This is the last post about my 3 friends, dearly remembered and sorely missed. It's about Sheri Portwood who juggled her career as a counselor and psychotherapist with her catering and love of baking.
One afternoon in the mid-eighties Gaynor Grant, the registrar and office manager at the old Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School, phoned to ask me if I could take an extra person who happened to be visiting New York for my class that evening. “She’s a caterer in Dallas and loves to bake,” was all I needed to hear and that’s how Sheri Portwood entered my life. Sheri fit seamlessly into the group that had already taken quite a few classes together and brought down the house by recounting that the presenter in a workshop on sex education she had attended that afternoon (Sheri was also a counselor at Jewish Family Services in Dallas for over 40 years) had used a cucumber to demonstrate the proper way to use a condom.
The lesson that night was on some elaborate contemporary French cakes, one of which was a chocolate dome which, when unmolded, revealed thin vertical layers of almond cake and raspberry preserves in a striped pattern. At the end of the class all the students presented the cakes they had made and much to my horror, the cake with the striped finish had been covered with chocolate icing.
While we were cleaning up and everyone was packing up samples of cake to take home, Sheri whispered to me, “Can you believe that someone could do that?” Then she asked me if I would be interested in teaching at her friend Kyra’s in-home cooking school. So it was through Sheri that I gained another lifelong friend, Kyra Effren. Thus began my yearly visits to Dallas, staying either Sheri’s or Kyra’s house, teaching 3 classes in a row. On every visit, Sheri shepherded me around to all the best restaurants in town all the while peppering me with questions about baking. Like my other two friends, Sheri liked plain cakes, coffeecakes, and crumb cakes, and along with Kyra shared many wonderful recipes for my books. Sheri was a whirlwind of activity, baking for home, catering, attending classes, and holding down a demanding job at JFS where she was responsible for handling adoptions as well as quite a few evening hours of general counseling duties.
Tragedy struck for the first time when Sheri’s beloved husband Bill, a psychotherapist in private practice, was murdered by a patient. Kyra has often said that Sheri was never the same after that, but of course she continued her demanding job, attending classes, and baking, but the catering eventually fell by the wayside as her health declined. One afternoon several years ago Sheri was driving home from work and wondered what the commotion of fire trucks on her street might be, only to find her house burned to the ground. A secondary refrigerator in the garage had shorted out and ignited the house’s entire electrical system. With love and support from her son Philip and dear friends like Kyra, Sheri sprang back once again, this time to a beautiful new house, rebuilt from the ground up to her specifications.
Illness overtook the last few years of her life, but she was at home and passed peacefully a few weeks after deciding to halt all palliative medications. During those last few weeks Kyra kept her supplied with a constant stream of her favorite cookies, cakes, and pastries.
Three friends, three lives spent enjoying great food, three immeasurably precious gifts I’m fortunate to have received.