Intro

Could it be that there is actually something good to be said of fear? It turns out that the emotion that I’ve dreaded and relegated to being “wrong” and “unhealthy” might possible be an indicator of exactly what I should be doing.

Let me back up for a moment. This past week I read, or listened to (audiobooks are the book-loving busy mom’s dream), the book, “The War of Art
by Steven Pressfield. In it he basically gives us creatives, who tend to drag our feet in the mud, a swift, yet encouraging kick in the backside. A kick that puts us at our chairs where we must sit and actually do the work. But the work is hard and is surrounded by fear.

In this book, Pressfield asks, “Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

I make excuses all the time for why I can’t sit and write everyday, for why I shouldn’t pick up my pencil and sketch. As those excuses crumble the roots are exposed and fear is revealed. So yes, I am paralyzed with fear and apparently that’s good. This understanding is helping me not to fear the fear, makes me not feel incompetent for feeling it but rather turns it into a motivator.

I am plagued with fear around writing, succeeding and acting out the goals I’ve made. If fear surrounds what our calling is then it is now the fear that motivates me to just keep at it. Much of the time I question my direction, wondering if these things I fear are really even worth time pursuing but now I see, yes it’s worth it to fight through the fear as fear itself is the indicator that I’m on the right path.

The more I think about it I realize it’s not just in our work where this is true. Let’s be honest, being a mom is terrifying. These little people depend on me for so much. I do what I can to love them well but everyday (many times a day) I’m faced with my own fallibility and I let them down. And I will continue to do so because I’m human and imperfect and so are they. Because there is fear there doesn’t mean I shy away from the task. The fear reveals my love, passion and desire to mother them well.

This isn’t exactly where I intended this post to go. I’m here to talk about ricotta but actually fear isn’t that far off. Seeing recipes for homemade ricotta I envied the results but the process scared me. The heating, curdling then cheesecloth-using put me off for a time until I decided to face the fear of the thermometer (which it turns out you don’t even need) and try making my own. I did and now have done so dozens of times.

When Summer was in its prime along with red tomatoes heavy with juice and peaches so sweet you could smell their perfume before they were in sight, I was making fresh ricotta weekly. We’d make meals of it with bread and just sliced produce. And now that I’ve been making bread with a light and bubbled interior and a crisp, deeply golden exterior nearly daily, the ricotta has returned.


Sitting next to me as I type this are the few remains of lunch: two thick slices of bread baked last night with more than a smear but less than a dollop (although not much less) of ricotta, a bit of olive oil and flakes of crunchy sea salt scattered on top. Last week there were warm and buttery melted leeks resting on the ricotta. A few chile flakes gave a bit of heat to the simple tartine and the bread was crisped in the pan with olive oil.

One thing I have learned about fear is that the completed action that was once cloaked in it is so much more satisfying when conquered. Each batch of fresh ricotta is a reminder of a fear smashed, smothered and beaten up. And each time I sit down to write – be it 5 minutes of pure scribbles and mumblings that will never be seen – I become a bit more brave and sure that yes, this is exactly what I am to supposed to be doing.

 

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Melted Leeks and Ricotta Tartine

Melted Leek and Ricotta Tartine
With such a basic recipe as this one adaptations are welcomed and encouraged. Replace the leeks with fennel, greens, carrots or tomatoes. Add fresh herbs, spices or bits of bacon. Of course as is this tartine, splendid in its simplicity, made for a lovely lunch.

Homemade Ricotta

adapted from Ina Garten

I’ve been making ricotta for quite awhile now and have played around with the combination of milk and cream. It can be done with all milk but as you can imagine, cream makes it better. Ina goes as far as to add 2 cups of cream to 4 cups of whole milk and she’s got a good thing going. If I’m feeling rather indulgent that’s the version I use. But now it’s a weekly staple and this version is a bit lighter, cleaner and somehow makes me feel a bit better about slathering it atop crusty, warm bread. You can also pour a bit of fresh cream into the strained cream to add some extra richness and for an incredibly smooth ricotta. The point is it’s quite easy and adaptable so find the version that works best for you.

3 cups whole milk
1 cup cream
2 tablespoons vinegar (I’ve used distilled or cider, you could also use white wine vinegar)
salt

In a large pot combine the milk and cream and bring to a boil. Watch closely as it can boil over quickly and is a terrible pain to clean, spoken from multiple experiences.
Once the milk has come to a boil turn off the heat and add the vinegar. Give a quick and gentle stir before letting the mixture rest for 1 minute. You should notice almost instantly the little curds begin to form and separate from the whey. You’re making cheese – how crazy is that?!
Line a strainer with two layers of cheesecloth and place over a bowl large enough to catch the whey. Carefully pour the hot curds and whey over the cheese cloth. Let this drain for about 20-25 minutes or until it is the consistency you desire.
Add a bit of good quality salt. You don’t need much, if any, if you plan to use it for sweet recipes.
Before you cover and refrigerate your ricotta make sure to take a bite while it’s warm. There’s really nothing better.
Refrigerated this will keep for one week.

Melted Leeks

1 large leek
2 tablespoons butter
pinch chile flakes
salt

Thinly slice the white part of a large leek. If you happen to cut where the white gradually transitions to citron I wouldn’t mind.
In a skillet melt the butter then add the leeks. Add a pinch of salt and cook on medium-low until the leeks soften, become translucent and just start to caramelize.

Top a crisp piece of bread with fresh ricotta, warm leeks and a bit of chile flake.

51 Responses to “Melted Leeks and Ricotta Tartine”

  1. Ashley

    I’ve made ricotta twice before at home. I LOVE the flavor, but I have yet to find a good way of cleaning/re-using the cheese cloth. And since I don’t want to purchase a new cheesecloth each time, I rarely take the initiative to make it. Do you have any cheesecloth-cleaning suggestions?

    Reply
  2. Kay

    Bread baking nearly every day and homemade ricotta? Wow, I’m impressed! I’ve tried to get into a bread baking routine in the past, but it always seems to fail. I tend to go in fits and spurts.
    That photo of the leeks is gorgeous…I’d hang it in my kitchen!!

    Reply
  3. Sina

    How simple! Fresh bread and homemade ricotta is the most perfect meal. I look forward to trying this.

    Reply
  4. Ayumi

    Wow, I really liked what you said about fear; it will def help me get more motivated to try out new stuff including this ricotta cheese recipe! You made it seem so easy and ricotta can be used in so many other dishes and crostini recipes. Thanks for the post!

    Reply
  5. The Kitchen Boudoir

    I also experienced fear when I first approached making ricotta, but was so pleasantly surprised by the ease of it and now it’s a go-to thing to bring to dinner parties with a fresh baguette. I love your idea of eating it with leeks. So glad you liked “War of Art”! Steven also has an excellent blog “Writing Wednesdays”, which more often than not is so applicable to life, too.

    Reply
  6. Daytona @ Outside Oslo

    Good for you! I had a similar epiphany, so to speak, last fall when I realized that it was time to stop saying “later” to my dreams of writing a book and that it was time to start saying “now.” The reality is that the process will take years, from the start of writing the book proposal to holding the published book in my hands, so why not start now and work as diligently as I can at each step, knowing that patience and hard work will pay off in the end?

    It’s great that you’re finding the courage to create and that you’re taking the steps to give yourself the time and space in which to do so. Keep it up! I look forward to hearing about your progress.

    Reply
  7. Amanda

    Just what I needed to sit down to read in preparation for my own writing session. Pressfield’s book is brilliant. So glad you found it! I appreciate all he says about fear and the great Resistance too. May we all find the courage and grit enough to beat both daily, moment by moment.

    Now, let me beat it this moment by getting off your blog and onto writing! Happy working.

    Reply
  8. la domestique

    Feel the fear and do it anyway! I think a lot of my struggle with fear is that after the task is done I judge myself so harshly. But I have to remember I’m not perfect, and so what if I have to grow out there in the open for all the world to see! Your post is very encouraging, and the ricotta with melted leeks does look delicious.

    Reply
  9. Lael

    I really was supposed to read this post tonight! These words resonate so much…”the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” Thank you for sharing. My stomach is grumbling for this sort of lunch, and my spirit is encouraged in the road ahead as I strive to steward my artistic gifts and passions (and simultaneously experience a whole lot of fear).

    Reply
  10. Margherita

    I’m not a great fan of leeks but I love ricotta so I’m a little on the fence with this recipe…I guess there’s only one thing to do: try it and decide afterwards! :)

    Reply
  11. Kathryn

    This is so so true. You need that fear to try something new, to break out of the mould and really push yourself. Some of the best things in life come from that fear and, really, is there better feeling than facing your fears and overcoming them?

    Reply
  12. Anna

    Thanks for the inspiration and honesty around fear. I am currently working on a lot of creative projects that I fear will fail and also getting ready for our baby that is arriving in June which is also scary and exciting. I really appreciate your thoughts and perspective and the ricotta with leeks looks delicious, too.

    Reply
  13. Angela

    Wise words. Fear can be so destructive, I know it well.Treating it as a good indicator sounds challenging, but it is so true. Like in title of another book:”Feel the fear and do it anyway”.
    Leeks and ricotta – it sounds delicious and your photos are mouth-watering.

    Reply
  14. Sally

    Ah yes, the familiar fear and angst that go along with writing and just about any artistic endeavor (and as you point out, life too!). I am going to have to read that book–thank you. I try to remember to say this every day: Fear forward! Making ricotta and baking bread (two things I do regularly) can take you out of your head and calm the mind. I know what I’m having for lunch, too.

    Reply
  15. Dorie Colangelo @ BrooklynSalt

    That book is going on my list. I highly recommend Finding Your Own North Star (Martha Beck), although it seems you are following your north star already; it’s just a great book. I love making ricotta, especially with lemon juice as a sub for vinegar….but I simply have to try it with melted leeks the next time around. Leeks are my fave. Gosh I wish I could eat this right now.

    Reply
  16. sara

    I’ve been needing to make ricotta since you spurred me in WI! Thank you for the nudge. Such great perspective on fear – it is totally an indicator to push you towards something Still scary none the less. I am impressed by your intentions to write everyday, proud of you. Wish I were that motivated.

    Reply
    • Ashley Rodriguez

      Sara – I thought of you often. You must make it – just ignore the amount of cream. :) Don’t be impressed, it’s such a struggle but I feel so much better having done it. Just like exercising.

      Reply
  17. michaela

    leek confit plus bucheron, in a tart ( a la olaiya) or just on crackers or bread. plus the wednesday chef recipe for fresh ricotta, kale and pasta is always a favorite. i use lemn juice in my ricotta.

    i feel failure every time i take pictures and they are not what i had dreamed. have to get out and try again. not always easy. always admire your work and your candidness(?).

    Reply
    • Ashley Rodriguez

      Michaela – Thanks for this sweet post. I’ve tried it with lemon juice before too and the results are great. I feel that way too – about images. Or I’ll feel good about it until I go look at someone else’s and then I feel like I’ve failed. Stupid comparing. It’s so bad.

      Reply
  18. Eileen

    Ooh, homemade ricotta in sandwich form sounds like a super rich and creamy lunch! And leeks sounds like the perfect topping. :)

    Reply
  19. Amber

    I can’t wait to try the ricotta recipe! Ashley, can you please post the recipe for your bread? Please!

    Reply
    • Ashley Rodriguez

      Sarah & Amber – I’m using the recipe via the Tartine Bread cookbook. It’s amazing. While I’m not perfectly happy with the results yet it is the best bread I’ve made at home – and NO yeast. I made my own starter.

      Reply
  20. sarah

    A very timely post for me; I’ve been staring a few things down, wondering if I have the courage to do them. I appreciate your encouraging words! Also, I have two leeks in the fridge that I have also been staring at, I think this recipe is calling me, too. Lovely as always.

    Reply
  21. Katie

    I have made ricotta a few times as well and I was wondering if you have any tips for what to do with the whey? Thank you for your lovely recipes, photos and honesty I love reading your blog.

    Reply
  22. Calantha

    I use fear as a motivator to work harder and try new things. The moment I begin to feel trepidation about something, is usually the moment I know for certain that I absolutely must do it. Avoiding fear and the things that scare us doesn’t actually protect us from “failure” or hurt or whatever else that makes us avoid it. But it does prevent us from meeting new people, exploring new things, and realizing new potentials while improving our old ones. This post was such a great reminder of this for me. Thank you, and good luck pushing past your fears!

    Reply
  23. Brian @ A Thought For Food

    Ah yes… fear. I think all of our emotions, especially the “negative” ones, can be used in very positive ways. Fear, especially, forces us to challenge ourselves in ways we’re not always comfortable with.

    I’m loving your tartine… I think I could eat this every day and be perfectly content.

    Reply
  24. Eva | Adventures in Cooking

    I totally agree with your fear of cheese making. A year ago I decided I would finally try my hand at it and bought a bunch of cheese making supplies and tried making feta with goats’ milk. It ended up like chevre, but I was too afraid to taste it, which looking back is ridiculous. I should have just tasted it, for crying out loud! But instead I threw it away in fear because it was not what I expected it to be, and my cheese making supplies have been sitting in my fridge/freezer ever since. Such a shame! Maybe I will give it another try with ricotta, though, it seems like a much more reasonable process. Thanks for sharing your brave cheese making adventure :)

    Reply

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