Sharna Rittmaster takes both her culinary and charitable endeavors one step at a time. Diagnosed with arthritis when she was 3 years old, the now 40-something Rittmaster suffers from a lack of cartilage in her body’s joints.
Rittmaster works at her parents’ Absolute Awards shop, and she often returns to the family’s Overland Park kitchen, with her father, Steve, and mother, Barbara. “My dad is my sous chef,” Sharna says. “He helps prepare ingredients for me to use while we’re cooking together and stirs pots when my arm gets too tired.”
Q: Forgive me, but I thought arthritis was an affliction suffered mostly by older people?
A: That’s what a lot of people think, but anyone can get arthritis, which is why there is a need for ongoing research. The kind I have — rheumatoid arthritis — is one of the most common forms of autoimmune arthritis. Certain cells of the immune system do not work properly and start attacking healthy tissues surrounding the joints in the body. The cause of RA is still unknown.
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Some types of arthritis also affect major organs, such as the heart, eyes, lungs and kidneys, but I’m really lucky that I’m not in that category. I just do what I do to be the best I can be.
Q: It seems like you are very outcome-oriented, both in your cooking and training for the Jingle Bell 5K Fun Run for Arthritis.
A: When I became involved in the Jingle Bell Run in 2013, I started training in June of that year. I knew I had to work my way up to walking about 3 miles by the time December rolled around.
I would walk early in the morning making laps around the local Target store pushing my manual wheelchair. After a while, I got to know the employees and they would sometimes walk with me and encourage me by counting my laps — 16 around the store is the equivalent to 3 miles.
Through the process of doing this, we formed our team called It’s a Joint Effort and have become one of the top five fundraising teams, raising more than $12,200 in the past four years — and still counting. My sister Merissa has been part of my core team since the beginning.
When it comes to cooking, I just love seeing the smile on people’s faces when they eat something I’ve made. I love spreading happiness, I guess.
Q: Has arthritis changed the way in which you eat?
A: Last year, I was having difficulty breathing and learned that the bone in my lower jaw had been worn away. Now I need surgery so that my lower jaw doesn’t continue to push against my trachea.
I feel my best when I eat lean proteins, vegetables and drink lots of water. Soda and fast food are treats that I might indulge in once in a while. So are desserts, and that includes this pie recipe.
Q: It seems appropriate that you would share a recipe for Angel Pie …
A: My favorite dishes to cook or bake mostly fall under the comfort food category. I love to make my friends and family smile and really enjoy when they tell me that their bellies are full and happy. This recipe is a very light, sweet dessert, and lemon is a favorite in our family. I even made this pie for chef Jasper Mirabile, and he loved it, too!
Like many things in my life, this pie has many steps and requires patience to get to the point when you can enjoy it fully, but it is totally worth it. I am asked about being an inspiration to others, but I don’t honestly think of myself that way and feel very blessed in my life.
One of my friends recently texted me this and I think if I ever write a memoir, this will be the start of it. “You’re one tough cookie. One of the great things about tough, non-complaining people like you: You inspire others when you don’t even know you’re doing it.”
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Jingle Bell Run
The 2016 Jingle Bell Run, benefiting arthritis research, is Dec. 11, beginning at 9 a.m. at Meritex Executive Park in Lenexa. For more information, call 913-262-2233. To donate directly to Sharna Rittmaster’s team, go to: http://www.jbr.org/faf/search/searchTeamPart.asp?ievent=1159821&team=6792863.
Lemon Angel Pie
Makes 8 servings
For meringue shell:
4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
For the filling:
4 egg yolks, beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1 lemon, zested and squeezed
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
To prepare meringue shell: Pour egg whites into a clean, dry mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer’s whisk attachment on high until soft peaks form. With mixer running, gradually add cream of tartar first, then sugar, beating well until mixture becomes glossy and sugar has dissolved.
Pour into a non-greased 9-inch pie pan, building up sides of pan with egg white mixture to form a shell. Bake for 1 hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
To prepare filling: Boil water in the bottom half of a double boiler on stovetop set on high heat. Into the top part of the double boiler, whisk egg yolks, sugar and lemon zest and juice together. Continue whisking mixture over boiling water until mixture thickens, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer lemon mixture into a bowl and allow to cool completely.
To make whipped cream: In a clean mixing bowl, whip heavy cream with a clean whisk attachment to an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Place in refrigerator to chill.
To assemble pie: After all ingredients have cooled completely, spread half of whipped cream onto meringue shell. Pour lemon filling onto whipped cream and spread evenly. Top with remaining whipped cream. Place in refrigerator and chill for 24 hours before cutting into pie.
Per serving: 288 calories (44 percent from fat), 14 grams total fat (8 grams saturated), 147 milligrams cholesterol, 39 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 43 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.