Spinach and Portobello tarts with a pecan crust

Portobello and spinach tart

Portobello and spinach tart

We both forgot it was valentine’s day. To be honest, I also forgot it was Friday or mid-February and I can barely remember my name. It’s all a big blur of snow and sniffles and boys home from school every other day. In truth it didn’t matter that we forgot Valentine’s day, because that’s sort of the point. When you’re in love you don’t need to remember Valentine’s day. After more than twenty years a lot of our pleasures together are of the everyday sort, but as much as I value and champion the ordinary, I know that these everyday pleasures, shared every day, are not ordinary at all. I fully realize that having somebody to share each day with, to share our odd sense of humor, our strange meals, our crazy boys, our comfortable silences, our worries and woes, our trips to the grocery store, our wine before dinner, our difficult decisions, our rare days off, our ramshackle house, our dreaming bed, our morning coffee and the cake to go with it, our newly discovered old music, our fondly remembered long-ago loved music, our inspiration, our down days, our photographs, our shared memories of nearly half our lives, our memories of before we met, our new ideas, our favorite films, our exhaustion, our sickness, our hope for spring, our lengthening days; I fully realize that having somebody to share all of this is a rare and wonderful thing. I fully understand this, and I’m thankful for it, every day. Happy Valentine’s day!

Spinach and portobello tarts

Spinach and portobello tarts

Of course, though I don’t need to remember Valentine’s day, I’m always glad of an excuse to think of some special meal to make. I made this a few days ago, and it seemed pretty special at the time. David had the idea of slicing the mushrooms the way apples and pears are frequently sliced on top of a fruit tart, and I think it worked very well. The custard is spinachy and smoky and pleasantly tender, and the mushrooms crisp and meaty.

Here’s Cee Lo Green with All Day Love Affair

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Lemon cream tart

Lemon cream tart

Lemon cream tart

My resumé looks like a tattered patchwork quilt. The pieces are fading and torn, the pattern strange and irregular, and it has giant gaps. Nothing quite reaches, nothing fits together. This makes it fun to apply for things! It’s a craft project!! First there’s the entirely practical and responsible career as an editor, then there’s the entirely irresponsible and impractical career as an independent film maker. And then both of these trails become lost in a tangle of overgrown undergrowth, a riot of branches and new green leaves and flowers and shifting sunshine and shadow. This is, of course, where the boys come along. And the decade of being a mom and a waitress and a once-and-future filmmaker, a filmmaker in my dreams, literally. Nobody wants to see that you were a mom or a waitress, nobody writes that on their resume. But I think maybe we should, because I genuinely believe that it makes you better at everything. Let’s taking writing, for instance, because that is what has me all-absorbed at the moment. One of my all time favorite quotes comes from Alyosha, whose elder tells him that we should “…care for most people exactly as one would for children…” Well, I think we should write about them that way as well! We should see them at their most vulnerable and needy, stripped bare and messy, but we should love them anyway. Even as we see all of their faults, we should feel an irresistible affection for them and generosity towards them. And surely this applies to all people, not just to writing about them, but to being with them and working with them from day to day…to bosses and co-workers and patients and customers and students. They might not be your child, but they’re somebody’s child. They were infants, once, just like the rest of us. In this way we can turn our disdain and frustration into empathy and tenderness. It might not be a marketable skill, it might not be something you list on your resume, but it seems very important to me right now.

Lemon cream tart

Lemon cream tart

Lemon cream tart! With a pecan shortbread crust! It all started when I saw an article in The Guardian about Perfect Lemon Posset. I love the idea of a posset, it seems so warm and comforting and Joan Aikeny. Not this version, though, this version was cool and elegant. And it looked delicious. It’s just cream, really, which somehow magically sets into a silky sort of custard. No eggs, though. It’s magic! All of the recipes suggested that it would be good with a shortbread cookie, so I thought, why not put it in a shortbread crust? That way you’re not just eating thickened cream. (You’re eating thickened cream with more butter and sugar alongside!) And I decided to flavor it with bay leaves and lemon, because this is an intriguing combination I’d seen in an old cookbook that I’ve wanted to try for a while. And I decided to add some rum, because a posset should have alcohol in it, dammit, even if it’s cooked off. I made a smallish tart, but if you wanted a full-sized one, use the full pint of cream.

Here’s Smooth Sailing, by Pete Rock, because this dessert is so smooooooth.
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Asparagus and pecan tart

Asparagus and pecan tart

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

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.

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White bean, spinach and roasted mushroom pie with pecan sage crust

white bean, mushroom, and spinach pie

white bean, mushroom, and spinach pie

This is a very Dickensian time of year. I want to read Dickens, watch adaptations of his novels (good or bad), eat Dickensian food (like this pie!) drink hot gin punches. In short, I love Charles Dickens – I always have. I don’t care what anybody says about him. I don’t care if people think he’s nothing but an overly sentimental Victorian fuddyduddy. I’m not blind to his faults, I will admit that he can be a little ham-fisted with the sentiment at times. But he’s also darkly, bitingly funny, political, warmly human, and even light-heartedly absurd. His books contain everything a novel should – a broad, carefully calculated over-arching plot that feels complicated yet effortless; an expansive cast of characters so diverse, eccentric and detailed that they feel alive; and a powerful mix of humor and pathos, sweetness and brutality. What’s my favorite Dickens novel? I hear you ask. And without a second’s hesitation I will tell you, Our Mutual Friend. It’s a dark, dirty novel, swirling with life and death, like the river it describes. It’s about the river, and the bodies found there, and the people that make their living there, and those that try to escape its inky pull. Amongst the eccentric, extensive cast of characters are some of the most appealing Dickens (or anyone else) has ever created. There’s Eugene Wrayburn, witty, idle, disappointed, disappointing – the culmination of Dickens’ career-long treatment of the theme of a cruelly seductive wealthy man who ruins a poor young woman. There’s Wrayburn’s friendship with Mortimer Lightwood, a real friendship, generously observed. And Wrayburn’s love for Lizzie Hexam, who is far more than a poor but pretty face. And Lizzie’s friendship with Jenny Wren, one of the oddest characters in literature. She’s the twisted and crippled embodiment of the Victorian ideal of a child-woman – an ideal that Dickens helped to perpetrate. He’s created this bizarre monstrous little creature that stands as a criticism of his own work. She’s a perpetual child, physically, frail and beautiful, but her words are as sharp as needles, and she becomes a kind of chorus or surrogate for Lizzie, able to say the things Lizzie’s politeness will not allow her to express. She’s remarkable, I tell you! And of course this is only a small handful of an enormous cast of characters, but I can’t go on and on about it here.

Do you like Dickens? What’s your favorite Dickens novel?

Instead, I’ll go on and on about this pie. I love a double-crusted pie in the wintertime, one with a tall crispy crust that holds in any mashed potatoes you might pile on top. In some ways this is my ur-winter pie. I love the combination of roasted mushrooms and nuts, and smoky cheese, and savory spinach. The beans add substance and flavor. I love the combination of sage and rosemary with a bit of nutmeg. This pie has all those things! In this case the nuts are in the crust, which is light and crispy, and the filling is dense and satisfying.

Here’s the Dickensian Decemberists with The Chimbley Sweep.

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