In the weeks leading up to our move, while I was practicing my French, I would often play out scenarios in my head of what it would be like to connect with locals in another language. In my imagination, I would walk through the outdoor markets, a scarf expertly draped over my shoulders, with a kind smile and a keen eye for the best products. I would share a joke with the cheesemonger, make a comment about the weather to the old woman selling root vegetables. I would appear to any and to all, a quick study–like someone who had been speaking French for years. And in reality, in those first few interactions upon our arrival, I still held firmly to this idea: that the best way to learn a language is to act like an expert.
Friends, I was wrong. In my first few interactions, I garbled my way through the simplest of sentences. And to make things worse, those listening couldn’t look upon me with pity. How could they? After all, despite my ineptitude, I was speaking to them as if it were easy for me, as if they should be capable of understanding the nuance of everything I said. So I have taken time to reconsider. And what I’ve decided is that a language learner is best off acting like a child: affable, curious, honest, and respectful. If I’m kind and respectful, even if someone doesn’t understand a lick of what I said, they’re much more likely to try to understand me, to give me a second chance, maybe. In the past few days, this new approach has served me well. These days, when I go to the market, I smile. I speak slowly. I say monsieur and madame. If I don’t know a word, I tell them so. I tell them I’m searching for something that’s kinda like this and a little like that. And more often than not, they give me a short French lesson, teach me a new word or two. So it’s working. I’m even getting to know some of the vendors at the market. There’s the older lady who sells all manner of produce and is always complaining about something. I ask her how she’s doing and she tells me that her foot hurts. Or that she’s tired. Or that’s she’s too hot. She’s a funny lady, and she’s the first vendor I seek out for tomatoes and figs. In a stall adjacent to hers is an older fellow, whom Raquelle and I affectionately call “The Berry Man.” The Berry Man is always impeccably dressed. He wears crisp trousers and pressed shirts. His white hair is always fixed with a neat part. He stands at attention, his hands folded in front of him, his kind eyes cast downward. His table is small and neatly arranged. Upon it, berries are displayed like jewels. And for good reason. It was their brilliance and luxury that led to a dessert like this.
Raspberry-Fig Tart with Crème Fraîche (serves 6 human people; or 2 unreasonably gluttonous monsters)
for the crust-
125 g white flour
two hearty pinches of salt
20 g sugar
70 g butter, cubed and well-chilled
1/2 egg, beaten (reserve the other half for an egg wash)
2 tsp ice water
for the filling-
1o oz figs, finely chopped(set aside 1 fig to be used later)
5 oz fresh raspberries
2 oz sugar
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
4 oz Crème Fraîche
1 tbsp honey
Begin by cubing the butter, placing it in a bowl, and setting it in the freezer to chill for 10 minutes. Then beat the egg, separate it in half, and put it in the fridge. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, pour in the flour, sugar, and salt. When the butter is chilled, add it to the flour and, using a pastry cutter or your hands, quickly mix the butter into the dough. Be sure to do this quickly so that the butter does not melt into the dough. When you begin to see bits of butter and flour the size of a grain of rice, pour in the egg and the 2 tsps of ice water. Mix with your hands just until the dough comes together. Do not over-mix. Quickly form the dough into a disc, wrap it in plastic wrap, and place it in the fridge for 1 hour.
While the dough chills, pour the finely chopped figs, lemon juice and zest, and the sugar into a small saucepan and turn the heat to medium. Stir regularly. Once the mixture begins to boil, lower the heat to just above a simmer and let it cook for half an hour. The mixture should condense over time. After half an hour, pour the fig mixture into a bowl and chill it for another half hour.
Preheat the oven 375 degrees. Once the dough has chilled, remove it from the fridge, flour it lightly, and roll it out to a circle that is 10″ in diameter. Place the dough on a parchment-lined sheet tray and put it back into the fridge for ten minutes. After ten minutes, place the sheet tray on the counter and fill the center with the cooled fig mixture. Leave about an inch of dough on the outsides of the circle to fold over as a crust. Take the remaining fig that was not used in the cooked mixture and slice it into 6 pieces. Place these sliced figs on top of the fig mixture. Next, place the raspberries on top of the figs. Gently fold over the outsides of the dough so that a crust is created. Gently pinch and crimp the wrinkles of the dough to ensure that the filling will not spill out during baking. Generously cover the outer crust with the reserved egg wash. Don’t be afraid to be liberal with it. Place the tarte into the oven and let it cook for 45 minutes. The filling should bubble and the crust should be deeply bronzed. Once baked, let the tarte cool for an hour or more. This will give the filling time to set up completely.