and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.
And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.
- Steve Jobs
“I’m exhausted,” he sighs as he plops down onto the sofa and rhythmically begins rubbing his temples, weariness spread across his entire body. “I don’t know up from down and the Rat Race just makes me crazy!” Looking for comfort, a bit of reassurance and maybe one of her good, old-fashioned pep talks, he waits for her to decide what to say. Ironing, when not baking, has always been her way to center herself, focus her thoughts and clear her head, and once again he finds her in the corner of the livingroom, steam curling around her head, ready to listen. You see, instead of taking a much-needed and deserved six-month’s rest, he dove right in, grabbing at projects right and left, trying his hand and heart at this and that, looking for the perfect fit, the next step in his starting over.
Back and forth, back and forth; her arm follows the path of the iron hypnotically. With each wrinkle of the smooth cloth that disappears under the searing pressure, so goes a wrinkle of stress, a spot of confusion, one pessimistic thought. She glances his way but briefly, yearning to make a connection yet avoiding direct eye contact – his eyes, though, are turned towards the window, staring off into some hazy distance on the horizon – and begins listing for him all of their accomplishments, reminding him of their dreams. She goes on, discoursing on how this crazy, modern world and all of those sadly caught up in the rules and limitations set by some noisy majority, a crowd of strangers out to instill a sense of guilt and self-castigation, mean little to them and those willing to live by their own set of rules and happiness. “This is our adventure!” she exclaims. “You know deep down that it will be all right. We are on the right track.” Her soothing voice reaches towards him, ringing an odd but savory truth. And he pushes himself up and gets back to work. She turns off the iron, calmer now, and…
And she got right into the rhythm, inspired by his work ethic and stick-to-itiveness: she succeeded in putting herself on a schedule (sort of), fixing goals and deadlines (mostly kept), staying off of social media and away from her friends during her working hours (well….) and actually getting things done (yes!). After a month, a very long month away, she is buckling down, with his tacit encouragement and his calming presence (not to mention his iron eye) and has begun to attend to her work seriously: writing and submitting, magazine articles, recipes, book projects and proposals. Nose to the grindstone, she is surprised when she gets to the end of her day, crawling between the cool sheets, and realizes that she accomplished what she had set out to do. She smiles to herself, half satisfied, and mentally notes what she will attempt tomorrow.
- Steve Jobs
We are all home together again, JP and I and both the boys. And Marty, happy dog. Somehow, now that the boys are grown, they are less reluctant to spend an evening in with the parents, one big happy family. We are back to cooking meals, real meals, and eating at the kitchen table, discussing projects and plans, trips and school. With, of course, the occasional pizza dinner in front of a good (or not so good) movie. Mealtime as a family has always been our strong point, as odd a family as we are with our rather unconventional lifestyle. Through thick and thin, adolescent doldrums, arguments and disagreements, come rain or shine we have always gathered around the dinner table of an evening, neutral territory. Leaving our differences behind, we come to the meal ready to chat, laugh and learn. The topics are anything that we dream of: tales of country, king and wars; stories of school, work or people; memories of time shared, spent or traveled; places seen, experienced and lived.
Simon has been gone for a year and a half, Clem for two months and I for one. As things slowly return to normal, the two remaining are pulled out of their slump and things begin to find their rhythm. JP and I are neck deep in our individual projects, Clem is back to school and work fulltime after an exciting and successful summer interning, designing, creating, networking, hobnobbing. Simon, finally returned from his volunteer stint in New Orleans and then Florida where he has been taking care of his grandmother and her dog, has been researching, planning and organizing the next stage of his life. So we have all been busy, busy, busy. And now, on top of everything, we are planning our drive down to Italy where I am headed to From Plate to Page and where we will be leaving Simon for an internship in Milan.
I haven’t had the time to update our personal travelogue, my heartfelt, comforting advice on Starting Over… but believe me, we have been rushing madly forward, devising plans, working on several projects in parallel, our fingers in so many pies. Something, anything has got to click. And it will. Like cats, we always tend to fall on our feet and what is life if not an adventure? You see, I’ve been overseeing my home, rearranging what was disarranged while I was away, helping to get Simon on his feet through careful negotiation, some loud arguments, weighing options, group decisions and gentle hand holding. I listen to JP as he recounts tales of his research or clinical adventures, lets off steam or discusses opportunities. I do laundry while waiting for ideas to gestate and take form, drink coffee and eat cake while thumbing through a mindless novel when I need to refuel or frustration needs to be fended off, and I write. And write. And write. Happily and oh so luckily I have girlfriends out there in the world who support me, encourage me, advise and inform me. We all need guidance and kind words, and that is part of Step 4…for who can Start Over if one doesn’t dare….dare to venture out into worlds unknown, reach out and make new contacts, call attention to oneself? He is doing it as well as I, each in our own domains and our own ways.
- Baron Justus von Liebig
And in between my many projects, my writing, Plate to Page planning and organizing, I have been pulling myself out of a slump both writing and baking. Man, as they say, cannot live on bread alone and that usually means chocolate. Back in the mood to bake, I have been pampering my family with sweet treats almost everyday. Macarons, Pecan Caramel Chocolate Cake, fudgy brownies (to come) and they have been gobbling it all up, pleased as punch that crazy mom and her endless baking are back! And with all of our projects, we certainly need to refuel and all the good things chocolate does to body and soul are the ideal nourishment.
that it is above all helpful to people who must do a great deal of mental work.
- Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
An absolutely stunning recipe, my Baked Chocolate Tartlets begin with a tender, delicate, perfect pie crust based on the French style of replacing granulated sugar with powdered and adding milk to the egg used to bind the dry ingredients into a dough. The filling is mousse-like, light and airy from whipping then brief baking, melting on the tongue in an ethereal cloud yet deep in chocolate flavor like a brownie or flourless cake. And serve these scrumptious, elegant tartlets with a classic Salted Butter Caramel Sauce, a local tradition, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a dollop of whipped cream or simply with a dusting of powdered sugar. Perfect. Just perfect.
BAKED CHOCOLATE TARTLETS WITH SALTED BUTTER CARAMEL SAUCE
For the Pie Crust:
1 ¾ cups (250 g) flour
1/3 cup (40 g) powdered/icing sugar
8 Tbs (115 g) unsalted butter, slightly softened, cubed
1 large egg yolks
Scant ¼ cup (50 ml) milk, slightly more if needed
Sift or whisk together the flour and powdered sugar in a large mixing bowl. Drop in the cubes of butter and, using the tips of your fingers and thumb, rub the butter and flour together quickly until all of the butter is blended in and there are no more lumps. Add the egg yolk and the milk and, using a fork, blend vigorously until all of the flour/sugar/butter mixture is moistened and starts to pull together into a dough.
Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface and, using the heel of one hand, smear the dough inch by inch away from you in short, hard, quick movements; this will completely blend the butter in. Scrape up the smeared dough and, working very quickly, gently knead into a smooth, homogeneous ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes.
Lightly grease with butter the sides and bottoms of 6 individual tartlet tins (4 to 4 ¼ inches/ 10 ½ to 11 cm wide) and place the prepared tins on a baking sheet.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap. Working on a floured surface and with the top of the dough kept lightly floured to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin, roll out the dough and line the tins by gently lifting in and pressing down the dough. Trim the edges. Cover the baking tray with the lined tins with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This can also be done ahead of time.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Remove the baking tray from the refrigerator and discard the plastic wrap. Cut or tear squares of parchment paper larger than each tin. Prick each tartlet shell with a fork (not too hard or deep as you don’t want holes going all the way through the dough) and place a square or parchment over each. Weigh down the parchment with pastry weights or dried beans, pushing the beans into the corners. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, carefully lift out the parchment squares and beans, pressing the bottoms down with your fingertips if puffed up, and prepare the Chocolate Filling.
For the Chocolate Filling:
3 ½ oz (100 g) good-quality dark bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (70%)
8 Tbs (110 g) unsalted butter
4 large egg yolks + 1 large whole egg
¼ cup (50 g) + 2 Tbs (30 g) granulated white sugar, as needed
Increase the oven temperature to 400°F (200°C).
Melt the butter and chocolate together in a heatproof pyrex bowl over a pan of just simmering water or in a bain marie, stirring gently, until just melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. In a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and the whole egg with the sugar on high speed for 5 minutes until very light, airy and mousse-like. Decrease the beater speed to medium, gradually beat in the melted chocolate and butter in a stream until blended.
Pour into the pre-baked tartlet shells, evenly dividing the chocolate filling in between the 6 tins; using a soup ladle makes this easier. Slide the baking sheet with the 6 filled tins into the oven and bake for 8 minutes or until the top is just set, having formed a slight crust.
Remove from the oven, slide the tarlets off the baking tray and onto a cooling rack and allow to cool.
For the Salted Butter Caramel Sauce (Caramel au Beurre Salé):
1 cup (200 g) granulated white sugar
3 ½ Tbs (50 g) salted butter
1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
Melt the sugar in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat and cook until completely melted and caramel in color. Lower the heat to low and whisk in the butter in about 3 or 4 additions. Continuing to whisk, add the heavy cream in a slow stream; the caramel may foam up, but keep whisking, as it will calm down once all the cream is added and will turn to… a smooth caramel. Once it is smooth and creamy, remove from the heat and allow to cool at least to tepid before serving.