Cake aux olives (Olive loaf)

This recipe comes from a dear French friend of mine who is now a Californian. He just became a naturalized citizen a couple weeks ago…congratulations, Franck! He is one of the most kind-hearted, generous people I have the pleasure of calling my friend and he shared this recipe with me after I enjoyed the dish at he and his wife’s home in Monterey. It is an easy recipe to follow and will satisfy not only your friends, but your appetite, as well.

While it’s called “cake” in French, the word best translates to loaf. It is a savory, dense, egg-based loaf with ham and olives. I like to use manzanilla olives, I find them to be more flavorful.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups white wine, separated, one for you, one for the loaf; I used Chardonnay
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup ham, cooked, I used Trader Joe’s’ black forest ham
  • 1 cup pitted green olives
  • 2 cup grated gruyere
  • Butter to grease the pan

Preparation:

Heat oven to 350˚F. Pour yourself a glass of wine in your favorite glass. Mine happens to be a pink and green crystal wine glass from my late, adopted grandma. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.

Cut the ham into small squares. Drain the olives and rinse them. Cut them in half crosswise (meaning cut at the fattest part of the olive). Eat an olive or two, they pair greatly with your Chardonnay.

Butter a 9” x 5” baking loaf pan, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Add the other cup of wine. Do it a little at a time mixing constantly so that the flour doesn’t get clumpy. Then add the olive oil in a few additions and mix really well. The smell might encourage you to get yourself a nice piece of bread for yourself to dip in your own olive oil, go ahead, enjoy. Cooking is a culinary experience best enjoyed with all the senses. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Next add the mustard and stir in thoroughly. Sprinkle in the salt and mix it in well.

Add the ham, olives, and grated gruyere; mix well.

Put the mix into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 60-65 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the top is slightly golden and the loaf has risen. It may bubble up on the edges with oil and that’s OK. While it’s baking grab your wine, any remaining ham and cheese, get cozy on the couch, and relax. You can rest in anticipation of a delightful treat in the oven.

I actually like to eat this dish when it is cooled. And it’s great to make on the weekend to take along with me for breakfast at work. Or to pack in a picnic. You see what I’m saying.

Voilà

Bon appétit!

Just looking for Coffee in Connecticut

Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways. –Stephen Vincent Benét

Greetings from Westport, Connecticut! My aunt and I are here for a wedding and we woke up on Friday, bleary eyed from having gotten to sleep at two a.m. and awoken by housekeeping pounding on the door at nine. Thinking we were in a cute, walkable part of town—how would we know otherwise, we Uber-ed in from the airport in the middle of the night—we went for a walk in search of coffee.

After quite a bit of searching, we settled for what everybody suggested…Dunkin’ Donuts. As we approached the strip mall just passed our hotel, next to South Beach Tan and before Dunkin’ Donuts, we read in blue lettering: Layla’s Falafel.

“Chris, they might have coffee! Let’s try…”

We went in and a jolly man, who had the air of not knowing how to sit still, greeted us.

“Do you have coffee?” I asked.

“Turkish coffee?” He asked with a slight Arabic-accented-East Coast-English.

“Yes.”

“Of course,” he bellowed with a smile, “sit down.”

We sat and watched the comings and goings of the slow fast-food joint. By this time, it was the lunch crowd and we were starting to get hungry so I went to look at the food offerings. He was helping a young girl, she told him in Arabic that she thought I needed help. In Arabic he responded to her that I was a regular. I had never been to the place—or Connecticut—in my life, I did not know this man.

I looked at the food in the display case and he joined me. I asked him in Arabic if he could heat up the manooshay (singular form of manaeesh, the thyme-spice blend (called za’atar) atop flatbread).

Chameeyay?” He asked, which means lady from Damascus. I said yes and he touched his hand to his head, “ahla w sahla” (welcome). The touching of the hand to the head means he would metaphorically put me on his head, like a crown, it is a sign of hospitality and respect.

Swamped with customers he asked, “Do you know how to make ahwe (coffee)?”

“Yes.” I responded.

“You come make it.” He motioned for me to come to the kitchen.

I twisted my hair and secured it with a clip. I was handed a dallah (stovetop Arabic coffee pot), I filled it with water and added a bit of sugar, and balanced its small base on the commercial burner.

The woman working in the back wanted to help. Rabia was from Morocco. “But don’t be afraid!” She said with a huge smile, “Layla taught me how to make everything, even kibbeh.” Kibbeh are Levantine meat pies that are very labor-intensive.

I made the coffee and tried small talk with the dishwasher in Arabic. He smiled at me and told me, “I’m Porta Rican, aldo evry-wun tinks I’m Arabian.”

Rabia and I searched high and low for demitasses and couldn’t find them. She said she couldn’t ask Dino during the lunch rush. Almost intuitively, he yelled out from the register that the cups might be downstairs. She put down the paper soup cups she had pulled out as a backup and I asked her if I should go with her downstairs.

“No no no,” She patted my arm. I followed anyways. We fished through boxes of to-go boxes and napkins until we found a box of demitasses.

Upstairs I found my aunt patiently waiting. I served the coffee and that was the beginning of a three-hour meal.

We started with the strong Arabic coffee alongside the manaeesh.

Ahwe and mana’eesh

When we got our demitasses refilled we were also each handed a piece of baklava. We nibbled and sipped, chatted and enjoyed. Some piping hot falafel with sesame dipping sauce appeared. Next, we were brought a spicy spinach and chickpea dish. Dino asked over the counter if we would like some chicken shawarma. “Just a little one,” he motioned with very Levantine hand gestures. We were brought a second table and a platter with tabouli (Levantine parsley salad), hummus, garlic dip, pickles, and a chicken shawarma wrap.

Chicken wrap platter

At this second table Saul and a basket of freshly fried French fries joined us. Saul is on his sixth post-retirement job, hangs out at Layla’s every day, and helps with catering jobs.

The flavors and the people were fantastic. We sat back, pleasantly stuffed, and were thankful we had gone in search of Dunkin’ Donuts.

**This column originally appeared in The Cedar Street Times on 2 November 2018

Easiest Upside-down Apple Galette

I have said it before, I love fall. You may recall my column from a few weeks back where I was in Apple Hill and I wrote about apple cider donuts. Well now I’m writing you about an apple galette. You may be familiar with apple pie (top and bottom crust) or apple tart (bottom crust), however; an apple galette is a free form crusted pastry. This is a variation of a galette in that the crust is on the bottom but it’s unique in that it’s made in a skillet, baked upside down, and then flipped over when it’s done.

I got this delightfully simple recipe from Cedar Street Times’s very own cartoonist, Joan Skillman. I think it is my new go-to favorite for an easy to make, autumnal, delicious treat.

Upside-down Apple Galette

For crust:

  • 6 tbsp chilled unsalted butter, cut in 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3-4 tbsp. cold whole milk

For filling:

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 apples, cored, peeled, and sliced

Heat oven to 400˚F.

Put the flour in a medium-sized bowl and add the butter on top. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until it resembles a coarse meal. Add three of the tablespoons of milk and quickly knead in until the dough sticks together as a ball. You may need the fourth tablespoon or not, you don’t want a soft dough, you just want it to hold itself together. You also don’t want to play with it too much because the heat of your hands will melt the butter and you don’t want that. Press the dough into a disk on wax paper and place in the refrigerator until ready for use.

In a cast iron skillet or a Dutch oven, make the filling. Over medium heat, melt the butter and make sure you get it on the edges of the skillet. Gently sprinkle the sugar over in a uniform layer. Let it sit for a few minutes. You don’t want the sugar to burn but you want to heat it up just so. The caramelization adds a delicious taste.  Meanwhile, core, peel, and slice your apples. I have a handy dandy apple corer, peeler, and slicer—the coolest kitchen contraption and best gift I have ever received, I might add. With just the crank of a lever the device cores, peels, and slices (uniformly!) my apples. Amazing.

Place the apples in the skillet starting from the outside and working in, with each apple slice slightly over the one prior. I like a lot of apples in my galettes so once I have the bottom all filled up, I fill in the spaces with the remaining apple slices. Now don’t touch them. Let them sit over the heat for a good 5-10 minutes or until they are just about translucent.

Meanwhile, on a gently floured surface, roll out the crust to approximately the diameter of the skillet. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Don’t touch it too much because you don’t want to melt the butter with the heat of your hands. When the apples are ready, you’ll know they’re just translucent, turn the stovetop off and quickly throw the crust on. At this point I pull the overhanging edges in a bit with my fingers.  Finally, put the skillet in the oven and bake for 25 minutes or until the crust is just golden.

Take out of the oven and being very careful, flip onto a platter or a cutting board. It should come out quickly and easily but some of the apples might stick to the skillet if you stirred them or didn’t coat the sides of the skillet with butter, like the first time I made it. The second time I tried, it came out perfectly.  Lesson: don’t stir the apples in the skillet. This is delicious with vanilla bean ice cream on top and will be devoured in minutes if you serve it all when it is still warm. Thank you, Joan!

Upside-down Apple Galette

**this story was originally published in my column Postcards from the Kitchen in the Cedar Street Times on 26 October 2018 

Generosity and Apple Pie

I think the original saying is “motherhood and apple pie.” Which is meant to mean something wholesome. What does that mean, wholesome? Like the love of a mother and the deliciousness of an apple pie? Well I’m going to go with that and in my experience and understanding, motherhood is about generosity because moms (most, at least) give a lot of themselves to their children. Thank you, mommas.

It’s pretty cool, now that I’m an adult learning things on my own in America, I am learning American culture. While I was raised here, my parents were the main influencers of my life as a child and so I learned the world through their cultural lens. We speak Arabic to one another and so sayings and proverbs are obviously in Arabic and while many overlap in meaning, the references reflect the unique cultural nuances.

Anyhow, the purpose of this post is to express how sweet some people are and that they make life beautiful. And of course, an apple pie was involved.

A few weeks ago I was at a friend’s house and his wife pulled out this cool kitchen contraption that cores, peels, and slices apples all at once. It was so cool! I had never seen anything like it and I was fascinated. Fast forward to a few weeks later and one of the friends that was at our mutual friend’s house sends me a text message to say he has something for me. He wanted to meet up so he could give it to me. When we met up this is what was waiting for me:

WOW!!

I was blown away! I love gift wrapping. I understand that it is strictly ephemeral, that is, lasting only a short while but I think it’s important to appreciate things in their due time. A life lasts years, decades, but when it comes to an end, it ought to be celebrated and not clung onto. A gift is wrapped with the intention of being beautiful and enjoyed by the receiver but then it is meant to be ripped open and the contents enjoyed. While the wrapping is so beautiful and delicate it was done with the intention of a short-lived enjoyment.

Inside was the apple corer, peeler, and slicer. What a sweet gift! It totally made my day.

Naturally, I needed to make an apple pie. One to try out my new toy but two as a thank you for the gift. My friend later told me the gift was a boomerang gift, that he was benefiting from the gift himself in receiving apple pies.

 

Apple Pie

This was the first time I had made an apple pie! A two-crusted cinnamony, sweet apple pie. I actually don’t know how it turned out because I gave it away whole but it was eaten within the day so I take that as it was at least edible :).

You gotta love how kind people can be. It’s so easy to make someone’s day. I mean it’s one thing to buy someone a birthday present but a present just because you thought of them…now that’s just so sweet!

Cibo, Monterey

When I moved back from Spain I was nostalgic for everything Galician—I lived in the small town of Ourense in Galicia, the Northwestern corner of Spain, above Portugal. (You can read about my adventures in Spain here.) One of the things I thought I would miss the most was the live music, it felt like the old alleys incessantly reverberated with the piercing hum of violin music or echoed with the bellow of a cello. But as I re-settled into my hometown, I found that Monterey was rich with live music, too.

One such place is Cibo Ristorante Italiano (pronounced chee-bo), offering live music six nights a week. I often walk by on Alvarado and am drawn in by the music—it’s so lively and welcoming.

A friend invited me out there the other night and it was a nice reminder of what a fun place Cibo is. It’s wonderful to meet those friends that you see only once every few months and get to catch up on everything over a long, leisurely meal.

We sat in a booth and, having just driven back from the Bay Area, my friend suggested I order a glass of wine. The waiter recommended a nice Cabernet. We started with the polenta and sun-dried tomato appetizer. And talked and talked. My parents used to say when I was a kid that I talked more than I ate which I think is true during meal times—well not only meal times but especially meal times because I have a captive (read, stuck) audience.

The waiter brought us this incredible, warm, crunchy-crusted ciabatta bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I always ask for butter as well because butter is perfect. More on that another time.

Eventually we ordered more appetizers: arancinette (crispy fried rice balls) and calamari. The calamari tentacles were crispy on the ends and meaty at the core, just the way I like them while the rice balls with tomato sauce were a tangy complement to the hearty squid. I think it’s important to have diversity in your life. Not just with the foods you eat but with your friends, too. Having friends with different backgrounds, ages, jobs, etc. really gives you a perspective on life and can often help you navigate your own life with a broader point of view. This particular friend is a generation older than me and has been wildly successful in her career in public relations. She says things to me about my just-beginning writing career as though they were so obvious and I have to remind myself that I am pursuing writing because I like to write, not because I’m a brilliant marketing specialist or PR person.

She’s also commanding which I love. She would give me a piece of advice and say, “write it down.” I diligently pulled my notebook out, for the fifteenth time and wrote down some brilliant piece of advice she had just casually passed along. “Don’t put it away, you’re going to need it again.” Another flippant, brilliant comment.

For dinner I ordered the gnocchi trio. If you’re not familiar with gnocchi I have to say it’s the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to tasting clouds. Well, my imagination’s idea of what clouds might taste like. They are light, fluffy potato dumplings that melt in your mouth. The trio were: spinach & ricotta filled with a Bolognese sauce, truffle-filled with brown-utter sage (who was the genius who thought to fry sage leaves, please thank her), and traditional potato with pesto cream shrimp. The nice thing about the trio is that it’s enough of each to taste a little bit of each very different flavor.

We wrapped the evening up with dessert, the only civilized way to eat a meal, and we had the pear almond tartlet that was nicely served with whipped cream, mango sauce, and crunchy, caramelized almonds.

Calamari & arancinette

The next time you’re looking for a place to liven up your evening, I really recommend that you check out Cibo in Monterey. Check their website to find out who is playing, one of my local favorites is Andrea’s Fault who play jazz there every Wednesday evening. Or, you could try all night happy hour on Thursday nights in the bar.

Plato said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” So add a little music to your life, or more music because most of us could probably use more music.

*a shorter version of this story was published in the Cedar Street Times on 19 October 2018

The fireside lounge at the Hyatt in Monterey

A friend was staying with me this past week. It’s amazing how you meet, make, and keep friends. Years ago, a different friend had invited me to be his date to his company’s retreat in Bend, Oregon. The company was based in Portland. I love the rationing of people in their early twenties. He was single and so was I, “Sally, the company is paying for me to bring someone and it would be a waste for me to go alone. Plus, I think you’d be a good date because I don’t need to babysit you.” I took it as a compliment and booked a ticket to Portland, ready for the adventure. Justin had just started this job and was getting to know his future colleagues.

I mingled, ate delicious food, and drank great wine. After the sun set, the drinking got heavier and I decided it was time for me to go read my book in bed. I excused myself from the people I was talking to and Michele said, “Hey, I’m going back to my room to read, too!” We walked and talked all the way back to our rooms and learned that we had a lot in common. We exchanged contact information and promised to stay in touch at the end of the weekend. It was just like being at summer camp.

When I got home I wrote and mailed her a letter. I told her that I had enjoyed meeting her and wished her luck on her new job—she, like Justin—was also new. With that started a friendship. The following year she took me as her date to the company’s retreat. And the year after she visited me here. I have visited her in Portland and we have remained pen pals. Here we are today visiting one another yet again and making plans for the future.

In talking, we learned that she and my boss do very similar work and I suggested they meet. We met at The Fireplace Lounge and Patio at the Hyatt Regency and sat in the lobby where indeed, the fireplace is magnificent. The place is great, I love well-lit spaces and the patio overlooks the golf course. The waiter was incredibly courteous and had a charming smile. He was attentive to our needs but not too pushy. We were able to enjoy our wine, tuna poke nachos, and conversation.

Poke is all the rage, as you may have noticed with the two Monterey locales that have popped up in the past few years: The Poke Lab (on Alvarado) and Poke Time on (Lighthouse in Monterey).

If you aren’t familiar with Poke, it’s a raw fish salad that originated in Hawaii. In Hawaiian, the word poke means “cut piece” or “small piece” and can be made with tuna, octopus, salmon, or other shellfish although the most popular is ahi tuna. Traditionally, it is cut up raw fish seasoned with salt, limu (seaweed), roasted kukui nuts (candlenuts), and sometimes pepper and/or furikake (a Japanese dry seasoning made of dry ground fish, sesame seeds, seaweed, sugar, and salt).

The dish we ordered was a spin on this salad, poke nachos. Tuna poke was served over crispy won ton chips with wakame (seaweed), sriracha aioli (sriracha is a red chili sauce), and wasabi (a Japanese horseradish). And it was delightful, the soft fish over the crispy won ton chips were the perfect treat.

As I sat back and listened to them talk about their very niche-specific work, I thought of the importance of listening but also asking questions. In asking Michele about her work and probing her for more details, I learned that she uses an instrument in her work that my boss’ husband co-developed in the 1970s. The three of them (my boss and her husband) and Michele chattered away as they all spoke the same language and I enjoyed listening. I learned so much in listening but I also learned that I am most certainly not an expert in conflict management (what they were discussing). I was reminded that there is a time to listen and a time to speak and this was certainly my time to listen.

Ahi poke nachos

**a shorter version of this story was originally published in the Cedar Street Times on 12 October 2018

Placerville, Apple Hill, and Pilot Hill

“Forever is composed of nows.”

–Emily Dickinson

Autumn is upon us and it’s glorious. I love everything that comes with the autumn season—fires in the fireplace, crisp air, rain, sweaters, sunrises, sunsets, and all of the autumn foods.

I spent the past weekend in Placerville, my closest high school guy friend (yes, PGHS grads) was getting married on Saturday night and I was honored to be a part of the celebration of marriage for someone with whom I have lived through so many of life’s milestones…and here yet another.

Main Street, downtown Placerville

I drove up on Friday and stayed at the Historic Carey House Hotel, built in 1857. Placerville is formerly known as Dry Diggings and Hangtown, both remnants of it’s role in the California Gold Rush.

Cool sign in the hotel

The wedding was Saturday evening so I spent the better part of the morning at Apple Hill. Apple Hill is not a town, rather a conglomerate of apple orchards. Apples are not only a sign that autumn is here, but also one of my favorite foods. I drove through the curving, hilly roads of Apple Hill and marveled at the trees and changing colors. I stopped at one orchard and ordered apple cider and apple cider donuts.

Apple cider and apple cider donuts

I had never heard of apple cider donuts so naturally I had to do a bit of research. The trick—I read in all the recipes—is to reduce the apple cider down in order to have a stronger and more pungent apple taste. After the donuts are fried they are rolled in cinnamon and sugar and served piping hot. How could they not be good?

The converted barn at the orchard I stopped at was a mad house of activity. The line for donuts and cider was fifteen people deep but I had to do it because when in Apple Hill…do as the people do and I guess that’s eat apple cider donuts.

The menu

Yay! Autumn!!

I sat on a bench and watched the kids and the families picnicking in the breezy autumn sun. The orchard had set hay bales in a circle and children were running around on the tops of the hay. I heard a guy sitting next to me say, “what can be better than jumping from bale of hay to bale of hay?” And I couldn’t help but agree. I watched the kids whose everything was chasing their friends from bale of hay to bale of hay. Later their everything would be eating donuts or throwing a fit because their parents told them running-on-hay-bale-time was over. But for now, they were filled with sheer glee. So many philosophers and theologians tell us the importance of living in the moment but I think a lot of adults in our society struggle with that. I know I do. I’ll be sitting in a meeting and start to jot my grocery list on the margin of my paper. While sitting in a meeting may not be as fun as jumping from bale of hay to bale of hay, chasing a squealing friend of mine, I would like to be present for the meeting. And for everything.

So while you read this, I hope you are enjoying a cup of coffee or maybe a pumpkin spice latte. I hope you are present and ensconced in the reading and the moment. I leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Henry David Thoreau: “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” I hope you’re enjoying the island of Pacific Grove as we welcome fall with open arms, well I at least do.

Welcome fall!

Life wants to live. Flowers growing through a crack in the pavement

 

Balance

This morning—as I enjoy my spiced cafe au lait with the front door wide open so I can watch the rain and the classical music playing softly in the background—I contemplate balance.

They say everything in moderation, even moderation. Which is to say sometimes it’s OK to splurge, whether it be by listening to your favorite song on repeat or having more than once slice of cake. But that’s not what I am talking about, I am mentally asking myself what is the healthy level of emotional and personal balance?

The other day at church the priest was talking about being humble and this started my mental musing. I value being humble and I try to be modest but as an aspiring writer, whose success lies on promoting myself and publicizing myself, there is a bit of a grey zone. Is it self-aggrandizing to make cards with my name on them and pass them out at every opportunity? Is it self-effacing to say “oh my writing is not that good…”

I believe you can have both, be humble, modest, and kind and still promote yourself and recognize the value and skill you bring to the world. I don’t think it is shameful to have a dream and want to pursue it.

Both sides of this balance beam will, undoubtedly, illicit criticism. I can see how, when trying to promote my writing or handing out my cards a certain group of people will think—or even say—who do you think you are? Stephen King? And I can hear the other end of the spectrum of people giving me a mental, if not physical, nudge to pass out my cards, pursue freelance gigs, and tell people about my writing.

My conclusion (which is the same as my philosophy about life) is to face ever opportunity honestly and with an open heart. Sometimes this results in hurt but that’s OK, it’s foolish to think we could go through life without ever getting hurt, it comes with the territory of loving other people and putting ourselves out there. I have to recognize that the people who criticize are coming from a place of their own self-doubt or criticism or are indeed afraid for my failure. But as Paulo Coelho says, in one of my all-time favorite books The Alchemist, “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” Which reminds me of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, where he stated, the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

While FDR and I are talking about very different things, the common theme is that fear is crippling and fear itself is what causes failure. We cannot be afraid. We cannot be afraid of the other, he or she whom we do not know and we cannot be afraid of failing because if we fully believe that we will succeed and that we are willing to give it everything we can, we will not fail.

I wish you balance. And I wish that you not be afraid to pursue your dreams—whether they be learning to scuba dive or publishing a book.

 

 

Strawberry Mascarpone Tart with Port Glaze

Do you have a food that you love to make? Or maybe a food someone you love makes? You know, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without Aunt Sally’s casserole. To me, that’s this Strawberry Tart during strawberry season.

For my 20th birthday, a friend had bought me a subscription to the late Gourmet magazine, that is unfortunately no longer with us. The day it came in the mail, I would sit in my seat at the coffee table in my apartment and read it. I would dog ear the recipes that sounded fun to make and ask my roommate and my brother what sounded good. (My brother lived in the same apartment complex in San Diego with his friends).

This became a favorite for the group and if you make it, it will probably become a favorite of your family’s, too. I decided to make it for a BBQ I was going to at a friend’s house. I had texted my friend with two options “stout brownies or strawberry mascarpone tart.” She said it was a tough call but chose the strawberry dessert. It was a hit at the BBQ which just warms my heart…I love feeding people and I especially love when they like the food.

Strawberry Mascarpone Tart with Port Glaze

For the tart shell:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 7 tbsp unsalted butter, chilled
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp cold water

Filling:

  • 1 1/2 lb. fresh strawberries, washed, topped, and cut in half lengthwise
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup ruby Port
  • 1 lb. mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

You will need a 10-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.

Heat oven to 375˚F.

First, make the tart shell. Blend together flour, sugar, salt, and butter in a bowl with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Beat together yolk, vanilla, lemon juice, and water with a fork, then drizzle over the flour mixture and stir with a fork until mixture comes together.

Gently knead with floured hands on a lightly floured surface until a dough forms. The idea is to get the dough homogenized but not melt the butter. Press into a 5-inch disk. Place in the center of a tart pan and cover with plastic wrap. Using your fingers and bottom of a flat-bottomed measuring cup, spread and push dough to evenly cover bottom and side of pan.

Prick bottom of tart shell all over with a fork and freeze until firm, about 10 minutes.

Line tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights, I use dry beans or barley. Bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil and weights and continue to bake until shell is deep golden all over, about 20 minutes more. Cool in the pan until tart shell is cool to touch (and won’t melt the filling).

While the shell cools:

Stir together strawberries and granulated sugar in a bowl and let stand 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain berry juice in a sieve over a small saucepan, reserving berries. Add Port to liquid in saucepan and boil until reduced to about 1/4 cup, this takes a good 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl to cool.

Meanwhile, whisk together mascarpone, powdered sugar, lemon juice, zest, vanilla, and a pinch of salt until thoroughly mixed.

When the shell and glaze are cooled, assemble the tart by spreading the mascarpone mixture evenly in cooled tart shell, then top with strawberries. Drizzle Port glaze over tart. And enjoy!

Strawberry Mascarpone Tart as the sun sets

We sat out on the deck of my friend’s house and enjoyed our dinner. The weather was perfect and the sun was slowly setting. While my friend BBQ’d, I spotted an orange tree full of ripe oranges and asked if I could pick. They laughed and told me to have at it. Apparently the only thing they use the oranges for is making manhattans!

An orange tree out in the valley

**This recipe and a shorter version of this story originally appeared in my column Postcards from the Kitchen in the Cedar Street Times on 28 September 2018

Friends

The past few days have been all about friends for me. I don’t know if our friends define us but they certainly enrich our lives.

It started the other day, one of my closest, dearest friends called me. She wanted to chat. We live only 100 or so miles from one another but we hardly get the chance to see one another. She has a newborn baby and owns a home with her husband. I work a full-time job and I am putting a lot of energy into my freelance writing. Anyhow in addition to wanting to just talk, she wanted to tell me how much our friendship meant to her. It is not often that people get raw with one another like this. I make an effort to talk about my feelings and express myself to my loved ones but sometimes it catches us off guard. After we got off the phone I was overwhelmed by love. I was so thankful to have this friend and to have received that phone call.

That same night another friend who I have known since I was a child sent me a message: “am I ever going to see you?”

I hadn’t seen her in ages. We would make plans and cancel, life would get in the way, travel, sick family members, etc. She said, “I have the next three nights available. I’m taking you to dinner, my treat.”

Luckily, I had the following night (Friday) free. She told me when and where to be and she made a reservation. We sat down and didn’t stop talking for three hours. But it was like no time had passed. She told stories about her life and of course I knew all of the characters. And same for me with her. It was endearing and again I was so thankful that someone in my life would tell me, “when are you free, I’m taking you to dinner.” I made a note in my mental notebook that I would do this in the future, when I was able and there was a friend I wanted to see and couldn’t make it happen.

Also on Friday, a friend asked if her niece could stay with me. She had never met her adult niece and had invited her to volunteer at the Jazz Festival with her. Hotels were either not available or silly expensive and I offered my place for her niece to crash. She showed up with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of Prosecco. I was again overwhelmed by joy. But the flowers and the sparkling wine were dwarfed by the human connection I had with her. We sat and talked for hours, sharing stories about our pasts, our dreams, and our families.

Last week a friend and I were going to get pedicures. While driving to the nail salon she told me she had spent a good part of the morning crying.

“Why?” I asked and before she could answer “Why didn’t you call me?”

She explained that she was moving the following week and her fiancé was scheduled to come help her move but his work wouldn’t give him the time off and—in addition to her being upset by not getting the chance to see him—now she had to pack all by herself.

I looked at her and said “I will help you!”

She went on to say I don’t want to inconvenience you and I responded by saying life isn’t always convenient but that’s why we have friends. Friends aren’t just there to take us out and have dinner with but they’re also there when things don’t go our way or as planned, they are there to help and give a hand.

“You would do that?” She asked.

Of course! The number of times I’ve had to move and someone helped me or gave me a ride somewhere or let me stay in the guest bedroom is countless. Despite how the news portrays our society, there are many more kind and helpful people than there are bad people.

As I swept pine needles on the roof of my parents’ house, I pondered all of these friendships, and many more and was thankful for them. I thought about how friendships need to be nurtured but also friends understand when life gets busy or in the way, they tell you I want to see you and I will do anything in my ability to make that happen. Friends can come to you from anywhere and what a joy it is when you meet someone you click with.

Moss hanging from the big pine tree above my parents house. Thanks to it, there are pine needles everywhere.

I know people who care about me give me a hard time for being “too nice” or “too giving.” Too giving of my time, of my things, of my heart. But I would rather go through life giving more than keeping to myself and missing out on the wonderful experiences brought to us by friends. I encourage you to stop by and see a friend you have not enjoyed the company of in a while.  Share a little time and laughs.