A few years back, Cheese, M.D. and I were invited to a Memorial Day barbecue at a friend’s parent’s home in Hoity Toity-ville, Maryland. The invitation boasted a backyard pool, a perfect summer day, a child-inclusive affair with food enough to feed a small army. I was still wholesome enough at this time to believe that this would be a really fun day.
Like any polite party guest, I asked my friend Beth (the inviteur) “What can I bring?” As expected, she replied, “Just bring yourselves, we will have so much food.” Whether it was subliminal female distrust or the cynical assumption that this was a test, I went against her recommendation. After all, Beth’s parents would be judging my presence and worth by the food I brought to their home, right? I felt the extra pressure, too: the host and hostess were established and prominent pillars of our professional community.
Just how big are these big wigs? If Cheese, M.D is $4.99/lb white American, then these two are Spanish Manchego sheep’s milk cheese: rare, sophisticated, $134.92 for a 12 oz wedge. And, while the opulence of this delicacy is quite clear, I missed the memo on one thing: This particular Manchego cheese is kosher.
I am from the Northern Midwest. Unless the Scandinavians ate it, General Mills packaged it, or it came buttered in a 13 X 9 inch “casserole dish,” I probably had not tried it. And since Kosher Scandinanvian fusion food is far from a perfected art, the whole concept of the “separate but equal” food philosophy was unknown to me. I was raised on the corner of Roman Catholicism and lite Lutheranism, living amongst the descendants of Vikings.
I venture to guess that I did not know Jewish people existed until roughly the age of 13, which was when I transferred from public school to a fancy shmancy private, college preparatory school. (Private school. I know. I’m guilty. Associated hash tags include ‘affluenza’ ‘sweet16Jeep’ and ‘ican’teven.’ But, don’t worry: I graduated from high school with enough baggage packed in overpriced luggage to keep any therapist… paying for their own child’s private school tuition).
Back to my Jewish immersion private school experience: all of a sudden, I had days off in September for no obvious reason. We all wore uniforms, but some boys got to wear little hats with clips (I often wondered if they borrowed the hair fasteners from their sisters, or if they too shopped at Claire’s). In the spring, I had to the option to partake in matzah at lunch, but wondered why anyone would voluntarily eat that stuff. By the time I left high school, I had an extremely superficial understanding of cultural Jewish practices and academic Judaism. And, this really didn’t change until I moved to the East Coast at the age of 22. Unbeknownst to me, Baltimore overfloweth with members of the tribe. This naive little shiksa was in for a wake-up call.
I arrived at the Manchego McMansion with my secret food weapon: Aunt Shirley’s Taco Dip. I consider it the Cupid’s Arrow of appetizer dishes. One hit and guests will swoon over you AND the layered goodness. Picture bobbing Emoji heads with hearts for eyes hovered around -you guessed it- the 13 x 9 inch casserole dish.
I entered the expansive kitchen and locked eyes on an even more expansive picnic feast. The taco dip contribution really was redundant, but that wasn’t the point: I was trying to kiss ass. I set down my dip to accompany the large spread of food and energetically extended my hand to greet Dr. Mary, the hostess.
H: Hello! I’m Hadley, thank you so much for having us over! I have really been looking forward to meeting you and the rest of your family! I have heard so much about you, this is a lovely home! Can I help with anything?!?
(I know what you are thinking – Bambi, this is why your mother got shot. Take it down a notch.)
M: So glad you could join us, Hadley.
H: I brought a little something to share, I hope you like it.
I pointed proudly to Aunt Shirely’s Taco Dip. However, I quickly presumed that Mary had a spotted a rat on her table given the look on her face. She almost knocked me over in her urgent attempt to get my food off of her table. Breathlessly, she said:
This is dairy.
Holding my dip like she was holding a diarrhea diaper, she placed the dairy delicacy on the far end of a separate buffet table, isolation status from all other food. With the same agility, she dashed to her double sink and began her surgical scrub.
I am not sure how many times my friend Beth had to run this type of interference, but by the way she scurried past me, my guess: not that many. Her breeze as she passed me carried her whispered words, “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok.” Beth tried to assuage her practically sanitized mother by rubbing her shoulders from behind her, repeating, “It’s ok, Mommy, it’s ok, no big deal, right? RIGHT?” Mother Mary turned and looked at me with the level of affection you show your fat jeans.
M: Yes, of course. No big deal. If you’ll excuse me, I have to attend to my parents.
Mary whisked passed me and a layer of frost settled on exophthalmos and open mouth alike. This was a first.
Despite my shock, horror, and embarrassment, I was able to thaw my brain quickly enough to make sense of Beth’s 2-minute tutorial on “keeping kosher.”
- It’s not just about Hebrew Nationals and salt. Who knew?
- Meat and dairy do not mix. You either eat a meat meal or a dairy meal. That’s it.
- Meat and dairy are so repellent of one another that they do not touch anything in common. Each deserve their own sets of plates, cutlery, dishwashers, and times of day for consumption.
- These rules are derived from a passage of Scripture that is especially important to strictly observant Jews. Don’t ask me which one it is.
As Beth coached me, my gaze fell upon the table full of picnic food. The untrained eye would not have noticed, but it all became clear: a dairy-free feast. Burgers, no cheese. Chicken sausages, not pork. Veggies with hummus, as opposed to creamy dip dressing. Angel food cake with strawberry sauce, hold the whipped cream.
There was no room for Aunt Shirley’s taco dip on the this Jewish table, literally and figuratively.
My faux pas became clear and so did the next order of business: remove the dip from the premises. I turned to the buffet table to grab and run. However, Cheese, M.D. and friends had other plans to make the dip disappear. Four additional hungry medical students, all Jewish but (happily) not Kosher observant, were elbows deep in the taco dip. Ten hands gripped tortilla chips and were scooping layers vigorously into their open mouthes, muffling words of praise. No sooner had Aunt Shirley’s taco dip made its offensive entrance as it had made its timely exit.
Lesson learned: when attending an affair hosted by Jewish friends, play it safe – bring flowers.
Best of luck out there,
Aunt Shirley’s Taco Dip
What You’ll Need
A can of refried beans (I use the spicy or the vegetarian variety)
Block of cream cheese (8 oz)
Sour cream or plain non-fat Greek yogurt (8 oz)
Taco seasoning packet
Jar of salsa (~ 12 oz jar)
Bag of Mexican finely shredded cheese (2 cups)
9” x 13” glass or ceramic baking dish
What You’ll Do
1. In a bowl, use an electric mixer to blend cream cheese, sour cream, and taco seasoning.
2. In the dish, assemble the dip in the following layer order:
- Bean base layer
- Seasoned cream cheese/sour cream layer
- Salsa layer
- Shredded cheese topping
3. Serve immediately with tortilla chips or other dipping goodies, but let’s best honest, chips always win.
- Make ahead of time, but refrigerate until the party starts.