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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Ricotta rosemary tart with two toppings: smoked gouda, pear and pecan or brie, castelvetrano olive and pine nut

Smoked gouda bosc pear tart

Smoked gouda bosc pear tart

Yesterday, in a characteristically glib and off-handed fashion, I started a discussion about fate and choices, and how they shape our lives and our history. My friend Tony responded with some thoughtful comments, which I thought about as we drove home late at night through fields so bright with full-moonshine they seemed snow-covered. A metaphor slowly developed in my slow brain, and as I mulled it over, the metaphor expanded and evolved, and it started to make more and more sense to me as a way to explain ideas I may have clumsily set out in yesterday’s post. Never one to shy away from stretching an extended metaphor as far is it can possibly go, I’ve decided to share it with you here. Tony brought the specter of Hitler to the discussion. Because nothing makes sense when you think about the scale of Nazi atrocities – neither fate nor free will. Here’s how I responded, and how this giant metaphor was born.

    The way I see it history is like a tapestry, and we’re all madly weaving away at our little portion of it, and making some sort of pattern that makes sense sometimes and makes less sense others. Sometimes we start out in wrong directions, sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we can fix them and cover it up or make a new pattern, sometimes not. So Hitler is the result of an infinite number of choices that his ancestors made, for centuries and centuries, down to his mother and father. Every single tiny choice they made every day of their lives resulted in Adolph Hitler’s existence, and not one of them could have had any idea how that would turn out. They were weaving a pattern in their portion of the tapestry, and when we look at it from miles above the fabric, and many years on in history, we see the pattern and the tragedy of it, but at the time, even after Hitler’s rise to power and the millions of people that made stupid, scared, even evil choices to follow him or not question him, even after that, they might not have seen the pattern that was forming, so close in it, as they were, so busy making it as time flew by them. And so concerned with the millions of other choices in their day-to-day lives that distracted them from the bigger picture, as we see it so clearly now.

Well, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes to me–this idea of history or fate (depending on which way you look at it) being a sort of tapestry. From the beginning of time people have been weaving their own small portion, aware of people working nearby, but incapable of seeing the larger picture they’re all making together until much later in life. They know from the first that they have a pattern to follow, but there’s no clear plan for it, no diagram, they make it up as they go along, trying one thing or another until it makes sense. They might be following a pattern that their parents taught them, or copying from the people working close by. Various shapes and colors will come into and go out of fashion–some will notice and follow, others will not. My father is a historian, and I once did some work copyediting a textbook he cowrote–an overview of world history. It was remarkable to me the way that these sweeping events would overtake humanity every few hundred years: wars, natural disasters, famine, plagues. These formed huge, horrible changes in the pattern that everybody was weaving, but they couldn’t have known at the time. Most of this was beyond the control of ordinary people, struggling to make their part of the tapestry as beautiful as possible. It made it hard for them to weave, or stopped them weaving at all. Caught up in the struggle of keeping ourself and our family alive, so deeply close to it and inside of it, we’re caught unaware by these waves of change sweeping over the tapestry. And as people make a decision to use a certain color, or continue in a certain direction, they’re thinking what’s best for them at that time, they’re making narrow decisions based on survival and their idea of success. (Hitler is an interesting example of this, I think…the decisions he made might have been considered smart for him at the time, because in terms of his career and his ambition, he might have been considered highly successful, up to a certain point. In the view of people around him…well, I don’t want to go on about Hitler too much. I’m not sure he belongs on a stupid food blog.)
Looking back at my own little piece of the tapestry, it’s funny how it’s worn through in parts, so that I can’t even remember what the pattern was like there, when it was fresh. I just have some memory of the color of my mood at the time. Was I blue? Was I rosy? Was I working in golden thread or gloomy grey? And parts of it are folded up on itself so I see them as clearly as the patches I’m working on now, but it’s never the parts that I’d expect to have nearby. Patches that felt impossibly tangled at the time I worked on them, looked at from here are actually quite pretty. It’s a constant surprise.
Well, dear old extended metaphor, I think I’ve taken you about as far as we could go, in the time I now have.

Brie & castelvetrano tart

Brie & castelvetrano tart

It’s spring break, which means that I took Malcolm and Isaac to the grocery store with me. And they both got to pick out special things. Malcolm picked smoked gouda, Isaac picked brie and pears. I picked castelvetrano olives, and decided to combine everything in two different-but-the same tarts! The crust is simple. I added a little olive oil in a nod to the pizzaness of these tarts. The basic tart base is ricotta, a touch of mozzarella, lots of rosemary and eggs. Simple, but with a versatile flavor to show off the toppings. I think that brie and pears is a fairly classic combination, so I decided to mix it up a little and do pears and smoked gouda. Soooooooo good. Like bacon, somehow, as I remember it. And I combined the creamy tang of brie with the sweet brininess of castelvetrano olives. Nice! These would be good to make for a party of a special meal that lots of people were eating. You could vary the toppings any way you like to appeal to your various guests, and everyone would be happy!
Bosc and smoked gouda tart

Bosc and smoked gouda tart

Here’s Fisher Hendley with Weave Room Blues

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