(Continued from yesterday)
...I blind bake the tart shell. I set the oven for 350 degrees and, once heated, allow the shell to bake 10 minutes. It has turned a lighter shade of pale but has not buckled liked a butter crust might do. It is flat and solid. I set it on a rack to cool.
I mix milk with cream (2 cups total) and a fair amount of sage. I bring the ingredients to a simmer in a pot and turn off the heat. I let it steep for an hour. In no time the sage has permeated the milk mixture. It is full-on fragrant. Perhaps a tad too strong, though I am hoping that once set against the goat cheese and cranberries, it will loose some of its astringency. Sage is demanding like that. It has a tendency to claim the turf and is best used judiciously. But when used just right, say in tender pasta pillows along with autumn squash or rendered in browned butter on top of a bowl of pasta, it can be a celebration. Frankly, it is all but required for poultry stuffing or country sausage, which is what got me thinking about it in the first place. Sage is Thanksgiving's marker herb but still one of those flavors you love or hate. I fall somewhere in between.
I mix two whole eggs in a bowl. They come from my friend's chickens. Getting them to my house involves a trade for stuff I make or buying them for $5.00 a dozen. She has a huge chicken run which means those girls eat the bugs of the world. Since it is winter (and only the most diehard urban gardener is still at it out there; hell, I'm done), they also eat whatever she has left for them in the garden. They are freaking out with the feast. Thanksgiving indeed. Though less violently than goats, chickens will make short work of your garden, so set them out when you are less likely to care. They are nature's little lawnmowers. But oh, how they repay you. The two dozen eggs I bartered for the guanciale (cured pork jowl) I made (another story) had yolks that were fire-yellow bright with a flavor only eaters of certain age will remember (ha-ha on all you cute little tattoo girls whom I don't envy for your snap-back skin or dewy freshness one freak'n bit. Yeah, you have that I-got-it-and-you-want-it-look and I got, well, the memory of a good egg. IN YOUR FACE).
Over the years, and for reasons we all know by now, an egg's flavor and integrity has been reduced till it is something that looks like an egg but does not taste like an egg. Such eggs may do as a sheath for omelets (and after four restaurants I can say I have made me some omelets) or as a structural component in baking cakes but for simple fried egg eating here's what you should know. Chickens who run, chickens who eat more than feed, chickens who are happy little fucks given the run of the land, will give you not only great eggs but oh-hell-ya great eggs. I love my friend and I love cooking with those eggs.
Lightly beating the eggs I add, once cooled, the milk and sage mixture (along with a little extra cream to soften the punch) and a dash of salt and pepper. The mixture has an odd green hue what with the brilliant yellow of the eggs' yolks and the buff green hue of the sage, but I am getting excited. The fever of creation is in full swing. There is something frantic to the moment when you sense the possibilities. Covered with paint, hair drenched with gesso; ink on our fingers, eyes glazed by too much coffee; writing, writing in and through that moment when it has all come together; or cooking as if led by the holy ghost — it is all somewhat the same. First, always, the conception, then, step by step, the construction. Each part separate but important. Each step leading us to the next. The crust is a success. The filling promising. The excitement hits the back of my neck. Is it not like that? A tightness and a desire? I can see it, taste it, imagine it. It is art I can eat. It will be gone by the end of the day. I love that about cooking. It has no staying power. It will not hang on walls or library shelves. It is a work of very limited endurance (hopefully my book will be relevant a little longer). A flash in the pan, as they say.
I spread the cranberries across the tart. The crust does not break or crack. The sauce is just thick enough. I am generous with it. I dot the goat cheese discs here and there on top of the cranberries. I wish the cheese had come from a local goat farm or even from my neighbors down the street who raise goats for milk, cheese making, and yogurt. Sometimes you can trade stuff for the young cheese they make but I wish I had made it myself. I could have but I did not think ahead. I am doing exactly what I advise against. I am creating something with ingredients I need to buy. I am cooking with ingredients foreign to the every day workings of my householding kitchen.
I have tried to explain what it is like to cook in a householding kitchen. It is entirely different than shopping for, and cooking from, ingredients you buy at the store. Different than following a recipe. At its root it is peasant cooking. It is neither fancy nor complicated but born of invention as one makes good use of what grows exactly and particularly on your land, in your garden or from the animals of your homestead. These are fancy notions for a city girl, even one like me, committed to trying to live as a householder if not a peasant (a word, and life, too commonly derided by those in the developed world who would rather they move to cities, beg for money, and drink Coke). But I must admit, it is a spotty effort and difficult to adhere to in the absolute.
Today, however, I am not driven by any of it. Not by need nor stewardship but by taste and texture. This is bourgeois cooking; cooking as high art, cooking as if everything and anything is at my disposal, if only at a price. After the cranberries and cheese discs are in place I pour in the sage and milk mixture. I bake it for 45 minutes at 350. It comes out solid with lovely patches of brown glazed across the custard filling. I am feeling pretty damn proud but the final note, the verdict, the criticism of my peers, or worse, of myself, is yet to come. I ready myself for the party. My husband drives the car as I cradle the tart. We are the second guests to arrive. Being one of the first guests to arrive I decided, quite on my own, that the tart should be in the savory, first-course round of dishes... (to be continued tomorrow)