I’m sitting here by the old closed-up pool at a picnic table listening to the wind stir the oak leaves and breathing in the perfume of onions drifting over from the dining hall. Each time I take a deep inhale of the sour spiciness, there’s something inside me that says, yeeees, gooood, and thinks both that for a split second, everything is perfect, and also that if only I could possess that smell or immerse myself in that smell, if I could just exist within that smell, then everything could always be perfect. I’m like that with all food, all the time. The hours passed poring over food blogs, daydreaming, planning step-by-step in repetition the recipes I’m going to make, imagining the taste and texture of this, that, or the other thing I envision eating—it’s a deep need to believe that happiness exists within these objects and experiences.
But what is the nature of this imagined happiness?
I want to bask in the glory of sifting and mixing and pouring and measuring, what I want, how I want, with no interruptions, light pouring through the windows and antique every-kitchen-tool-ever to complete my quaint existence. I want to pull perfect tarts from the oven and slide them onto trivets in front of smiling faces and give all of my love without error or hesitation and have it received without doubt or miscommunication. I want to turn all of my anguish into something beautiful to be shared without ever having to meet the world between the experience of pain and the act of creation. I want a life where it doesn’t hurt to hurt and where all of my joy is heralded by a joyful reception from others.
But since I can’t have this, what do I make of the wishes I can’t help making?
Peace. I am wishing for peace. Peace in the kitchen, at least. Someday, I would like a kitchen that is mine. From which I can share, and with the intention to share, but one which itself facilitates that sharing.
Should I be wishing for the patience and vastness of mind to manifest sharing, or benefit, or whatever vague feel-good altruistic term avoids talking about self and volition? Patience and vastness of mind, yes, definitely, maybe. But also, I am wishing for good conditions. I am wishing to grow and do the hard work such that someday I no longer need to be roughed up by the universe in order to develop peace in the kitchen. I am wishing to develop such a deep inner peace that my life manifests the outer conditions for peace because when you no longer need to be bothered to learn how to deal with being bothered it becomes more efficient to just do the work. When I am ready for peace in the kitchen and the life in the world that goes with it, it will come.
Underneath everything else, I just want my motivation to be good. Sometimes I feel completely nonsensical, talking from one side of my mouth about enlightenment and then, on the everyday level, being so, so invested in um…cake, and nostalgia-inducing photos with vintage linens and weathered wooden cutting boards. It’s hard to know what I should want, or maybe just what it’s okay to want. I want whatever’s right, you know?
But then, inside of that, there are all of these very specific, personal wantings that feel right to me, but also they’re just there, and it’s hard to know if they’re for the good or not. They feel absurd in their specificity. I stumble, wondering what due I have to want such and such a thing, because if my goal is truly to benefit all beings, shouldn’t I not want anything specific and just let it all come to me?
But what is “it all,” and how will it come? We must act, after all. Perhaps it’s not better to make specific wishes or open ones, so long as you’re clear about the purpose of your wishes. Specific wishes come naturally to me; I better just make worthwhile ones.
I want a peaceful kitchen, Universe, with a big south facing window, a sturdy oven, and a lot of cast iron pans and wooden bowls and cake stands. But I want a peaceful kitchen if and only if it will let me help more, only if I can be the best me in a peaceful kitchen. If I only want a peaceful kitchen to be unbothered, and to never have to face others and myself, please Universe, never let me have it.
About the tart. It’s basically the best lemon bar filling on top of chocolate shortbread. Because even though lemon and chocolate come together less often than chocolate and orange, they really are a good pair. And lemon bars are great, and shortbread is great, so what could be wrong with this? Nothing, unless the slices are too slight and the crowd too numerous. There are worse ills to be faced in the world, fortunately, and more tarts to be made. Happy baking, whether yours is a peaceful kitchen or a rather more chaotic one.
Choco-Crusted Lemon Tart
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (50 grams) confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder
pinch of salt
1 stick (113 grams) butter
2 tablespoons (30 mL) milk
1 1/3 cups (265 grams) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (24 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (160 mL) fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon (15 mL) lemon zest
1/3 cup (80 mL) milk
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 325˚ F (170˚ C)
Make the crust. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, confectioner’s sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Quickly cut in cold butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the milk and stir just until the mixture clumps together. Press into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for one hour (or cheat like I do and stick in the freezer for twenty minutes while you make the filling).
Make the filling. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Continue whisking and pour into the sugar in a steady stream. Sift in the flour and whisk to combine. Add lemon juice, lemon zest, milk and salt. Whisk until completely combined. Set aside.
Remove the crust from the fridge, roll out to 1/8-inch thick, and press into a ten-inch (25 cm) tart pan. Poke with a fork. Line with a sheet of parchment paper and weigh with pie weights or dry rice. Bake twelve minutes. Remove pie weights and parchment paper. Bake another 3-6 minutes, or until the center is dry and no longer shiny. Remove from oven and immediately pour filling into hot crust (this cooks the filling touching the crust on contact and prevents the crust from getting soggy). Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until filling is lightly golden and just barely jiggles in the center when you wiggle the pan. Allow to cool before serving to set filling.