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.


34 thoughts on “A Matter of Balance”

  1. I like your reasoning about family, Bonnie. And I’m printing out that lemon tart recipe, because I’ve tasted your tarts! Makes me hungry just reading about my your tart with my favorite can’t-live-without flavor, lemon. Have fun!

    1. The party is tonight, Be. Yes, it should be fun! If/when you decide to try your hand at tart baking, let me know, so I can give you more pointers about making the pastry for it. — xx

  2. Love the article, Bonnie. The tight rope imagery is an interesting take on life. Thank you so much for thIs scrumptious recipe! Photos are so inviting. Ooh La La… Yummy.

    1. Thank you, Janet. The dinner party is tonight. We’ll be getting dressed up (in what will have to pass as ’20s Parisian fashions), and the music will be of that time and place. Ooh La La indeed!

  3. Your tart recipe makes my mouth water! Thanks for including it. And I’m with you on striking a balance. Good for you!
    I look forward to your blogs, and am never disappointed.

  4. What a perfectly lovely dinner party plan and generous share. Thank you. I will be duplicating your creative evening as soon as I, and my book club finish reading Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”.

  5. Hi Bonnie, I love your writing. You are a very talented writer, so was surprised that you are also a talented cook! When I began the description of it and that you had taken ownership of it through what was your catering company, I thought, “oh no, she is not going to share this recipe.” I was so delighted that you did! However, where did you find the tart shell?

  6. Thank you for sharing! Hoping you and your neighbors have a wonderful experience together. I’ll share this with “The Bride”. I expect she will try her hand at this as she makes most everything from scratch (made delicious strawberry shortcake for my birthday). Be well and savor the opportunity to socialize.

  7. Well I can’t wait to taste the lemon tart… cooking has taught me alot about the importance of balance… so has 74 years of life… I think the rub can come in sometimes because what is balanced for me is not so for another… So that makes me think about the importance of flexibility, consideration and being open to exploring a different “balance” at times….not always easy

  8. Ah, balance! I remember when you took a photo of a sculpture at the Fabrica that was a person on a tight rope. One imagines many steps back to go forward. Today more than ever. Have a lovely evening. I am guessing who will be there. I hope I’m right.

    1. Wow, you remember that! Yes, back and forth, but mostly forth… The dinner party was supposed to be this evening, but it’s had to be postponed until tomorrow. I hope my tart won’t be soggy! Vamos a ver… Hope all’s well up there in MA.

  9. That book is a really enjoyable, relatively unknown gem by Hemingway ( though finished after his death, I believe ). It is particularly poignant for those who know Paris well.

    1. Yes, Ted, it was published posthumously, in 1964. It’s available from Amazon on Kindle for only $1, if you’re up to rereading it. It bears rereading.

  10. Dear Bon,

    Both this post and your Bistro Party are a beautiful reminder of former days when getting together was an ordinary thing. Something we assumed would always be possible. I remember your lemon tart, and I know I have your recipe for lemon curd. I am unsure if I have a recipe for the tart, but I am copying it down. My fear is that if I make it now, I will devour the whole thing. Probably better to wait till I have a party of my own, whenever that will be.

    Much love,

    1. Dearest Paul — That WOULD be tempting, wouldn’t it? 🙂 Yes, plan on having a party as soon as possible. And I hope for your sake that it will be SOON! — LU, BB

  11. Loved reading this Bonnie. Like you, I have a three-member household that distance-dines outside every week, sometimes with themes! I love these dinners so much and, like you, have used them to pull out my favorite recipes. I will try yours! Abrazos Mija

  12. I am anxious to try the lemon tart. I thought I’d buy the sheet dough at Comer. But the temptation to try a tested tart dough especially when you offered to share pastry hints with us.
    The Beef Burgundy recipe is one of my favorites and I’ve included it in my Funeral Cook Book – If I ever get it finished!
    Thanks for sharing! Betse Davies

  13. Planning to try this recipe by the end of the week. Do you have a special recipe for the crust? What size tart pan do you use! Thanks for the inspiration. It looks amazing. Love you, Arti

  14. You can make overnight cookies with the two egg whites. I can send you my Mom’s recipe if you’d like! ♥️♥️

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