Tuesday, June 8, 2010
So far, Craig makes one dessert, Apple Tart. The simple, country style tart was his first foray into flour and sugar. Seeing Craig do something so different, outside his usual savory realm, I saw anew what a skilled cook he is. By skilled I mean in part the muscle memory and control of someone who has put a lot of time and attention into the act of cutting, paring, slicing; the motions of cooking itself.
In general, Craig's cooking is not overly fussy. The way he cooks feels like the ultimate and inevitable evolution of the ingredients. He does not ascribe to, though he admires, the very high tech cooking that bends the very structure of food to the will and vision of the chef. Craig's cooking has a naturalness to it, and he is a natural, in his element, while cooking.
Watching a "natural" it is so easy to underestimate the work, the level of experience and concentration. Me and the girls, and our guests, experience mainly the end result: dinner on the table. There I notice the symmetrical scallion slices, the perfectly tender and balanced flavors of the meat, how precise an amount he has made for our family. One night at dinner when I commented that the red sauce over polenta was particularly delicious, he described the way he had diced the carrots into tiny pieces rather than puree them with the tomatoes because it gave a more interesting mouth feel and more of a tiny pop of sweetness. It was a portal, a tiny carrot dice sized portal, into the level of care he puts into cooking, and the nuance to which he experiments.
To think of all the unnoticed ways of slicing and combining, the experiments and successes that are just gobbled down! Respect and love and intelligence are a part of any job well done, and it feels so good when good work is acknowledged. That may be part of why the table is and has been such a healing place for the family. We agree and disagree about both major and minor parts of life, and in the specific manageable realm of the table we get to work on our communication. First and most importantly, we get to appreciate each others' work. It is a time to speak kindly and say thank you.
And, we get to work on considering our differences. Craig loves more salt and fat than I do. He would put bacon and goose fat in everything. Over time he has scaled back on salt and our compromise was a bowl of great sea salt on the table, we found some flexibility. In the context of one peaceful environment, for us the table, we can explore. Our insights about our daughters, renovation of the house, conflicts at work, soaring insecurities, all have a place to be shared. With the same level and care that we come to the table, we share at the table. We talk, and we listen. It is the discipline and beauty of time at the table that keeps our ability to communicate also growing.
When he took his first apple tart from the oven, I thought it was the prettiest thing I had ever seen. Looking more closely, beyond the glistening melted sugar sprinkled on top, inside the warm, toasted frame of the dough curled over the edge of the pan, were the apples: each slice was peeled with the quick three angle motion he always peels his apples with. Here, nearly a hundred of them all layered together, I saw not the habit of that motion, but the intelligence.
It is a simple action, peeling an apple. Simple does not mean it is not difficult. Communicating can be so hard. Words become lodged in the space between the ribs and feel to heavy to speak. Bad feelings sit in your stomach and have no shape, no name, just bad. Pick up the apple. Say the words. Cut the slice. Open your feelings. Peel off the skin. Listen. Talking, and keeping on opening up is a habit as much as peeling an apple. And eventually, that habit can have great intelligence.
Craig took Serena's advice and followed a recipe diligently a couple of times, and after that, started to freestyle. His freestyle tart is a blend of two great recipes from, David Tanis's a platter of figs and other recipes, and Richard Olney's Lulu's Provencal Table.
Here is Craig's Apple Tart:
2 cups all-purpose flour (and a bit for dusting)
2 sticks butter diced and very cold (plus extra to taste for topping)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg beaten and enough ice water to make 1/2 cup
5-7 large apples (any combination, crisp and tart like Pink Lady, Fuji)
Put the flour, butter and salt in a bowl. Using your fingers work together until sandy with some larger pieces of butter remaining. Don't overwork! Pour in the egg and ice water and quickly knead. It will be sticky and soft. Sprinkle a bit of flour on the dough and form into a rectangle. Wrap in plastic, foil or wax paper and refrigerate for an hour or longer.
Peel the apples, cut in quarters and core. Slice into pieces about 1/8". Put the pieces in a large bowl dust with sugar and squeeze lemon juice on them. Toss to coat and set aside.
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
Dust a work surface with flour and roll out the dough into a rectangle large enough to fit a 15 1/2 by 10 1/2 baking sheet. Don't worry if it breaks up or looks funny, just patch bits where needed. Dough should come up over the edge of the baking sheet.
Arrange the apples in rows on the pastry dough. The apple slices should overlap like shingles. Melt some butter over low heat and brush onto apple slices and exposed dough edges. Sprinkle with sugar to taste and, if desired, cinnamon.
Bake for about 45 minutes or until the pastry is golden and crisp. Let cool. Serve as you like...plain or with whipped cream, créme fresh or ice cream.