This is my last regular column for The News, as I’m taking retirement, but I’m not gone for good.
I will be contributing columns and stories from time to time and I hope to bring enjoyment along the way. I appreciate more than I can say all the wonderfully kind letters and emails I’ve received over my 15-plus years as food writer. The get-well wishes touched my heart and made my decision that much more difficult. And, after all the recipes and tips and latest food crazes I’ve seen come and go, I can honestly tell you this — cook it from the heart, bake it from the soul and you will never, ever disappoint. And if you have to use a recipe, so be it. But the best recipe is sharing.
There is something really fine about food from friends. The meal or the dish isn’t about the elaborate execution or use of unique ingredients (although I do have an appreciation for both). What I have learned in the past three months or longer is that when people want you to feel better, they cook. If they care, they turn on the oven and create something they hope you will enjoy.
Enjoyment was not on the top of my list when I did a real number on my leg and knee in September during what was supposed to be a nice, slow ride through Detroit. The day was wet, but the mood among the more than 7,500 cyclists rolling through the city was upbeat and happy. We waved at neighbors, cops who were blocking the streets and even disgruntled motorists who had no idea what the fuss was and were fuming at being delayed. Then, at about mile eight, I crashed to the pavement, hitting my head on curb (and was instantly grateful for my helmet) and landing on my leg. I knew immediately that something had gone horribly wrong.
Oh, how I love being right but, in this case, was hoping I was oh-so wrong. Turns out I shattered my knee, broke my tibia (the docs gave it a fancy name, tibia plateau) and I was doomed to my walker and no weight on the leg for weeks … and weeks. No cooking, no nothing from me except to be patient and heal.
My husband is a wonderful caregiver, but he doesn’t know a skillet from a spatula and while he tended to my every need, the neighbors came forth with food, wonderful nourishing food that sustained us and made me feel like everything was going to be OK.
First was the best fried chicken in the world from Heidi (on two separate and delicious occasions), a luscious bakewell tart (my first, but not my last, as I’m sharing the recipe with you) from my English pal, Mary S., along with a stupendous shepherd’s pie and a terrific pasta dish, a meltingly tender pot roast from Kathy, an Italian chicken dish complete with lemons and olives and bruschetta with roasted tomatoes and a pear galette for dessert from Joe T. and a much needed giant jar of soothing chicken soup from Heather. And, finally a homemade chicken pot pie from Mary F. that had a flaky crust so tender and was chock full of chicken and vegetables that I almost forgot my leg for a moment and wanted to dance about with joy. Brownies, cookies, breads and assorted treats came my way. My daughter created her chicken enchiladas and my son-in-law, a master smoker, sent me pulled pork, brisket and even smoked lamb. I was feeling not only well-fed, but well-loved.
The thing is I realized after my husband cleared the dinner dishes on one of the many home-cooked meal nights was that none of my wonderful friends needed a recipe to create their offerings. They cooked and baked from the heart. They shared with us the delicious fruits of their labor and sent kind wishes. I healed a little more every day and will remain ever grateful for them. It would be a unfulfilled wish to hope that I never would have to return the favor, but the fact remains that I will and so will they whenever one of us in need. After all, food heals, but it’s the thought behind the dish that really touches one’s heart.
I had never before tasted this terrific tart until my English neighbor, Mary Spencer, brought it to me after my accident. This was almost worth the broken bones. Recipe adapted from Mary Spencer and allrecipes.com.
For the pastry
1 1/4 cups of flour, some of that’s for rolling
1/2 cup of butter
2 tablespoons sugar
Zest of 1/2 lemon
2-3 tablespoons ice water for mixing
2 tablespoons raspberry jam
Rub the shortening into the flour, salt, sugar and lemon zest. Add ice water a tablespoon at a time until dough just holds together. As soon as the water is absorbed, use your fingers to bring the pastry together into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap, chill for 15 minutes or 30 minutes, if possible.
Roll out pastry to 1/4-inch thick and line an 9-inch tart tin, prick the bottom all over with a fork, rest in the refrigerator for another 5 minutes. Lay a sheet of greaseproof or parchment paper in the tin and fill with baking beans. Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and paint the tart base with a beaten egg white and return to the oven for another 5 minutes. Spread 2 tablespoons of raspberry jam on the base of the tart and leave to cool.
For the tart filling
1 1/2 sticks butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 medium eggs and 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups ground almonds plus 2 tablespoons ground almonds
Zest of 1 medium lemon
Using an electric hand beater or a fork, cream the butter with sugar. Then add the eggs a little at a time, finally add the ground almonds and lemon zest and gently fold into the mixture. Place the mixture into the tart tin. Bake for 20 minutes.
Sprinkle the ground almonds onto the tart and bake for a further 20 minutes. Cool. Sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar before serving. Serves 8.
Per serving: 570 calories; 41 g fat (20 g saturated fat; 65 percent calories from fat); 45 g carbohydrates; 25 g sugar; 169 mg cholesterol; 276 mg sodium; 9 g protein; 3 g fiber.