Tart with fennel, tomatoes, olives, and many cheeses. And hereing.

The hereness of dusk in the hereness of my bedroom.

The other day Isaac asked me how to spell “hearing.” Because he and I never give each other a straight answer, I told him h-e-r-e-ing. The more I think about it the more I like the word, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I woke up in the middle of the night recently and felt perplexed. I thought about all of the places people live, all over the world. I imagined you could cut away the sides or tops of houses and apartment buildings and tenements and you could see the people inside, living their lives. I hoped they were being kind to each other and their children and their dogs, but I middle-of-the-night feared that many were not. I was bewildered by the thought that I could be anywhere, but I am here, in the same small city I’ve lived in for 20 years.

It bears repeating: it’s been an odd odd year. We were all stuck in the same place, our own space, our here. We were relentlessly here, relentlessly hereing. I think (and write) so much about time passing, about marking it and being aware of it. It’s mildly discombobulating to think about space and place as well. And small wonder that after a year of hereing we’re imagining other places and visiting them in our dreams.

All of this hereing conjured the phrase “hereness of dusk,” which has been in my mind ever since. It is, of course, from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and is from one of the most beautiful passages of literature I have ever read.

…as though even here in the filtering dusk, here beneath the deep indigo sky, here, alive with looping swifts and darting moths, here in the hereness of the night not yet lighted by the moon that looms blood-red behind the chapel like a fallen sun, its radiance shedding not upon the here-dusk of twittering bats, nor on the there-night of cricket and whippoorwill, but focused short-rayed upon our place of convergence;

…And my mind rushing for relief away from the spring dusk and flower scents, away from the time-scene of the crucifixion to the time-mood of the birth; from spring-dusk and vespers to the high, clear, lucid moon of winter and snow glinting upon the dwarfed pines where instead of the bells, the organ and the trombone choir speak carols to the distances drifted with snow,… But in the hereness of dusk I am moving toward the doomlike bells through the flowered air, beneath the rising moon.

The narrator knows he is in trouble, that he’s about to be expelled from college, and he imagines himself in another place and another time. But he’s almost painfully (though beautifully) aware of the space and time he is moving through. In these dreamlike moments, the here becomes the now, the space becomes the time. He is occupying, moving through, taking up space in the dusk. He is hereing. It bears repeating, “In the hereness of dusk I am moving toward the doomlike bells through the flowered air, beneath the rising moon.”

From the sublime to the tasty. This is what I made us for my birthday meal. I love love love fennel and it’s not universally adored by the family, but I took the excuse of birthday brattiness to go heavy on the fennel in this one. Fennel, tomatoes, and olives, with herbs from the garden is a perfect combination to me. They are all strong, assertive flavors, but they work beautifully together. I also used several kinds of cheese. The parmesan and cheddar I grated so they blended right in, but the fresh mozzarella and goat cheese I just roughly crumbled, so that you encounter them in pleasant pockets of soft cheesiness throughout the tart.

Here’s Stand by REM. Think about the place that you live, wonder why you haven’t before.

And Places and Spaces by Donald Byrd.

Recipe after the jump!

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Chard and goat cheese tart with a mashed potato pecan crust

Chard and goat cheese tart with a mashed potato pecan crust

Chard and goat cheese tart with a mashed potato pecan crust

Today, friends, we interrupt our series of American Mythologies to bring you a tangential installment of our Films-of-1967 series. As you no doubt recall, David and I arewatching every film ever made in 1967. Every one! We’re making very slow progress. The other month we watched The Fireman’s Ball by Milos Forman. It was a brilliant and beautiful film, and I read it as a sly and subtle comedy about the foibles of human nature, and how within a community the best and worst in all of us is greatly magnified. Our hypocrisy, our desires, our fears and suspicions. I could tell it was about something more, though, I felt I was probably missing something, and it turns out the film was a satire of the Eastern European communist system. It was banned, and Forman left Czechoslovakia for America, where he made One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, among other films. Obviously the fact that the true nature of Fireman’s Ball escaped me means that I’m not qualified to tell you a thing about it, other than that you should watch it as soon as you can. Instead I’ll tell you about the film we saw last week, also by Forman, called Loves of a Blonde. What a beautiful, funny, heartbreaking film! Like Fireman’s Ball, this film is about ordinary people and their desires and hypocrisies. And it is also a political film, though more subtly so, as is often the case with films with female protagonists. Andula is a very young woman who works at a shoe factory in a small Czech town. She lives in a dormitory with other shoe factory workers, and her life is stagnant and stilted, trapped as she is on the edge of nowhere, with little to do but work. The population of the town has a 16 to 1 ratio of women to men, so there’s little hope of romantic escape. The kindly owner of the shoe factory asks army officials to place a regiment in the town, saying of the women, “They need what we needed when we were young.” The regiment arrives to the disappointment of the young factory workers, who find it composed of middle-aged reservists. At a dance these men encourage each other to try their luck with the young ladies, clumsily sending a bottle of wine to the wrong table and dropping a wedding ring which leads them in an awkward chase across the dance floor. The women wonder if they’re just desperate enough to follow these unappealing men into the woods. Andula seems to be saved from this fate by young Milda, a pianist from Prague who played in the band at the dance. She wants to trust him, because he’s attentive and kind, though not very subtle in his advances. They spend the night together, and then he’s gone. After a few weeks, she hitchhikes to Prague with a small suitcase. She arrives at Milda’s apartment to find him out at a gig, though his mother and father are home and in an uproar over her appearance. And that’s it, that’s the story. But it’s told with such style and warmth and humor that it’s ridiculously compelling. Forman used a mixture of actors and non-actors. In the dance, the camera rests on the faces of people sitting and waiting to dance, and you feel that any of them have a story worth telling, they’re so real and expressive. The scenes in Milda’s bedroom are so perfectly filmed, beautiful and simple. You know he’s a scoundrel, she knows he’s a scoundrel, but he’s such an unlikely lothario, and he’s so funny and unlike everybody else in town that she decides it’s worth it to trust him, if only for this night of human connection, and the faint promise of more to come. Milda’s parents are comically strident, a sort of Archie and Edith of the Czech new wave. But it’s desperately sad, too, to think that all of their squabbling will only make it easier for Milda to send Andula back to her life of loneliness and exile. The movie is stylie, it features moments Wes Anderson would aspire to, or Godard would admire, but it’s so much more honest and human than those hipsters’ films. (I love those hipsters, too!) It’s a sweetly sad poem of human desire, hope, and loneliness.

We had some leftover mashed potatoes, so this is what I made. I lined a cake pan with butter, then bread crumbs and chopped pecans, then a layer of mashed potatoes. I molded this into a crust. Then I poured in a mixture of eggs, cheese and greens. It bakes together quite nicely. Soft and satisfying, but with a crispiness on the outside from the nuts and breadcrumbs. If you’re trying to go gluten free, leave out the bread crumbs, and add a few more pecans. And that’s that! This was nice with a spicy red sauce.

Here’s a song from the opening credits of Loves of a Blonde sung by one of Andula’s fellow factory workers. If you don’t fall in love with this film from the first second, you’re crazy, crazy I tell you!
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Pistachio and tarragon tart with castelvetrano olives and asparagus

Asparagus, pistachio, castelvetrano tart

Asparagus, pistachio, castelvetrano tart

If The Ordinary was a TV program, (and it’s only a matter of time, really, when you think about it) this would be the moment when we’d saunter, smiling and chatting, over to a book so large it’s printed in dozens of volumes. Everyone in the audience would jump from their seats, screaming, “The OED! Yay! Tell us how some random word was used in the 13th century! And the 15th century and the 18th, and, if possible, give us an example from only a few years ago!! Yay!!” Yes, it’s OED time! Your word for today is “sigh.” Why? Because for some reason I found myself sighing a lot this weekend. And sometimes I would just say, “sigh,” instead of sighing. And then I wrote a story about a ghost who always has a sigh in his voice, and who can shake the whole room with his sigh. Strange, very strange. So on Monday I did the obvious thing and looked the word up in the OED. Turns out its meaning hasn’t changed dramatically over the years. It’s always meant something close to “A sudden, prolonged, deep and more or less audible respiration, following on a deep-drawn breath, and esp. indicating or expressing dejection, weariness, longing, pain, or relief.” It was oft used, ere this, by the supersensitive overwrought poets and lady novelists. And yet, I find it a very fascinating word! Because it’s not a word at all. It’s a space between words. Like the grunts I found so remarkable in Ozu’s Tokyo story, which rise or fall and contain a million different easily readable meanings in one small sound, it’s almost more expressive than any actual word. And a sigh is so full of variations and possibilities! A sigh can indicate exasperation, sadness, fatigue, resignation, comfort, satisfaction. One small sound, barely a sound! Just a breath, quieter than a whisper. And everybody sighs, often without meaning to or even being aware of it. It’s a universal language. My favorite sigher at the moment is Clio. She’ll make herself perfectly comfortable, and then she’ll settle her head on her paws and heave a great sigh, as though she’s just taken care of some very important business and now she can rest for a moment. Even the leaves and the grass and the wind sigh, especially in poems. “Whenever a March-wind sighs He sets the jewel-print of your feet In violets.” A sigh can express longing, you can sigh for something or someone. You can sigh something away…even your life, “Sapores..sighed out his affrighted ghost, at the age..of seventy one,” or your soul, “Hundreds of martyrs sighed away their souls amid the flames.” Maybe your sadnesse is sigh-swolne, your age is sigh-blown, or your tone is sigh-deepened. I love the idea of communicating without words, with something only slightly more audible than a gesture or an expression, with something as vital and intimate as our breath. I love the fact that “Some sighes out their woordes. Some synges their sentences.”

Asparagus pistachio castelvetrano tart

Asparagus pistachio castelvetrano tart

I think of this as my splurge tart. I spent more money than I should on castelvetrano olives and pistachio kernels, (yes, I’m a lazy spendthrift) and asparagus, which doesn’t seem to be getting any cheaper no matter how far into spring we get. So I decided to put them all together in one tart. I made a sort of frangipane of pistachio kernels, but I added asparagus and spinach, too. I wanted it to taste very green. And asparagus and castelvetrano olives are lovely together, juicy and fresh.

Here’s Dolcissimo Sospiro (I think it means “sweet sighs”) sung by the remarkable Montserrat Figueras
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French lentil, roasted mushroom tart with savory almond topping

French lentil mushroom tart

I feel strangely excited, and of course I’m going to tell you why. It has to do with the election. Wait! Wait! Don’t tune out! I’m not going to tell you about my humble beginnings and how I love America more than anybody else does, and I’m not going to ask for a small donation. It’s a little hard to articulate, but I feel genuinely hopeful about this. It seems to me that, in some way, the needs of the people – the very human needs of all the people – is shaping the rhetoric of the election in a way that I don’t remember happening before on this level. (Of course that might be because my memory is full of holes and I’m politically dumb as a bag of flour.) Feminists have talked for decades about the personal being political, which is an idea that I embrace. This election cycle, (as they call it, which also makes it seem human and part of nature, somehow) it seems as though all of the politicians are struggling to connect with us by making the political personal. Maybe it’s the healthcare debate. Whatever your feelings on the subject, I think everybody agrees that healthcare is about us at our most human and most vulnerable. Of course it’s also about insurance companies and corporations, but at its most crucial, it’s about our life and our death, our bodies and our well-being. I think it’s hard not to become emotional when we consider this issue, which makes it difficult to discuss rationally, perhaps, but it’s important for us to learn this form of discourse – to learn to talk about personal emotional subjects. Maybe it’s because times have been so hard for all of us. We’re all hurting, and it makes us more insular, for better or for worse. We’re anxious about our homes, and our ability to keep them. We’re thinking about the food we put on our table. And this election is about women. We’re told over and over that the women are going to decide this election, and that’s forced a (sometimes uncomfortable) discussion about women’s bodies, and women’s work, and the value of that work. Of course, everything’s intimately connected. The “serious” issues of war, taxes, foreign policy – they’re all ultimately personal, they’re about our daily lives, our loves, our families, the chance to follow the path to old age that we all travel together. I always have this feeling, when I listen to politicians talk, that there’s a truth and sense that they can’t tell us with their words, that we hear anyway. Sometimes they try to hide it – when they tell us we need to go to war, with a barrage of words and falsified facts, I feel like most people understand the truth anyway – we know their motives. This year I feel the sense is closer to the surface under the muddle of words – the sense that we’re all in it together, and we’ll learn a way to talk about that.

Since the food we put on our table is an important issue, i’m going to tell you about this handsome tart! It’s actually quite simple. It’s a standard flaky pate brisee crust, with rosemary and black pepper added for deliciousness. On top of that we have a layer of french lentils sauteed in port wine and balsamic vinegar. Lentils might seem like an odd ingredient in a tart, but they add real substance and texture, and their lovely meaty flavor. And the mushrooms are chopped chunkily and roasted, so that when the savory almond custard is baked all around them, it’s almost like a savory clafouti or toad-in-the-hole. If I do say so myself, and I do, the whole thing turned out super-tasty. David liked it a lot, and said it’s a “birthday meal.”

Here’s Women’s Realm by Belle and Sebastian

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Spicy smoky zucchini & tomato tart

Smoky zucchini and tomato tart

Here at The Ordinary, we have acquired our first real food processor. It didn’t come with instructions, but we are performing exhaustive experiments in our extensive underground kitchen-laboratories to determine its function and capabilities. We have puréed paper, grated legos, and julienned our entire DVD collection. We would like to inform you that from this point onward, every thing we cook will be diced and sliced to within an inch of its life. You have been warned!! I’m joking, of course, but I’m very excited to finally have a food processor. My friend Jenny gave me her old cuisinart. I brought it into the house and Malcolm said, “Oooooh, what’s that?” And then he and I gathered around our new toy, and tried to figure out how to use it. Did you know that every little piece has to be locked into place, in a certain order, or it won’t work? I didn’t! I kept loading it up, pressing the button, expecting a huge loud noise, and then….nothing! We finally got it all figured out, though. And before I knew it Malcolm had grated two large zucchinis. And then I had to try the knife-type blade, so we chopped up some basil, cilantro, tomatoes, almonds and hazelnuts. We made a chunky sort of sauce. Very smoky and flavorful, because I’d put every smoky thing I could find in … black cardamom, nigella seeds, smoked paprika. We ate it with saltine crackers, and it was very tasty! The next day, I decided to further test the abilities of my processor, and I pureed this chunky sauce till quite smooth, then added some eggs and milk, put it all in a biscuit-like crust with smoked paprika in it, added some fresh cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, and made a tart! What with the nuts and all, it’s almost like a savory frangipane. We ate it with potatoes roasted with tomatoes and shallots, which were sort of saucy, and everything went well together. You could make this with a blender and a regular grater, if you don’t happen to have a food processor.

Smoky zucchini/tomato/nut sauce

Here’s Sly and the Family Stone with Thank You Fallettin Me Be Mice Elf Again to dance to while you puree, grate and julienne. Thanks for the food processor, Jenny!!
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Roasted beet & fiddlehead tart

Roasted beet and fiddlehead tart

Here at the test kitchens of The Ordinary, we have teams of mad scientists working night and day to recreate recipes based on nostalgic tastes and aromas. Is there some smell that transports you to the time you were ten years’ old and you lay in a field with grass stains on your knees and the remnants of a butter brickle ice cream cone clinging to your sticky hands? Do you remember eating wasabi peas at a party in a beer-soaked attic that smelled of sun-baked wood and incense? Do you remember the time you carried a basket of tomatoes from your garden, on your lap, all the way to your seaside house, and the bright green smell of their leaves and vines mingled with scents of salty air and coconut sunscreen when you rolled down the window two blocks from your new home-for-the-week? We’ve got a recipe for you.

A few months ago we made a soup that tasted like the moment you wake up from camping. Viz…

Imagine, if you will, that you’re camping. You wake up in the morning and step out of your tent. Everything is damp and fragrant, and vividly glowing green. The ferns and grass and weeds are sweet and sharp, lemony and herbaceous. The smell of wet earth mingles with the smokiness of the embers from your fire of the night before.

Well, there was one thing missing from the occasion, and when we recently found bright beautiful fiddleheads at a local market, we knew we had to revisit the memory-of-camping. Let’s say this time it’s dusk. You’ve just been swimming in the river in the last warmth of the summer sun. You walk back along rapidly darkening trails, trampling ferns and weeds under foot, raising impossibly sweet scents that seem to surround you and cling to your wet skin. All around you the woods murmur with the secret life of busy summer bugs. A shivering breeze tugs at your damp clothes, so that when you reach your camp ground you’re glad to sit by a crackling fire that seems to smoke the changing light out of the damp earth.

We made that tart! It has a puree of roasted beets and garlic, mixed with all the spring (and summer) herbs we could find – thyme, rosemary, chervil, basil, summer savory. And smoked paprika warms the mixture. The fiddleheads are lightly boiled, and they add a lovely flavor and a little bit of texture to the tart. Delicious!!

Here’s The Ethiopians with Well Red. It doesn’t really have anything to do with beets, but I can’t get enough of them lately, and this tart is well, red!
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Tart with ramps, chervil, and meyer lemons

I love books with cross-section drawings. Books that will show you the inner workings of an ancient Roman villa, or a castle, or a galleon. I used to pore over them for hours as a child. They seem to give such a clear idea of how people might have lived. I wish I had the skill and patience to draw pictures like that! We have a few of these books around the house, you know, ahem, for the kids. I like to read the one about castles. On one page, you can see the kitchen (fascinating) and then the next shows a glimpse through the kitchen window into the great hall where a feast is in progress. You just know they’re eating savory pies! And I like the book that shows a man-o-war. There’s a kitchen in that one, too, with it’s mealy-worm infested hard tack. Yum! Well, this morning, as I was perusing a cross-section drawing of a galleon, I learned that the shipwrights that built them didn’t have written plans. They used a method called rack-of-eye, in which they would have a mental image of how parts should fit together. My first thought was, “that doesn’t seem very safe!” And my second thought was, “that’s exactly how I cook!” Although, obviously, the consequences of fitting the parts together incorrectly are a lot less dire on a savory tart than on a galleon.

But I digress. As you can probably tell from the title of this post, I ventured into Whole Foods again. I entered in search of a few specific things. Didn’t find them. Came out with a few unexpected non-specific things. They didn’t have golden beets or king trumpet mushrooms, but…what was this? Unbound and unlabeled, nestled on a little mound of ice…RAMPS!! I’ve been searching for ramps! I’m a curmudgeon when it comes to trendy things, I always have been. I didn’t wear lavender docksiders in third grade! I resisted the temptation! Food trends are no different. But when it comes to delicious garlicky greens that have pretty white flowers and have to be foraged when the world is cool and that completely represent spring? I’m on board! I don’t care if they’re so 2011. And then I saw a bag of meyer lemons. I’ve never had meyer lemons! I never thought I’d be able to have meyer lemons in New Jersey. They’re so pretty and smell so sweet I want to inhale them!

Imagine my surprise when I looked at my receipt and saw that ramps cost $14 a pound. Ha ha!! Who knew!! Probably everybody but me! So I had to cook them immediately, and I had to make something delicious with them. And I might as well use meyer lemons, too, because they’re so pretty! And David suggested adding chervil, which is also so pretty and smells so good, and which we recently acquired. It’s waiting to get planted in the garden. Let’s hope it makes it before I eat up all the delicate little leaves. So I caramelized the bulbs with meyer lemon juice and a little white wine. I quickly sauteed the greens with chervil, and I made a pretty pattern with chervil on the top.

In the interest of keeping it ordinary, I should tell you that you could probably make this tart with leeks, parsley and ordinary lemons. In the interest of justifying my extravagant ramp purchase (and to speak the truth) ramps are mother-flippin delcious! Meyer lemons are also delicious! This was a very very nice tart. We ate it with tiny boiled potatoes, mixed with a little butter, salt, pepper, and summer savory (also hoping to make it into our garden before I eat it all). And a nice salad with arugula, tart dried cherries and hazelnuts.

Here’s Antsy Pants with Vampire. I was having trouble coming up with a song to go with ramps, but David, the genius, suggested this one. Here’s why it’s perfect. I read that ramps are strongly garlicky when eaten raw that children would eat them to get sent home from school, or to ward off vampires!!
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Tart with pumpkinseed-sage custard and roasted butternut coins


There’s been such a nice frisson lately between winter and spring. The air is filled with the fragrance of flowers, but the evenings are cool enough for people to use their fireplaces, and the combination of smells is at once hopeful and nostalgic. This tart is like that a little, to me. Although slightly autumnal, there’s something about the combination of flavors and the very tart-shaped shape of it, that’s as suitable to early spring as to early fall.

It’s a polka dot tart! A polka tart! I think butternut squash and sage make such a perfect combination. The one sweet and mild, and the other strong and sort of earthy. (How would you describe sage? It’s indescribable!) When I made my pumpkinseed sage sauce, I thought it would be perfect with coins of roasted squash. And then I thought, why not take it one step further, and combine it all in one neat package? After all, I’d been thinking of this as a sort of pesto, and I love to use basil pesto in a tart. It turned out very delicious all together. The flaky crust added just enough crunch to the tender tart. A perfect spring meal with a big green salad.

Here’s Noble Sissle with Polka Dot Rag. Have a dance around the kitchen while you wait for your tart to bake!

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Butternut tart with caramelized fennel

Butternut tart

Tart pan, tart pan
Who’s got a tart pan?
I do, that’s who.
Salty or sweet,
messy or neat,
Who can make tarts now?
I can.

Did I tell you that I got a tart pan? I did? I’m totally not excited about it at all. I’m, like, pfffft. Tart pan, whatever.

I used it last week to make a sweet tart. And I used it this week to make a savory tart! I wanted it to be a bit like a pumpkin pie – with the butternut squash roasted, pureed and mixed into a sort of custard. And I thought the fennel would be pretty AND tasty, it’s bright distinctive taste mellowed by a bit of caramelization in white wine and balsamic vinegar. I put some lemon zest in the crust, to tart up the tart, because squash and fennel are quite sweet. I thought very hard about the seasoning, because I’m making a real effort to keep it simple – to choose two or three herbs and spices that go well together. I chose nutmeg and sage – both very nice with butternut squash, and quite lovely together!

Here’s Art Pepper with Nutmeg
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