Saturday, December 29, 2012

The roles we have in life... and a savory cranberry tart

I’ve been thinking of the roles we play lately. Or rather, the roles we have in our life.

There’s this man, he runs a workout studio I go to. This guy is what I would call “cool”. Will Smith cool. He’s in his 40’s, family man, athlete, business owner, and I always marvel at how seamlessly he’s able to go from one role to another with complete grace and ease. He can be a role model and teacher to kids and also gently flirt with young women in his class, dance and have fun carefree like a teenager, and be in charge of his business and people working for him. He’s man, father, brother, husband, teacher, boss, role model, boy, athlete, dancer, friend, buddy, mentor, trainer... He’s all of those things and at the same time completely himself. I don’t know him personally and know nothing of his private life, but he always struck me as one of the most balanced people I know.

I think there’s this direct link between the roles in our life and how balanced we feel. When one role overwhelms all others for long periods of time, I tend to feel stuck, frustrated, limited and somehow lacking. As a mom, I know I'm not alone in that longing to have time to step out of that role, even for five minutes, to have an adult conversation, to be spontaneous and carefree, to finish a cup of coffee. 
Because we are not one thing.
We are so much more complex than that. Embracing our multiplicity is the way to truly be ourselves. Our humanity has so many facets, all deserving to be expressed in some way. We are not just mothers and fathers. We are not just our jobs. We are more.
This has been a new way to look at my life, which has geared me away from harsh self-judgment, to give way to a detective-like, or explorer-like, perspective: looking for the roles I want in my life, the ones that make me happy and fulfilled, that reflect what profoundly matters to me, and finding creative ways to fill in those roles.

I started on this train of thought recently as I was walking back home with the stroller and Pablo sleeping in it, after having purchased a few knick-knacks for my food styling experiments. The holidays were coming, I was thinking of my holiday menu. And it hit me. Right there, in that moment, I was feeling like a mother, walking with my child getting some needed sleep, but also like a blogger and writer, thinking of this post, like a food stylist and photographer (in training!), thinking of how I would use my new props. Like a cook, thinking of tweaking some recipes. And looking forward to being a good friend and host during the holidays - one of my most cherished roles, little matters more to me than being a good friend to those I love.
That was a good walk. I felt grounded, myself.  

I want to be all those things (and a few others). They are all part of me. I think of a bridge. It can't be held by one pillar, can it? It's held by many pillars. Those roles are our pillars. Nurturing them helps us not fall apart at every blow life throws at us. They give us balance, and strength.

I also think this is crucially important as a model to my child. Having no other role in life than that of his mom, wouldn't be good for him (or me). I want many pillars for him. I want him to see that we can have many facets in life, pursue different roles that ring true to us, and which may evolve over time. That’s what makes us who we are. I guess that’s why I hate labels with a passion. “He’s shy”, “she’s studious”, “he’s rambunctious”, etc. We are all those things at one point or another. We are not just one thing. This idea is both grounding and freeing. I hope to impart some of that sense to my son so that he may learn it perhaps with a bit more ease than I have. 

So instead of resolutions this year, I’d like to think of the roles I want reinforce, or improve in two thousand thirteen, and the ones I want to lessen. New roles I want to build, too. I hope to find the courage to step in roles that I may not be so comfortable in, as well. It seems a more realistic way to achieve that "happy new year" everyone wishes us, rather than resolutions I’m bound to fall short on.  

One of the roles that has become such a wonderful, fulfilling part of my life, a labor of love really, is this blog. Actually, it has been a great way to combine many roles I’ve been longing to express for a long time. That’s the thing about expressing. You just want someone out there to hear you somehow. And if there’s just one person reading these lines, it’s immensely worthwhile. So thank you.

Now... just a little bit about this recipe. This was an experiment I had to tweak a few times until I got the dosage just right. I got some fresh cranberries in a CSA delivery and wanted to use them in something else than sauce or muffins. I’ve also been wanting to experiment with duck fat in pie crust since I started to look into pie crust recipes around Thanksgiving (starting with this cornmeal lard pie crust recipe on Local Milk). That’s how this savory tart was born. It’s a nice combination of sweet, tart and savory. Half pie, half quiche, it makes for a nice brunch entree with a salad.

It’s not the "whip-up at the last minute" type of dish. More a “I’m in the mood for slowing down, being in the moment and cooking for good friends” type of dish. We need those in our lives, once in a while. To stop and smell... the savory pie.

Our years are never just happy, are they? So I'd like to wish you and your loved ones a fulfilling new year with moments of true joy; may you find ways to express many facets and roles in your life.


Gorgonzola cranberry tart in a duck fat crust

Inspired by the awesome cornmeal lard pie crust from Local Milk + invaluable lessons in baking from Cannelle & Vanille

Serves 6-8

Prep time: 30 mn + 90 mn rest time for crust
Cook time: 45 mn

Age for babies: 12 months+ for the eggs.

For the crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp cold unsalted butter (cut into 1/2" pieces)
2 tbsp cold rendered duck fat (cut into 1/2" pieces - stick in freezer 10 mn before starting crust if possible)
2-3 tbsp ice cold water

For filling:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced, stems removed (keep some of the "fuzz" for garnish)
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 cup of cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
one pinch of salt
one pinch of sugar
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 sprig of rosemary
2 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
2-3 oz crumbed Gorgonzola (or other blue cheese of choice)

In a large bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal and salt. Pour in a food processor (or do by hand if you prefer), and add in the butter and duck fat. Pulse until the pieces of fat are about the size of peas (do not overmix, as this will affect the chemistry of the gluten and the crust will end up very crumbly... learned this the hard way).

Put the mixture back into the bowl, and slowly add the ice cold water, tbsp by tbsp, working it into the dough by hand, until it comes together (add the water very progressively, harder to fix if you put too much than too little). It will form a ball, albeit somewhat wet and greasy.

Place dough on plastic wrap, form a disc 4"-5" across, wrap and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.

Dust a surface with some flour. Roll the dough to the size of a 9-inch pie pan.

Fill a 9-inch tart mold (glass works well) with the dough, pressing on the sides. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for another 30 mn.

(For pie crust questions and fixes, I found this very helpful article on Food Science.)

Preheat the oven at 375°F. Take the pie crust out of the fridge, cover with parchment paper, and place dry beans or rice as pie weights (unless you actually have pie weights!) so the crust doesn't swell while baking. Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling:

In a sauté pan over medium heat, put the olive oil, fennel, onion and thyme with a pinch of salt, and cook until tender and slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir. Add the cranberries and the pinch of sugar, and stir, until they all pop. Remove from heat and set aside.

Warm up the cream (without boiling it), remove from heat and place the rosemary sprig in it. Cover and let steep 10 minutes.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and cream.

Let the pie crust cool for a few minutes. Then spoon the fennel-cranberry mixture into it. Add the crumbled Gorgonzola on top, and pour the egg-cream mixture over the filling.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until custard is set (knife comes out clean).

Serve warm, with a salad. We served it with romaine lettuce in a creamy vinaigrette (3 parts heavy cream / 1 part vinegar, salt & pepper.)

(Leftovers can be served the next day, but the tart does taste better reheated in the oven for a few minutes).

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  1. So beautifully written. I agree on working and reinforcing the roles currently in my life for 2013. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and delicious recipe. A true fan of yours

  2. Love love love these thoughts and ideas. I have been so focused on the role of mom that I've forgotten that a single pillar cannot hold up a bridge. I need to work on creating ME as well.
    Your posts always give me pause for thought - thank you!

    1. Robin, your comment made my day, connecting with people who can relate, and hopefully have some of my thoughts and struggles be useful to others, makes writing here so rewarding. So thank YOU so much, and a very happy new year to you and your loved ones. :-)

  3. that was such a heartfelt beautiful piece of writing. I think that's one of the reasons why I love your blog so much, how you juggle all these roles and how you're passionate about them all. That's a great way to think of your resolutions for the new year; I think I shall do that instead too. Makes so much more sense and feels much mor emeaningful than a list that you forget in a couple of weeks' time!

    happy new year helene (:

    1. Shu Han, your comment made me feel all warm and fuzzy :-) thank you so much. I sometimes feel the blog should be more focused on one thing or theme, but then I just can't get myself to renounce the other parts. So it makes me so happy that that's what you like about it :-) I'm lucky to have you as a reader. Happy new year to you!

  4. Thanks for a great post and recipe (made the tart and everyone loved it- added and extra egg to make a bit heartier- worked great!)
    I have been thinking a lot about my roles too and like the idea or reinforcing them. I have also been thinking about how there is really no "balance" with the many roles we have- there are times in your life (like with little ones) that your role as a mom is heavier than any other and times in your life where you are more in your career or a beloved hobby or even a personal goal. I guess in a way I have released this goal of balancing these roles and would just like to work on reinforcing them, encouraging myself to put effort into all the roles I wish to play (for example since being a mom I have let my personal goals with distance running fall a bit!!) and then accepting that they are fluid. :) happy new year!

    1. Hi Sarika, first, thanks so much for the feedback on the recipe, it's so great to hear about people actually making the recipes at home - especially if it turns out good :-)
      Thanks also for making a great point on the roles... Absolutely, this balance we find is over time and definitely we can't be all these roles equally at once. Accepting this "fluidity" is so important (and sometimes hard), you said that in such a wise, insightful way. With the roles we want and value in our awareness somewhere, all we can do is try to encourage them, be kind to ourselves, and yet accept life as it presents itself too. All that is a work in progress as far as I'm concerned, that's for sure :-)


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