A Matter of Balance

My new neighbors and I are planning a party. It’ll be a dinner party for just the four of us, with a Paris-in-the-‘20s (the nineteen-twenties, that is) theme, inspired in part by Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.

Hemingway’s memoir, set in Paris at that time, was less about eating than about hunger – his own hunger as a struggling, young, American-expat writer too poor to dine at the fragrant bistros and brasseries he passed, achingly, on the streets of La Ville-Lumière, the City of Lights.

“Hunger is good discipline,” he wrote in one of the book’s chapters, “and you learn from it.” Paris itself, Hemingway later wrote, was the “moveable feast.”

In addition to the Paris part, our dinner party will indeed be moveable because we’ll be moving up a winding staircase from each of our apartments to enjoy the three courses of our traditional French bistro menu: French onion soup in the first floor apartment, beef bourguignon in the second, and lemon tart in the third.

Since we live in the same small apartment building, under the same roof, “in the same household,” so to speak, we feel we won’t be breaking any COVID-19 rules by socializing in this way. We’re considering each other “family.”

The time has come, we feel, to have a dinner party, however small. Tear off the masks, eat and drink, talk and laugh, and merrily pretend for one evening that we’re dining in France. For the past couple of weeks this planned event has given us something fun to look forward to and has broken the monotony of our almost-total isolation.

My contribution to our little dinner party will be the lemon tart, here in my third-floor studio apartment, where I only have one small dining table and four chairs.

It’s been years since I last made this tart, which was the dessert most often requested by my regular catering clients when I had Bonnie Fare Catering in Manhattan. I don’t remember where I first discovered the recipe, but I’ve long since brazenly claimed it as my own. It’s simply the best lemon tart everyone who’s ever tasted it has ever had, they’ve told me.

My lemon tart has “It,” the thing that all cooks strive for: Balance. It has that “just right” Goldilocks golden mean – not TOO anything. It’s not too sweet, not too tart, not too thick, and not too light. It’s not too hard to make either, which is always a huge plus.

Balance is the key word, because it applies to most everything in life, I feel. I’ve often thought that if I were a visual artist I’d do a large abstract painting suggesting – abstractly — a small person on a long tightrope spanning a turbulent body of water, the person, with her back to the observer, gripping a balancing pole precariously and inching along. This is my view of life, I guess.

Especially in recent months, with the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe, and with all the anxieties and uncertainties it’s provoked, balance has been tough for most of us to maintain. There are older, vulnerable-to-the-virus folks here in San Miguel de Allende, I’ve learned, who haven’t emerged from their houses in months, relying on delivery services for all their needs. Some other people, on the other hand, seem to be winking at the warnings by hosting large happy gatherings in their homes. (The sound of their music and laughter spilling out into the street is the giveaway.)

Neither extreme would work for me. I’ve been striving to stay balanced on my tightrope: Enjoying daily outings — one-hour solo brisk walks in Mexico’s sunshine, wearing a mask — and very small celebratory gatherings, at a safe social distance, with friends once in a while. Hence our planned dinner party.

Which brings me back to my lemon tart. If you want to know what balance tastes like, here is my recipe. During the ten years I was a New York caterer, I would never have shared this recipe because I considered it a trade secret. But that was a long time ago. Since then, I like to think, I’ve become not only older and a little wiser, but also more generous and, maybe, more practiced at balancing. After all, I’m farther along on my tightrope.

Bonnie Fare Lemon Tart

The six simple ingredients in this delicate tart are available everywhere, year-round. It’s appropriate for any occasion, be it a small dinner party or a Christmas feast. So when you have a lemon (or two or three) — and the time and inclination — do make this lovely tart:

 (1 prebaked 9-inch tart shell)

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (NOT bottled)

2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest

¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

2 large eggs

¼ cup sour cream (NOT low-fat or “lite”)

¾ cup sugar

My mise-en-place (French for prep) for my lemon tart

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) Whisk filling ingredients together until well blended.

3) Pour filling into prebaked tart shell (set on a sturdy baking sheet) and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until set.

Lemon tart baking

4) Cool on a wire rack. Dust with confectioners’ sugar when cooled.