July 17, 2009

A good slice

Here I am in this hyper-caffeinated city, awake at 7:00 to make a tart for some colleagues. A plum tart to be exact. All thanks to this thing that rolled out of my oven a week ago. What was once a quick answer to some over-ripening plums has quickly turned into a break-room treat. So these things go...

I shouldn't complain, really. Coworkers who request, not generic chocolate chip cookies, or tuna noodle casserole - but plum tarts. Tarts used to scare me as much as my old baby sitter's husband. Midwesterners, I've learned, are very much of the set-it-and-forget-it crowd when it comes to cooking. The whole notion of tarts- gently fingering fragile dough, smoothing out rough cracked edges- didn't fit into the idea of a quick bite. So, I never learned how to make them.

The tart shell is an artist's best friend- a friend that doesn't demand as much attention as you think. (I give a thorough walk-through here. Click July 13 and scroll to page 4.) The fillings are endless, both sweet and savory. The look can vary as much as the insides, as the shell can be put in a tart pan or left free-form. But the deliciousness of tarts, as is the same for almost everything in the culinary world except vinaigrette and pesto, is due largely to one thing and one thing only: butter.

Never take the presence of butter lightly in any recipe. When butter's on your side, you're sure to win over many taste buds. (But maybe not the goal to loose that extra 5 pounds. Hey - life is full of compromises.) The tart pictured above was consumed by me and my friend Emily, followed by the fellow band-members of a friend I live with. It was a hit. Molly Wizenberg, in her book, calls her chocolate cake the 'Winning Hearts and Minds Cake.' This is my answer to that cake, but in the form of a tart.

Tarts are perfect for summer. Not too thick, but substantial enough to stave off hunger pangs until dinner. An ideal sidekick for a summer afternoon sip- iced coffee, lemonade, tea, etc. Because most tart recipes make enough for two tarts (and they keep well in the fridge, balled up and wrapped in plastic), I'd recommend always having a round available. (Options people, it's all about the options!) Last minute impromptu dinner? An appetizer, side dish, entree, or dessert could all be solved by its presence. Want to vent some frustration? Rolling out tart dough has made me feel better about getting cut off in line at the farmers' markets many times. Although, if you're really down in the dumps, I'd suggest kneading yeasted dough!

Change isn't so unusual around here lately. Just as this former Midwesterner is slowly turning into a Francophile in her tastes, I've also managed to become a regular in the community of bikers. Like biker as in, I'm starting to have a crease on my forehead from the helmet and I've stopped using the brakes while going downhill, type of biker. (Although I do try to stay away from the likes of the man who rides around wearing a potato sack and boxers.) But don't let me convince you that I've got this city figured out.

Last night in an attempt to take the Burke Gilman trail home from my soccer game at Sand Point, I ended up nearly 8 miles north of where I wanted to be. After running over a dead snake and passing 'The Shanty Tavern' things got a little unnerving, but I ended up seeing the most beautiful view of Mount Rainier. And this wouldn't have happened had I not gotten lost. Such is this recurring theme here so far. Getting lost has been the best thing that's happened to me. Taking a step, not quite knowing what I'm getting into, strangely has produced better results than ever imaginable. Sure you've got to pass 'The Shanty Tavern', but eventually you get to see Mount Rainier.

Forrest Gump may have you believing that life is like a box of chocolates. "You never know what you're gonna get." But I'm convinced that life is like a tart shell. "It's up to you to create the filling," would be my tagline. Life's possiblities are as numerous as what you can do to a tart shell. It all depends on willingness, imagination, courage, and what you've got in your fridge.

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