Hazelnut chocolate cherry tart

Hazelnut chocolate cherry tart

Hazelnut chocolate cherry tart

David showed me a story earlier today, and I can’t stop thinking about it. [David showed it to me here, on Futility Closet, where you can read the whole story much more concisely and coherently.] It concerns Michel Navratil, the last survivor of the Titanic. He and his brother, who were 2 and 3 years of age at the time, survived the crash, but had no adult to claim them after, and spoke no English, so they came to be known as “the titanic orphans.” A woman who had been in their lifeboat looked after them until the true story could be discovered. As it happens, they were the children of a French tailor who had taken them from his estranged wife, and planned to escape to America with them. He’d taken them to Monte Carlo, and then to England, and they’d boarded the Titanic under assumed names. As the ship was sinking, their father “…dressed me very warmly and took me in his arms, A stranger did the same for my brother. When I think of it now, I am very moved. They knew they were going to die.” Michel’s voice is so sweet and thoughtful, and his memories are so unexpected, yet so perfect for a child. You can’t help but fill in the story, you can’t help but wonder if the brothers were friends, as my boys are. Did they travel with their arms around each other, as my boys do? They’d already had such adventures by the time they reached the Titanic; were they scared? Were they angry at their father? Did they know where they were going? What would their life have been like if the ship had never crashed? Michel does not remember being scared. He enjoyed his time on the Titanic, he found it “A magnificent ship!…I remember looking down the length of the hull – the ship looked splendid. My brother and I played on the forward deck and were thrilled to be there. One morning, my father, my brother, and I were eating eggs in the second-class dining room. The sea was stunning. My feeling was one of total and utter well-being.” And even after they struck the iceberg, he wasn’t frightened, “I don’t recall being afraid, I remember the pleasure, really, of going plop! into the life-boat. We ended up next to the daughter of an American banker who managed to save her dog–no one objected. There were vast differences of people’s wealth on the ship, and I realized later that if we hadn’t been in second-class, we’d have died. The people who came out alive often cheated and were aggressive, the honest didn’t stand a chance.” Michel and his brother were eventually discovered by their mother and taken back to France (on a boat!) His brother died aged 43 in 1953. Michel became a professor of philosophy, and he lived to be 92 years old. But he says, “I died at 4. Since then I have been a fare-dodger of life. A gleaner of time.” A gleaner of time. Good grief.
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I call this a cake, but you could make it in a square pan and cut it into bars and call it bar cookies. It’s dense and delicious. It has dried cherries, toasted hazelnuts, oats, and chocolate. It’s plain in many ways, but it’s also complicated and delicious. David and I joked that it was like trail mix bars, but trail mix bars with plenty of butter and sugar in them!!

Here’s Take Me in a Lifeboat by Flatt & Scrubbs
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Almond tart with plums, peaches, cherries and chocolate crisp topping

Plum, peach, and cherry tart

Plum, peach, and cherry tart

I’ve been trying to write a story. I like it so far, and I think about it a lot. I dreamed about it two nights in a row, which is a nice feeling, because when you wake up the characters seem very real and complex. At this point, you’d think I could just write it all down in a rush, and get it finished. But for some reason I haven’t done that. I know it will come out as a completely different story depending on the exact time that I sit down to finish it, and that thought is giving me pause. I don’t think it will hurt the story to marinate for a bit, anyway. As long as I can keep all the pieces in my head, and not let them all scatter like marbles from my addled mind.

ANYWAY…the subject of this week’s Sunday interactive playlist is storytelling songs. Songs that tell compelling, funny, or otherwise entertaining stories, with lively appealing characters. As ever, the list is interactive, so add them to the list yourself, or leave a comment, and I’ll try to add them through the week.

Plum, peach and cherry tart

Plum, peach and cherry tart

In other news, it’s yet another way to combine cherries and chocolate. This time they meet in an almond crust, in the company of sliced peaches and plums, and under a topping of sliced almonds (and chocolate chips.) I took some time to arrange the plums and peaches in a pretty pattern, but of course you couldn’t see them at all under the crisp topping! Silly. You could try putting the topping under the fruit, rendering it no longer a “topping,” but it was nice this way, and at least the peaches and plums were evenly distributed.

Here’s your interactive playlist so far.

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Port wine – cherry ice cream with spicy bittersweet chocolate – cherry bark

Port wine cherry ice cream

Port wine cherry ice cream

Film critic André Bazin passed away in the process of writing a book about the films of his friend, Jean Renoir. François Truffaut completed the work, organizing Bazin’s writings as he thought best. I can’t tell you how moving I find this book! Not because it contains fiercely intelligent and observant film criticism that makes you see Renoir’s films in a clearer light, although it certainly does that. This book kills me because these men love each other so much, and their affection shines off the pages like a warm, infectious glow. In his introduction, Truffaut warns, “No one should expect me to introduce this book with caution, detachment, or equanimity. André Bazin and Jean Renoir have meant too much to me for me to be able to speak of them dispassionately… André Bazin, whom his friends remember as an extraordinary man full of joyous goodwill and intelligence, found himself in complete sympathy with the work of Renoir…” Renoir, in his turn, wrote of Bazin’s writings, “Certain directors of films, whose work André Bazin analyzed so scrupulously, will only remain in man’s memory because their names will be read in his books. Their worth is not in question. To tell the truth, it matters little to me. I’m grateful to them for having inspired a clear poet, an artist who, by dint of objective humility, made his work the moving expression of his generous personality.” And, of course, time and time again, the word that crops up to describe Jean Renoir’s films is “generous.” He’s kind to his characters, we feel that he loves them – even the characters that we don’t particularly like. In Bazin’s words, “Even when defending a particular moral or social truth, he always does justice to the men who oppose this truth and to their ideals as well. He gives every chance to ideas, and every chance to individuals.” I believe that such generosity, such affection for all of the characters is necessary for any great work of art. This needn’t imply a saccharine avoidance of life’s harsher moments, nor need it come at the expense of honesty. In fact, in pouring one’s soul into the work in a sort of communion with the characters, an artist creates a more resonant recognizable portrait of life. I think this is true of literature, painting, film, music – any medium that struggles to explore what it means to be human, in all of our messy interaction with each other and with the world around us. As Renoir says in the role of Octave in Rules of the Game, “…everyone has his reasons.” I must admit I feel very envious of Renoir, Bazin and Truffaut! I envy their attachment to each other and to film. I envy a world in which writing about films talking about films and making films was so important, and carried out with such warm hearts. Is there a place for that in this world any more? Bazin believed that critics should only discuss films that they liked. It’s so easy to be critical and snide, we see it all around us. It’s so easy to create characters who are shockingly evil, with no soul and no redeeming qualities, we see it in all the most successful films. That’s what sells, and the market has become everything. Renoir describes his love for Bazin in a wistful, prophetic, and bittersweet introduction to the book. “The more I travel through life, the more I am convinced that masks are proliferating…the modern world is founded on the ever increasing production of material goods. One must keep producing or die…One prefers that this process be peaceful, but events have a way of getting out of hand. This is an age of violence, and it is likely to become more so. Still we do everything we can to conduct our operation peacefully, to conquer by persuasion. And thus, the cancer of our society: advertising. Occasionally in such troubled times, men or women come forth to dedicate themselves to helping us reestablish a sense of reality. Bazin was such a man.” It seems harder than ever, today, to see past the masks and the advertising, the petty criticism and shallow cruelty. Luckily we have the films of Renoir and Truffaut, and the writing of Andre Bazin to remind us to be generous and kind.

This ice cream was sooooo good! We ate it on valentine’s day, and it was a special dessert just for David and me. I’m not sure the port wine cooked off, because I felt pleasantly giddy after a few bowls! Basically, this is a port wine zabiglione (I love that word!) with some spiciness from cinnamon and black pepper, and some fruitiness from a few spoonfuls of good cherry jam. It’s mixed with lightly whipped cream, and frozen in an ice cream maker of any make or variety. And I served it with “bark” made of bittersweet chocolate, almonds, dried tart cherries, cayenne and cinnamon – crunchy, soft and kicky, all at once, nicely in concert and contrast with the flavor and texture of the ice cream. You could easily add anything you like to the bark (nuts, bolts, needles and pins…) any kind of dried fruit, any kind of nut, candied ginger, lemon peel, nutmeg, cardamom, coconut, whatever suits your fancy!

Here’s Louis Armstrong with Basin Street Blues. Why? Because Basin sounds like Bazin, of course! And because Louis Armstrong seems like another kind and generous spirit.
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