Her father had diabetes but he hadn't lost his sweet tooth. But she solved the problem!
- Posted on Dec 2, 2013
“Never get old, Paula,” Dad grumbled. He sank into his recliner with a groan. It just killed me to see him like this.
For close to a year, he’d battled constant fatigue, arthritis, and a whole host of other health issues that often kept him shut inside the one-bedroom apartment where he lived in a retirement community. That morning the doctor had delivered the latest blow: diabetes.
So much for the plate of cookies I’d baked him. “You’d better take those when you go,” he said, staring off into space.
I never thought I’d see a look like that on Dad’s face. He was used to helping others, not being helpless. He’d started a successful insulation contracting business and raised me and my four siblings with Mom, still finding time to volunteer for food drives, school fund-raisers and activities at church.
In the early eighties, Mother Teresa came to New Jersey to open a mercy mission in Newark. Dad finally found his true calling. He retired early to help the order, buying a big van so he could drive the nuns wherever they wanted to go and pick up anything they needed. They called him Daddy Dyer.
“The sisters still ask for me. Just the other day they wanted me to drive them to the New York City mission,” Dad had recently told me. Of course he’d stopped driving. “What do I do with myself now?”
Funny, I’d faced that same painful question myself a couple of years back, when I left my job. I moped around the house. I doubted myself. Then I started baking. All my life I’d saved delicious-looking recipes I came across. But I just never had time to bake.
Being out of work gave it to me. I taught myself how to make blueberry crumble, banana bread, scones, chocolate chip cookies. My husband, John, reaped the benefits. So did my friends, neighbors and Dad. Sweets were his one vice, and I brought him a little treat every time I visited.
His eyes would light up in anticipation when he saw me carrying in a plate. No more. I felt as crushed as he did. What did he have left?
I said goodbye and headed home. The 45-minute drive gave me plenty of time to think, and pray. Dad’s health isn’t getting any better, God. Is there anything more that I can do?
I stopped by the mailbox. The latest issue of my favorite travel magazine! I curled up in my coziest chair and began to read, hoping to escape my woes about Dad.
There were some gorgeous photos of the French Limousin region. Acres of orchards, lush green hills and wide-open fields that stretched forever. A picture of heaven on earth.
But my eye was drawn to something else–a recipe for the area’s most popular dessert: something called clafoutis, a baked fruit custard made from the sweet cherries that flourished in the area’s rich soil.
I thought about Dad. Custard? That was right up his alley. What if I could bake my own version of this concoction that would meet Dad’s–and his doctor’s–approval?
A quick call to Dad’s doctor gave me the go-ahead, and I got busy adapting the recipe. I didn’t have sweet cherries, but Dad loved Red Delicious apples. I threw in some raisins. Then I mixed the milk and eggs, flour, a little sugar, a dash of vanilla and a pinch of salt.
Finally I poured the batter into a baking dish, put it in the oven, and kept checking back until it puffed up and turned golden brown along the edges.
John came home from work just in time to be my guinea pig. I cut him a slice. “The French might prefer it with cherries,” he said between forkfuls, “but this is a winner!”
The next day, I let myself into Dad’s apartment, carrying a freshly-baked clafoutis. “What is that?” Dad asked from his recliner, sniffing the air.
“It’s a fruit custard,” I said.
He gave me a pained look. “Paula, you know I can’t eat that.”
“Wrong. Your doctor gave the okay,” I said. “Here, try it.”
Dad looked skeptical, but he took a slice and tried a bite. His eyes lit up. “This is good,” he said. “Real good.” He paused for a moment, deep in thought. “You going to leave me the rest of that?” he finally asked.
“Sure, Dad,” I said.
“Could you make another one next week?” he said, leaning forward in his chair. Wow, okay, so he really liked it.
“Sure. Every week, if you want.”
Dad smiled. “Good. Because I have an idea.”
The following week, I found Dad out on the patio in front of the apartments with a bunch of his neighbors, everyone carrying heaping plates of food. He’d persuaded folks in the retirement community to meet up every week for Saturday night dinner.
They played music, brought dishes to share; sometimes they would order pizza. “And for dessert, cla...foo... how do you pronounce it?” Dad asked.
“Cla-foo-tee,” I said. The answer to our prayers.
Try Paula's special twist on the traditional Clafoutis recipe!
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