lemon tart / some things i’ve learned



(before anyone panics, the knife pictured above is exceedingly dull)

There has been a lot of information entering my brain lately. I suppose that’s an occupational hazard of graduate school, but not all that information has been coming strictly from the classroom.

I’m here (“here” being more of a marker in time, not so much a location) to study food, how it affects the body; how what you eat, how much you eat, and how you prepare it all changes your body for better, or worse. To continue using a turn of phrase, our bodies are essentially married to food in a way: not eating will eventually kill us, eating too much can do that too.

And while I’m learning a lot about metabolism, how the body uses vitamins and minerals, what foods and how much are appropriate for which stage of life, I’m also learning things that I didn’t expect.


For example, this article from The Washington Post really threw a wrench in the way I think about food, and the language I use when I describe it. Here is an excerpt:

“I submit to you that our beloved kale salads are not “healthy.” And we are confusing ourselves by believing that they are. They are not healthy; they are nutritious. They may be delicious when prepared well, and the kale itself, while in the ground, may have been a healthy crop. But the kale on your plate is not healthy, and to describe it as such obscures what is most important about that kale salad: that it’s packed with nutrients your body needs. But this is not strictly about nomenclature. If all you ate was kale, you would become sick. Nomenclature rather shows us where to begin.”

The article goes on to say that food isn’t healthy. Our bodies are healthy. Or, our bodies aren’t healthy. What we put inside us will contribute to our health and make us stronger, or it won’t. Food is nutritious and it helps our bodies function better, or it doesn’t.

Another way to tackle the nomenclature that surrounds food is that we describe it as good or bad. I’m not referring to spoiled foods, like when that cheese you forgot about in the back of the fridge is green and blue, essentially turning ‘bad’. I’m talking about how we label things like cookies and pizza as bad, and lettuce, grilled chicken and green smoothies as good. How we are Eating Clean, because when we aren’t, we’re dirty and bad, bad people?

The psychology behind this may be subtle, and you may scoff at it. But if you have an eating disorder, when you beat yourself up for the cookie you ate, or wanted to eat; when you are desperately trying to lose 5 or 10 pounds, when you hate yourself for not ‘eating clean’ this past week, this gets real in a hurry. This great article from Vice uses this quote from Nigella, and talks a lot about this theme in our culture:

“I despair of the term ‘clean eating’…it necessarily implies that any other form of eating – and consequently the eater of it – is dirty or impure and thus bad.”

There is a lot of carefully planned marketing around clean eating. Lots of fitness companies, individuals, even Registered Dietitians market themselves on the power of clean eating and how it can transform your life. “Abs are made in the kitchen” or, “You can’t outrun a bad diet” are popular phrases used to bolster its promises. I’m not saying these are wrong, or bad. I can personally say that eating more lettuce and chicken will result in a leaner frame, whereas eating more pizza and beer and wings won’t. What I am saying is these phrases, if thrown about carelessly, can lead to some unhealthy relationships with food, and with the way you view your body.
(If you would like further reading about calories, and how a calorie is not a calorie for every body, this is a great read)

Which segues into another topic close to my heart: women and their bodies. This short, great writing in the Huffington Post, entitled “How to Talk to Little Girls” explores the idea that the first thing we often say to little girls when greeting them is a comment on their appearance, and how that can be detrimental. Not that their adorable appearances don’t warrant acknowledgement: I have 4 nieces, and all of them are beautiful, adorable and lovely. But if the first comment that comes from everyone’s mouth about you is how cute you look, how pretty you are, “what a great dress!” or the one all adult women crave: “you look so skinny!”, you start to expect it. And when someone doesn’t comment on your appearance, you notice. You start to wonder “Whats wrong with me? Am I not pretty today? Have I gained weight? Am I ugly?”. Imagine those thoughts going through the mind of you daughter, your granddaughter, your sister, your wife. Those thoughts mean they might start to hate what they see in the mirror. Instead of a great brain, a dazzling smile, a kind spirit, a sharp wit, or an incredible eye for art or an ear for music, they see someone who should have said “no” to the pizza, who should have chosen a salad, or better yet, no food and went for a 3 mile run. They see their worth and acceptance attached to their clothing size, or that the reactions from others are based only on their appearance.
The piece is from 2011 (which was, ya know, 6! years ago), and its only more relevant now.

I don’t mean you shouldn’t ever compliment the ladies in your life on their appearance again. There are definitely days when I put extra effort into my hair, face, clothes, etc, and its nice when that’s acknowledged. I think husbands should always tell their wives they look beautiful, and dads should always say that to their girls, at every stage, and friends should build each other up. What I am saying, is that the conversations to these women, and each other, shouldn’t center around appearance. The goal should be to celebrate the whole person, their brain, their talents, because women are so much more than their waist size. (so are men, but the article in questions was about ladies 🙂

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Which brings me to another interesting school of thought I’ve been exposed to these past few months. Enter: Healthy at Every Size, and it’s kind of what it sounds like. It’s an interesting school of thought, and I’m not totally sure how I feel about it. I’ll admit, when I first heard about it, I was really skeptical. I’ve worked in healthcare, and I’ve seen many people who need to lose weight in order to improve their health. Literally, their weight was killing them. To me, Healthy at Every Size was saying “love yourself! you don’t need to lost weight even if its medically advisable! be fat and happy!”. Which, on further reading, I discovered that is not what this (philosophy? movement? trend?) is about. I think a really basic summary would be that Healthy at Every Size promotes accepting your body, striving for better health, but acknowledging that your body’s health status is so much more than a number on the scale or whats sewn into your pants. If you’re interested in learning more, these sites offer some helpful guidance about HAES:
A great blog post from Nutrition Elevated, with a link to a super insightful video and a list of what HAES is not.
A statement from National Eating Disorders.org about HAES
A blog post from the HAES blog, asking Can I love my body and still want to lose weight?
I’m interested in learning more, and I’m curious if I will run across any dietitians in the next few months of my schooling who will prescribe to this school of thought.

If you haven’t noticed, there has been a lot of pushback in recent months about body size, the way that models are shaped and what’s realistic, acceptable and healthy with regards to the marketing of body shape. Even Barbie hasn’t been unscathed. I think that HAES is a culmination of those things, addressing the impossibly perfect and photo-shopped images of models and the diet culture that haunt us pretty much everywhere.


As you can see, all of these things relate to food and how you consume it. I think it means that dietitians have powerful roles in healthcare, influencing not only food and food policy, but the language with which food is presented and the culture around it. I’m excited to be entering this field at a time of such change, I can’t wait to see where this leads!

So. All these topics bring me to the lemon tart. These are weighty, heavy subjects, bringing about lots of discussion and confusion and soul-searching. Some of it makes me want to eat nothing but lettuce and jump on the treadmill, others make me want to crouch under the covers and stuff those dangerously delicious dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s into my mouth in quick succession. Not to mention, last week during school we participated in an anthropometric workshop, which essentially means we measured each other in every possible way that is used to assess health and weight in the dietetics world. I’ll be quite honest, the results made me want to go buy the aforementioned treadmill.

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However. For the last 6 weeks, I’ve been consciously choosing to eat more greens, more lean meats, more whole grains. Less sugar and less processed. Not a diet, just me trying to make conscious choices about putting nutritious foods into my body. And I’ve seen some positive changes! So, this lemon tart represents balance. It represents knowing there is room in my life for kale and sometimes, lemon tart. The lasagna (with homemade pasta, bechamel sauce and beef + pork) that my husband and I made this weekend as our Valentines date also represents balance, and it reminded me how much fun it is to create a big meal from absolute scratch. This lemon tart also reminded me how much I love baking, with its precision and careful timing. Its a symbol of the mental break I needed from school work, to create something delicious and happy with hints of spring.

So I’m sharing this here, to remind any readers that life needs balance. It needs nutritious foods. It needs sleep and exercise and mental rest. And sometimes, it really needs lemon tart.

This lemon tart is from Alice Medrich’s lovely book, Pure Dessert. It’s simple, versatile, not too sweet, and takes less than an hour to make.

Lemon Tart
Serves 8-10

8 tablespoon (1 stick) of  unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup of sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup of all-purpose flour

Zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk

Special equipment:
9 1/2 in fluted tart pan with a removable bottom (what Alice called for)
9 inch springform pan (what I have)

Place your oven rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven. Preheat to 350 degrees F.

Make the crust: in a medium bowl with a fork, stir together the melted butter with the sugar, vanilla and salt. Add the flour and mix until well blended. The dough will be soft and pliable, but if it seems too soft, let it rest for a few minutes. Place the dough in the middle of the pan, and pressing it with your fingers, covering the entire pan.Processed with VSCO with x1 preset

To ensure the crust bottom is flat and evenly distributed, I used a round glass to press the crust into the edges. You will have just enough to cover the bottom, and to make a small edge. Be patient, this takes a few minutes.

Place the pan on a baking sheet, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the crust is a deep, golden brown.Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

While the crust is baking, make the filling. You are essentially making a lemon curd filling, making just enough to cover the bottom of your tart crust.

Get your tools ready: Set a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl, set beside or close by the stove. Set a small sauce pan on the stove, add the lemon zest, juice, sugar and butter. Turn the heat to medium, and bring to a simmer. In another small heatproof bowl, whisk the egg and egg yolk together.

Once the butter mixture has reached a simmer, gently and gradually pour it over the eggs, whisking the entire time. Now, scrape the egg mixture back into the sauce pan, stirring/whisking constantly over medium heat, until thickened and just beginning to bubble around the edges.

Immediately pour the mixture through the strainer into the bowl, gently stirring so as not to push and cooked egg bits through.

When the crust is finished baking, remove it from the oven and pour the lemon filling into the hot crust, smoothing this filling as best you can. Bake for another five minutes, then removed from the oven and allow it to cool completely. It can be served at room temp, or chilled, alone or with a dollop of slightly sweetened whipped cream, or fresh strawberries.


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