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Catering to tastes of an ex-astronaut

If I were called upon to plan a menu and prepare food for at least 100 people, including a national celebrity who adheres to a very strict diet, I would be so upset I probably would need to be carted off somewhere for a rest. Not Judy Cacioppo. She doesn't seem the least bit ruffled over all the preparations for the visit of former astronaut Col. Jim Irwin to Hernando County on Feb. 26. Irwin was a member of the Apollo 15 mission to the moon in 1971, and since his retirement from the Air Force in 1972, he has been active as a Christian evangelist. Irwin will be here to help the Hernando Christian Academy raise money for a student activities center and additional classrooms at the private religious school in Brooksville.

The former astronaut will be the guest of William and Pat Everitt at an afternoon tea at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 26 at their home in Lake in the Woods in Spring Hill. At 7 p.m., Irwin will speak at the Hernando County Fairgrounds auditorium. Tickets for both events are available at the academy.

Judy Cacioppo is a good choice to plan and prepare the food for the tea. She knows her way around the kitchen, the calories and the cholesterol, all of which are important because of Irwin's food preferences. He is on a diet that excludes salt, meat and dairy foods.

When Judy was informed of the astronaut's limited menu, she was faced with considering his diet as well as the far-less-Spartan choices of others attending the reception. She hit the books. Judy has an extensive library of cookbooks. She also can rely on her studies of gourmet cooking in France, and her experiences as a traveler to South America, Europe and Africa. In every country she visits, Judy samples the cuisine and adds what she enjoys to her repertoire. She is an adventurer when it comes to tasting new dishes that most of us might be a little timid about trying in foreign countries. That usually is the mark of an excellent cook.

Last summer, Judy visited Poland and the Soviet Union. She said the Polish people had very little variety in their diet and that their staples were potatoes, cabbage and ham. She thought the food in the Soviet Union was awful. Meat was scarce, and all kinds of ground-meat mixtures were sold in Moscow, including horse meat.

Judy said her husband, Dr. Leonard Cacioppo, comes from a family of gourmet cooks and gourmet eaters, so she has been encouraged to continue her interest in fine cooking. The Cacioppos often have large dinner parties at their home in Lake in the Woods, so the choice of Judy as menu planner and cook for the tea was easy.

Pat Everitt says the academy hopes eventually to raise $350,000.

Tickets for the tea are $50. Tickets for Irwin's appearance at the fairgrounds auditorium are $10. Irwin will share the excitement of his years as a test pilot and astronaut and his profound spiritual experience as he gazed back to Earth from the moon. Tickets for both events are available at the Hernando Christian Academy, 7200 Emerson Road in Brooksville. The telephone number is 796-0616.