Asparagus and pecan tart
Last week I inattentively read an article in the Guardian UK about a mother who left her three very young children to do stand-up comedy 100 days in the row. She cited an article by a woman who said every mother should only have one child in order to achieve her full professional potential (or was it creative potential? I’m losing points for comprehension and retention on this one!). She also mentioned a response by Zadie Smith who said, Well, Tolstoy and Dickens had dozens of children each. The whole exchange seemed so strange, to me, so judgy and self-righteous, that I heaved an exasperated sigh and forgot all about it. Until last night when I couldn’t sleep, of course, and the conversation went round and round in my mind like a squeaky hamster wheel. The comedian’s oddly-humorless article pretended to disparage anybody who would leave their small children at night, but she was obviously very proud of herself, and expected us to ignore the fact that it would be absurd for anybody to do 100 stand-up shows without a night off, regardless of how many children he or she had, and (if I was being ungenerous I might say) we can only assume this gimmicky trick was meant to hide the fact that she’s not all that funny. And I hope nobody made this other writer feel bad about having only one child, because I can’t understand why you’d write such an article unless you’re feeling defensive (although I haven’t read the article!). And I hope Zadie Smith doesn’t feel excessive in having two children, and I hope she realizes that Tolstoy and Dickens are pretty bad examples of successful working mothers
, but that she herself might be a very good example, because she’s written some remarkable books. The comedian seemed to suggest that it’s impossible to achieve professional or creative satisfaction without sacrificing your marriage and your sanity, at least sacrificing them enough that you can write a book about the experience. And she made a big point of saying that it’s perfectly fine if you stay at home all the time with your children and have absolutely no ambition outside of their needs, in the most condescending and contradictory manner possible. Well I find the whole conversation frustrating! Of course having children is going to cause you to sacrifice some of your time and alter your ambitions, but it’s hardly the only thing that will! I could blame the boys for the fact that I haven’t made a movie in over a decade, but that would be foolish of me. I made two features films before I was thirty, and they cost a lot of time and money, and although I’m proud of them and glad that I made them, in any practical reading of the situation, they failed. That’s discouraging! That makes it hard to muster the energy and optimism to make another. Let alone the money. And you can’t forget about the money, because films are expensive. I could blame the fact that I don’t have a flourishing professional career on the boys as well, but we all know that started much earlier, with my inability to network or sit at a desk for eight hours or behave myself in an office setting. Oh, and my determination to make feature films instead of concentrating on a practical career! The truth is that it’s all very hard
. And I’m very lucky, I had a lot of opportunities and support. Plenty of people work at night without a break because they have to to keep a roof over their head. Plenty of people have jobs that don’t allow them opportunity for advancement or a satisfying creative outlet. Whether you have children or not, it’s hard to get ahead, it’s hard to do all the things that you want to do, it’s hard to find time for yourself. And the truth is that there are plenty of people that manage to work things out, that have a few kids, and work full time at a job they find fulfilling, or write novels and make films that they feel good about. I always think of Agnes Varda
, who joyfully, humorously, poignantly, put all of these challenges into her work, and made it stronger and more appealing in this way. When she was pregnant, she made short films, not about being pregnant, but informed by the process. Her films seem are full of life in the best possible way–full of her life
. And now she makes movies with
her children–they’re in her films, they shoot her films. I’m determined to do this with my boys, to soak up some of their creativity and imagination and wit, all of which makes any time I’ve given up to care for them well-spent. Showing them the movies and books and pictures we love, sharing music with them, watching them experience the world through their eyes is the best inspiration I can think of. For me it all comes down to thinking of life as a process and a balance, and trying to notice and understand everything, even though this is impossible. To try to make all the ordinary things as beautiful and creative as possible, so that you don’t sit around waiting for the right moment to do your great work, so that you’re always working on one big great rolling series of works. You let it all in, and you process it, and you find some way to share it, if you need to, you find a way to speak it or draw it or film it or sing it or tell jokes about it. And that’s how I feel about that.
Asparagus pecan tart
Speaking of babies and creativity, I made this tart for the baby shower of my sister-in-law and her wife, who are two of the most creative people I know. They’re constantly busy, and they’ve made pregnancy part of their beautiful creative process–they’ve expressed their joy and anticipation so solidly
that it glows, and I’m sure all the moments of their daughter’s life will be caught and held, with wonder and love. Yeah. Well, this tart has a pepper pecan crust, and a mild yet flavorful filling of asparagus, spinach, a bit of thyme, and some sharp cheddar. It’s pretty easy to put together, and has a nice combination of green and nutty flavors.
Here’s Who Feels it Knows It, by the Wailing Wailers, just because I love it.
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely ground
1/2 t salt
lots of freshly ground black pepper
1 stick unsalted butter, frozen
In a large bowl combine the flour, pecans, salt and pepper. Grate in the butter, and mix with a fork till you have a coarse and crumbly texture. Add enough ice water to pull it into a workable dough–1/4 to 1/2 cup. Knead for about a minute to be sure everything is incorporated. Wrap in foil and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.
1 T olive oil
1 t thyme
1 small bunch asparagus, woody ends chopped off, remainder steamed until just tender
2 cups spinach, washed and trimmed
1 cup ricotta
1 cup grated sharp cheddar
salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper
2 T toasted chopped pecans
In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the thyme and then the spinach. Cut off the thin tips of the asparagus, leaving about 2 or 3 inches. Put the thicker stems in with the spinach. When the spinach is wilted but still bright, and the asparagus stems are quite soft, remove from heat.
Preheat the oven to 400. Lightly butter a tart pan. Roll the dough to be just bigger than your tart pan, and press it in. Don’t worry about getting the crust completely even–it looks good slightly “rustic.” Bake the tart shell for about ten minutes, until it just loses it’s shine and feels firm to the touch. If the edges fall down, prop them up again.
In a food processor, combine the ricotta and eggs and purée until completely smooth. Add the spinach and asparagus stems and purée until smooth but still flecked with green. Add the cheddar, process to combine. Season with salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper.
Pour the ricotta mixture into the tart shell. Arrange the asparagus tips in a pretty pattern on top, and scatter the pecan pieces over.
Bake for 20 – 30 minutes until puffed and firm and starting to turn golden. Allow to cool slightly, remove from the base of the pan, slice and serve.