white stockings from the dental office and put a pretty hanky in my breast pocket and I was ready to go with a fine “waitress look” at the Cliff House.
Auntie Joe’s daughter, my cousin Marion, worked there as well. We had a lot of fun that summer and learned a lot about serving kosher food. Mainly, we needed two different sets of dishes and serving pieces, no milk and meat together in one meal. Observant Jews are permitted to eat meat only from an animal which has cloven hooves and chews its cud — concepts that I recall clearly after training from the rabbi. Those guidelines exclude rabbits, horses, dogs, cats, goats and God forbid, pigs. The visiting rabbi gave us many lessons when he came to bless the bread and inspect the kitchen. It was exciting to me to learn another culture. Today, many fine young chefs are coming from Israel, and their cook books are amongst my favorites.
At the Cliff House, we served a cold beet soup called borscht. It was perfect for warm weather and it was the most beautiful color. I was invited to a book signing last year to honor author Joan Nathan in Washington D.C. She writes wonderful holiday stories that have been featured in the New York Times, Gourmet and Food and Wine. Her books and stories are not just entertaining and filled with delicious recipes, they beautifully portray life in Israel. It has been said that her book “The Foods of Israel” has been called the “greatest story never told.” I sat with Joan at dinner and shared with her some of my remembrances of my Summer at the Cliff House — she was impressed with my limited vocabulary.
My daughter Danielle, a teacher, has little time for cooking and often asks me to prepare one of her favorite foods, like beets. It happens that she went on a field trip with her class to a farm last week and picked up some beets, she presented them to me with a request to prepare them. Although she likes beets just fine, it is the beet greens that she really enjoys.
Beets require some effort, especially when they are fresh from the garden and covered with soil. Golden beets are on many menus today and they are my favorite. If you find a Middle Eastern grocery store (there are several in and around Lynn) you will find an array of delicious heat and serve foods like Harissa, a hot sauce, real Israeli couscous — the larger balls that are hard to find — stuffed grape leaves, falafel, a vegetable and chickpea meatball, hummus, kasha, a Russian groats dish, and kibbi, a bulgur and beef casserole that is delicious. I recommend a platter with a small tasting of several items. These grocery stores also have a variety of imported cookies, dates and homemade baklava (a honey-sweetened combination of nuts, cloves, cinnamon wrapped in phyllo and then sprinkled with a sweet syrup when it comes out of the oven.) Really fun and rewarding to make at home, too.
Beets Three Ways
Wash a dozen or so fresh beets several times in fresh water, including the greens. With a sharp knife, separate the greens from the beets.
Cover the beets with cold water and bring to a boil in a heavy saucepan and cook till the beets can be pierced with a fork. Have patience because it will take a while.
Bring a few cups of water to a boil in another pan, meanwhile, then add the greens with a little salt, cover the pan and cook for about 10 minutes and then drain.
In the same pan, heat a few tbsp. of olive oil and three cloves of garlic and sweat for a few minutes.
Cut the greens into five inch pieces and then add to the garlic and oil and swirl them around for a minute and remove to a platter, then chill. You can serve them hot or cold.
After the beets are cooked, reserving the beautiful liquid, drain and peel them.
Cut the beets into large pieces. Reserve four of them for another dish.
In a food processor place a cup of the beautiful liquid, juice of a half lemon, a small red onion cut in half, tbsp. sugar and a little salt and a tbsp. fresh chives and the cut up beets and process till smooth.
Remove to a deep bowl and stir in another cup or so of the liquid, a cup of sour cream or yogurt and if you like a tbsp. of chopped basil, cilantro or dill. Thin it a little with more of your reserved liquid and chill for at least an hour.
At serving time garnish with more yogurt or sour cream and freshly chopped herbs. Refrigerate till ready to use. Make it a day before if you like.
With the reserved whole beets you can make a little beet salad. Cut the beets in small chunks and toss with a little olive oil, a sprinkle of lemon juice, chopped chives, a little salt and chill till ready to use. Offer the beet threesome to your guests as a first course. It’s fun!