Good Life

Eats & Drinks: Worldwide cuisine takes center stage at Twilight Dinners

Tom Strickler browses “The Great Ceviche Book” as he drinks a pisco sour as he preps to host a Peruvian themed dinner this summer.
Tom Strickler browses “The Great Ceviche Book” as he drinks a pisco sour as he preps to host a Peruvian themed dinner this summer. CDT photo

“Life grows from adversity,” said Shirley Palermo, a Liberty Hill resident and retired businesswoman who has been involved with the Centre County Women’s Resource Center for the past 26 (of 27) years. A member of the Twilight Dinner Committee since the early days, Palermo described not just the development and blossoming of the fundraiser over the past quarter of a century, but her real-life experience as a resourceful woman who made her own way at a time when the resources available to women were extremely limited.

“I loved the early concept,” said Palermo, recalling Heather Ricker-Gilbert’s brainstorm about gracious dinners in host homes to raise money. “There was no overhead, all the proceeds go directly to the center. It’s a miracle! No, really a series of little miracles.”

Palermo is no stranger to the challenge of single mothers, the struggles they encounter daily and their need for little miracles. Her mother found herself in that situation — single, with a daughter — and rose through the office ranks on her own to ultimately be a principal in a Washington, D.C., real estate firm long before that was an everyday occurrence. From her own mother, Palermo learned the lessons of matriarchal self-reliance during her childhood, and that skill served her well later when she was divorced and the mother of two boys and two girls.

In terms of her Twilight Dinner duties, Palermo can sit back and relax now; her work is done for 2015. One of the key members on the Twilight Dinner planning committee, Palermo was singlehandedly responsible for recruiting seven new hosts for this year’s fundraising event out of the total of 18.

Now it’s up to those hosts to take it from here, to practice recipes, design tables and create an occasion that is worthy of the heightened expectation that the term “Twilight Dinner “ has come to engender.

Steve Artz and Tom Strickler, determined to create no small miracle at their spacious and eclectic home in Grays Woods, are enjoying their trial runs. First they perfected the easy part of their Peruvian dinner, the Pisco sours. Made with Pisco, a colorless brandy produced in the winemaking region of Peru, simple syrup, lime juice and egg whites, the frothy cocktail is painstakingly anointed with bitters using an eyedropper. The menu evolved not from a trip to Peru but a trip to Philadelphia and a dinner at Alma de Cuba, where Strickler was thunderstruck by ceviche. Artz purchased him the cookbook, “The Great Ceviche Book,” by Chef Douglas Rodriguez who developed the menu at Alma de Cuba, a Stephen Starr property. It was a gift that gave back as Strickler worked his way through the recipes.

“But ceviche itself is not enough for a Twilight Dinner,” explained Strickler, who is rounding out the menu with Peruvian standards like anticuchos, chupa de camarones, causa and saltado though tailoring the dishes to the North American palate. A recent test dinner included zesty lime-infused halibut (ceviche); skewers of marinated skirt steak (anticuchos); a creamy but fiery shrimp soup (chupa de camarones); a layered potato dish with hot chiles; avocado, tomato and tuna tartare with a cilantro and parsley dressing (causa); and a chicken stir fry with garlic, vinegar, cumin, soy sauce and aji amarillo (pollo saltado). This host couple is taking their challenge very seriously.

Neither Artz nor Strickler are food service professionals, though Artz did train servers in fine dining in a previous life. Today he owns Gift Adventures on Beaver Avenue and their living quarters are a fantastic homage to a professional buyer with a good eye. Strickler is an engineer by day at State of the Art and was also the 2010 Iron Chef champion in the College of Health and Human Development’s Iron Chef cook off. He likes to cook — a lot. It is now up to them to create the magic, the surprise and the excellence as a tribute to all those women and children who need a boost.

Anne Ard, the executive director of the CCWRC, said that last year “We provided service to over 1,300 victims of domestic and sexual violence. That number includes persons assisted with protection orders, persons that used emergency shelter, individuals that needed transitional housing, and 900-plus hours of crisis and support counseling. The CCWRC can provide these services because hosts open their homes and our community members support the dinners, providing resources that can help individuals through a tough time. It’s our annual series of ‘little miracles.’ ”

Central Pennsylvanians are lucky to have a score of very creative dining options available for the next three months and choosing one or more of them will provide support for the Centre County Women’s Resource Center. The 27th annual Twilight Dinners will commence on April 18th and run until the end of June, with a variety of venues, hosts, and cuisines. Hungry for African food, Middle Eastern cuisine, or the opulent foods of the Gatsby era? They are on the roster; just make your choice.

Twilight Dinners take place in hosts’ homes and the patrons that sign up for the dinners pay $100 per person to attend. The costs of the dinners are covered by the hosts, and of the $100 cost per guest, $60 can be considered a tax-deductible gift. The entire cost of the ticket goes directly to the center. Interested parties can sign up online at ccwrc.org/twilight-dinners-2015 or call the CCWRC for more information at 238-7066.

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