Four years equals 1,460 days, which is approximately the number of sunsets I’ve watched from the windows of our apartment on the 35th floor. I know – four years, already! It’s gone by in the blink of an eye, hasn’t it? And yet, impossibly, here it is, summer 2017, and the baby who was still on the inside when we arrived is now a walking, talking, lemon-squeezing almost-four-year-old who loves elephants, puzzles, and princesses, and who would eat rice and salmon for every meal if we let her.
If you read this blog (or my book – or my newsletter), you probably know where this post is going. Yes, it is time for this diplomatic family to pack up and move once again – in less than a week, we will be relocating to Washington, D.C.
Obviously, moving makes everyone anxious, but this time I’m peeling away extra layers of nostalgia, as we say goodbye to the first home our daughter has ever known. These past four years have been very busy, and very sweet. When I think back to that steamy summer of our arrival, I remember how terrified I was by the major life changes ahead (and, as it turned out, I was right :) But somehow we managed to navigate life with a new baby, insane work hours, and an apartment building that shuts off the water almost every Tuesday – somehow, unbelievably, I managed to sell two new books – and along the way we discovered another side of the city that never sleeps, a playful side of park sprinklers and ferryboat rides, a tender side where the old biddies hold open doors for moms pushing strollers, and the doormen greet your kid every morning with a high five.
New York still is the most fascinating, energizing city I’ve ever known. I have never felt more at ease in any other place in the world, more comfortable in my own skin, or more confident about life’s possibilities. Yes, New York still is, to me, the greatest city on earth. And yet, I also feel it’s time to go. One by one, my dearest friends have slipped away, out of state, or to the suburbs. But it’s more than that – it’s also the city’s constant need to make a buck, usually at my expense and/or inconvenience. The predatory landlords. The capital renovation projects. The mom-and-pops that disappear only to be replaced by another Walgreens. The hustle, the hustle, the hustle. I used to think I could stay here forever, and maybe that’s still true. But we don’t have that choice and, honestly, a little break doesn’t sound so bad.
As well, there is something else to soften our departure – our apartment in Paris. Even though it’s a shoebox, it’s forever our shoebox, and I am so grateful to have this permanent home, a place that remains steady and unchanging as the rest of our life gets turned upside down. A refuge. It is a huge comfort.
Anyway. All this topsy-turviness has been making me think about those anxious days before our last move, in particular the last trip we took before the baby was born. It was June 2013, and my husband and I had hopped a TGV to Strasbourg so I could research choucroute garnie. But because I don’t really like choucroute garnie (sorry!), I ended up eating a lot of tarte flambée, or flammekueche, a snappy, thin crusted tart spread with crème fraîche, onions, and lardons of bacon.
I fell secretly in love with flammekueche on that trip, but I never made it at home because it seemed too rich and decadent, with its layers of pork fat and cream. But recently, I was playing with some ideas for meat-free French cuisine, and I had a brainwave – what if I replaced the bacon with smoked salmon?
The recipe is actually really simple, even though it involves dough, and dough is usually the devil. The crust – just flour, water, salt, and oil – needs no leavening, which means there’s less to mess up, and no tedious rise-time. Just mix the ingredients together, and roll the dough into a lovely, thin sheet. Spread it with seasoned sour cream, and sprinkle over generous handfuls of slivered onions. Slide the tart into a hot oven until the edges turn golden and the bottom turns crackly. Then, let the tart cool for a few minutes before draping it with smoked salmon. Dill sprigs are also lovely, a spritz of lemon adds punch, fried capers would be delicious – but perhaps that’s gilding the lily. Cut the tart into squares and you have the best combination of New York and France that I can think of.
Enjoy it with the sunset.
I can’t bear to say goodbye to New York, so instead I will say what I always say to Paris: à bientôt.
Smoked salmon tarte flambée
Makes one large, oval tart; serves 4-6 as a snack
For the dough:
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup tepid water
For the toppings:
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, peeled and thinly sliced
6 ounces smoked salmon
Lemon wedges, for serving
In a large bowl, combing the flour, salt, and oil. Using a fork, slowly stir in the water, drop by drop, until a soft dough forms. You may not need all the water.
Turn the dough onto a clean, floured work surface. Knead until all the flour is incorporated and the dough becomes smooth and elastic, about 1 minute. Cover and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 500ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, salt and pepper.
On a floured work surface, roll the dough into a large oval, approximately 10 x 16 inches. Transfer the dough to the parchment-lined baking sheet.
Spread the sour cream evenly over the dough leaving a 1/2-inch border. Distribute the slivered onions in an even layer.
Bake until the tart is well-browned and golden at the edges, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 5-8 minutes, and then arrange the smoked salmon slices on top. Sprinkle with dill. Slice into squares, and serve immediately, squeezing over a wedge or two of lemon, if desired.