Food is what brings us to the table, but there’s so much more waiting for us there. Friendships bloom over lingered lunches, and families come together over meals that necessitate connection.

Food is powerful in that way; it’s the reason — and often the excuse — for us to gather.

My friendship with Carol Stark formed and grew over some of those lingered-over lunches. We met while working weekends at Ozark Nursery; she loved plants, people and making a little side cash for traveling. I had a toddler with whom I stayed home, and those Saturdays with grown-up conversation were cherished. Gayl, who is still the owner of the nursery, Carol and I would gather at the table on Saturdays to enjoy our lunch together.

Lunches became potlucks, naturally; we made something at home we wanted to share, or one of us wanted to experiment with a dish and needed willing tasters (that was usually me).

When my child started eating solid food, it only made sense that she would eat real food, and the closer that food came to its original source, the better. I devoured information about food, with our lunch table serving as the sampling board for many of my experimental healthy dishes. The ladies were great sports, trying every dry, whole-grain brick I brought to the table.

As friends and customers got wind of the food and fun at the lunch table, our lunches grew. Sometimes we had a theme or a contest, just to keep things interesting. Eventually we got an electric skillet and a toaster oven to add to the microwave and coffee pot, so sometimes we’d cook on scene, throwing veggies from the garden into a stir-fry.

There was always enough food to share, always fun and always friends. We looked forward to those lunches as a designated time to gather, a time to share our stories, to laugh and to learn. Sometimes there were tears too. Friendship holds a place for it all.

Carol thought my way of looking at food might resonate with some readers. When she asked me if I could write, I said yes, hoping she would agree. When a full-time position opened up at her beloved Globe, she asked if I would like to do more. Because she believed in me, here I am years later, loving my job where I do good work with good people. And I still get to write about food, which I love to do.

That’s how it all began. Carol was my dear friend, and then she was my highly respected editor. I am very grateful to have had her as both.

The following recipes were Carol-tested and Carol-approved; they are among my standards and favorites. I have but one request: When you make these dishes, share them with friends.

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Slow-roasted tomatoes

Cherry, grape or small Roma tomatoes

Whole cloves of garlic, peeled

Olive oil

Herbs such as thyme or rosemary (optional)

Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Halve each cherry or grape tomato crosswise or Roma tomato lengthwise and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet along with the cloves of garlic. Drizzle with olive oil, just enough to make the tomatoes glisten. Sprinkle herbs on, if you are using them, and salt and pepper, though go easily on these because the finished product will be so flavorful you’ll need very little to help it along.

Bake the tomatoes in the oven for about 3 hours. You want the tomatoes to be shriveled and dry, but with a little juice left inside — this could take more or less time depending on the size of your tomatoes.

Either use them right away or let them cool, put them in a jar and cover them with some extra olive oil. Keep them in the fridge for the best summer condiment ever. Serve with crackers or slices of crusty bread.

Recipe adapted from www.smittenkitchen.com.

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Clean-eating fruit dip

Plain Greek yogurt

Honey

Vanilla extract

Place two layers of cheesecloth in the bottom of a colander. Place colander over a bowl and add yogurt to colander to drain for about two hours.

Put the drained, thick yogurt in a bowl, reserving the liquid whey for use as a buttermilk substitute in other recipes. Whisk honey into yogurt, add a splash of vanilla and stir to combine. Taste, adding more honey and vanilla if needed. Serve with fruit.

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Basic no-knead bread

6 cups bread flour

1/2 teaspoon instant or active-dry yeast

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 2/3 cup cool water

In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast and salt. Add the water and stir until all the ingredients are well-incorporated; the dough should be wet and sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest 12-18 hours on the counter at room temperature. When surface of the risen dough has darkened slightly, smells yeasty and is dotted with bubbles, it is ready.

Lightly flour your hands and a work surface. Place dough on work surface and sprinkle with more flour. Fold the dough over on itself once or twice and, using floured fingers, tuck the dough underneath to form a rough ball.

Place a full sheet/large rectangle of parchment paper on a cotton towel and dust it with enough flour, cornmeal or wheat bran to prevent the dough from sticking to the parchment paper as it rises; place dough seam side down on the parchment paper and dust with more flour, cornmeal or wheat bran. Pull the corners of parchment paper around the loaf, wrapping it completely. Do the same with the towel. Let rise for about 2 hours, until it has doubled in size.

After about 1 1/2 hours, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot, such as a cast-iron Dutch oven, in the oven as it heats. When the dough has fully risen, carefully remove pot from oven. Unwrap the towel and parchment paper from around the dough and slide your hand under the bottom of the dough ball; flip the dough over into pot, seam side up. Pull off the parchment paper, scraping any stuck dough into the pan. Shake pan once or twice if dough looks unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.

Cover and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for 10 more minutes, until the crust is a deep chestnut brown. Remove the bread from the pot and let it cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Recipe adapted from www.frugallivingnw.com.

Amanda Stone is a food and gardening columnist for The Joplin Globe. Email questions to amandastone31@gmail.com or mail her c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.

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