Saturday, September 10, 2011

everything is alright.

This tart is for you. Because everyone needs love in the form of ripe, late-summer peaches topped with bubbling sugar and surrounded by a crisp, crumbly pie dough from time to time, right?

I do, at least. Tangible good things such as this remind me that everything really is alright, and sometimes, I desperately need that reminder.

I didn't have clear expectations for my twenty-something-lady life, or even clear desires, and perhaps that's why all of this (i.e. my life at present) feels like such a surprise. Furthermore, sometimes great-big-real-world-adult life is really not all that exciting. And you see, I like excitement. Routine and plans and patterns, yes, but also excitement. I always need something to look forward to, and I have a bad habit of desiring greatness and excitement, in everything and all the time.

And so, contentment has been fleeting lately. There have been conversations and emails and musings over cups of coffee that have informed my thoughts on all of this, but the wisdom and clarity and profundity of them escape me now. Yet those moments, and the moments when the aroma of a baking cake fills my apartment, or I sit down for dinner with that fellow I love, or I catch a glimpse of the sky erupting in a million colors as the sun slips down, or I see my parents arriving at my front door for a visit, or someone once again gives me grace I don't deserve...those moments remind me that it's okay.

Because this is life, whether or not we expected it. This. All of it, imperfect though it may be. Sheets draped all over my apartment when the dryer doesn't quite finish the job and chipped toenail polish and long to do lists and dirty dishes.

Life is full of imperfection and confusion. But beauty, too. Quiet moments in a cool room while the last wave of summer heat and humidity barrels through the streets of my city. An exuberant new intern at work. Almost-but-not-quite missing the fireworks last night. A really, really wonderful new friend. Harvest cake. The enormous zucchini I bought at the market today, discounted by a friend I've not seen since springtime. Good books. Dreams for the future.

But I am still coming to terms with the fact that this is the nature of life. That this is alright. I still want to apologize when the floors aren't clean or my hair is a mess...but at the same time, I don't. And I refuse to. The very act of it would be to embrace the idea that life should be otherwise, that I can't quite live up to how I ought to be. I'd much rather work on believing that I'm doing just fine.

And so I continue to settle into the understanding that sometimes the slightly burnt edges are the very best part. The soft plums in the dimpled and sugared folds of that lopsided cake I baked for my dear friend's visit taste just the same as they would if the darned thing were symmetrical. And you can, in fact, serve the first half of a delightful peach tart to your friends on a Friday night and the second half of that same tart to your visiting parents and your boyfriend the next evening.

This tart, to be specific. And not only is it lovely and delicious and summery, but also, it is simple.

So bake this tart, or don't. And make it perfectly, or totally screw up. It's okay. You're alright. And so am I.
Amanda Hesser's Peach Tart
Adapted from Amanda Hesser's excellent recipe, found both at food52 and in her book Cooking for Mr. Latte

1 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose or white whole wheat flour, or a combination, divided
3/4 teaspoons salt, divided
3/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar (or slightly less), divided
1/4 cup mild olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil (or use olive oil for the full 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons milk, 2% or whole
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
3 to 5 small ripe peaches, pitted and sliced into crescents of about 1/2 inch width

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Stir together 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar. In another, smaller bowl, whisk the oils, milk and almond extract together. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and mix gently with a fork, being careful not to overwork the dough.

Transfer the dough to a tart pan (anything between 9 and 11 inches or so). Pat and prod the dough until it covers the bottom of the pan, and then push it up the sides to meet the pan's edges. It should be approximately 1/8 inch thick all around. Trim and discard excess dough if necessary.

Combine 3/4 cup sugar (or less if you feel so moved), 2 tablespoons flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the butter. For exceptionally juicy peaches, add an additional tablespoon of flour. Pinch the butter into the dry ingredients until you have a nice crumbly mixture, with both fine and pebble-sized pieces.

Starting on the outer edges of the tart, arrange the peaches, slightly overlapping them, in concentric circles. Fill the center as well, in whatever pattern you choose. (In fact, you may arrange your peaches just as haphazardly, or not, as you desire, fitting with the theme of the reflections above.) The peaches should be tucked in snugly. Sprinkle the crumbly mixture on top. (Amanda Hesser told me it would seem like a lot, and lo! she was correct. It will indeed seem like a lot.)

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes. Remove the tart from the oven when shiny, thick bubbles are beginning to cover the fruit and the crust is slightly brown. Place on a rack to cool.

Serve the tart warm or at room temperature, perhaps with large dollop of whipped cream. It will still taste delicious the following day--good enough even for company.

Yield: 8 slices