I spent four days this past week in Maryland, skirting around the suburbs of Washington D.C. While there, I did some research, conducted some interviews, and attended a fundraising event. I drank a lot of coffee and ate way too many granola bars. One night, while visiting with an old friend, I went out for Burmese food, which was good and spicy, and then out for a bunch of beers, which certainly took off the edge. It was a good trip, a productive trip. I’m happy I went. But I drove there from Boston on Saturday, an epic 10-hour slog, and then back again Tuesday in the constantly spitting rain. I never want to climb into a car again.
The drive on Saturday was especially rough. I left early that morning feeling foggy and dazed. The night before, Matt and I had a few friends over for dinner. I cooked: spaghetti and meatballs, arugula salad with almonds and a balsamic vinaigrette, a tarte tatin. A bit (well, a lot) of red wine.
The meal went well. The meatballs were tender; the spaghetti sauce was rich and silky with a stick of butter. I love a salad of greens and a simple vinaigrette, the crunch of toasted almond here and there.
And the tart was good. It wasn’t great. It had the potential for greatness, yes. I used a recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. La Tarte des Demoiselles Tatin. An “especially good tart if your apples are full of flavor,” Child writes. “It is cooked in a baking dish with the pastry on top of the apples. When done, it is reversed onto a serving dish and presents a lovely mass of caramelized apples.”
But I was stupid. I loaded the apples that I had peeled and thinly sliced—an entire 4-pound bag from the farmer’s market—along with the melted butter, sugar, and a blanket of pastry dough made from scratch, into a baking pan with a removable bottom. A removable bottom? It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’m not sure why. Because when I took the tart out of the oven, all bronzed and steaming a caramel autumn scent, I saw that all of the dense buttery goodness, the kind that should have clung to lowest layer of apples, almost candy-like, had seeped out onto the baking sheet. Gone.
Before I served the tart, I salvaged it with a dusting of powdered sugar and a few minutes under the broiler. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, believe me, we were all okay. But I fell asleep late that night feeling vaguely disappointed.
Fast-forward to late on Tuesday afternoon, when, after the final hours of what felt like a never-ending drive—my legs in cramps from operating the clutch of my car in traffic, my stomach empty but for weak gas station coffee, my podcast supply severely diminished—I finally arrived home. I parked, unloaded my bags, walked up the stairs to my apartment, and immediately opened the fridge. There wasn’t much in there. Nothing, really, but the remains of the tarte tatin. It was few days old and quite stiff in its chill, but I cut a slice, sat down at my desk, and ate it with my hands like a piece of pizza.
Now that was great.