“And so we came forth again to see the stars”
My husband and I ran away to the Florida Keys last weekend for some much-needed R&R. We go to be with the water, the pelicans and my other waterbird friends, the sunsets and the quiet. These things feed us. So does something else, something I tend to forget— the stars. And yet there they are. Our first night there, we looked up at a sky just shimmering with them. City lights and hectic lives blind us to the very beauty and benevolence that’s there for us always. But beyond that, stars remind us there’s a whole shining cosmos beyond our lives. Seeing them made me giddy and glad, and thinking about telling you about the stars, their power and the pull, made me giddy and glad all over again. But in Charlottesville that same weekend, there was no light.
Part of me — a teeny, tiny Pollyanna part of me — believes human love is as bright and enduring as the stars themselves. I certainly want it to be that way. Nazis and Klansmen — hate groups I thought we’d never have to think of again — along with the proliferation of new hate groups is something I don’t want to believe but must.
You couldn’t blame the stars for looking down on us and saying, why bother?
Maybe you think you don’t need the stars. Today, August 21, you’ll find out how much you do. A solar eclipse is occurring and if you’re anywhere in the United States, it’s a gift that’s ours to see. All you have to do is look up.*
The eclipse happens when the shadow of the moon blots out the sun for a period of time. But it doesn’t look like a shadow. It looks like the sun has been plucked from the sky by a hateful hand and it feels like the beginning of the apocalypse. Of course there’s science to explain it all but living through it, experiencing the loss — however temporary —of our closest companion star feels, as Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Dillard writes, like the world has gone wrong. “Abruptly it was dark night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. The hole where the sun belongs is very small.”
Recalling the first time she viewed a total eclipse H is for Hawk author Helen McDonald writes, “The sight of a hole above us that was once the sun reduced me to tears; I fell to my knees. It felt like the end of the world.”
Unless the astronomers are very much wrong, the sun will emerge from behind the moon’s shadow soon after the eclipse. And hallelujah for that. We need the sun to live.** Nothing can live without light. And love. Let us be grateful for the sun. Let it inspire us to be the stars we can be. Despite the darkness in Charlottesville — and elsewhere — remember the last line of Dante’s Inferno, “And we came forth again to see the stars.”
What does this have to do with being vegan? Not a lot. But it has everything to do about being soulful. And human.
*How well you view the eclipse depends on where you are on its path. Wherever you are, wear protective lenses to preserve your precious eyes. You know how I worry.
** For a succinct, accurate and very catchy explanation of how the sun, not even a big player among the stars, empowers our lives and preserves our planet, I turn it over to They Might Be Giants.
And because I’m me, I want to give you something wonderful to eat, anyway. As a child, I thought apricots must be what the sun tasted like.
Apricot Frangipane TartSoft, sweet, zesty and oh, so slightly fuzzy, apricots are like little suns. Alas, their season lasts not much longer than the eclipse. In this tart, dried apricots, magically plumped and revived with an overnight soak, take the place of fresh, so you can make it any time of the year. While the apricots soak, make and chill the frangipane and pie dough. The next day, it takes maybe 15 minutes to put the whole thing together. The secret ingredient in both the almond-scented frangipane and sweet cookie crust is aquafaba. The Latin translation is bean water, and we’re talking the brine from a can of chickpeas. Aquafaba is brilliant vegan egg replacer and a great use of a byproduct we usually throw out. This crust has been my go-to for years. You don’t even roll it out, just press it into tart pan.
For the filling
- 1 cup dried apricots soaked in 2 cups of water overnight
- 1/3 cup blanched almonds
- 1/4 cup evaporated cane sugar
- 1/4 cup 1/2 stick Melt or other vegan butter
- 2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon aquafaba
- 1/4 teaspoon Amaretto
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons apricot jam
For the crust
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- pinch baking powder
- 4 tablespoons evaporated cane sugar
- 6 tablespoons Melt or other vegan butter chilled and cut into pieces
- 1 tablespoon aquafaba
- 1 teaspoon ice water
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Using a food processor or blender, grind almonds and sugar together until they become a fine powder. Add vegan butter and process until mixture lightens and turns creamy, about 2 minutes.
- Sprinkle in flour, aquafaba and Amaretto and give one last blitz of the food processor or blender. Frangipane should be light in texture and color.
- If desired, make a day ahead and keep in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until using for your tart.
- Sift together flour, baking powder and evaporated cane sugar.
- Cut in vegan butter and mix or pulse briefly, until mixture forms coarse sandy crumbs.
- Mix in aquafaba, water and vanilla. Pulse until mixture just comes together. Shape dough into a ball, wrap tightly and refrigerate for 1 hour. Keeps refrigerated for several days.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Press dough into an 8-inch tart ring. Prick sides and bottom with the tines of a fork. Cover with parchment sheet or foil and weigh down with raw rice or beans or if you’re a fancy kind of person, pie weights.
- Bake pie shell for 6 minutes. Remove from oven, remove beans, parchment or foil. Allow pie shell to cool for a few minutes.
- Spread frangipane over the bottom of the pie shell — it should be enough to cover.
- Drain apricots Pour the apricot soaking liquid into a glass. Drink it. You will thank me.
- Split the drained apricots lengthwise. Toss with the tablespoon of lemon juice.
- Arrange apricot halves in the tart so they cover the frangipane. If you’re lucky, you may have one or two left over. Eat them.
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until tart smells sweet, fragrant and is lightly browned.
- Let tart cool slightly, then brush apricots with a tablespoon or two apricot jam.