As I sit on the red couch in my living room, its cushions slightly less supportive and fluffy than they once were, a few long red threads dangling loose from cat launching episodes, I reflect on my life. The meaning of it. What makes us a whole person? Might the challenges we undergo in life alter who we are? Do those challenges really change “us”?
You see, as we approach the end of the month of March – the month that is “celebrated” as Brain Injury Awareness Month, I contemplate the last 2 years and 8 months since a fall from a “runaway” horse brought my brain to a new dimension. A dimension where time seems to have no meaning other than getting to appointments on time. The lapse of time from the accident to today is nonexistent. It feels like only yesterday I was managing a commercial kitchen, event center, and the staff and events that went along with it. But I haven’t set foot in that kitchen as an Executive Chef for nearly 3 years.
Does my inability to work, to stand long hours on a hard tile floor, to manage a kitchen staff during a hectic event with confidence and poise, mean I am less of a person? What do my word retrieval difficulties signify? What about my short term memory deficits? Am I less of a mother because I forget a story my daughter told me the day before? Or that I cannot repeat the movements my physical therapist demonstrates without her doing them with me simultaneously, lest I forget?
I have undergone many changes: physical, emotional, neurological, cognitive. Most of these changes the casual observer would not even recognize. To be told, “you look just fine”, is a common occurrence for someone with a TBI (traumatic brain injury). Because the changes are often unseen. For they are inside the most complicated piece of equipment our bodies house.
The differences for me, of pre- and post-accident Donna, are becoming more and more difficult to label. For the first year after the accident my memory of myself pre-accident was so clear. I would often lament what was different now as compared to before. Perhaps my poor memory is making me forget the “me of before”, or perhaps it is simply a coping mechanism. Without the memory of the “me of before”, there is less comparison. Less judgement. To focus on what used to be, what others can do, or why I’m not good enough is detrimental to my growth. Acceptance is a daily lesson. Being present in the now, something I learned and tried to implement pre-injury, is crucial to my happiness now. Am I different? Certainly, in some ways. Is my heart the same? My spirit? Indeed. Reminds me of the old red couch in my living room – Is it different than the day I bought it? Certainly. Can it still hold me and support me and provide comfort? Indeed. And the long threads that have been pulled loose by a frisky cat seem to mimic the tale my aching hips, memory hiccups, and frequent cognitive overwhelm tell. All are signs of a well lived life with stories behind them. Stories that change us in some ways, but make us that much closer to knowing the “us” we were supposed to become in this life.
To celebrate Brain Injury Awareness Month and the birthday of the man I’m lucky enough to call my husband and best friend (the man who has taught me more about acceptance than anyone I know), I made springy fresh fruit tartlets with vanilla pastry cream in an almond crust. They were a hit at my house. Once a hater of making gluten laden pie and pastry dough because I struggled getting it “just right”, this crust worked like a charm. And popped out of the tartlet pans without my throwing the rolling pin across the kitchen. (Sadly, that’s what my husband came to expect when I rolled out a gluten-filled pie crust that wouldn’t cooperate!) To top it off, this recipe doesn’t even require a rolling pin.
The dough, a combination of good quality gluten free flour and almond flour (I used King Arthur brand) comes together quickly in the bowl of a food processor with a touch of sugar (I used Swerve for it’s non-glycemic/non-gmo features), some butter, and an egg yolk. The resulting dough is processed just until it resembles coarse meal which can then be dumped into each tartlet pan and patted into place. The shells are poked with a fork (called docking the dough) to prevent the dough from rising up with bubbles before being baked fully in the oven.
While the shells are cooling, whip up the pastry cream (which can also be used as a filling for banana cream pie, eclairs, cream puffs, and Boston cream pie). Considered a custard because eggs are gently cooked with milk or cream, the resulting base can be flavored in any number of ways. I used pure vanilla extract here, although sometimes I infuse the warming milk with vanilla beans for 30 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.
Once the custard has a chance to cool completely, the tartlet shells can be filled and decorated.
I used strawberries, blackberries, red raspberries, and kiwi, but use whatever fruit you enjoy, including pineapple, mandarin oranges, or blueberries. The tartlets can be consumed immediately but I found that the few extra tartlets we didn’t consume on the night they were prepared held up nicely in the refrigerator overnight. Who says milk, fruit, and almonds aren’t a good healthy breakfast?
I hope you enjoy these fruit tartlets as much as we did. If you make this recipe, I’d love it if you shared a picture with me on Instagram by tagging me @theculinaryartist or posting it on Facebook. If you like what you see here, please sign up to receive emails whenever I post new recipes or party planning ideas. I promise I won’t send you any junk or share your email with anyone else. Pinky swear. You can sign up in the right sidebar where it says “subscribe to the culinary artist”.
Now let’s all take a deep, cleansing, fresh fruit tartlet breathe, and offer ourselves up some acceptance for whoever we’ve become on our journey.
- 1½ cups all purpose gluten free flour of your choice
- ¾ cup almond flour (I used King Arthur Almond Flour)
- ½ cup sugar (I used Confectioners Swerve)
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup unsalted, cold butter, cut into pieces
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla
- 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
- 2 cups whole milk or half and half (or non dairy milk of your choice)
- ½ cup sugar, divided (I used Granular Swerve)
- pinch of kosher salt
- 5 large egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons non-GMO corn starch
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Your Choice of Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, Kiwi, and/or Mandarin Oranges
- In a food processor, combine gluten free flour, almond flour, sugar, and salt and pulse to combine thoroughly.
- Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture and pulse to create a mixture that has some pieces that look like peas and others that look like oatmeal throughout.
- In a small bowl, blend egg yolk, vanilla, and almond extract with a fork. Add this mixture to the food processor and pulse again to combine. Mixture should not come together to form a ball but rather looks like coarse cornmeal. Pinching a small handful will result in the mixture clumping together into a ball.
- Butter either 10- 4½ " tartlet shells or 1- 9" round tart shell with removable bottom. Sprinkle dough mixture into pan(s) and press firmly onto bottom and up the sides of the pan, making sure the sides get a thick enough layer to provide stability. Pierce crust all over with a fork. Freeze shell(s) for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake crust(s) approximately 15 minutes for mini pans or 20 minutes for a larger pan. Crusts should be golden brown and firm. Allow to cool in pan(s) for 10 minutes before gently removing them from the pan(s) to continue cooling.
- Combine 2 cups of milk or half and half, 6 tablespoons sugar, and a pinch of salt in a medium sized saucepan. Heat over medium high heat until you begin to see steam rising from the surface. It should not boil.
- In a separate small bowl, combine the egg yolks, remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, and corn starch with a whisk until mixture is smooth.
- Next add a small amount of the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture, whisking constantly to "temper" the eggs. Continuing adding small amounts of the hot milk to the egg mixture until all the hot milk has met the cold eggs and they become friendly (ideally without scrambling). Now add the mixture from the bowl back into the saucepan and return to medium heat, whisking all the while. The mixture will begin to thicken as the temperature of the milk mixture reaches the boiling point. Whisk constantly until the mixture has bubbled for almost a full minute (to cook away the corn starch taste) to thicken fully. Remove from the heat and add in the butter and vanilla extract, stirring to combine. Transfer pastry cream to another bowl, covering the surface of the cream with plastic wrap to prevent the formation of a "skin". Refrigerate until fully chilled.
- Fill the tart shell(s) with pastry cream, smoothing the top with an off set spatula to create an even surface. Top decoratively with the fruits and berries of your choice. Refrigerate if not serving immediately.
I’m sharing this recipe on the weekly blog hop Allergy Free Wednesday . Check it out, it’s a great place to get new ideas for allergy friendly recipes.