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INSPIRED FOLLIES


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TART
1: agreeably sharp or acid to the taste

2: marked by a biting, acrimonious, or cutting quality

What is acidic about a buttery shell filled with pasty cream and topped with fruit? I’m willing to tell you. I’m wanting to tell you. I’m waiting to tell you.

I have no idea. It’s mostly butter and sugar. The recipe comes from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. In true Ina Garten style, it is equal parts delicious and do-able. That said, it has a pressed-in, shortbread cookie crust that I found a bit clumsier and more pockmarked than a traditional rolled-in, homemade pie crust. If you are agile with pie crust, you may want to use a traditional crust recipe.

I should also point out how important it is to grip a false bottomed tart pan from the sides, not the middle, before your crust is fully baked — a crisis I narrowly averted while fumbling around in two large, white “Oven Gloves” à la Michael Jackson.

A third and final word of caution — when digging a serrated knife through your objet d’art, so as to snap off pieces of crust and trail squirts of custard, and maybe send a few berries rolling down the counter to one of the members of a book club as they grasp to articulate the merits of a particular character, it’s best to enter spiritedly into the debate, feigning distracted absorption in their many perspectives as you slyly pass them your dismembered, sagging pieces of tart. I recommend NOT dangling your custard dotted serrated knife near their faces as you lunge for a paper towel and then proceed to smear your countertop with a thin layer of fat.

In these instances a home cook may feel the need to justify her folly in crafting such a pretty dessert, only to butcher it and render it unappetizing before serving. Once again, a line from Pygmalion comes to mind. I saw a production at Theatre Wit this weekend:

“What is life but a series of inspired follies? The difficulty is to find them to do. Never lose a chance: it doesn’t come every day.” A good creed for a clumsy cook 🙂

On this note, allow me to promote some theatre, beyond the theatre of me wielding a knife in the kitchen. If you can, see Pygmalion at Theater Wit in Lakeview, jointly produced by Stage Left Theatre and BoHo Theatre. (If you do, check out Cooper’s across the street for some excellent barbecue!)

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 3.00.33 PMPygmalion is the story of a phonetics professor, Henry Higgins who makes a bet with fellow linguist Colonel Pickering that he can pass off “guttersnipe” Eliza Doolittle as a duchess, by teaching her to speak like a lady. Pygmalion is the source material for the musical, My Fair Lady, which dramatizes Eliza’s transformation in the wonderfully theatrical and visual way that a musical can. Pygmalion, on the other hand, is chock-full of word play, and subtly shifting power dynamics between the men and the women: Eliza and the professor, Professor Higgins and his mother, Eliza and her father…

What do I like about Pygmalion? There is always the theme of language — rather, the power of language to both create and limit our identity. The same could be said for education, and its powers of creation and limitation: at the end of the play, an exasperated Eliza tells Professor Higgins that she can’t go back to selling flowers on the street; her education has turned her into something new and irreversible, a “lady.”

And yet, being a “lady” at the turn of the twentieth century is in certain ways more limiting than being an uneducated flower girl. After the experiment, Eliza is permanently charged with being an object of refinement and beauty, though she is unmarried and has no real skills, except her recently acquired knowledge of phonetics. Professor Higgins  does not realize the burden he has placed on Eliza by giving her an education that he can’t take back, with no clear place to go. Higgins can’t see how objectifying his project was — he successfully created a lady, but for his own amusement. So what? What happens to her?

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 3.05.13 PMThis is an interesting twist on the Greek myth, Pygmalion, about a king who creates a beautiful statue of a woman, falls in love with her, and treats her as if she were real. It’s almost an inversion — as if Professor Higgins is smitten with a precocious, outspoken, low class woman, and gradually makes her more statuesque.

Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James (and one of my favorite novels) also contains this theme, when the precocious and vibrant American, Isabel Archer ends up marrying a European aesthete who treats her like one of many beautiful objects in his art collection.

Aside from the obvious female objectification issues, there is a larger theme at work in these stories, which is: is it inspired folly or just plain folly to cultivate beauty if your spirit isn’t “friendly-like,” as Eliza Doolittle puts it?

More importantly, what are the implications for my tart? I’d say it was well-intended, and beautiful for a second or two. Let’s call it inspired folly. On with the tomfoolery.

[Photos: jeffberryman.com, commons.wikipedia.org, via Creative Commons]
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