Every fall as the great feasts of the Archangels (Sept. 29) and Guardian angels (Oct. 2) approach, I spend time reflecting on the sense of angels imparted to us in childhood by our first religious instructors: the Sisters of Mercy in catechism, as it was called back then, and mom and dad at home.
The sisters introduced us to Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Mom focused on the guardians – yes, the classic Lindberg painting hung in our room – and dad (who prayed mightly to Michael during his years of duty at sea during World War II) had great information on all angelic species. In his rich, baritone voice, he often sang us to sleep with the wonderful anthem from the opera “Hansel and Gretel” properly known as The Evening Prayer but most often referred to by a line from its lilting refrain — “when at night I go to sleep, 14 angels watch do keep.”
This knowledge of angels was a gift from the sisters and our parents in an unsteady world recovering from horrors almost unimaginable to later generations. With their help, in the midst of the considerable fear generated by all these circumstances and exacerbated by Cold War “air raid drills” that had us all diving under our desks, the assurance that “angels hovered round” was a priceless comfort.
That sweet sense has lingered to this day and left me with a taste to celebrate these angelic feasts sweetly every year.
In the week leading to the feasts this year, I was considering what to bake at home when the answer came in a flyer on dessert table
at a “thank you party” in Holy Eucharist Parish, Tabernacle. There, the St. Vincent de Paul family of volunteers was marking the 350th anniversary of the death of their patron by saluting parishioners who faithfully contribute to their efforts on behalf of the poor.
The flyer, nestled next to a tray of amazing “mini-cheesecakes,” advertised Tracey Avery’s Treats — Taste of Heaven — she called them. They were so heavenly that I took one of the flyers and called the next day to learn all my preconceived notions about the baker — except her considerable talent — were off the mark.
I’d surmised she was a parish lady with a gift for baking and a lot of leisure time for the kitchen but that was not the case.
As it turns out, Avery made the cheesecakes as her own personal thankyou to the Holy Eucharist Vincentians for the angelic way they’ve helped her and her family as they’ve struggled through the last couple of years of this economic downturn. Avery calls the Vicentians “angels in disguise,” an apt description if ever there was one.
“For three years, they helped us when we needed food,” Avery said. “Every Christmas, they help us. What they’ve done for us is just so hard to list but we are very grateful to them,” said Avery. Without them, she said, the last three years would have overwhelmed the family — daughter Savannah, 3, son, Joshua, 5, and husband Scott. His hours of employment in a warehouse for fencing and pools have declined because of the economy.
“If it wasn’t for St. Vincent de Paul helping us, I don’t know where we would have been.”
As part of their efforts to stay afloat, Avery, a member of Crossroads Assemblies of God Church, Medford, turned her efforts to baking when the hard times hit. She was kind enough to share her recipe for Lemony Gem Tarts with Keeping the Feast.
Lemony Gem Tarts
Prep time, start to finish — 1 1/2 hours
Ingredients: 1/2 cup softened butter; 3 tbsp. sugar; 1 cup flour; 1/2 cup sugar; 1tbsp. flour; 3 tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice; 2 tsp. lemon peel; 1/4 tsp. baking powder; 1/8 tsp. salt; 2 eggs; powdered sugar
Directions: heat the oven to 350 degrees; spray 24 mini muffin pan with cooking spray. In a medium blow, beat butter & 3 tablespoons sugar with electric mixer until well mixed. Beat in 1 cup of flour until dough forms. Spake the dough into 3/4 inch balls. Press 1 ball into the bottom and upside of each muffin cup for crust. Bake 14-16 minutes or until golden brown. Meanwhile, in the same bowl, beat remaining ingredients except powdered sugar until well mixed. Spoon 1 heaping tbsp of mixture into each crust. Bake about 10-12 minutes or until filling is set. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes then, remove to cooling racks and cool for 30 minutes. Sift powdered sugar over tarts and store covered in the refrigerator.