My father had an old Brownie camera, a black plastic box, not too big, not too heavy, that created memories. His Hawkeye Brownie in shiny Bakelite sported a cute little carrying handle and an attachment allowing us to screw in tiny little bulbs that flashed with a satisfying pop like in an old film noir. A drawerful of square black & white photos is proof positive of his passion for capturing images, albeit sometimes blurry, stills of giggling children, smiles frozen in time, caught in the joyous movement of childhood or formally posed like good little soldiers. The flimsy, frilly-edged snapshots with the date stamped indelibly in the white edging framing the smiling – or otherwise – faces of the four of us and mom fading gently into ghosts of time past now lay strewn across my own desktop connecting me to something long gone.
I have hazy memories of carrying dad’s Brownie to Girl Scout camp, careful not to break it, allowed to snap pictures of my friends, creating my very own memories. But I do clearly remember my first camera, my very own, a Pocket Instamatic. You remember the Instamatic, the slim rectangle now sporting a long, slim loop that I could slip onto my wrist, the cubes snapped one by one onto the camera itself that flashed and clicked as it turned one-two-three times. Rolls and rolls of film, piles of snapshots flipped through over and over again: camp and school parades, holidays and family vacations and one exciting trip to Israel now fill envelopes and albums in glorious Technicolor dimming to yellow.
A Polaroid stuck away in a drawer now gathering dust was a long-ago gift, possibly high school graduation. As simple and quick to use as my old Instamatic, the Polaroid gave immediate gratification. Snap – thunk – kkksssshhhhh and out popped a fuzzy gray square of silence. Patience and anticipation and an image like magic burnished onto paper slowly revealed itself like an exotic striptease, baring its soul.
From one camera to the next, I grew up learning to aim and shoot, a quick squint and click and the moment was captured forever. For a very brief few months or so, somewhere after college, I figured out the whole ISO, f-stop, speed thing and began interacting personally with the camera I had inherited from my father, one he bought himself after retiring with the idea that he would start taking pictures again. But that camera ended up in the more experienced hands of my husband and he took over being the memory catcher of the family.
Hundreds of years later, jump to today and here I am struggling to keep up with the world of food blogging, a world of brilliantly honed images. Technology has never been my friend: I am a simple girl who kneads dough by hand, mixes with a wooden spoon, prefers pen and paper and who still uses her smart phone to make calls and little more. In front of a camera with buttons and dials, with a tiny screen demanding attention and one decision after another, I feel faint and a hot flush rises through my body and washes across my face. And so I find it easier just to ignore it all, just pretend it doesn’t exist and return to my private bubble. I take comfort in the written word, a form of expression that fits me so well, one that I can control, one I understand. Why do I need a camera when I can create an image in my reader’s mind with mere words? Words are my paintbrush, my camera and my marble. I write therefore I am!
So as you can see I have gone through two – or is it three – cameras and have yet to learn or master the thing. Son chides, husband rails and the other son tries to explain but to no avail. Something is closed, shut tight against understanding. I have this terrible nightmare that if I begin pushing buttons and attempt to adjust light and speed then the camera will implode or spontaneously combust. And so I shake my head, cross my fingers, point and shoot and hope for the best.
But how long can this go on? And how many Plate to Page workshops must I sit through listening to Ilva, Meeta and Jeanne, stand off in the distant and watch ever so discreetly as our students learn to leave auto and master manual before I succumb? Before I heave a heavy sigh of resignation and agree to finally try it myself?
And so a friend of my son’s is selling his camera and offered to lend it to me for a few days to try it out. And he spent a couple of hours walking me through it ever so patiently, explaining, showing and explaining again.
And so I made this Strawberry Tart with Whipped Mascarpone Cream and a secret mint chocolate surprise so I could photograph it using the camera. Well, actually I had long been dreaming of creating this beautiful tart and only waited for local strawberries to arrive at the market plump, red and sugary sweet. Which happened just as the camera chanced to show up. And it all came together perfectly.
Ain’t she just so photogenic?
And all on manual, just like a big girl!
And this is one simple and sensational tart, redolent of summer and kissed with both the sweetness of fresh strawberries and the indulgence of chocolate. A blissful dessert of ethereal, luxurious whipped mascarpone cream atop a thin layer of chocolate – in using Lindt Mint Chocolate I added a delicate hint of mint – all topped with luscious, seasonal berries. Pretty, light and sweet, a truly exquisite treat for these halcyon days of summer.
1 pre-baked Sweet Pastry Crust of your choice *
3.5 oz (100 g) semisweet chocolate (I use Lindt Menthe Intense Chocolate Noir 70%)
About 3 or 4 cups strawberries (about 1 ½ - 2 lbs), fresh, seasonal & local when possible
½ cup (125 ml) heavy whipping cream, chilled
½ cup (125 g) mascarpone cheese, chilled
1 Tbs powdered/confectioner’s sugar
Powdered/confectioner’s sugar for dusting
* Use either pâte brisée (short crust), pâte sablée (cookie crust) or pâte feuilletée (puff pastry) rolled out to line a 9-inch (24-cm) pie plate, trimmed and pre-baked. I used my favorite Sweet Pastry Crust (recipe found here) and although delicious, I do think that using a pâte sablée or a crust a bit more crumbly would have been better suited.
Prepare Pastry Crust by rolling out and lining a lightly buttered pie plate. Trim. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Remove the piecrust from the refrigerator, prick lightly all over with a fork and place a large piece of parchment paper in the crust and weigh it down with dried beans or pastry weights. Bake for 10 minutes and then carefully remove the pie plate from the oven to a cooling rack. Carefully lift off the parchment and the weights/beans and discard (saving the beans or weights for later use). Press down the crust if puffed up and return to the oven to bake for an additional 8 – 12 minutes or until golden and baked (if using a glass pie plate, carefully lift the plate to check the bottom of the crust; it should be evenly golden.
Remove the piecrust from the oven and place on a cooling rack (turn off the oven as you will no longer need it). Melt the chocolate gently either in a microwave oven or over a pan of gently simmering water until smooth. Poor the warm/hot melted chocolate into the still-warm piecrust and, using the back of a soupspoon, spread evenly over the bottom. Allow to cool to room temperature; once cooled, place in the refrigerator to chill so the chocolate solidifies.
Prepare the strawberries as you like: you can trim and remove the caps and slice evenly or you can simply trim the caps and leave whole as I did.
Prepare the filling by whipping the heavy whipping cream until peaks hold, beating in the tablespoon of powdered sugar and a small drizzle (maybe about 1/8 teaspoon) of vanilla as you whip. Add the mascarpone and beat together just until light and fluffy. NOTE: the quantities given above are for a thin layer of cream filling, just the right amount so as not to completely take over the pie, allowing the flavor of both the chocolate and the strawberries to shine through: really the perfect balance for me. But feel free to increase the amount of one, the other or both as well as increasing or decreasing the amount of sugar to your taste.
Once the tart shell and chocolate are just chilled and the chocolate set, simply spread the mascarpone whipped cream over the chocolate to fill the shell and top with the strawberries.
Dust with the powdered sugar just before serving.