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Strawberry Almond Cream Tart

So I don’t, for the record, have my shit together.  

I went on a date this week.  Not one of those meaningless app dates.  This one had a little more substance.  Okay, a lot more substance.  I tend to keep the details of that kind of stuff under wraps for quite awhile.  You know how gossip goes in a close-knit family.  Sometimes it’s nice to keep something like that to yourself until you know if it’s actually a thing or not.  Or at least until you can figure out how you feel about it before everyone else starts weighing in on how they feel about it.  

This past weekend I was at a pool party and a friend started asking how my dating life was going.  Funny how whether or not your answer to someone’s question could be considered a lie or simply just a convenient omission of pertinent information depending on how they word what they’re asking.  The way this one particular question was worded I (unfortunately) wasn’t able to keep the event to myself and still answer honestly and for the remainder of the day it was her mission to figure out who it was.  After all the socialization what I really needed was mindlessness in the form of something lighthearted.  Obviously, movie.  I really can’t stand rom-coms.  But The Revenant seemed a little…stressful.  So I wrapped myself up in a blanket with a big bowl of peaches and attempted to watch the sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  Goal: more com than rom.  I say attempted because I was fielding texts from that same friend throughout most of the film as she tried to further narrow down who this mystery date might be.  If you’ve never seen this movie it’s all about this crazy Greek family with zero boundaries and they’re all up in each others’ business all day every day.  In the most wonderful and loving way my real live family of friends can, at times, make this fictional Greek one look mild.

The questions did eventually subside but not until after this statement in response to yet another “no” on my end:  “Hmm.  Well, I know he wanted to ask you out awhile ago but he knows you’re like, a legit woman.”  I responded with, “What does that even mean?”  She said, “Well, he knows you have your shit together.”  

Okay.    

Well…thank you?  I mean I don’t, actually.  Not sure any of us can really say that we have our shit together but whether or not that’s true, I just think it’s funny (in a sad and ironic way) that the appearance of having your shit together actually kind of counts against you.  I’m not really sure what to make of that.  Or how I would go about un-doing my shit.  Or why on earth I would even want to attempt to do that.  Even if I did have it together to any degree, is that bad? Is it unattractive?  Is it intimidating?

On a good day I’m 5’3”.  At most I weigh 105.  I’m painfully shy, instantly overwhelmed in large social settings, terrible at small talk, and wildly introverted.  I am, by definition, the opposite of intimidating.  At this point in my life I can’t concretely identify what it is I want or what exactly it is I’m working towards.  I also know that even if I could, my answers to the same questions would likely be different 3 weeks from now and that what ultimately does end up going down is going to be entirely different than any scenario I could have dreamt up.  So the truth is I know nothing.  I take my life and myself one day at a time because I don’t have the emotional or mental capacity to handle any more than that.  Because I have no idea what I’m doing.  Pretty much ever.  I wish I could tell that guy, “Please be reassured that I really don’t have my shit together.  I’m sure you don’t either.  And if you’re fine with that, I’m really fine with that.  Now can we have dinner?

I suppose maybe the one thing I do know is that it’s not really even entirely on me to figure all of my shit out.  But I still struggle to remember even that sometimes.  We’re all faking it, myself included.  And I’m honestly totally fine to do that both personally and professionally.  I’m not okay to do that spiritually or relationally.  

Obviously hard things in life force you to grow up.  But it doesn’t mean you have it figured out.  On the contrary, if anything, I think those hard things make you realize how very little you know.  And how very finite and fragile you are. Those hard things breed humility.  And grace.  You are not invincible.  You are not unbreakable.  You are not above anyone else’s mistakes no matter how holy you perceive yourself to be.  The best you can do is to try and at least fall forward when you crash and burn.  I’ve gone down in flames on more than one occasion and have had to figure a lot of stuff out the hard way for sure.  But by no means do I have my shit together.  Apparently I’m doing a decent job of making it look like I do though.

I wonder if maybe part of the misconception lies in the difference between what men and women desire to bring to a relationship.  Obviously I’m not a guy.  I can barely decipher my own take on all of this let alone breakdown a man’s perspective.  BUT, I think men want to have it all together.  Like that’s their contribution.  Stability, status, achievement, confidence, the ability to provide financially.  Maybe seeing a woman that appears (key word) to have their shit together makes them feel like their’s isn’t quite together enough.  Women don’t give a shit about having their shit together, by the way.  We're a hot mess and we know it.  Women are helpers, encouragers, supporters, there’s more purpose and so much joy in that.  So when men wait or hestiate until “they have it all together” which, as we’ve established, isn’t actually a thing, ironically they miss out on what could have been the sweetest part of the process of getting it together: a partner.  One that see’s his “figuring it out” as bravery.  Not weakness.  One that so deeply and genuinely desires to love him in the process and adventure through life together having lots of sex along the way.  It’s kind of a win, win, win if you ask me. 

I had a carload full of my girls on the way back to the city from the pool party.  One asked, "If you could choose three words that people would use to describe you what would they be?”  I love Christians so much. 

My three words were joyful, genuine, and a wicked sense of humor (okay not so much a word as a phrase but you know.)  They had such good ones.  Kind.  Loyal.  Loving.  Authentic.  Words that were likely not simply words but ones that had a story or an emotional history behind them.

And then she asked, “What is the one thing you wouldn’t want to be described as?”  Again with the emotional history.  Even more so probably.  You could tell that at some point in each of our lives someone had, no doubt errantly, identified us as this one thing for some reason or another.  The one word I hoped to never be identified as was cold.  The opposite of warm, obviously.  The opposite of joy, and genuineness, and hospitality.  I would hate to be thought of as unapproachable.  Or unkind.  Or any other synonym for cold.  But I wonder if being perceived as “having your shit together” communicates that in so many ways.  I hope not.  I don’t know, really.  Like I said, I don’t really know anything about anything and I’m certainly not going to come to a conclusion in this post.  

I never found out who that guy was.  At that point in the conversation it was name for name and neither of us was giving up our leverage.  But I sincerely hope he gathers up enough courage to ask me out at some point.  Maybe he’s amazing.  Maybe we could live happily ever after not ever having our shit together but not caring in the slightest and having a blast nonetheless.  

You’re probably wondering right now if I’ve entirely lost sight of the fact that this is a food blog.  For the record I was eating dinner while writing this.  And most of those prior conversations I was talking about happened over some serious post-pool In-N-Out.  But watch right now as I attempt to tie this into pastry.  

If there’s one area that we’re really supposed to have our shit together in it’s work, right?  It’s the failsafe we point to when everything else in life is a complete disaster.  At least for this generation and in this city it is. My professional accomplishments and abilities are the thing I lean on the most to validate my success as an adult.  “At least I’m killing it at my job.”   But the first couple go-arounds with this recipe?  Big, fatty, ego-checking pastry cream fail.  There are a handful of ingredients that can make even the most experienced pastry cook question their life’s calling:  caramel, meringue, and temperamental things made with nontraditional ingredients.  Like pastry cream.  Made with almond milk.  To drive home the point one final time that I have no idea what I’m doing in any area of my life most of the time, the first couple versions of this pastry cream were a disaster.  I did eventually figure it out enough to be able to more than confidently publish this recipe but it certainly won’t be the last time I get my ass handed to me by my job.   Nobody has all of their shit together all of the time and I hope that truth serves to remind me not to take myself (or anything in my life) too seriously.  And I also hope that I never use the idea of not having my shit together as an excuse to not go after what I want.  Because I’m not likely to get it together in this lifetime.  


Strawberry Almond Cream Tart

Like I said, eventually I got my shit together on this one.  You can trust the pastry cream recipe.  I promise.  

Method

In the bowl of a food processor combine the butter, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds (if using) until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides on occasion (alternatively you can use a stand or hand mixer.)  Add the flour and salt and pulse to combine.  Press the dough into a fluted tart pan and transfer to the refrigerator.  Allow it to rest for 2-3 hours, transferring to the freezer to chill for the last 30 minutes or so.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place the crust on a sheet pan and prick the bottom with a fork.  Line it loosely with parchment and fill with weights (legit pie weights, uncooked rice, dried beans, whatever) bake in the center of the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the edges are just starting to turn golden.  Remove the crust from the oven and carefully remove the weights.  Return the crust to the oven for an additional 15-20 minutes or until the bottom is dry and the edges are golden brown.  Cool completely.

Heat almond milk and the vanilla bean seeds and pod in a saucepan over medium heat until just barely simmering.  Do not boil.  While the milk comes up whisk the sugar, cornstarch, egg, and yolks in a medium-sized bowl.  Stabilize the bowl by wrapping a damp dish towel around the base.  While whisking, slowly add 1/2 cup of the hot almond milk to the egg mixture.  Slowly add remaining almond milk whisking to combine.  Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and set over medium heat.  Whisk constantly until the mixture thickens to the consistency of pudding.  Whisk in the butter.  Pour through a strainer set over a mixing bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming.  Once the mixture has cooled to room temperature pour it into the crust.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or until set. 

When you're ready to serve, toss the strawberries, vanilla paste, and sugar together and allow it to stand for 5 minutes or so.  Scrape strawberries onto cream and garnish with chopped almonds and basil.  Serve immediately.

Ingredients

For the shortbread crust
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean, scraped of seeds (optional)

For the almond cream
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 vanilla bean, scraped of seeds plus the pod
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 egg
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter

For the strawberries and garnish
1 pint strawberries, sliced
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (optional)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
2 tablespoons basil leaves for garnish (optional)