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
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.