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Tiki theme helps create tropical setting

Tiki theme helps create tropical setting
Tiki theme helps create tropical setting
Suetta Tingler

It’s August, summer’s last stand. It’s during the deep heat of the summer when laziness finds respectability.

Wipe the sweat from your brow and slow the pace. Pause to escape, if only for a short spell, to your own Bali Hai, where palms sway in cool ocean breezes and sand clings between the toes. Relax, sit and sip the refreshing flavors of tropical island drinks made with coconuts, pineapple, bananas and other tropical fruits.

There’s no time to procrastinate; grab what’s left of summer. It’s time to invite adventure to your backyard because some of the best memories are made in flip-flops right at home. As a final salute to summer, there’s no better theme that a retro-tiki party.

Why tiki? For decades, tiki themes have let the imagination drift t the good life in the South Pacific, Caribbean, Hawaii and Polynesia. The tiki culture reinvigorates the modern age of escapism for it’s a fun, colorful theme that never went out of style. Much like riding the surf, it has ridden its own waves of popularity. Today, that wave is riding high with an emergence that began in the early 21st century showing up in restaurants and bars across the country, including Louisville.

Get ready to set the mood. Explore the dark, dusty corners of attics, basements and garages. Visit vintage, thrift and antique shops in hopes of discovering familiar props from the past like tiki torches, bamboo-inspired furniture and bright island prints of the past. Don’t pass up tiki mugs and glassware because they make great conversation pieces. A must are the teeny, tiny paper drink umbrellas. Such umbrellas have garnished tropical drinks since making their debut in th 1930s at the Hilton Waikiki in Hawaii. Not only are they cute, but they tell an intriguing story of the golden tiki era.

On the tiki time line of drink garnishes, first there were the slivers of sugar cane followed by fresh orchids. The sugar cane eventually proved to be too sticky and messy, and the idea of using orchids really never took off. At last, arriving to the rescue were the tiny paper umbrellas that found their way as garnishes in tropical bar drinks around the glove. Decades later, these simple, inexpensive and easily available paper umbrellas are considered the lone survivor of the golden tiki era.
Party hosts with the hope of reflecting a tropical state of mind have learned to use the paper umbrellas in a variety of ways. The eye often finds them serving as place cards, appetizer sticks and dessert accents as well as woven into tiki décor. It’s always the little things that seem to make the biggest difference when it comes to entertaining.

Hints and tips:

•Call it luau grub or tiki food, but the following would be worthy of finding their way onto any tropical island buffet: eggrolls, crab Rangoon, tropical fruit salad, barbecued pork, sweet-sour chicken, coconut shrimp, grilled kebabs, roasted yams, fried or white rice, grilled pineapple, piña colada cake, coconut meringue pie and banana cream pie.

Nothing says “island escapes” like a tropical drink that includes the flavors of coconut, bananas and pineapple. The addition of rum is the essence of the tropics, but the following recipes include non-alcoholic “frocktails” as well. Garnish each drink with fresh fruit, a paper straw and always a paper umbrella.

(Gourmet magazine)
8 ounces well-stirred cream of coconut
2-1/2 cups unsweetened pineapple juice
1-1/2 cups light rum
2 cups ice cubes, or to taste
Wedge of fresh pineapple for garnish
In a blender, blend together the cream of coconut, pineapple juice and rum; transfer punch to a large pitcher. Stir in ice cubes and garnish with pineapple wedges. Makes about 6-1/2 cups.

Here’s a tiki original to try during your next gathering.

2 cups pineapple juice
1 cup orange juice
1 cup club soda
1/4 cup cream of coconut
1-1/2 to 2 cups crushed ice
1/4 cup maraschino cherry juice
Combine pineapple juice, orange juice, club soda, cream of coconut and ice in a pitcher; stir well or shake using a cocktail shaker. Pour. Typically served in a highball glass but any glass will do. Add a splash of maraschino cherry juice to each glass. Garnish with a slice of orange and pineapple wedge. Serves 2.

2 large frozen bananas
6 ounces cream of coconut (like Coco Lopez or Coco Real)
Juice of 1 lime
4 cups ice
6 ounces dark rum, banana run or coconut rum
In a blender, combine all of the ingredients and blend until smooth. Taste and add more ice or lime juice as needed. Serve in hurricane glasses.

1 cup cracked ice
1 ounce rum
3/4 ounce creme de banana
3/4 ounce dark creme de cacao
3 ounces coconut milk (mix equal parts cream of coconut with half-and-half)
1 small ripe banana (best taste if overripe)
Toasted coconut for garnish
Blend all ingredients except toasted coconut until smooth; pour into a goblet. Garish with toasted coconut.

This next recipe is tiki-scrumptious.

1 vanilla cake mix plus package ingredients
1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (3.4-ounce) box instant vanilla pudding
1 cup milk
1-1/4 cups shredded coconut, divided
1/2 teaspoon rum extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1 (8-ounce) container Cool Whip, thawed and divided
2 (10-ounce) jars maraschino cherries, best with stems
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Take 1/4 cup of shredded coconut and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring often. Watch the coconut in the oven and remove when it starts to brown. Cool. Drain the pineapple and save the juice. Use juice in place of the liquid when making the cake batter. Bake in a greased 9-by-13-inch pan according to cake mix package directions. Remove and let cake cool completely. Cut into 1-inch cubes. Beat cream cheese until creamy. Set aside. Whisk pudding into milk until it thickens. Slowly add pudding and extracts to cream cheese, beating until blended. Stir in 1 cup coconut and 1 cup Cool Whip. Drain cherries and set aside 10 cherries. Cut the rest of the cherries in half and pat dry. Place half the cake cubes in a large bowl. Top with half of the drained pineapple and half the cherries. Spread half of the cream cheese mixture over the fruit gently. Repeat layers. Sprinkle the top with toasted coconut. Swirl on the remaining Cool Whip and garnish with reserved cherries. Refrigerate until you serve it.

Food for thought:

•Look under the collar of a paper umbrella; if it’s made from recyclable paper, the name of the umbrella’s country of origin, likely to be Japan, China or India, will usually become obvious to the curious eye.

•Most botanist agree the coconut likely originated somewhere in Southeast Asia. It was easy to spread worldwide for two reasons: its buoyancy, which allowed it to float from shore to shore, and its popularity with humans who found the coconut so useful that they encouraged widespread propagation. Coconuts didn’t become popularized north of the Tropic of Cancer until around 1895 when Philadelphia flour miller Franklin Baker received a boatload of coconuts from Cuba in payment for a flour shipment. He devised a process for grating and drying them in his factory, thus making the fruit readily available and easy for home cooks to work with. His last name is still the brand under which most ready-to-use coconut is sold.