This is the new national motto of France.
We were all innocent until a few days ago. How long ago it seems. When the news spread of the events developing in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad, every single one of us put ourselves in the shoes of those poor terrorised people and of their families. I, like many, have been left absolutely speechless by the terrible actions of a few young men. Afraid to misspeak, to offend the victims or their families or make worse those suffering from this tragedy. There is no logic to these acts, not a shred of reason. Do these men not have mothers, wives, fathers or children? Do they not love and feel loved?
We humans are designed to be a cooperative species – to work together. There is no other way that we, mammals with a prolonged period of adolescence, would have risen to the top of the food chain. On a daily basis, we take for granted our interdependence – crossing the road, riding on the train, leaving our children at school and sitting with co-workers. We assume that most people will not hurt us or our families. Are we now to be afraid of each other or identify people who don’t look like us as a potential threat?
Is the intention that because of the terrible acts of these madmen that I turn against my Muslim friends? I cannot see the connection between my kind, gentle university friends and this nonsense. In the same way, I do not see the connection between any of the men I know and these men. In all of these terrorist attacks, the stories of the victims are inevitably of them trying to work together in the face of danger – to help each other escape the Twin Towers, risking their lives to save others in Beirut and on the Thalys train, shielding each other from bullets in Egypt and in Paris, of complete strangers offering comfort and shelter, etc. The terrorists cannot win for what they want is against our nature as humans – which is to work together.
The quiet demonstration of solidarity from around the world is uplifting – from messages, lighting of national monuments in the colours of the French flag and around the globe, people changing their Facebook profiles to the French flag, etc. We, those who love and value life, are the majority and stand together in the face of these monsters.
Since I cannot choose how and when I go, my hope is to have had a happy life full of love and that I would not be defined by my demise but by the life I lived. I wish that we all live our lives as well as we can with as much kindness as we can show to each other for we are all defined by our actions. I find it difficult to speak of food during this time as my focus is more on being grateful for the company of loved ones than on what we are eating.
Fortunately, I had already been preparing an Italian spin on a traditional French dish for you, tarte tatin (an upside-down apple pie). Sadly there are no photos as my camera was stolen, a rather upsetting incident now put into perspective by last week’s calamity. But the time seems ripe now to share a slice of French culture. I promise when I get my camera replaced, that I will share the photos.
My tarte tatin is a savoury version made of tomatoes and served with burrata (a creamy fresh mozzarella which is as close as one gets to ice cream in the cheese world). While the French tarte tatin is a deliciously brilliant concoction of caramelised apples on a crisp pastry base, my tomato tarte tatin is a contrast between the acid in the tomatoes and the sweetness in the balsamic vinegar. The crispness of the puff pastry contrasts with the creaminess of the burrata. If only I could substitute the blueberries for the basil, we would have the colours of the French flag. We do end up with the colours of the Italian flag however.
Tarte tatin caprese (tomato tarte tatin with burrata and basil)
This is a very elegant fusion of French apple tarte tatin and the caprese salad that can easily be served at a dinner party. The winning combination of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil are cooked and presented in a French style.
30 gms water
10 gms butter
7 gms sugar
5 mls olive oil
350 gms datterini or cherry tomatoes, rinsed, dried and cut in half lengthwise
4 basil leaves, torn
1 package (375 gms) pre-rolled puff pastry- cut the puff pastry to the size of your frying pan
Buffalo mozzarella or burrata
Extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 200C.
In a large frying pan, add the water, butter, sugar, 5 mls of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat over medium heat until the liquid is reduced and caramelised, 3 to 5 min. Increase the heat to medium and add the tomatoes cut side down. After 5 minutes, poke the tomatoes a bit so they release their juices. Continue to cook until the liquid has condensed, about 5 more minutes.
Turn of the heat and add the basil leaves over top.
Prick the puff pastry with a fork and place over top of the tomatoes. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Let it rest for 2 minutes.
Place a plate over the pastry and flip out onto the plate. If the tomatoes do not detach from the pan, then simply add them back to the pastry one by one, cut side up (chopsticks are great for this task).
Drizzle the top with balsamic vinegar. Cut into slices and put on serving plates with a piece of burrata. Drizzle the burrata with the olive oil and some sea salt and serve immediately.
My advice today? Put down the phone, the tablet or the computer and focus on someone you love instead. Be grateful for your time together.