It’s been a tough week, a strange, confusing, terrifying and very discouraging week. As remote as we are from the recent Colorado massacre, it’s impossible not to feel within ourselves some of the pain and suffering everyone involved there must be going through. We may never find out or understand what triggered such insanity in the previously brilliant mind of a seemingly promising young man, but the questions this event has raised may be with us for a very long time.
Equally, if not more disturbing, however, was reading in an article in Time magazine that more U.S. military personnel have died by suicide since the war in Afghanistan began than have died fighting there, and that the current suicide rate among all veterans is one every 80 minutes, every day and night, around the clock. That’s appalling, and even more appalling is that military personnel do not know why this is happening, nor do they seem able to prevent it.
Statistically, according to the article, 95 percent of the suicides are male, and the majority of them are married, which means they are leaving behind devastated wives, and possibly children. But, in spite of billions of dollars the Pentagon is devoting to mental health issues in the military services, nothing thus far has stopped the alarming number of self-inflicted deaths. Once again, what is it that triggers such despair in the minds of our previously mentally and physically strong, healthy people? No one has yet to come up with an answer to that question, and existing treatment options are having little effect as of now.
Such accounts leave me feeling helpless, discouraged, and I wonder what, if anything, can be done to prevent both unimaginable tragedies such as the Colorado horror and the unacceptable loss of so many fine military men who feel compelled to end their own lives. Has there ever been a time quite like this in our past history in this country?
I have no answers, only a tattered faith that if we, each and every one of us, reach out with love, patience, and an open ear to every person in our lives, we may be making a difference, unbeknownst to us, to someone near to us who is temporarily lost and in hidden pain.
When I’m feeling down, discouraged, upset with some of the human race, I retreat to my personal healing place, the kitchen. Yes, I know that sounds silly in the face of what I’ve just said above, and yes, it’s certainly the last place many of you would go for a lift, but for me, creating something delicious, comforting, perhaps unusual, is calming and strengthening. It’s what I know how to do, so I do it, and if it’s also something I can share with a neighbor or friend, so much the better.
Again this year, I have freshly picked sour cherries available, thanks to Gil Nyerges, a reader who calls me every year to tell me when the cherries on his tree are ready to pick. When I finish this column, I’m going to combine them with a favorite ingredient, ricotta cheese, to make an unusual tart that I’ll share with a surviving veteran of one of our too-frequent wars.
SOUR CHERRY RICOTTA TART
1 1/2 cups flour (all-purpose), plus a bit extra for dusting
1/2 cup butter, cut into small pieces, plus a bit extra for greasing the tart pan
1/2 cup superfine sugar (also known as cocktail sugar, and it does make it easier)
1 egg yolk
Grated zest of one lemon
2 cups sour cherries, pitted
4 T. water
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
Sift the flour into a mound, make a well in the center and add the butter, half the sugar, the egg yolk and lemon zest, mixing well with your fingers or fork until mixture is soft, moist and holds together. Shape into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour.
Put cherries into a saucepan with the water and remaining 1/4 cup sugar; cook over low heat for 20 min. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees; grease and dust the tart pan with that bit of extra butter and flour. Put the ricotta cheese into a bowl. Drain the cherries and stir them into the ricotta.
Halve the dough and roll out one piece on a lightly floured surface to a 1/4-inch thick round. Place in the prepared tart pan and sprinkle the ricotta mixture on top. Roll out the remaining dough, cut into strips, weave into a lattice on top of the tart. Arrange remaining dough strips around the side and press lightly to seal. Bake for 45 min., remove from oven and allow to cool. Serves 6.
I do understand that many of you don’t have the luxury of kitchen time that I now have, but still might like to take your mind off everything you can’t fix by making something outstanding that you can fix, quickly and easily. This pie, topped with all the fresh berries currently available, may help.
ICE CREAM PIE WITH BERRY TOPPING
1 quart vanilla ice cream, slightly softened
1 9-inch purchased chocolate cookie pie crust or graham cracker pie crust, your preference
1/3 cup purchased chocolate syrup (squirt bottle or your preference)
2 T. toasted almonds, chopped
12 oz. each, fresh blueberries, raspberries and blackberries (two 6-oz. containers each)
2 T. water
2 T. brown sugar
Spoon the ice cream into the crust, smoothing the top. Squeeze the chocolate sauce in straight lines over the pie, spacing about ½-inch apart. Draw the tip of a knife through the chocolate lines, making a chevron pattern. Sprinkle with almonds and freeze until firm. (This can be made a day ahead; keep frozen, then let pie soften slightly before serving.)
Just before serving, bring all berries, water and brown sugar to simmer in a med. saucepan over med.-high heat. Cook until sauce thickens, stirring gently, for about 4 min. Remove from heat. Cut pie into wedges, place on plates and spoon warm sauce over. Serves 6.