“Being sick is supposed to come along with grand realizations about What Really Matters, but I don’t know. I think deep down we’re already aware of what’s important and what’s not. Which isn’t to say that we always live our lives accordingly. We snap at our spouses and curse the traffic and miss the buds pushing up from the ground. But we know. We just forget to know sometimes.” – Stir
Jessica Fechtor, the lovely and brilliant author of Stir, nearly died. What she did with that experience is part of what makes her so lovely and brilliant; she wrote a stunning book about life, death, recovery, and joy. Yes, there’s food in it too and we’ll get to that in a moment but what I loved about reading this book is that in the midst of teetering so closely to death and fighting her way back to life, she found her way through the mundane, mostly. The things that we so often take for granted.
“Being sick is like walking around with a microscope strapped to your face at all times with your own body squished beneath the slide. You don’t look away, at first because you can’t – you’re too sick – and then because you’re afraid that if you do, you might miss a symptom or a sign and die. That cooking shifted my attention away from myself was a tremendous relief. In the kitchen, I got to care again about the small stuff that’s not supposed to get to you, but does when you’re normal and well. Now, when the biscuits burned, it was my privilege to care. The twinge of annoyance as I whisked them from the oven was proof I was getting better.”
In the midst of the final stretch of summer, the one that seems the busiest, I am so grateful for the reminder to appreciate the beauty in the mundane. In the everyday tasks that we complete that feel heavy, annoying, and weighty and yet if for some reason those tasks, the ones that ground us, were taken away we’d miss them for the normalcy they represent.
Lately, Gabe and I have talked so often about how we can teach our kids gratitude and true appreciation for what we have without withholding from them. It seems as if, especially for kids, that the only way to appreciate what you if is if you don’t have it. The lunch you didn’t finish a couple hours ago sure looks better now when real hunger sets in. The toy I thought I didn’t want sure looks more fun now that it’s in my sister’s hands.
We have the ability to feed our children, clothe them, and tuck them into a warm bed every night and for that we are so grateful but how will they know that that is a gift if it’s all they ever have?
Unfortunately or fortunately I think really the answer lies within us, the parents. I believe that we are their greatest examples of how to life joyfully which I think is the same thing as living with gratitude.
So back to Jess, and her words, of which I am very grateful because she reminds me to appreciate not just the big things that we all know are important – family, health, love, and all those wonderful things – but also and maybe especially the small ones.
Like the ability to go to the farmer’s market with my three littles, stopping to listen to each musician play their tune. The downtrodden faces when I deny them ice cream but say a resounding YES to stuffing their bellies with warm berries. And the sight of the rosy plum, speckled, tight skinned and sweet-tart.
At home I use a few simple ingredients to turn those plums into a tart. They wrinkle and slump in the oven, show off their flavor as they mingle with cool custard and rest along a buttery crust. I follow Jess’s instructions mostly except for the addition of almond extract because for some reason I have an aversion, and I remember our phone call. The one where we talked about this tart, the process of writing a book, being a parent and life.
It is with deep gratitude that I hold this book, read her words, enjoy this incredible tart, and get to live another day, filled with the beautiful mundane.
A winner has been contacted! Thanks so much.
Jess has so graciously agreed to send one of you a signed copy of Stir. Just leave a comment to enter and I will pick a winner on Monday and coordinate the details (U.S. only please and thank you!)
Slightly adapted from Stir
Serves 8 to 10
Feel free to use 1/4 teaspoon almond extract and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract as Jessica recommends. I’m sure it’s lovely – if you like almond extract. 🙂 Also, this really is suppose to be an Italian prune plum tart and oh how I do love those but could not find them so I opted for a different sort of plum and had incredibly delicious results. I couldn’t agree more when she writes in Stir, “Prune plums are nice enough straight from the tree, but really, they’re for cooking. heat emboldens them. They hold their form beautifully in the oven and emerge plump with juices, deep purple and sweet.” I think the same can be said for any type of plum and apricots too. I mean I don’t even bother with those unless they are jam or cozied up under a buttery crust.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt flakes, like Maldon
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
10 – 13 Italian prune plums, or other variety, pitted and halved
Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Generously butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan or springform pan.
For the pastry: In a large bowl stir together the butter, sugar, and vanilla.
Add the flour and salt and stir until just combined. Press this dough into the pan to form an even layer along the bottom and up the sides.
Bake the crust until pale golden along the edges and just puffed, about 13 to 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes, just long enough so the custard won’t curdle once it’s poured in.
For the custard: Whisk together the sugar and flour in a medium bowl then whisk in the cream, egg, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. Whisk until very smooth.
Place the plums cut-side down into the cooled pastry in two concentric circles, with one in the center. Pour the custard into the tart around the fruit. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the custard is just set and the top blushes with spots of golden brown. Cool before serving.