Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between
You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium's
Liable to walk upon the scene
30 days hath September, April, June and November… and jolly old December has 31 and here we find ourselves not only at the end of another month but standing at the end of another year, on the cusp of a new one, looking out over the sill into darkness slowly fading into light. We each of us tend to get just a little too sentimental, a tad too nostalgic when stirring up the Ghosts of the Year Past, and I promised myself stoutly that I would not. I would rather look back at 2010, revisit my accomplishments and mishaps, marvel at the opportunities grabbed at with success and ponder over those opportunities boggled, and generally discuss my foibles with a sense of humor and a good laugh rather than shedding a wistful tear. Truth be told, 2010 was rather an amazing year for me both personally and as a blogger and writer, so as I look back over the past twelve months I smile and clap my hands as I revel in the positive, focusing on the good while attempting to shrug my shoulders and laugh off the mistakes or the chances I let slip by. As the old song goes “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative….”
The snow still alludes me and the days are gray and cold, something eerie hangs over the world hidden by the mist and shrouded under steely skies, but the briskness in the air as we step outside revivifies me, the iciness that fills my lungs and nips at my cheeks startles me awake after the drowsy warmness inside has lulled me into a dreamy stupor, and suddenly I feel alive again as, arm entwined in arm, we walk down the street and wander through the abandoned town, abandoned to ski chalets and blazing fires or simply the chance to huddle together inside amongst their loved ones as the vacation days and the old year wind down, happier to be quietly at peace after the rambunctious, noisy holidays. JP shivers and laughs at how cold it has become as I tug harder on his arm and drag him along, thrilled to be out, satisfied to be happily alone with him surrounded by the silence of the empty streets. We still, after all these years, so enjoy each other’s company and have the power to make each other laugh out loud, on and on, over and over again, wondering if our silliness is normal for such a pair of staid, respectable, old people such as we. Together we step over the threshold and into the new year, boldly pushing our way in on winged feet, hoping, nay insisting upon taking the bull by the horns and making 2011 our year, a year of success and dreams, adventure and excitement! Like the baker lining up plain old white flour, grainy sugar, mud-colored vanilla and dark bitter chocolate, measuring precisely, stirring and blending gently yet with firmness and vigor and creating a masterpiece, a confection sweet, luscious and beautiful, have we decided to take all that we have experienced and learned along the way, the contacts that have stepped into our paths, the skills we have honed, the confidence built up throughout the year and combine them all, tenderly, carefully folding them together, stirring, shaping, simmering, spicing them with the friendships made, the love and encouragement, flavoring it with the advice gratefully accepted and the sweet opportunities offered and create something exciting, a delicious concoction, a delightful 2011. Like the icy cold weather, it invigorates me, excites every brain cell, every inch of my body and stirs me into action, pushing me along a wind-blown, sometimes blustery and obscure, sometimes bright and clear path into the future.
Never one to toot my own horn, I prefer not to list my brilliant accomplishments or ogle in wonderment at all that has come my way in 2011 as bloggers, and I, are wont to do at the end of a year. Anyone who reads my blog or follows me on Twitter or Facebook knows all that I have done in the year past, my achievements and my projects, all of which I am extremely proud, and can peruse my Published Articles page as they wish, a bit at a time. But I would like to take this opportunity to thank a few of the wonderful people that have done so much for me, have supported and encouraged me, given me opportunities, presented me with exciting challenges, worked on projects with me, believed in me and inspired me to work ever harder, bolstered my confidence, advised, corrected, shared and always kept me laughing. And with whom I enter this New Year full of hope and pleasure, full of endeavors, projects and plans for grand adventures. And because of whom I am truly a better person:
Deeba, my twin sistah and inspiration in all things baking, together with whom I have kept the MacTweet fires burning, offering a warm space and an inviting, laughter-filled virtual kitchen for everyone who wishes to bake French Macarons together. Meeta, Jeanne, Ilva, three amazingly talented, smart and rip-roaringly funny women, and the extraordinarily tight-knit group we have formed in order to create From Plate to Page (along with other interesting projects), the workshop borne of a common vision, our passion for what we do and the desire to share both with other food bloggers. All three are my inspiration, my support system, my creative and personal sounding board, and truly family. The great folks at Huffington Post Food, Arianna, Colin and the team, who have offered me an incredible opportunity and an exciting challenge, who support me and give me the freedom to express myself on that amazing platform. Lael for introducing my blog to Saveur.com and since becoming a great friend and forming our own “buddy system” on this great adventure we call writing. There were also a few others who, by mentioning me in interviews as a favorite blogger, by featuring my blog on their website or by simply adding me to their impressive blogroll, have really boosted my confidence and motivated me to keep writing, keep working, keep reaching for the stars. My sincere and boundless gratitude to each and every one of you.
On a more personal note, JP and I had a fabulous, romantic, gastronomic week together this Spring in the mountains outside of Clermont Ferrand, Lyon and Annecy. We also spent a month in Florida, joined at my mom’s by Clem & Simon, both of whom have become fine young men. My Spice Sisters and I succeeded in meeting up in London this past year not once but twice, the second time a fabulous all-girl weekend which also involved meeting up with a roomful of friends and bloggers! Together we created an evening Skype Cinema event, the first of many evenings spent with great friends, drinking wine, eating pizza and watching a film even though we are spread out over several countries and time zones! And I have truly made some amazing friends this year, some with whom I am in contact every single day and their tweets, private messages and e-mails make me smile, laugh, forge ahead into the unknown and often scary world, their confidence in me making me shine! Ah, the magic of the internet!
JP took off a few days this week, a time to resource and a time to spend together, tête à tête, in the coziness of our own home. He cooked and I baked, each to our hearts’ content, we ate out as we pleased, we watched crazy, silly movies just to end the year with a good, hearty laugh, and we discussed the year past and the year to come. We toasted each other and the dreams we have for 2011 and feel that maybe we are actually on our way. As this post sees in the new year, a new decade, I wanted to wish my dear readers a truly magnificent 2011 filled with happiness and good health and I would like to begin this new year with something truly sweet and very special: Portuguese Cream Tartlets, my way. Tiny cinnamony puff pastry cups cradling a rich, silky, elegant cream caressed with a touch of vanilla and a hint of nutmeg and dusted with pale silvers of almonds. Although a tad underbaked, these tartlets were the perfect, creamy, voluptuous, sumptuous, delicious dessert.
New Year is always a time of partying and celebration with friends and family. But on a personal and professional level it is also a time of reflection and evaluation; of planning and regrouping; of refreshment and renewed inspiration. And it is in this reflective spirit that we have decided to ask each one of the four From Plate to Page workshop presenters to look back at 2010 to tell us what they feel they have achieved; as well as forward at 2011 to share with us some of their goals for the coming year. The series kicks off with Ilva, the talented photographer behind Lucullian Delights and Ilva Beretta Photography.
PORTUGUESE CREAM TARTLETS
Although a combination of several recipes, the cream filling was based on one found in the December 2010 issue of delicious, so I would like to share this with Ivonne of Creams Puffs in Venice for Magazine Mondays.
2 x 13 oz (375 g) packages of frozen puff pastry or the equivalent quantity of homemade (I believe I had closer to 22 oz (650 g) homemade, the recipe can be found here.)
2 – 4 Tbs cinnamon sugar (1/2 - 1 tsp ground cinnamon for every 2 Tbs sugar)
3 large egg yolks*
¼ cup + 2 Tbs (75 g) sugar
2 Tbs cornstarch or corn flour
1 cup (250 ml) milk (I used 2% low fat)
¾ cup (200 ml) heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 – 2 Tbs slivered blanched almonds
Powdered/confectioner’s sugar for dusting
* Reserve the whites in a clean jar for Macarons!
Butter a 12-cup muffin tin.
If using frozen or packaged puff pastry:
Thaw the puff pastry if frozen. Halve each sheet in half lengthways and then place one half of each sheet on top of the other so you have two stacks. Press and roll together and, if need be, roll each double sheet to the size of a sheet of notebook A4 paper.
If using homemade puff pastry:
Slice the dough in half, placing one half on top of the other and roll the dough out to the size of two pieces of notebook A4 paper placed side by side. Slice the rectangle in half so you have two pieces, each the size of one piece of notebook A4 paper.
Dust each sheet of thinly rolled out dough with cinnamon sugar, as generously as you like and place with the long side facing you (the wider sides are going from left to right, perpendicular to your body). Roll each sheet up tightly to form a two logs and neatly slice off each messy end. Slice each log into 6 even pieces, about 1 ¼-inch (3 cm) each. Pile the leftover pieces on top of each other, press together into a stack, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for another use.
One at a time, place the pastry pieces cut side up in between two squares of parchment paper having first lightly dusted the paper as well as the top of the pastry piece (so each side is dusted). With the palm of your hand, gently press the piece almost flat before placing the second piece of parchment on top. Roll out the pastry into thin 4-inch (10 cm) rounds then carefully press into each cup in the muffin tin. The edges do not have to be even; these look better as a more rustic dessert. When all the pastry pieces are rolled out and fitted into the muffin tin, place a piece of plastic wrap over the whole tin and refrigerate for 30 minutes while you prepare the filling (the 30 minutes allows the dough to rest and is a necessary part of the puff pastry process).
Prepare the cream filling:
Gently whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, cornstarch and the milk in a medium-sized saucepan until blended and smooth. Cook gently over very low heat, whisking constantly, for 5 minutes until thick like custard. Remove from the heat, quickly stir in the cream, the vanilla and the nutmeg. Transfer the cream to a bowl or glass/Pyrex measuring cup, cover with plastic, pushing the plastic down to touch the surface, and allow to come to room temperature as you wait for the puff pastry’s 30 minutes rest period to be up.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
Remove the muffin tin from the refrigerator, remove the plastic wrap (of course!) and evenly divide the cream filling between the pastry shells. The filling should almost come up to the top of the shells. Sprinkle the slivered almonds around the outside edges of the cream filling, making sure they stick to the filling.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes until the pastry shell is golden (my husband would have preferred that I had left mine in until the shells were a deep golden color) and the cream filling is set but slightly wobbly (again, my husband asked me the next time to allow the surface to form more of a skin and color a bit, but that is personal preference). Remove from the oven and allow the tartlets to cool in the muffin tin for 5 – 10 minutes before removing them carefully from the tin to a wire rack to cool completely.
The Portuguese Cream Tartlets can be eaten at room temperature or chilled. Dusted with powdered sugar, of course.