The Thinking 
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Tarts Lost. Tarts Saved.

July 6, 2009


I know a woman who once placed a homemade tart on the front passenger seat of her car. It was a Provencal recipe made with roasted red peppers. She set off for a social event where the tart would be unveiled and eaten. The woman was racing along when she was forced to make a sudden stop. The tart went flying, landing on the accelerator. She had to keep driving. She vividly recalls crushing the tart again and again into the pedal and car floor.

Perhaps you cannot fully appreciate this story. If you have never made a tart from scratch, perhaps this means nothing. But to any cook, it speaks of tragic desecration. The tart is the acme of culinary perfection. It takes years of trial and error to master the form. Some people never get it right despite monumental effort and patience. In our world, many women never get the chance to try.

Tarts are not important. But, they are among the most important of unimportant things. Everything from field and orchard is at home in pastry. “So many simple ingredients can be made to look exotic by being dressed up in a pastry crust,” said Julia Child. It’s true. If you sliced up an old shoe and arranged it in concentric circles on pastry, it would look appealing. With a light glaze, it might taste good.

The homemade tart is cheap and filling. Store-bought models look fine, but taste stale. Ironically, those who make pastry for a living are considered to be doing something worthwhile. But, the housewife who spends hours getting this tart art right is an elitist or a dolt. The store-bought tart has professional credentials. The homemade one is a sign of decadence or stupidity.

Monks in the desert can live on honey and locusts. Most of us cannot. “Good living is an act of intelligence,” said Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, “by which we choose things that have an agreeable taste over those which do not.” He was French. We tend to think differently. The non-industrial tart is inefficient.

But, even tart failures are a form of accomplishment; they lead to later successes. Far better to make a tart and fail then to buy a tart and eat. I made a red-white-and-blue tart for July Fourth out of raspberries, blueberries and custard. The crust was cracked. The custard was thin. But, it was one minute step on the road to tart perfection. One day, some talented cook will unveil a work of such consummate skill and beauty, it will transform the world. It will be the Platonic Tart, the essence of tart-ness, the ideal form. It is toward this Heavenly Tart, we must labor in obscurity.



July 6, 2009


No advanced civilization has been sustained without barbers. The more the better. There are few things more beautiful or emblematic of strength and order than a man’s neck, freshly-shaven. Some societies have found long hair in men attractive and masculine. These societies have disappeared, as well they should have.

The barber closest to where I live is a nice, but messy person. He sweeps all the day’s hair into a hole in his floor. The hair rains down into the basement, where he leaves it accumulating in a massive hill of human locks. I once took my son down to the basement so that he could use the restroom. We both almost fainted in disgust. The hill was illuminated with the ghostly light shining from the hole above.

For this reason, and out of thrift, I have long been my husband’s barber. I have cut his hair for about fifteen years. I have a few rules. One, I don’t talk sports. Most men enjoy mulling over the latest scores while getting their heads shorn. Tough luck.

I also reserve the right to break out in laughter. There’s a reason why there are barbers. It does take some skill and training. Worse comes to worse, my husband can wear a baseball cap for a few days. Don’t misunderstand me. I take the job seriously. What woman wants her husband to appear with unintentional corn rows?

“Thanks,” my husband said recently after a hair cut. “It needs to be done.” He was quoting Richard Nixon. In his famous conversaton with John Dean, Nixon spoke of the need to use the FBI and IRS against political enemies.

“Oh, what an exciting prospect,” said Dean.

“Thanks,” said Nixon.  “It needs to be done.”

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