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Friday, May 10, 2013

The Writing Life: Imagination's Child at Play and a Tart

Can your mind transport you to a place you are thinking about? Close your eyes and your childhood friend/yard/playground/bedroom/kitchen appears. Of course, what a silly question, that's child's play for your imagination.  

But can just the opposite be true? Can the power of the mind transform the place outside you to resemble the place within

If you know what I mean, then you understand. Or you might think I am being totally ridiculous - but perhaps there is something to this. 

My recent readings include Guy de Maupassant's story, La Horla, in which he slowly comes to the belief that he is being occupied by a spirit that drifted by him earlier in the week on a ship. The story doesn't have an altogether happy ending, but it IS fascinating. And also the spectacular work of Henry James "The Turn of the Screw," in which a small boy also is occupied by a spirit while none around him can lend a hand. Or understand. A happy ending? Not so much. 

These experiences coupled with an outing at a local cafe got me wondering if this has ever happened to you? Is it possible for your mind to transform Carrboro into just for an instant, Nice, the Nice in France? 




Has this ever happened to you? 

As a writer I often wander out to a cafe to be among people, and be a silent observer as it clarifies the world within. 

Among these ponderings at a café on a warmish day in Carrboro, I looked up as someone from the place within, the place I was writing about, rushed by.

He wore a pink shirt, straw hat, Peter Maile-style, stout and tan, walking quickly towards a woman, waiting. His white shoes met her golden sandals. He spoke in French. 

It was so dream-like - so out of place that I blinked. There is a French restaurant right down the street, Provence. Perhaps they were headed there soon. And so I continued writing, and at the same time, smiled and remembered another time. 

A time when I was crossing the Promenade des Anglais on a bright day in Nice as this jovial couple walked by.

Steps led down to the beach and a restaurant. Our first evening in Nice, France, would be so very Nice. Pretty and magical to dine on the beach. I shooed away the thoughts of a commonly held notion. Good view, lousy food. Could this be true in France? 

I gently pulled my husband's arm down as he was getting ready to rudely signal to someone that we were ready to be waited on, and now. 

"Don't be so... American..."

But no sooner than these words were out, did the French waiters buzz by, and our hair whoosh'ed in the Mediterranean night. They were in a hurry, and they did not stop to look or consider that we  were ready for a table. Not one  glance!




That night, our first night in Nice - it took time, over an hour to get a table, l’eau and menus. The boys were so tired, hungry.

Night was falling and all around us the candles were being lit, at other tables.

Another thirty minutes passed till finally ours was lit too, and gave us light to read the menus.

The boys laid their heads down for a moment, it was just a moment. But when they woke our dinner appeared.




"Bonjour, ca va?" I heard the voice as if nearby. 

I looked up. My friend, Aileen, stood at my table, she also had been part of the whole French experience. 

"How long have you been standing there?"




"Only a minute. Or two," she smiled.  

With nary any jet lag, I was back to the not-Nice world. 

And now to our just desserts.



almond and honey tart with pomegranate sauce


makes 1 (9) inch tart, or 1-8 servings (!)

almonds
1 cup almonds, coarsely chopped

semolina shortbread crust
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
¼ cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup semolina flour
1 pinch salt
4 oz. (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

honey filling
¾ cup honey
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ cup heavy cream
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk

pomegranate sauce
2/3 cup pomegranate sauce
½ c sugar
¼ cup water
grated orange zest
2 tbs. orange juice
1 ½ tablespoons arrowroot

first chop almonds in food processor, set aside.

make shortbread crust:
combine vanilla paste, sugar, flours, and salt in food processor. add butter; pulse until mixture becomes a dough and comes together in large chunks. shape into round disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill 2 hours, or overnight.
(place crust in fridge and use already prepared crust)

preheat oven to 350°f. roll crust into 10-inch circle on lightly floured work surface. press into 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom, trimming any excess. set tart pan on baking sheet, and bake 30 minutes or until golden brown and fragrant. cool.
  
make filling:
bring honey, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil in saucepan, whisking to dissolve sugar. remove from heat, and cool slightly. whisk together cream, egg, and egg yolk in bowl. whisk warm honey mixture into egg mixture.

spread almonds over crust in single layer so no crust is visible. carefully pour filling over almonds, making sure almonds stay in place and filling doesn’t overflow. bake 45 minutes, or until tart is golden brown and filling is set but slightly jiggles when tapped. cool.

make sauce.
mix sauce ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and cook till desired consistency is reached.

serve tart with sauce.

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