Paper, Perseverance, and Pommes au Tahin (Apples with Tahini)

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My head is full of numbers, hours, and ingredients. I’m planning meals for Rinpoche’s retreat this week. Hopefully I’ll get to snap photos for you whilst it all goes down. I cooked up (no pun intended, but oy, there it is) a new recipe for a gluten-free eggplant tart, and I’m hoping to sneak in a batch of ice cream too.

My art supply crisis turned out splendidly. More than anything, I needed cold-press watercolor paper to start a series of drawings that will make up one part of a larger installation. When Thomas, a.k.a. Mr. Money, told me he could order it online and it would arrive in maybe eight days, I almost started to cry. He saw my face and said, “Je comprends ton angoisse.” I understand your anguish. Two hours later, he came back with a list of every possible art and paper supply store within driving distance. What a guy.

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In the end, we wound up taking a field trip to the last artisanal papery in France, complete with a windmill and all. I left with ten sheets of large format, 400 gram, fine grain paper, and it’s freaking handmade. I also got to see where it was made, from a room-filled with cottony fluff to one hung wall-to-wall with individual sheets up to dry. Not bad for a crisis resolution.

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Pretty much every other minute was spent with my head buried in menu planning and portioning for the inauguration. The day all of the numbers for food quantities were due to the budgeting department, I barely saw daylight and stayed in front of the computer until long past dark. We rewrote the menus three times in one week, and every time I had a new heart attack about how I was going to rearrange my schedule around the inauguration to accomplish all of the cooking in addition to installing the art piece. In the end, we decided to split the menu half between in-house cooking and half between a caterer, to save the head ache of renting an infinitude of ovens, fridges, and freezers we don’t have any place to put. Halle-freaking-lujah.

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I don’t know if this applies to life in general or just to my life lately, but I’ve noticed that if you hold it together and keep your nose to the grindstone, the results can be nigh miraculous. I’ve also noticed that when I start to doubt this fact, it really helps to pause and have a snack to cheer myself up. Lately my favorite snack is an apple cut into slices and munched with an ample portion of tahini, even better if you dress up the sesame purée into a full-on dip. It’s so simple that it hardly counts as a recipe, but for those of you who like numbers, voilà: mix three tablespoons tahini with one teaspoon honey and one teaspoon lemon juice. Snack, chill out, and wait for life to come to its senses.

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The Making of Things…like a Chocolate Frangipane Tart

IMG_1105On Sunday, I made this tart. And it was, ahem, not one of the prettiest things to ever come out my kitchen. I had the best of intentions. I discovered an actual tart pan in the kitchen of the Lama House, so that my tart could actually resemble a tart, rather than whatever would ensue from the tart ring I had planned to fabricate out of tin foil. I successfully adapted my frangipane in the direction of a pastry cream to account for a slight deficit of almond meal. I had exactly the right amount of chocolate for the ganache. It was going to be gorgeous enough to impress the natives of France, which is truly the land of tarts.

But then I started the actual process of making it. The dough baked much faster than I anticipated, so that it was dark at the edges but still quite blond at the base. The frangipane bubbled up one side, and even after I remedied that by covering it with ganache, the ganache got all ripply while I was transferring the tart to the fridge. Not to mention that half the crust shattered while I was unmolding the darn thing. I ate the shards of pate sucree as consolation. One must get through these things somehow.

After all that, I wasn’t exactly, totally looking forward to presenting it to my cohort. They’d found out that I worked as the pastry chef at a restaurant in California, and I aspired to live up to what the term “patissière” signifies, though in truth my experience brings me nowhere close to the true pastry chefs of either France or the US. I cached the thing in the fridge and somewhat ruefully brought it out after lunch, hoping it would at least be tasty enough to overcome its aesthetic shortcomings.

cuttingtartAlex snapped this pic of me deliberating over portioning. 🙂

We cut it into thin slivers to share it among the many of us that there were, and everyone hurrahed as we dug in. I feared that the frangipane was maybe a teeny bit overdone and that the salt wasn’t evenly distributed, but no one remarked it. In fact, every one was thrilled. It’s amazing how even such a small thing as a slightly unsightly pastry can bring about a collective joy that is quite out of proportion with the sum of its parts.

The next day, some one stopped me in the stairwell to thank me again. She said, “It was a moment of perfection, like I haven’t had in ages: the crust was tender, the frangipane was just sweet enough, the chocolate was soft, and the temperature was – ah, just right! So thank you for that.”

And I thought, this is the reason why we make things. Because even though, every time you start, uncertainty nips at your heels, and during each step along the way, unforeseen obstacles may befall you, when it’s all done, you may have something to give, something that extends beyond the borders of what you thought possible to bring something meaningful into the lives of others. Even if it’s just a single moment of gastronomic joy, it matters. What we share and what we can exchange far outweighs the doubts and struggles that go along with bringing anything into this world, be it a pastry, a painting, a song, or an idea.

Recipe after the jump… Continue reading