I run with crowds where there always seems to be a lot of talk about comfort zones. Maybe you travel in similar circles. What does that even mean? Huffington Post posited that the comfort zone is a useful psychological concept that can help you embrace risk and make changes in your life that can lead to real personal growth. I'll be honest, the majority of my life is spent inside my zones of comfort these days. I seem to do just enough to get by and everything manages to work out. Maybe I took the risks and went through personal growth a while ago and now I’m just coasting. Am I living the dream? Sure! Life is good. Life is grand. Am I living MY dreams? Meh. I'm here to say it's not really working for me. I don't know about you, but I don't want good, I want Great. Greatness takes work. It took a concert in Brooklyn to kick my ass back into gear. Indulge me with a little background...
In 1999 I was introduced to music that made me come alive. The musicians were kids from California and they were playing modern bluegrass. Coming from Missouri and hearing that kind of music in New York City was like coming home. They were a trio called Nickel Creek. I first saw them at The Bottom Line which is a club that doesn't exist anymore. I felt connected to these kids. A brother and sister, Sara and Sean Watkins, and their merry leader Chris Thile. They were musical geniuses, accomplishing so much and just in their teens. Nickel Creek inspired me to be a better twenty-something.
I saw every single show they played in NYC and I was smitten. Chris went on to play with many different musicians, forming a few different bands, and stayed around New York. I saw nearly every one of those shows too. He would bring his mandolin and play with jazz greats, classical artists; he brought a lot of attention to the bluegrass music world. Oh and he won the MacArthur Fellowship or 'Genius Grant' a few years back.
So one of the homes I get to work in, assisting the chef, being an extra set of hands, and essentially serving as a glorified waiter, is one of my favorite places to work. Every guest there is a genius. Writers, comedians, actors, visual artists, and musicians. BLUEgrass musicians. I leave that home feeling like the luckiest person in the world. I feel like I somehow entered my genius zone by association with these lovely people. Those dinners kick my ass too. They inspire me to tap into my own genius zone. What’s my genius zone? It is where I am doing the work that needs to be done for that which I believe in and aim to achieve. It’s getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, getting to the gym, and meditating. It’s returning calls and emails, meeting deadlines, it’s showing up on time, it’s doing the not-so-fun stuff on my TO DO list that allows my best self to show up -- my genius.
I started working in this home in 2000 and I can't remember when, but Chris Thile started showing up with his band The Punch Brothers. I have heard these boys play more shows than any other band in my life. And now I am paid to be in the same room with them and hear their music on an intimate level. They are my U2 or R.E.M or Beatles... Or fill in the blank of your favorite band ever. So we're caught up to the ass kicking concert I saw last week.
It was an outdoor concert in Brooklyn... and it rained. Biblical amounts of water poured from the sky. I knew it was going to be a wet night so I came prepared. It was really uncomfortable. MY friends left early. I'd say a lot of other people left too but that wasn't the case. I stood amongst strangers in dangerous amounts of water and the band delivered one of the best shows I've ever heard them play. The harder it rained, the harder they played. The crowd was like rain zombies. We were enchanted. As they played their last tune the rain finally leveled off. The boys came back and delivered us a rainbow of an encore. The band played what seemed like an hour more to reward us for sticking it out with them. I can't speak for the other people in the crowd though the look on their rain zombie faces showed their love for the Punch Brothers was as strong as mine. It was miserably wet. We weren't going anywhere. That's what you do for something or someone you believe in. You show up, you stay, even when it gets uncomfortable.
As I was leaving the park soaked to the bone and high on the performance, I was thinking about what it would have taken for me to pack up my wetness and leave that genius behind? How much rain? How uncomfortable would I need to be? I didn't have any answers. Instead I was flooded with the realization that I give up on myself and life too easily. I rarely get uncomfortable, remember? And yet for someone else's genius I'll endure the worst. That night in the rain, listening to the Punch Brothers, I came to the conclusion that if I can support someone else's dreams when the circumstances aren't ideal, I better work on supporting my own dreams just the same. How much rain can I stand to get what I want? How uncomfortable do I need to be before I tap into my own genius zone?
Whenever I want to step up my game and feel like a genius in the kitchen I pull out puff pastry. Some kitchen wizard went to a lot of work to create this magical easy step for me, so every time I use it I feel like the wizardry transfers to my hands when I handle this store bought pastry. And it makes any cook look like a genius when they pull out the impressive puffed dough items. And not for nothing, but you might have to step outside of your comfort zone by turning the oven on this summer, but it is worth it.
This recipe is just as beautiful as it is tasty. It sounds complicated in reading the recipe, but it comes together so easily. you’ll be so glad you made it. The satisfaction of turning it out and seeing the vegetables glisten in the savory caramel sauce like pieces of stained glass. And the puff pastry soaks up the pan juices while still maintaining its crunch. I normally use the orange fleshed sweet potatoes, but I found these purple ones and couldn’t resist them. I added the carrots to add the orange back in. Use whatever root vegetables you have access to.
Vegetable Tarte Tatin
adapted from a Food Network Recipe
- 2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
- 2 medium orange or purple sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
- 2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds
- 1 small onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon small fresh sage leaves
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
- 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
- 1 8 .5-ounce sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the vegetables, garlic, olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4teaspoon pepper in a bowl. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet; bake until tender, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, mix 2 tablespoons water and the sugar in a skillet and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan, until amber, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vinegar and 1/4teaspoon each salt and pepper. Pour the caramel into a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish and spread with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle the sage and oregano on top.
Arrange the roasted vegetables in a single snug layer on top of the caramel. Scatter the onion and garlic over the roasted vegetables; sprinkle evenly with the mozzarella.
Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface into a 9-by-13-inch rectangle. Pierce the pastry all over with a fork, then lay it on top of the mozzarella, folding the edges under to fit, if necessary. Bake 20 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and continue baking until the dough is cooked through, 15 to 20 more minutes.
Let the tart cool 10 minutes in the baking dish, then carefully invert it onto a cutting board. Replace any vegetables that stick to the dish, if necessary.