Five Years and a Strawberry Tart

May 10, 2013

Today marks five years since I started this blog. In some ways, I am surprised I started it at all. I don’t know what Myers Briggs personality type I am but I can be tentative, hesitant. Certainly far from the first to start or join anything. I wait in the wings until I feel safe and then maybe I join in. When I started writing here, I felt I was already really late to the party. The writers whose blogs I admired had already been at it for a year or two. Was it worth it to even start? Silly now to even think about how I felt then.

It is also a little surprising that I started given my, not fear, but deep discomfort around technology. The fact that I got a web site up and running, figured out how to upload photos, found a designer to help me with the aesthetics of it, all of this makes me realize that I was really motivated to write. And I’m so glad I bit the bullet. In the past five years, I have made some wonderful friends (some of whom have made the move to the Bay Area much more friendly), have been able to travel a bit to learn about companies and products, have pushed myself outside my comfort zone as a cook and as a writer.

Randy was out of town the first part of the week and I decided to invite some friends over for dinner. This is something I did often in Seattle and am just starting to do here in Oakland. I get the urge to cook but I don’t want to cook for just myself. So I have friends come sit around the table with me. I decided on this Strawberry Tart for dessert because strawberries are in full swing here and it seems a shame not to celebrate them. Every June, which is when strawberries start to make an appearance in the Seattle markets, I would bemoan my lack of a perfect strawberry dessert. When they are small and sweet and too soft to travel far, strawberries are a revelation. They have always been Randy’s favorite fruit but the first time he popped a real strawberry in his mouth, his eyes got wide and he was speechless. The taste is so clean and pure and sweet. My favorite berry is definitely the blueberry but very little can compare to the taste of the first of the season strawberry.

With a fruit this special, you want a dessert to honor it. Not crush it or overpower it, but celebrate it and make it even better than it already is. I have made many attempts over the years, but I have not found the right thing. So when I happened upon this Strawberry Tart in Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet, I thought I might have found the one.  In that moment, I started mentally composing this post. I would give you the background (see above) of my search for the perfect dessert to celebrate the strawberry and then I would reveal that (ta-da!) I had found it. Except it didn’t go like that. The crust, which was described as easy to work with and not crumbly, was hard to work with and crumbly. The filling, which sounded smooth and slightly tangy, had little bits of clumped cornstarch in it. The boys ate through all my small and delicate strawberries so I was relegated to the large (but still local) grocery store kind. I was annoyed as I assembled the tart. But in the end, it looked pretty and tasted wonderful. The crust had a nice snap and just a subtle sweetness, the filling was smooth and slightly tangy, and you could not tell that there was any undissolved cornstarch. The berries left a little to be desired but I dressed them up with a drizzle of my most expensive balsamic vinegar, a gift from a friend.

In thinking about this tart and my expectations for it, I realized that it is really a metaphor for this blog. Expectations, sometimes realistic and sometimes not, set, dashed, and then redeemed.  I started this blog because I wanted to write about food but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t secretly hoping for big things.  What those big things were are hard to say.  A cookbook deal.  Lots of recognition.  Money.  I was a theatre major and there is still a very small (very small!) part of me waiting to be “discovered”.  I’m cringing as I’m typing this – it is embarrassing but it is the truth.  My first few months worth of posts are not written in my voice.  I was channeling other people.  My food, other people’s voices.  Then I slowly started to find my groove.  People started to read.  And I realized that I liked writing.  A lot.  I liked keeping a record of  the food I made and I liked writing about my family.  I like the interactions I have had with my readers.  I like to think of you as a relatively small but loyal group of friends.  I am proud of the work I have done here.  So no publishers have been knocking down my door begging me to write a book and no brands have been begging me to be their representative.  But I haven’t chased those things down either.

Anyway.  Five years is a long time to do anything.  I know the past year has not seen the usual number of food posts here and I hope you haven’t lost patience.  A lot of travel and a big move in 2012 put me off kilter.  I am grateful for this space.  I am extremely grateful to those of you who read, those of you who comment and email.  I got my first negative comment the other day.  It was short and not a big deal and I deleted it.  But it made me realize how fortunate I am.  Five years with only love coming from you.  Thanks to everyone.

Two Years Ago:  Stir-Fried Sesame Broccoli and Tofu with Rice Noodles
Three Years Ago:  Corn Salad Sandwich with Tomatillos and Jack Cheese
Four Years Ago:  Roasted Pepper and Goat Cheese Sandwiches, Moroccan Carrot and Hummus Sandwiches
Five Years Ago:  Meet Me
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Strawberry Tart
Short & Sweet
Makes one 9-inch tart

½ recipe Sweet Shortcrust Pastry (recipe follows)
Flour for rolling
½ cup milk
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 egg white
¼ cup super-fine sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup crème fraîche
3 cups strawberries

Chill the pastry for 30 minutes, then roll it out and line a shallow 9-inch tart pan.  Line the pan with parchment paper and dried beans and blind bake at 325ºF for about 30 minutes until a really golden color all over, removing the parchment paper and beans halfway though.  Allow the shell to cool completely.

Whisk the milk with the cornstarch, egg white, sugar, and vanilla in a saucepan till smooth, then heat, whisking constantly, till boiling.  Remove from the heat, spoon into a bowl and cover with a plate to stop a thick skin from forming as it cools.  When cold, beat in the crème fraîche and spoon this into the pastry shell.  Hull the strawberries, slice them in half, and fan them over the top.  (DT:  I drizzled the berries with just a tiny bit of really good balsamic vinegar.  If you don’t have a good sweet one, take a cheaper version and cook it down, in a saucepan, until about half its original volume.  You want it syrupy and sweet.)

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
Makes enough for two 9-inch tarts

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
Pinch of salt
10 tbsp unsalted butter, cold but pliable
2 egg yolks
1-3 tbsp. ice water

Spoon the flour, sugar, and salt into a bowl.  Break the butter into small pieces and rub this through the flour until it vanishes.  Stir the egg yolks with the water and mist this into the flour to form a very soft and smooth paste.  (DT: I needed an additional 2+ tablespoons of water to make this work.)  Pat it into a flat block, wrap well, and chill for at least 30 minutes before using as it needs time to firm up.



26 Comments »

  1. Dana. I started FLW just three months after you did, and so much (SO MUCH) of what you wrote here resonates with me. I felt late to the party. I hoped secretly for big things. I cringe when I admit that I hoped secretly for big things. And I also, more slowly than you I think, have grown and learned and developed in my own blogging skin. Blogging is such a gift. Happy blog anniversary. I like reading what you have to say.

    Comment by Shanna — May 10, 2013 @ 7:22 pm

  2. Beautiful post. Congratulations on your five years.

    Despite my best efforts, I am “not” a writer, and I’m only now beginning to learn that it’s okay. So I will take the tools I learned at BTP1 and “do something else,” like take iPhone photos and share the heck out of them! :)

    I know what you mean about first of the season strawberries; they are my absolute favorite because of the memories I have of my parents bringing them home to me after a long day of working in the patch. (One of their first jobs on American soil.)

    Keep doing what you’re doing… the discovery will come.

    [K]

    Comment by Kim — May 10, 2013 @ 7:30 pm

  3. You discovered you like to write, and guess what? You write very well, and I suspect, you cook better than very well. I’ve been “lurking” on your blog for probably three years, and have made a number of your recipes, enjoying them all. Keep on blogging – I bet there are lots of readers who feel the same way I do, but have never commented!

    Comment by June — May 10, 2013 @ 7:33 pm

  4. I’m sorry this didn’t work as a tada dessert. I hate when that happens – kind of takes all the wind out of your sails. And don’t feel silly about your expectations – I think lots of us would love for things like that to happen. Thanks for writing and sharing lovely things with us. Happy blog birthday.

    Comment by Charlotte — May 10, 2013 @ 8:44 pm

  5. I am glad you’ve kept blogging! I love your cooking style and voice and hope you’ll stay with your readers a long time. I’ve recently moved to the east bay myself and I hope you’ll teach cooking classes here. I had a baby in January, so I’m still a little immobile-feeling, but I get out more and more all the time. Maybe a pies and tarts class? Crusts still intimidate me. I’ve botched too many!

    Comment by Amy — May 10, 2013 @ 9:30 pm

  6. It has certainly been a fun ride. Congratulations on 5 years of sharing, writing and stepping outside the box.

    Comment by bellini — May 10, 2013 @ 11:33 pm

  7. Wow! I can’t wait for strawberry season here!

    Congratulations on five years of doing something you enjoy and that you have learned from and I that I always appreciate reading.

    Comment by Anna — May 10, 2013 @ 11:34 pm

  8. Congratulations! I’ve been with you for about 2 of the 5 years and I still get a little thrill when I see “Dana Treat” in my inbox. I love your honesty, both in personal matters and recipes. I know you will give us the real account of how something came together and turned out which you rarely find in the blog world. Thanks for sticking with it!

    Comment by Andrea — May 11, 2013 @ 6:37 pm

  9. Thank you for all the wonderful recipes you have shared over the years! Countless of our daily rotation meals have come from you. So much more exciting to try a new recipe when it has a great story and beautiful pictures to go with. Always so entertaining and fun to read what you have to say. Keep it up, and thanks for all your hard work!

    Comment by Mara — May 11, 2013 @ 8:40 pm

  10. Thank you for your honesty and for continuing to share you life with us. I’m in my early twenties and I find your writing, recipes, and musings really inspiring. Please keep it up :)

    Comment by Alexa — May 12, 2013 @ 7:04 am

  11. I love this post, Dana, and I am so glad that you DID start this blog and that we’ve spent some time together because I think you and your food and your perspective on food have really helped to shape how I feel about it…and helped push me along the road to becoming a vegetarian, which is perhaps the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. So thank you for always being so wonderful and for making this space so wonderful.

    Comment by Joanne — May 12, 2013 @ 11:42 am

  12. Congratulations, I really like your blog.

    Comment by Helene — May 12, 2013 @ 6:34 pm

  13. I, too, am glad you started your blog. I have been reading for about a year and appreciate your voice. It comes across as honest and real. Let’s not forget that your recipes are good–I have made several of them and enjoyed them all. While I disagree with your dislike of kale chips (what’s not to love? ;), I agree with your approach to food. Which is why I look forward to more posts about those successful and not so successful dishes. As my husband says, they can’t all be winners.

    Comment by Stacy — May 13, 2013 @ 12:21 pm

  14. Congratulations, Dana! I’m so glad you started this blog and it remains one of my favorites. You’ve offered so much of yourself in your writing and your recipes, and I whenever I’m looking for cooking inspiration, yours is the first site I visit!

    Comment by Nicole — May 13, 2013 @ 5:31 pm

  15. I just love your writing.

    Comment by Damla — May 13, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

  16. Dana Treat, you are my favorite food writer. I’m just a some girl in a little town that reads, cooks, bakes, and lives a little but when things are up and when things are down. One thing I know I can count on to be consistent and that I can retreat to are your writings. When I don’t feel like reading anything, when I don’t even want to look at my computer or get out of bed. Your life, wonderful family and perspective gives hope in weird ways. I know I am not alone in this thinking.
    :) Keep on doing your thing!

    Comment by Natasha O — May 14, 2013 @ 4:17 pm

  17. Regarding your first negative comment.
    I personally have been receiving a lot of negativity from ‘friends’ in life as of late and have been feeling down and confused. How could have created this, invited this in my life, deserve this? In the same way I don’t understand how anyone could have a mean thing to say to you so I suppose I’ll just keep that in mind – don’t’ sweat the small stuff? There are downers everywhere, just to remind us to keep our chin up I suppose.
    The idea that you’ll read this and it’d matter flatters myself too much so this feels like it’s for me, no need to post. :) thank you, have a wonderful day!

    Comment by Natasha O — May 14, 2013 @ 4:24 pm

  18. Happy blogiversary! I can’t believe it’s been five years. I stared my blog at about the same time. What a pleasure it is to check in on your cooking, your family, and all that you share!

    Comment by lisaiscooking — May 14, 2013 @ 6:42 pm

  19. It’s easy to start a blog but it takes courage, endurance and lots of love to maintain it. You have many may lovely readers and you write great posts, keep it up :) I have the feeling that we will soon be celebrating your next blog anniversary.
    Have a lovely day!
    Lorne

    Comment by Lorne Marr — May 14, 2013 @ 7:43 pm

  20. Happy fifth year anniversary. Thanks for your honesty and wonderful writing voice.

    Comment by linda — May 14, 2013 @ 7:56 pm

  21. I have been reading for nearly four years now (whoa) and love your writing and your recipes. You introduced me to the wonderful Holly B’s, sundried tomatoes that aren’t soaked in oil, and lots of amazing baked goods and veggie meals. I am going to be spending the summer working down the street from Pike Place, so I can’t wait to dig through your archives and treat myself to all sorts of local creations! Can’t wait to see what else your blog brings!

    Comment by Jessica — May 14, 2013 @ 9:28 pm

  22. So happy to have found this blog, even showed a love one your recipe here. Five years in and still getting new people to the blog :). Says a lot about your success. Definitely looking forward to following along and learning from you over the next five years and beyond! Thanks for all that you do :).

    P.S. – What camera do you use? Your pictures look great! Maybe I’m behind the times but haven’t found anything close to your quality.

    Comment by Foods4Health — May 14, 2013 @ 11:47 pm

  23. Congrats! Great milestone!

    I am reaching the fourth year and it’s hard to believe how fast it all goes.

    Here’s to five more, and five more after that…

    :-)

    Comment by sallybr — May 16, 2013 @ 1:09 pm

  24. [...] and fresh fruit tarts are easy to make and fun to eat. Dana Treat blogs about her delicious Strawberry Tart dessert that bursts with tangy sweetness. The Sweet Shortcrust Pastry and smooth, tart filling will [...]

    Pingback by Dazzle Your Cookout Guests This Summer | Modern Day Moms — May 17, 2013 @ 4:00 pm

  25. congrats on 5 years, dana! love your blog and think you’re a terrific writer. i enjoy your slice of life posts and would like to see what you’re currently reading posts :)

    Comment by helen — May 20, 2013 @ 3:29 am

  26. Me bad girl.
    How did I miss your 5th blog party?
    Well, happy to read you, and to know you is to love you.
    xo

    Comment by stacey snacks — May 23, 2013 @ 7:25 pm



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