Tales from Cheffing Around

S.A.D vs H.A.P.P.Y. (featuring Asparagus and Artichoke Tarte au Soleil)

Francis drives down our block at a snail’s pace.

“Anything?” I ask, craning my neck for a better view.

Clouds hang low and full above us, waiting for the perfect moment to discharge.

“Nope, I don’t see either of them.  They’re probably inside all cuddled up.”

I sigh and feel my low energy double down.

There are two cats that live on our block.  I mean, there are probably 30 cats that live on our block, but there are two outdoor cats we see regularly when we walk up the block for burritos.

One is a tiny white minx named Smudge.  She’s full grown, but only the size of a small butternut squash.  The moment she sees us approaching she leaps into action, coquettishly leaning forward to present the first body part she would like caressed, her tush.  Then she collapses at our feet, begging for tummy rubs, batting her lashes, purring, “I’ve mew missed you so much, you’re my mew very favorite humans in the world, where mew have you been, I can’t manage without mew.”

She often follows us home and cries desperately on our front steps for what feels like hours and is probably one minute.

I truly believed we were the only ones getting this treatment until my brother and his girlfriend Sharon came over for dinner.  They mentioned that when they were house-sitting for us there was a cat on the block they had developed a very special relationship with.

I can’t even describe the jealous rage that rose up inside of me.  I looked at Francis and saw the same emotion building in him.

“That slut!” I thought to myself.  “How dare she?!?”

Now, of course, we own a cat.  A great cat.  A fine cat. A cat that is probably sitting right now in the other room planning my demise.  She is all-knowing.  I’m always in some sort of trouble with Grace.  Is it victim blaming to say ‘of course I look at other cats from time to time?’

Because there’s another cat on the block a few houses down from Smudge.  Her name is Tilly.  She’s round and old and emits more “meh” than “mew” sounds.  She also descends from a porch for belly rubs on clear days, but much slower.  She demands rather than coaxes the attention.  There’s the same collapsing at our feet and purring as with Smudge, though it never lasts as long and feels a bit judged.  “To the left, fool!” I imagine her saying as we try to find the best spot on her paunch to rub.  Tilly is most often found dozing in a pool of sunshine in front of the house where she lives.

That is, when there’s sunshine.

Tilly is invisible from October to April.

 

I did a foolish thing.  It’s a thing that I do every year and then don’t remember to learn the lesson.  I got the other S.A.D., the seasonal affective disorder where you believe that spring has finally arrived because it’s sunny for almost 6 whole days in a row in late March.  I call it H.A.P.P.Y, Hoping April Provides Perpetual Yippees (it’s really hard to find sunny words that start with Y).   I even said out loud that I knew it wasn’t going to last. But then I walked up the street and saw Tilly out on her front stoop and I jumped in with both feet.  I started fantasizing about gardens and hikes and energy and weight loss and before you knew it, I was ordering organic seeds and summer dresses online.

You know what happens next.  Second February: cold, wet April.

Tilly went back inside and so did I.

This predictable shocker gets harder every year.

I know I can’t make the sun come out, but maybe I can summon it forth from the kitchen.

Hey, it’s worth a try, right?

And so I give to you my artichoke, asparagus tarte au soleil, a breathtaking mandala that is as tasty as it is beautiful.  It’s really easy to make, too.

Artichoke Asparagus Tarte au Soleil

Ingredients

  • 2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
  • 10 asparagus stalks, bottoms trimmed
  • 1 can artichoke hearts (in water, not oil because who needs those extra calories?)
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup grated parmesan romano cheese blend
  • 5 fresh basil leaves
  • Flour for dusting
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Depending on how thick your asparagus is, blanch the asparagus for 2-3 minutes and then drain it and rinse in cool water.
  3. Drain the artichoke hearts and then put into the bowl of a food processor.  Add the asparagus, the mayonnaise, the cheese, and the basil.  Pulse until smooth, scraping down once or twice.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  5. Dust a cutting board with flour and unfold the first sheet of puff pastry on it.  Lightly dust the pastry with flour, too. Using a rolling pin, roll the puff pastry out to make it smooth on the top and about an inch wider than it was when you unfolded it.  Using a dinner plate and a knife, trace the circle with the knife.  Move the circle of pastry onto the baking sheet covered with parchment.  Prick the center of the puff pastry a few times with a fork to dock it (so that the center doesn’t puff as much).
  6. Spoon a good amount of the artichoke mix onto the puff pastry, leaving about a half inch border around the outside.  You won’t use all the mix for one batch, but it’s so delicious that you’ll have extra for dipping or just make two suns.
  7. Take the other puff pastry sheet and roll, trace, cut the same way as the first.
  8. Place the second circle on top of the first circle with the artichoke mix.
  9. Set the empty artichoke tin in the center of the top puff pastry to use as a guide and then cut the puff pastry into quarters from the tin radiating out.  It’s easier if you start with quarter cuts and then cut those into quarters or fifths.  Once the whole circle is cut into strips radiating out from the center, begin to twist the strips, being gentle to not pull too hard or squish the filling.  I do two full twists.
  10. Then pop the puff pastry into the oven, and bake for 20 minutes or until the top is nicely crispy and gold.
  11. Eat right away or bake early and reheat for 5-7 minutes when you’re ready to eat.  You can also set the whole thing up raw, cuts and all, and freeze it until you’re ready to bake.  25 minutes and you’re eating.

Come on sun, do you hear us??? (This one’s for you, Tilly)

 

And just in case you think this is too hard for you to manage, I show you how easy it is on KATU’s Afternoon Live:

 



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