Archive » October 11, 2007
Montecito Chef of the Month
By Lana Marme
The Singer, Cook, Teacher, and Gardener
Bonnie Corman’s epicurean abilities extend from borscht to Mandelbrot and every ethnic dish in between, but her real specialty is hospitality. Upon entering her home, one is struck with the feeling that this woman has entertained many here – and, indeed, she has. Vibrant and accomplished, Bonnie discusses the Jewish traditions and holidays that she grew up with and that are so much a part of her life today. Her recent celebration of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) began with the traditional lighting of the two Sabbath candles, which burn for 24 hours. Her son, Alex, gave the blessing along with his wife, Charlotte, and children using their Kiddush cups for the sweet kosher wine. Next, the Challah bread is passed among family and guests, as each person tears off a piece. Sliced apples are dipped in honey to symbolize a sweet New Year for everyone. The first course served is Bonnie's baked chicken soup with matzo ball and fresh dill from her garden. This is followed by a Chinese pear and watercress salad, glazed turkey breast with apricots and blueberries, and leg of lamb with figs and olives. Accoutrements include peach and cranberry salsa, glazed potatoes and broccoli and, of course, peach pie and Mandelbrot (a biscotti-like treat). "I’m known for my Mandelbrot; I make it all the time, send some to my son in Seattle, and give it to friends locally. I never have enough!" she exclaims.
Bonnie's cooking expertise includes cold soups such as cherry, peach, cucumber, buttermilk and gazpacho, which she serves in champagne glasses. "I also make quite a lot of beet soup – borscht – which my grandmother used to make in Russia. It can be served hot or cold," she says. Another family specialty is her mother's applesauce, which Bonnie makes with apples, apricots, oranges and cranberries. "My mother was a wonderful cook,” Bonnie says, adding, “but there was never any cooking done after sundown Friday in observance of the Sabbath. Before that point, all the children helped to prepare for the upcoming meal. The chickens were slaughtered by the rabbi, no milk products were used. In fact, I still have two sets of dishes – pink and blue – one set for meat and one for dairy. Glass,” she explains, “is the only thing that can be used for both. Before the exodus from Egypt,” Bonnie continues, “these rules evolved to effect healthier eating habits. Blood was drained from the slaughtered chicken and kosher salt was put over it to make for a healthier – and tastier – result."
Going back thousands of years, the strength of the Jewish people is their stronghold on traditions. "A lot of younger families are indeed going back to these traditions,” Bonnie observes, “primarily because they support the concept of families." And her family is no exception. Bonnie's other son, John, and his wife, Linnea, both surgeons, still maintain age-old traditions. And her grandchildren love coming over to cook – especially the Challah French toast that Bonnie prepares for the morning after the Sabbath. Family meals are of utmost importance. "It's considered a sign of hospitality to invite people to your table – particularly those who have nowhere else to go," she says.
Bonnie recalls that while attending college, the Rabbi would invite students over for Passover. "It was a very festive table – a lot of people, a lot of singing. And there were special symbolic foods served: bitter herbs and salt water to remind us of painful times. Then there is the charostch – another specialty of Passover made with sweet wine, honey and almonds, chopped like small bricks to remind us of the times when the Jews were enslaved and had to carry bricks on their backs. This forged and maintained a feeling of community, which is an essential concept of Judaism. We honor individuality, but also stress community. And our food reflects exactly that."
Her grandparents emigrated from Russia in the 1870s, and Bonnie’s mother recently celebrated her 99th birthday. Bonnie grew up with her three sisters in Providence, Rhode Island, with her family home in Norwich, Connecticut. Her grandmother was an expert in the kosher kitchen and an exceptional cook. Bonnie says her grandparents offered an easy conduit to the past and origin of various aspects of celebrating high holy days. She softly recalls the importance of dinner at her home. Her father would direct discussions of politics, world news, and their history while inquiring of the affairs of the day, and pronounced new vocabulary words to be memorized.
Bonnie attended school in Providence, then went on to get a double Masters degree, one in English at Harvard and one in adolescent counseling at Boston College. Eventually, she found her home in Montecito and worked as the school psychologist at Laguna Blanca, which she describes as a "great clinical experience." Presently, she works as a full-time consulting psychologist, as well as teaching an English course at City College twice a week. She also keeps up her gardening and cooking and loves to sing opera. "I have fun with life,” she admits, speculating that when she’s in her 90s, she’ll “put on a show!”
She professes an undying love of singing, teaching, cooking, and gardening. “I'm always trying to synthesize things,” Bonnie concludes, “whether it's cooking or teaching, I try to see the correspondence between teaching and history, art and music. And I encourage my students to think about them as related subjects."
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