The Cold Season And A Black Sesame Caramel Tart

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The frost is on the leaves, the leaves are on the ground, and bare branches begin to pierce the clear, cold sky. I saw my first French chickadee this morning. They’re fatter than the chickadees I have known in Arizona mountains and New England woodlands. It must be all the cheese. 😉

Oh wait, it’s just me that dosing on delicious French dairy these days. If you live near a decent cheese shop, go ask for roquefort, morbier, and tomme catalan straightaway. Eat the roquefort with golden delicious apples, the morbier with grilled mushrooms, and the tomme catalan with quince jelly and toasted almonds.

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I’m a bit giddy and heady these days. Happy Thanksgiving and Chanukah, by the way, to all the other Americans and Jews out there. In lieu of celebrating proper Thanksgiving today, I’m commemorating my own favorite version of the holiday this weekend: Friendsgiving! It’s Thanksgiving with your friends, when you want, how you want, in whatever country you want, and one step further removed from the massacre of America’s indigenous people that Thanksgiving so handily sweeps under the rug. Hehe.

And then I am heading into a week of retreat at Kundreul Ling, the monastic sister center of the Buddhist center where I live. And then I’m heading to Bordeaux to get my visa properly validated. And then to Paris to visit my French family, the incredible people who put up with me when I was a headstrong, naive teenager (now I’m a headstrong, moderately-less naive young adult…it makes all the difference). And then to Cal-i-for-nigh-ay to visit my actual family.

For all my heartache and sadness and frustration, I am very, very happy to get to see my family. My faaaamily. My fambly. The folks who hold my heart close to their own, who have done so as long as I’ve been present in this world. The folks who know what I like to eat on Christmas morning, what the feel of sand under my toes does for me on blue days, what color shoes to get (and not to get) me for Christmas. Who know to look for good museum shows when I’m in town, to plan our schedules around the restaurants we want to try, and to not hesitate to invite me to this year’s super cheesy, hilarious kids Christmas movie (but only if it’s animated).

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When the weather gets cold and the air smells like ice, I start to think of things like hearth fires and the scent of cinnamon. These things are awesome, but they are also mostly cultural proxies drilled into me by American holiday culture. What all that actually stands for is the comfort of home, wherever that may be.

I am lucky to have and have known many loving homes in this life. Home is the invisible ties to the people who color my life. It is profound love expressed through the everyday. Cinnamon is cozy and I’m as much a sucker for that as every other American, but actually, the taste of black sesame renders me much more nostalgic. Not homesick but home-well, heart-happy, for memories of basement Chinese restaurants, my mom’s favorite brittle candy, sharing chocolate halvah with my dad, and not wanting to say the word “furikake” (my favorite condiment on earth; comprised of salt, sugar, seaweed, and sesame) at four years old because it sounded too much like “kaka.” Oh yes, I was refined as a toddler.

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Enough years in the woods has worn down my modesty for bodily-functions, but I try to keep my culinary tastes at least a little refined. Though I can’t deny having a serious weakness for snack food; in France we have these peanut flavored corn puffs that are basically like peanut-butter flavored Cheetos, which sounds weird, but is actually delicious and addictive. Ahem, anyway, all that to say that, unlike my strange ramblings today, the recipe that follows is reliable, sophisticated, and complex. It’s a bit of East-meets-West, which I guess I am too, with Oriental flavors of black sesame and orange flower meeting classic French caramel and flaky pastry crust. While the feeling of home this tart brings about may be particular to me, its deliciousness expresses love under any roof.

Recipe follows…

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Autumn Comes Early, With Steamed Veggies and Hazelnut Mustard Pesto

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Yesterday morning, we all sloshed into the community room for breakfast under grey skies that reached right down to the ground in sheets of rain. Nybou declared, “Well, the Dordogne’s eight months of winter begin.” I may have paled a little. It’s not even autumn yet, and the weather here resembles deepest winter in Santa Barbara. Okay, so I kid a little. I’m well aware that there’s no such thing as winter in Santa Barbara, by general weather standards. And I’ve lived through proper winters in New York and Massachusetts.

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This will be a new kind of winter though. It’s in the woods for one thing, and it’s sort of…medium cold. As our dear Nybou elaborated, ever encouraging, “Don’t think you’re going to have a beautiful white winter. Oh no. On occasion, you’ll get two days of snow. Ohlala! And then four days of ice. Followed by ten days of mud. I’ve been doing this for twelve years, and every September, I think, ‘wait, really?’ Don’t worry, you won’t get used to it.”

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Ha. Perhaps I won’t get used to it. But after years of ever-temperate winters and sunny Decembers, I welcome a change. I always wanted an excuse to hunker in the winter. To hole up with innumerable cups of tea and chapters of books and crocheted hats. To become soft and quiet and reflective. To build a slow cache of ideas and energy and ponderings in preparation for the bursting open and flowering of spring and summer.

IMG_1893And to nourish. Cold, wet, gray winter is a time to eat warm, rich foods. To crowd around tables bathed in yellow light, steam up windows with familial warmth, and revel in the goodness of food and friends as the ground grows chilled.

Recipe follows…

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