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adventure is hard

French Tomato TartI know the romance of adventure; I’m a sucker for it, every time. But people, adventure is hard. It is hard to leave people you love, even for the promise of something wonderful. And it’s lovely and romantic to drive across the country, put together an apartment, start fresh, seek new opportunities, build dreams, etc. — but my goodness, is it ever difficult as well.

I certainly don’t want to complain, because this adventure is, ultimately, quite lovely. But I wish to say, too, that it’s not all daisies and sunshine (though Oakland does boast quite a bit of that) and the cheery pictures of my dinner I post on Instagram. There is a gritty underside, too — anxiety and unknowns and bumps in the road and job applications and I need to have patience but I don’t and on and on.

You people know this, of course. Challenges accompany most any job, and babies, and buying a house, and making a house a home, and relationships, and pretty much everything else. We know struggles trail closely behind adventures and excitement, yet rarely does anyone say it, and so I have taken it upon myself to fill the void: adventure is difficult.

I want to be positive, though, so let me tell you ten things that could have been worse during our move (i.e. “adventure!”):

1. It could have rained not only on the day we packed the U-Box and the day we left Grand Rapids BUT ALSO on our wedding day.

2. The morning we left Grand Rapids, after dropping my iPhone in a puddle next to my landlords’ house and subsequently running it over with the car and then not realizing that it was gone and retracing our steps to the coffee shop, library, etc. before finding it in said puddle with about a thousand fissures through the screen, we could have not ever found it at all.

3. I could have failed to purchase AppleCare along with my phone.

4. We could have condensed our cross-country trek into less than four days.

5. We could have been on our journey without Tina Fey

6. …and about a hundred wedding cards, which we read aloud to one another while locked in Chicago traffic and while on the ENDLESS ROAD that was Nevada.

7. Nevada could have lasted even longer. (Though he is generally a very positive person, my husband was not pleased with Nevada.)

8. The coffee, everywhere, could have been worse. Maybe.

9. After we discovered our punctured tire, had it fixed in Salt Lake City and then had it fixed again in the middle of nowhere a few hundred miles away from Salt Lake City, the tire could have burst. (I’m told that can happen. It sounds awful.)

10. Along with darkness, rolling hills made terrifying due to darkness, extensive construction, semi trucks insistent upon passing and missed views of Lake Tahoe because it was nighttime, my irrational fears could have been realized: we actually could have died, right there, just inside the California border and so very close to our destination.

Well! I don’t know about you, but I feel better. Adventure may be hard, but things can almost always be worse!

Tomatoes + Herbs

Tomatoes + Herbs, from above

Tart Layers

As I’ve explained, we spent the first week or so of our time in our new apartment sans chairs, table, complete kitchen furnishings, a bed, a couch and various other items. Our U-Box was somewhere across the country, and for whatever reason (I don’t know — probably the wedding/moving/saying goodbye/enormous transition), I failed to pack the following in the car, even though there was plenty of room: measuring cups, cups for drinking, coffee mugs, plates, more than one bowl, hand towels, a cake pan.

Thankfully, we had a few wedding gifts that arrived too late to make it into the U-Box, and that cutting board, sheet pan and oven mitt we did have were serious workhorses. Also, we brought salt, pepper, a knife and a bottle opener on the cross-country drive (of course?). So we weren’t in such dire straits.

Anyway, the point here is that I had to be flexible, which is not always my forte, but I did it, people, and I was mighty proud of myself. So I present to you one of our meals from those first few days, a tomato tart that is also among my favorite dinner party dishes and one of the more impressive players in my cooking repertoire. Along with a really excellent crust, juicy tomatoes, melting goat cheese and flavorful herbs, this tart incorporates mustard and honey — two ingredients that take something delicious and make it sublime.

French Tomato Tart

The first time I made this in our new apartment, as we had just gotten married, honeymooned and packed up our homes, I hadn’t done much cooking for several weeks and was desperate to get my hands dirty in the kitchen. Thus, without measuring devices, a rolling pin or quite all of the ingredients, I went for it. And it came out wonderfully! Below, however, is the recipe I follow when I have ingredients and tools on hand. I made the tart this way last week for a dear friend from high school who was visiting San Francisco for work. She was our first dinner guest, and I served this tart alongside greens, dates and toasted walnuts tossed with a tahini dressing and a dessert of salty caramel ice cream with almond-spice biscotti. It was delightful.

And clearly, a beautiful galette that can be prepared in a near-empty kitchen and eaten from a perch on the dining room floor or served to a guest on a well-appointed table is one worth keeping up your sleeve!

Tart Assembly 1

Tart Assembly 2

Tart Assembly 3

Tart Assembly 4

French Tomato Tart

Adapted from David Lebovitz, who adapted it from Kate Hill’s A Culinary Journey in Gascony

This is, thus far in my culinary adventuring, without question my favorite tart dough. It’s wonderful that it doesn’t need time to rest, and that it’s not too heavy on the butter but still bakes to a flaky, glorious finish.

The other stars of this recipe are, as noted above, the mustard and honey.

I’m very fond of thyme and chives on this tart, if you’re looking for guidance while choosing your herbs. And one final note: if your tomatoes are particularly juicy, I’d recommend letting them rest on a paper towel for a few minutes so that the tart doesn’t become too wet.

For the tart dough

1 1/2 cups white whole wheat / all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 1/2 ounces (9 tablespoons) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes

1 egg

2-3 tablespoons cold water

For the filling

Dijon or whole-grain mustard

2 – 3 medium tomatoes

1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil

2 – 3 tablespoons fresh herbs, such as chives, thyme, basil or a combination, chopped

6 oz. goat cheese (or slightly more or less to your preferences), sliced into rounds

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

salt + pepper

To make the dough, combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter and, with your hands or a pastry blender, break in the butter until the mixture has a crumbly, cornmeal-like texture.

In a smaller bowl, whisk the egg with 2 tablespoons of the water. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the beaten egg mixture, stirring until the dough holds together. If it is not coming together easily, add the additional tablespoon of ice water.

Gather the dough into a ball. Continue with the recipe, or wrap the dough in plastic and keep it in the refrigerator until needed. If the latter, let the dough come back to room temperature prior to rolling it out.

On a floured surface, roll the dough into a circle 12 – 14 inches in diameter. Transfer it to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. As you assemble the tart, leave a 2-inch border of dough without toppings.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Spread an even layer of mustard over the bottom of the dough, avoiding the 2-inch border, and let it sit for a few minutes to dry out.

Slice the tomatoes, and arrange them over the mustard in a single layer (they can overlap slightly). Drizzle the olive oil over top.

Sprinkle with about half of the chopped herbs. Arrange the slices of goat cheese on top. Top with the remaining herbs, drizzle with honey and finish with salt and pepper.

Fold up the border of the tart, overlapping as necessary, to enclose the tart.

Bake the tart for approximately 30 minutes, until the dough is cooked, the tomatoes are tender and the cheese is nicely browned. Watch it closely — if the tart is browning too quickly, you can turn the heat down slightly; if the cheese has not browned at the end of 30 minutes, you can broil the tart very briefly to finish.

Yield: 4 servings as a main; 6 – 8 servings as a side or appetizer

Lovely Little Dinner Party

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