The Comments Section (featuring Lemon Tart)
The blank “New Microsoft Word Document (9)” glared from my laptop as I shuffled languidly across the living room floor. The cursor stood solemn and solitarily on the top left of the page, a solid vertical line until I accidentally nudged the mouse while setting my coffee down. That jolted the cursor awake and it blinked anxiously at me, awaiting brilliance.
Rather than weed through another day of unfinished, or more accurately, unstarted sentences I’ve decided to begin an artistic movement, a neo-impressionist practice called “What’s the Pointillism?” I suspect I already have some followers.
Abandoning my nagging cursor, I slipped on my Chucks, leashed up my hound, and hit the quiet streets of Northeast Portland. It had been blisteringly hot for the few days before, that stagnant crimson heat that makes me shiftless and self-loathing. But this morning carried a breeze that smelled like seafoam and tasted like forgiveness. Amelia, my lab-schnauzer mix, pranced down the street knowing the crazy redhead holding her lead was in a better mood.
We walked to Alberta Street sniffing and peeing (Amelia, not me), accidentally busting spiderweb after spiderweb, arms flailing in the sticky silks (me, not Amelia).
It was early and quiet on that main thoroughfare. Steam shot out the side jets of a chrome-plated espresso machine in the coffee shop across the street, manned by the same blonde barista that frothed my first Portland café latte 4 1/2 years ago. Loud rock vibrated the windows of the prep kitchen for the dumpling shop on the corner, trying to stay afloat with take-out orders. Instructors in the Pilates studio were sterilizing mats and reformers for their first classes. The marquee for the Alberta Rose Theater read Black Lives Matter. Just another day here in beautiful Portland. Just another day.
Upon our return home, Francis waved from the spare-bedroom-turned-office, Amelia scarfed her kibble breakfast and sloppily lapped from her water bowl, I reunited with my coffee and laptop. Avoiding the overdue blog post, I clicked on a New York Times article about the protests in Portland. This is the moment when you, my loyal readers shout at the screen, “Alison, don’t scroll down!” My index finger was already fondling the wheel on my mouse pulling me downward…downward… in so many ways. I learned that “Anarchists are rampant in the streets of Portland,” that “Portland is done.” “Portland has burned to the ground and good riddance.” “Left-wing rioters are animals and out of control.” And that a man in Wyoming would “like more than gas, batons, and rubber bullets deployed at this time.”
I looked out my window at the rubble and carnage, the wisps of smoke rising off my leveled city, which is weird because what I actually saw out my window was a quiet city block, trees swaying, neighbors waving and smiling.
There is a feeling not like any other when someone tells you what you see with your own eyes. It’s unnerving. It’s also ubiquitous these days.
Do you remember the moment in Star Wars when Obi-Wan Kenobi said, “I felt a great disturbance in the Force. It’s as if a million voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.” Well right now, it’s as if a million voices suddenly cried out and then cried out some more and then found another comment thread to cry on even louder.
I understand that The First Amendment gives us rights for free speech– so some gun-toting dude in Wyoming can report that Portland has been completely demolished by left-wing anarchists AND so many law-abiding citizens all over our country can protest against racism and police brutality. I get that. But it sure is challenging when free speech swings so far into fiction. It feels manipulative, which of course it is because nothing wins an election faster than division. The right-wing powers-that-be report that liberal lefties are starting trouble in Portland and two seconds later Jimmy in Montana says we’re armed and looting and have destroyed federal property. The only way out is to place Feds on the streets. If you focus everyone’s attention on one group to blame then it’s easy peasy. Liberal lefty’s rioting = votes for Trump. He’ll save the world with his brown shirt army. But what if the riots aren’t actually riots. What if the damage is minuscule when compared to the thousands of people protesting respectfully? Does that justify the government’s actions to send paramilitary troops our way? Uncertain? Well, you won’t be for long because it’s coming to a political theater near you.
Please don’t misunderstand. I don’t want graffiti on our buildings. No fires are acceptable. There’s no reason for anyone to damage any public or federal property. But let us handle it locally. When you bring tear gas to a fistfight the news story will say tear gas was necessary. Because tear gas and troops sell more papers than fists, or more accurately in Portland, hand-drawn pleas for justice, written in markers on cardstock.
Take a look at what my hero Rep. Pramila Jayapal had to say about the feds in Portland. It’s just one mic drop after another with her. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ssv2bsa8oME
This morning, Governor Brown said the feds will be removed from Portland. Trump says he’s sending more in. But he also said that Covid is under control and that he’s delaying the election. Can you hear the comment sections growing? I just wonder…
Though I have lost a lot of work in the past 5 months, I’ve had a strange revelation in my relationship with cooking. While not managing staff and service and food purchasing and cooking and cleaning, my focus has become honed. I’ve found small moments of pleasure and peace where I’m not worried about anything, where I’m in a meditative state of non-judgment, self or otherwise. Those moments have saved my life recently. They’ve also produced some food that’s exactly what I intended (which is often not the case when my full self-judgment brain is in charge.)
So here’s something that I made recently that isn’t actually hard, is really rewarding, and incredibly satisfying to eat on a hot summer day.
- 9 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 teaspoons vegetable oil, not olive oil
- 4 tablespoons water
- 4 teaspoons sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 ½ heaping cups of flour (can be all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a metal prep bowl, set the butter, oil, water, sugar, and salt (I say “set” rather than “mix” because there’s no need to mix before they melt together in the oven. Put the metal bowl in the oven for 15 minutes.
- Carefully remove the bowl from the oven.
- Mix the flour into the bowl with a spoon or plastic spatula. It’ll come together pretty quickly and pull away from the sides of the bowl.
- Pat the dough into a 9-inch tart pan, pushing the dough up the sides of the pan evenly. Using a fork, dock the dough by pricking it with the tines gently.
- Place the tart pan on a sheet pan and into the oven to bake for 15 minutes.
- Let the shell cool.
Lemon Curd Filling
- 1 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 large eggs
- 4 large egg yolks
- Lower the heat to 350 degrees.
- Heat 2 inches of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat and place a medium metal bowl (one large enough to hold all the ingredients of the curd) over the saucepan. The boiling water should not touch the bottom of the metal bowl. Put the lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, butter, eggs and egg yolks into the bowl and stir.
- This method will regulate the heat but you still want to keep an eye on the mixture so that the eggs don’t scramble.
- After 2-3 minutes, the mixture will begin to thicken. It should cling to the back of a spoon, not just drip off.
- Pass the mixture through a strainer into a bowl slowly (you will wish I hadn’t suggested this move about 3 minutes into the task. You think to yourself that you don’t really care if there are small bits of possibly scrambled egg whites because it’s so delicious anyway. I don’t personally care, either way, strained or not, but when I’m being paid to bake, I strain my lemon curd. It’s only fair.)
- Pour the curd into the baked tart shell and place it into the 350-degree oven for 5-7 minutes. The lemon curd will set nicely.
- Let cool and enjoy.
You will have a little bit of lemon curd leftover, which is delightful on morning toast or just licked off your finger in a moment of whimsy. I won’t tell a soul, I promise.