lundi, août 31, 2009

dimanche, août 30, 2009

can't-fail parisian piecrust

Can't-fail Parisian piecrust
Marlena Spieler
Sunday, August 23, 2009

Remember T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "My sister (or parents, grandma, best friend, whoever) went to Paris and all I got was this lousy T-shirt"? But sometimes a T-shirt is just what you need; it might not be lavish, but it is a gift.

A gift means that someone was thinking of you while he was far away, thinking of you enough to buy a little something even with a bad exchange rate, thinking of you enough to stash it into a suitcase when every ounce of luggage matters. It might be just a T-shirt, but it is also a way to share a bit of the trip with you.

I thought about this because I just went to Paris, and I've brought you back a gift. You can't wear it. It took up no space whatsoever in my suitcase. But it's so wonderful, I can hardly wait to give it to you - in fact, I'm giving it to you right now because of the delicious onslaught of summery goodness that is in markets and gardens at this very minute. You'll probably want to keep it close through autumn, winter and spring, too.

My gift is the recipe for a pastry crust. It's delicious, easy, totally unthreatening. It's a crust you can whip up without thinking, a crust that will never let you down.

With such a great crust under your belt, so to speak, you can face summer with a smile, thinking of berries, peaches, nectarines and figs. Then you're ready for autumn, when persimmons, grapes, cranberries and pomegranates come into their own. You'll face the holiday baking season with confidence, with its cornucopia of pumpkin, apples, pears and nuts.

In winter, when all is gray, you'll have a delicate, buttery crust for showcasing oranges, limes and irresistible Meyer lemons. Then, it's spring, with that first pink rhubarb that's always a challenge to use. Take my advice: Make a tart.

I learned to make the crust from Paule Caillat, owner and operator of Promenades Gourmandes, which offers cooking classes and food walking tours in Paris. (For information, go to

The Caillat crust is utterly and endlessly forgiving. It will not let you down. You can't overwork it - any bits that get scraggly can just be tossed back into the mixture.

No worries about chilling the dough or keeping your hands cool, and no worries about rolling the dough on a cool surface, because you don't roll it out at all - you just press it into a pan and bake it. You don't even need to add beans or baking weights - just prick it a bit. It obediently sets itself down, ready for the luscious fruit of any season.

The Sweet Caillat Crust

Makes one 9-inch single layer tart crust

* 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
* 3 tablespoons water
* -- Pinch salt
* 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 4 tablespoons sugar

Instructions: Preheat over to 400°. Place the butter, oil, water and salt in a small saucepan and heat on high just until the butter melts and bubbles form around the edge; a slight browning will result in a slightly nutty flavor, which is delicious. You can also heat the mixture in a microwave. Set aside for a few minutes to cool.

With an electric mixer or wooden spoon, add 1 cup of the flour and all the sugar to the butter mixture; beat together, slowly adding more flour until the mixture forms a ball, then add more flour until the mixture doesn't stick to the sides of bowl or pan.

Turn dough out into a 9-inch pie pan or tart pan with a removable bottom, and press it into an even layer over the bottom and sides.

To bake completely, bake for 10-15 minutes, or until crust is golden; watch the edges so that they do not burn.

To par-bake (for accompanying tart recipe), bake 5-8 minutes, or until crust is just firm.

Remove from oven and cool, then fill as desired.
The Tart that Takes You Through the Year

Serves 8-10

You can use almost any fruit - stone fruit, berries, figs, grapes, persimmons, apples, pears, citrus, and so on. Watch the juiciness of the fruit, and adjust accordingly. The amount of sugar also depends on the sweetness of the fruit, but the more sugar the juicier the fruit will become. Also keep an eye on the tart as it bakes; tent it if it starts to overbrown.

* 1 par-baked Sweet Calliat Crust (see recipe)
* 1 cup ground almonds or hazelnuts
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 3 cups sliced nectarines and blackberries, or other fruit (see above)
* -- About 2 tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces
* -- About 1 tablespoon almond extract, Amaretto, lemon juice, framboise or anisette
* 3 tablespoons jam
* 1 tablespoon water or lemon juice

Instructions: Place the par-baked crust, still in its pan, on the counter. Preheat oven to 400°.

Combine ground almonds and 1/4 cup sugar and sprinkle into the bottom of the tart crust. Arrange the nectarines and berries in the tart shell. Sprinkle with another 1/4 cup or so sugar, or to taste. Dot the top with butter, and sprinkle with almond extract or other moistener. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until edges of crust are golden light brown and fruit is tender; watch carefully.

Combine jam and water or lemon juice in a small saucepan and heat through. Brush over top of baked tart. Let cool, then cut into wedges to serve.

Per serving: 309 calories, 3 g protein, 40 g carbohydrate, 16 g fat (6 g saturated), 25 mg cholesterol, 5 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.

Wine pairing: Ground almonds provide a nuttiness that complements the fruit. To match, try a botrytized white dessert wine.

Marlena Spieler is a freelance food writer and cookbook author. E-mail her at or go to her Web site,

This article appeared on page K - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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mardi, août 25, 2009

choosing family, but not marriage

Out-of-Wedlock Birthrates Are Soaring, U.S. Reports
Published: May 13, 2009

WASHINGTON — Unmarried mothers gave birth to 4 out of every 10 babies born in the United States in 2007, a share that is increasing rapidly both here and abroad, according to government figures released Wednesday.

Before 1970, most unmarried mothers were teenagers. But in recent years the birthrate among unmarried women in their 20s and 30s has soared — rising 34 percent since 2002, for example, in women ages 30 to 34. In 2007, women in their 20s had 60 percent of all babies born out of wedlock, teenagers had 23 percent and women 30 and older had 17 percent.

Much of the increase in unmarried births has occurred among parents who are living together but are not married, cohabitation arrangements that tend to be less stable than marriages, studies show.

The pattern has been particularly pronounced among Hispanic women, climbing 20 percent from 2002 to 2006, the most recent year for which racial breakdowns are available. Eleven percent of unmarried Hispanic women had a baby in 2006, compared with 7 percent of unmarried black women and 3 percent of unmarried white women, according to government data drawn from birth certificates.

Titled “Changing Patterns of Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States,” the report was released by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Out-of-wedlock births are also rising in much of the industrialized world: in Iceland, 66 percent of children are born to unmarried mothers; in Sweden, the share is 55 percent. (In other societies, though, the phenomenon remains rare — just 2 percent in Japan, for example.)

But experts say the increases in the United States are of greater concern because couples in many other countries tend to be more stable and government support for children is often higher.

“In Sweden, you see very little variation in the outcome of children based on marital status. Everybody does fairly well,” said Wendy Manning, a professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. “In the U.S., there’s much more disparity.”

Children born out of wedlock in the United States tend to have poorer health and educational outcomes than those born to married women, but that may be because unmarried mothers tend to share those problems.

Decades ago, pregnant women often married before giving birth. But the odds of separation and divorce in unions driven by pregnancy are relatively high. So when a woman gets pregnant, are children better off if their parents marry, cohabitate or do neither? That question is still unresolved, Dr. Manning said.

Some experts speculate that marriage or cohabitation cements financial and emotional bonds between children and fathers that survive divorce or separation, improving outcomes for children. But since familial instability is often damaging to children, they may be better off with mothers who never cohabitate or marry than with those who form unions that are later broken.

“There is no consensus on those questions,” Dr. Manning said.

In an enduring mystery, birthrates for unmarried women in the United States stabilized between 1995 and 2002 and declined among unmarried teenagers and black women. But after 2002, the overall birthrate among unmarried women resumed its steady climb. In 1940, just 3.8 percent of births were to unmarried women.

The District of Columbia and Mississippi had the highest rates of out-of-wedlock births in 2007: 59 percent and 54 percent, respectively. The lowest rate, 20 percent, was in Utah. In New York, the rate was 41 percent; in New Jersey, 34 percent; and in Connecticut, 35 percent. Sarah S. Brown, chief executive of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a nonprofit advocacy group, said sex and pregnancy were handled far too cavalierly in the United States, where rates of unplanned pregnancies, births and abortions are far higher than those of other industrialized nations.

“These trends may meet the needs of young adults,” she said, “but it’s far from clear that it’s helpful for children.”

mercredi, août 19, 2009

so we're okay, we're fine.

I've come to believe that you never really know someone until you've been through a crisis together. In our time as a couple, Leo and I have weathered a few storms (including a tropical cyclone). But in the past few days, I've learned that there are no limits to his love and that I can trust him with anything.

It's wonderful to have a partner who gives as much as he gets. It's also incredibly comforting when things don't go according to plan and life doesn't just disappoint you -- it kicks you in the teeth.

But I'm okay. I'm fine. And I fervently believe in The Power of Two.
We'll look at them together
Then we'll take them apart
Adding up the total of a love that's true
Multiply life by the power of two.

You know the things that I am afraid of
I'm not afraid to tell
And if we ever leave a legacy
It's that we loved each other well.