Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Fig and Cherry Tart

Last week I kind of improvised a fig and cherry tart, then mentioned on Facebook that I had done so, and my mom has been asking for the recipe ever since. Normally I'd be flattered, since 99.9% of recipe exchanging between my mom and I consists of me calling, e-mailing, or Facebooking her and asking how to make something, but before I shared I wanted to be sure I could recreate it.

The first time, after all, could have been a fluke, and I dreaded Mom calling back to say, "I tried to make that fig tart the other night. It didn't turn out. Actually, it set the oven on fire, and the house burned down. We live in the motor home now, but we can't move it out of the driveway because the tires melted. Are you sure that was the right recipe?"

Better safe than sorry, I stopped at the store on the way home yesterday and picked up the two things I needed to give this a second try. I already had the third ingredient:

3 ingredient tart

since pie crusts come in pairs.

I bought the pie crusts last week, because I was going to make a quiche and I'm the kind of lazy chef who doesn't make my own pastry crust. Instead, I used up all my eggs on that frittata I burned, so I was stuck with two pie crusts and no idea of what to do with them. I've never actually made a pie, other than a pasta pie several years ago, but I got to thinking about galettes and how much I used to love the ones at Bountiful Bread when I lived in Albany. Then I remembered that I had some fig spread in the refrigerator, and the idea for the tart slowly formed.

For the fig spread, you'll need:

1 bag of mission figs
1 10 to 14 oz jar of cherry or apricot preserves

I had fig spread in the refrigerator because I made it for Fancy Cheese Night, the occasion once a month or so when I decide that I'm having crackers and fancy cheese for dinner while I watch black and white movies. The recipe was in a magazine I read years ago, and was recommended as part of a cheese board because figs and cheese taste good together. If you drop it onto a cracker before you put the cheese on, it holds the cheese in place, and you don't have to worry about it siding off while you watch Bette Davis run someone over in a stolen motorcar.

To make the fig spread, remove the stems from all of the figs. Dump them into a food processor, then add all of the preserves and process the hell out of it. When you are done, it will look like this:

figs and cherries

Since you are now the sort of fancy person who has fancy cheese nights, spoon the fig spread into your fanciest Gladware, and stick it in your fancy refrigerator until you have Fancy Cheese Night or until you decide that you want to make a fig tart instead.

To make the fig tart, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Then take the pie crust out of the refrigerator and set it on the counter. You want it chilled, not cold, when you work with it, or it will crack when you roll it out. After that, make the fig spread. (If you already made it and had it in the fridge, put it in the microwave for 30 seconds so that it is warm and spreadable.)

One note about the fig spread: Use preserves, not jelly. Preserves are thicker than jelly, which turns to liquid in the oven. Also, you want mission figs, not those weird Calmyrna figs.

Anyway, once you've made the spread and let the oven preheat all the way, it's time to roll out the pie crust onto a pan. I used a round pizza pan covered in parchment paper:

poked pie crust

As you can see in the picture, I've also liberally poked it with a fork so it doesn't bubble up in the oven. Once you have the crust unrolled, spread it evenly with the fig spread to about a half inch from the edge, and then fold the edge up. You want to put the fold right where the spread stops, so that there will be some spread inside the crust and you won't be biting into a big, dry mouthful of pastry:

filled crust

Once you've rolled up all the edges, put it in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling has turned a nice dark chocolate brown:

baked tart

Let it cool completely, until it is at room temperature. Then cut it into wedges (I used a pizza wheel) and serve:

sliced tart

It tastes like a giant Fig Newton, and it's best with lots of milk.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Gray Day in Knoxville

This morning it was cloudy and overcast. The weather kept seeming like it was going to rain, but then it would sprinkle for a second and nothing else would happen. I really wanted to get out of the house and take some pictures, though, so I decided to try to capture a little bit of the quiet, gray mood.

It helped that there were almost no people in sight at World's Fair Park, and the flat light left even familiar things looking washed out and tired.

No children at the playgrounds:

wooden castle

triple slide

Nobody at the patio tables or sitting on the benches:

empty patio


The Butcher Shop patio was empty because it's gone out of business:

Tennessee window

The Veterans Memorial was also deserted:

veteran's memorial


And for the most part I just walked around the park alone:

bridge (1)

bridge lights

sunsphere section

bridge (2)

Eventually the clouds broke and the sun came out, but by then I was already gone.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Safe Place for What, Exactly?

I'm confused by this sign I saw at Kroger:

safe place?

While I'm sure this made sense to whoever designed it, as a casual customer I'm confused about what, exactly, Kroger is asserting that they are a safe place for.

Interracial midget/giant dating? I'm only asking because that looks a lot like a big white person making out with a small black person, or at least hugging one. Or maybe the white person isn't really that much bigger, and just has a gigantic head?

Or maybe the sign is saying that Kroger is a safe place to grab people inappropriately from behind? I only suggest the inappropriate part because those hands are definitely in the "bad touch" zone if the smaller figure is female.

Maybe they're just saying that Kroger is a safe place to hug? I've never really seen anyone hugging there, but it's probably happened at least once, late at night, in the soft glow of the freezer cases as a low and moody Muzak version of "Strangers in the Night" softly hums overhead. Kroger is a safe place for love, good clean love, without utensils (unless you happen to be in Aisle 7).

Intrigued, I asked the cashier as I struggled to ignore the fact that she was bagging cold groceries and not cold groceries in the same bag even though I deliberately sent them down the conveyor belt well separated to keep that specific thing from happening.

"That Safe Place sign out front? The yellow one? What does that mean, exactly?"

"Oh, uh... it's, like, for child molestors."

Kroger is a safe place for child molestors? What? Did they sign an endorsement deal with the Michael Jackson estate or something?

Some version of this might have been clearly visible in my face, because she immediately added, "You know, to get away from them. It's a safe place to get away from child molestors."

Oh, of course. That was completely obvious, just by looking at the sign.

Late edit: My friends Cate and Rod (whose blog is temporarily offline) have informed me that the sign is for the national Safe Place program, which helps at-risk, runaway, and homeless youth. Although I still think the Kroger staff should have been able to tell me that when I asked, I could have also looked that up myself.

Sometimes I can be a real ass.

(That's according to me, not according to my friends Cate and Rod.)

Saturday, August 13, 2011


It's our busy time of year, when most of us in the department put in a week or two (or three, maybe more) of ten, twelve, and fourteen hour days, plus weekends, all leading up to move in. I'm not saying this as a complaint. I love my job, or else I wouldn't keep doing it. I'm just saying that most nights this week I've gotten home kind of tired and a little late.

And I've eaten pizza rolls for dinner for four nights out of the last five.

I bought a giant, family sized bag knowing that I would be too tired to cook anything, and that they can be microwaved quickly. I'm not alone in this. One of my coworkers bought ten or fifteen Healthy Choice dinners last time they were on sale and stockpiled them in the freezer, and another said that she's been cycling through the McDonald's dollar menu on her way home. (Names have been omitted to protect the innocent and their poor eating habits.)

Yesterday, though, I realized that I would be able to go home reasonably close to five today, so I paged through a couple of cookbooks before bed, decided to give the soup cookbook a rest for a little while, and found a frittata recipe in one of my appetizer books. I've never made a frittata before, but my mom did when I was little, so I was intrigued.

Granted, I'm pretty sure I never ate my mom's frittata, but that's because I didn't eat most foods that weren't made of cheese. It's no reflection on my mom's cooking.

Frittata seems pretty easy, but I blew it a little tiny bit at the end. We'll get to that, but first, there was mis en place with artichoke hearts:

diced artichoke hearts

leeks that were smaller than my fist:

two small leeks

and six eggs that needed to be beaten with tarragon, salt, and pepper:

six beaten eggs

Once that was done I started melting some butter:

butter in pan

and then cooking down the leeks:

leeks and garlic

Leeks, by the way, get really soft when they cook down, and lose all of that crunchy disgusting onion/celery texture that I hate so much. Anyway, once they were softened, I added the egg mixture and the artichoke hearts, and let it cook away on low:

cooking frittata

This is where my frittata went slightly awry. According to the cookbook, I should let it cook until the bottom was set and the top was slightly liquid, then put it under the broiler for a few minutes until the top was done. My 8 inch fry pan (the size the recipe said to use) can't go under the broiler because the handle has a rubber grip, but the cookbook said that if a broiler was not available I could just let it keep cooking on the stovetop until the top was set, too, so that's what I did.

The cookbook did not mention that it takes approximately forever, and that it leaves the bottom right on the edge of burned:

cooked frittata

It wasn't inedible or anything:

wedge of frittata

but there's a little bit of an almost too browned taste, and some of the leeks turned into tiny black flakes. I've since read online that you can also slide the frittata out of the pan when the bottom is done, then flip it over back into the pan so that you can cook the top for a few minutes, too. I'll try that next time.

In the meantime, I have some leftover frittata to eat with my pizza rolls tomorrow.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The National Knife Museum

On Saturday morning, after Elizabeth and I went yard-saling for an hour or so (she bought a lamp and I bought a book for myself and one to donate to the resource center), I decided that since I was already awake and in the car, I would drive to the nearby National Knife Museum, located in Pigeon Forge in the gigantic multilevel Knifeworks store:


Then on Saturday afternoon and on and off during the day on Sunday I tried to think of an entertaining way to write about my trip, but kept running into a wall. You wouldn't think it would be hard to find something entertaining about a place where this brand of horror is the first thing you see:

singing bear and raccoon

Animatronic anthropomorphic animals with muscial instruments, covered in the preserved skins of actual animals. It's like a Chuck E. Cheese designed by John Wayne Gacy. It's also one of the few interesting parts of the trip because, unfortunately, the National Knife Museum is pretty boring.

Sorry, knife enthusiasts.

I really thought I would enjoy the trip. I'm not a knife craftsman (knifemaker?) or carnival sideshow performer, but I've watched a lot of horror movies and I cook a lot, so I have an appreciation for bladed weapons, and the knife museum and knife store has thousands of knives, swords, and other sharp objects. It just somehow managed to make them completely un-fun.

For starters, nothing in the museum is labeled. That means that if you do see something intriguing in one of the cases, like these wooden pocketknives:

wooden knives

you can't find out anything about them. Who carved them? For what purpose? And when? I'll never know, because the knife museum exists only to display knives, not to actually educate you about them.

There does seem to be some sort of order to the display cases, but this is just guesswork on my part. Here are the displays I think I saw, since there aren't any signs to tell me any different:

Animals That Died by Stabbing


The Knives That Won World War II

knives of world war II

Knives of the American Old West, And Also a Gun

knives of the american west

South American Knives Except for the Bottom One That Looks Asian

knives of south america

African Knives and Other Pointy Things

knives of africa

I Think This Is About the Civil War Except That One of the Coats is Red Instead of Gray

knives of the war of northern aggression

And that's it. I don't know if they were famous, historical, examples of something important in the hostory of knives, or if someone just cleaned out the knife sections at Pier One and the antique store and dumped the results into a few display cases. I learned nothing, except that knives exist and there are a lot of different kinds. Worst of all, I didn't even find the one famous knife that I was told to be there.

All I found was a poster:

rambo III

You know what should be in a case, right next to that poster?

A bowie knife.

One that Rambo used to liberate entire countries of oppressed people in a movie.

But there's not. There's not even a plaque or a sign that tells you where the knife should be or if it was ever there at all. There's just a poster and a rack of dried fruit, down in the basement in the cooking section of the store that also happens to house the knife museum.

What a disappointment.