Saturday, May 12, 2012

Where I've Been, And Where I Am Now

As I alluded to a few weeks ago, the period leading up to vacation was a whirlwind of work, with a soupçon of being sick, and a whole lot of stress. I worked 14+ hours a day for three weeks in order to be able to go on vacation, and the toll it took on me was profound.

For me, to heal, recharge and generally get right with the world, there's no place like Paris. M. was already there for work, and I joined him and he did as little work as he could for the 12 days we were there. I had caught a nasty cold and on the flight I was a seething mess of ick (really, they should have burned everything I came in contact with) but I felt that if I could hang in there until I reached Paris, everything would be OK.

And it was. It took me a few days to feel human again, but massive amounts of sleep, relaxation and pastry completed the invigorating tonic I needed to be well again, both physically and emotionally.

The thing I get over and over again when people hear that we're going to Paris for vacation is "Again?!" I have to explain that we don't find any other place as relaxing and recharging as Paris, particularly in the springtime. We've been there so many times, and we don't do the tourist things, so we don't rise early, stand in long lines, rush to fit in all the sights, have a mediocre dinner and collapse in exhaustion to do it all over again the following day. No, it's the opposite. We sleep in, take as much time as we want to laze about before I run out to pick up breakfast. We revel in our Pierre Herme croissants, or maybe a kouign amann. We may decide to take a walk to the Tuileries to sit by the fountains and feel the warm sun balancing the cool breeze. We may decide to go shopping (we both hate shopping but inexplicably enjoy it in Paris). Or we may take off with no destination in mind, just exploring, seeing where that street leads, or if the bistro we ate in years ago is in the same spot we remembered.

All that walking is as rejuvenating as the sleep and relaxation. It's also a key to eating pastry without guilt or weight gain. We typically cover 8-12 miles a day in Paris, but with all that walking we're paradoxically less hungry. My theory is that the food we are eating is so delicious that we need less of it to feel satisfied. We've never dined at any restaurant with a star, Michelin or otherwise, while in Paris. We prefer to find neighborhood bistros, or stock up on cheeses, fruit, bread and chocolate at the little epicerie around the corner from our hotel. The epicerie is pricier than a grocery store, but they have a fabulous selection of cheeses, and they make amazing puff pastry tomato tarts with pesto. Or we pick up a couple of pastries from a patisserie (always checking Paris Pâtisseries first). We open our window and stare down at the rooftops of the city we love while enjoying our room picnic.

This time I had taken myself so beyond the pale of common sense that it took me a few days to bliss out, but it happened. All that relaxing and resting and walking and watching the fountains gives one a lot of time to think and contemplate, and I did a lot of that on this trip.

How did doing things I love (working, baking, volunteering) careen out of control? I love working, love my job, but doing more of it didn't make me love it more. Ditto baking. I love to bake, but my obsession to complete Baking From My Home to Yours resulted in making things I didn't enjoy, nor did I enjoy making them. I had turned my life into too many things that had to get done, and I lost the joy of doing them. With no time (no time!) to contemplate them before, during or after, my life lost the patina of worth. I spent all this time working more, and not achieving completion, and I spent what little time I had at home baking, and not loving the process. It didn't take me more than a day in Paris to realize that I had to change. That was a revelation. In the past, I would say "things have to change!" when talking about work while we were on vacation. This time, it was clear to me that the change has to come from me. And it has.

I must have at least 20 partially written posts of things that I baked in the breathless couple of months before my vacation. I was practically an assembly line on weekends, quickly combining ingredients, putting the thing in the oven and snapping photos before it had cooled completely. While in Paris, I was able to correlate my behavior to the tourists I sometimes notice. The ones who run up to the statue, fountain, monument, whatever, quickly snap a photo and rush off. They've seen the fountain in the Tuileries, look, here's the photo. But did they experience it? I don't think so. Will they be able to recall the feel of the mist that hits from time to time when the wind changes direction and blows the fountain's spray just so? Will they remember the warmth of the sun, or that family on their bikes, or how different the water looked when the sun ducked behind the clouds? I don't think so. But that's how I'd gotten about baking, because I was rushing it, doing it because I had to, and not savoring the process.

Since coming home a month ago, things have been different. I leave work at a reasonable hour, go home and make dinner. That's shocking. For all of my love of baking and cooking, I've never been one to know how to make dinner without recipes. And needing recipes after a stressful day at work equals eating chocolate, cookies or cereal for dinner. So instead of baking (which I inexplicably am no longer motivated to do), I am learning how to make dinner without recipes.

In my search for balance, things that no longer give me joy and those that increase my stress level have to go. Regrettably, my goal of baking the rest of the recipes from Baking From My Home to Yours is at the top of that list. Ditto groups where I'm locked in to making certain things at certain times. I've belonged to many and benefitted much from them, but it's them or my sanity, and I'm embarrassed that it took me so long to figure out that I come first. With these changes, I doubt I will continue to blog.

To the many readers who stop by this space to read, use the recipes and leave your thoughts, I am deeply grateful. I started this blog three and a half years ago so I could participate in Tuesdays with Dorie. If you had told me a couple of months ago that I would no longer be blogging, I would have teared up and felt a sense of loss. But the reality is that it was time.

I have no doubt I'll bake again when the urge returns, and if I make something worth sharing, I might even write about it here. But the mad dash will have to go on without me. I'll be just fine, God willing, now that I am learning balance.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

La Palette's Strawberry Tart Goes Chocolate

I know. Another recipe from Baking From My Home to Yours. But this one features strawberries (available now fresh anywhere in the northern hemisphere). I made it in February, when the first organic local strawberries showed up at Trader Joe's. They were beauties, sweet and floral, juicy, and the first harbinger of a spring that was way too early this year, at least in our area.

When the berries are fresh and luscious, it masks almost any error one might make, like over baking the tart shell, nuking cold ganache until it almost broke, forgetting the original recipe also called for strawberry jam, and fumbling the berries so they tumbled randomly into the shell (I had every intention of an artful design, but you know that's just not me). I had planned to use both the jam and the ganache (my addition to the recipe), but completely forgot. We didn't miss it. It would have been a shame to cover the strawberries' flavor with jam. Hindsight...

I have a tart shell crust that I've fallen in love with, and it's the one from The New Best Recipe from Cook's Illustrated. It doesn't look like it from this photo but it's very easy to work with (I mauled it once it was in the pan). It's like a buttery shortbread, and that's a good thing in a tart shell.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Florida {Lemon + Coconut} Pie

Being a Florida girl (you can read a post of my memories of Miami as a child here), Florida pie is Key lime pie. I am a true Key lime snob (I won't bore you with another Key lime rant). I'm fresh out of limes (our little tree wasn't very productive this year) but I did have a ton of Meyer lemons, so I used the last of them on this pie, which is a cross between coconut cream and lime (or lemon in my case).

I haven't been a huge fan of the other combination pies in Baking from My Home to Yours, so I was hoping this one would be different. The coconut cream (a combination of heavy cream and shredded coconut that is boiled until it reduces by half) looked and smelled heavenly.

The finished pie is good, though because I used lemon (and low acidity lemons at that), it wasn't quite tart enough for my taste. I liked the coconut layer, but I would chop the coconut next time rather than using it out of the bag. I think it would make it less stringy to eat that way. The recipe calls for a meringue topping, but I skipped it. I thought the pie would appeal to my tasters (and us) without it, and it did.

And speaking of tasters, I had every intention taking this one to work, but it kept getting whittled away until it was obvious it wasn't going anywhere. Since it's stored in the freezer, it's an excellent keeper. If you'd like to give it a try, you can find the recipe here.