I wash the dishes with the windows open, it makes life feel tangible, crisp. I don't take it for granted anymore, the beauty of air, of movement, of the lunar pull that brings the tides in. Wind. Rain. The seasons. The emotions of our world and how we've learned to cope with the dissonance between waking up to fog and puddles and going to bed with sunburns. I don't take it for granted anymore, being able to breathe.
I was suffocating in my old life. I was asphyxiated with my responsibilities, with a life I wasn't sure was mine at all. I lost sight of the small details. I worried more about the fabric than the thread. I worried more about the patchwork existence I had made for myself than the way it all seemed to fray when I would try to sleep at night. Unravel until I had to hold a hand to my dog's chest and feel his heartbeat. Feel my own. Convince myself it was all a nightmare, that I wasn't $90,000 in debt. That it was all worth it. That I wanted to be in California. That I was lucky. That I wasn't a failure. That it was all worth it.
There used to be moths that flew at the window and made small thumps at night. There used to be coyotes that laughed at the moon and ate stars in their hollows. Nothing could keep me awake more than knowing I wasn't the person I wanted to be. I used to press my fingernails into the palms of my hands and try to convince myself it was stigmata. The moths that rose in my stomach I used to mistake for butterflies. The coyotes in the darkness weren't laughing at the moon, but at me. For thinking I could ever be happy if I didn't know myself first.
I used to think the word lilac was pretty and I liked how it ended in a C. I thought about this when I was pouring some day-old coffee that I was going to microwave until it could burn my aching tongue. I remember that morning. It was the morning I decided to leave. To leave the home I created. I wasn't happy, I wasn't breathing. I was checking my pulse at three in the morning, trying to race the minute hand, trying to keep my dog's breathing as gentle as my own. I thought about all the pretty words I would be sharing alone, convinced myself it was worth it to leave again. Pack up, move away. Debt and regret wouldn't follow, only this manifest destiny of creativity that I would forge ahead with.
I thought about this when I packed the cardboard boxes, taped them at the bottom so they'd be secure.
I thought about this when I couldn't stop shaking, how cold it was the first night in my new apartment.
I thought about this when I put myself with a paring knife and had to wash the wound clean by myself.
I thought about this when it was dead silent in February and I had to use an inhaler to sleep.
I thought about all this when I was making this tart this week. How envious I was of those people whose life marches on, one first in front of the other. How mine has staggered, fallen, tripped on its own night gown. Maybe because it's still sleeping, resting, waiting to shake and yawn when the coyotes are sleeping. When the moths fall silent, dusty and dead. When I finally realize not everything was promised to me and I could have worked at all the things that I left behind in big cardboard boxes.
California was a perpetual summer, sleepy and groggy and never fully connected to all the other pieces of my life. This tart is a testament to that time. Basil and lemon, the aromatics of the hot season. Close your eyes and it's carefree, open them and you're staring at that To-Do list that never seems to get done.
Lemon Tart with Basil Meringue
For the Tart Shell
- 1 1/2 sticks butter
- 1/2 c sugar
- 1 ts vanilla
- 1 3/4 flour
- 1/2 tablespoon lemon zest
- pinch of salt
- Combine all ingredients in a food processor, pulse until forms a mass and still a bit crumbly
- Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead two or three times with hands, make sure to lightly flour top, so it does not stick or the butter melts on your hands
- Pat into a 10-inch circle and wrap with plastic wrap
- Refrigerate for half an hour
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
- Take out of fridge and roll out to 10-inch tart length. Form into pan and cut off excess dough
- Weigh down dough with aluminum foil and baking beans, prick holes in dough with fork
- Bake for 20 minutes
- Remove foil and beans, bake for 12 more minutes
- Remove and allow to cool. Begin working on the curd
For the Lemon Curd filling
For the Lemon Curd, use this recipe from a previous post. Adjust the sugar to be 1 1/2 cups and use the zest and juice of four lemons. Pour into prepared tart pan and allow to cool to room temperature
For the Basil Meringue
- 1/2 c sugar
- 1/2 c basil leaves
- 2 large egg whites, room temperature
- 1 ts cream of tartar
- 1 TB lemon juice
- In a food processor, pulse sugar and basil leaves until diced finely and basil leaves have released oils. Mixture will look like a runny pesto. Set aside
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium until they begin to froth. Add about 2 tb of the sugar and the cream of tartar.
- Set mixer to medium high after about three minutes and whisk about mixture has doubled in volume. Continue to gradually add sugar. Add lemon juice.
- After two minutes, turn to high and let beat until thick and can stand up on the whisk.
- Using a rubber spatula, scoop basil mixture into egg mixture and gently fold until well incorporated
To assemble: Pour lemon curd into prepared tart shell and then pour meringue onto the curd. In a 350 degree oven, bake meringue and tart for an additional ten minutes to set and cook eggs. Take out of oven, allow to rest before serving.