Deborah Madison's Pan-Glazed Tofu with Orange Juice and Warm Spices
Housecleaning, or Three Recipes

Maggie Barrett's Crostata


Now that our move is imminent, that little monster inside me has reared its head, a little monster that spends its days reminding me to get rid of that old trash can Before We Move and to sell the dingy bike on the back patio Before We Move and to use up the almost-full bag of flax seeds Before We Move and to call every utility company I've ever known Before We Move and to start collecting boxes off the streets Before We Move. This little monster keeps me up at night and has Ben shooting me sideways looks ("what was I thinking? Don't we still have two whole weeks?").

It's just, I suppose, that I find moving to be such a disconcerting event, full of potholes where depression lurks, and never, ever predictable.

So I do my best to manage things, to keep myself afloat with tasks and errands and to-do lists. That way I can't, even for a moment, stop and contemplate that sickening feeling when you turn around in your living room just before the movers come and realize that your entire life can be summed up by a stack of boxes, a quilt-wrapped sofa (that you don't even like, for crying out loud, but after the move bleeds you dry, who's going to have money to buy a new one?), and a few dust bunnies. Even worse than that is the sensation you have after the movers have gone and you're alone in the new place and you don't yet know that the doors swing out, not in, so you stub your toe and it hurts, and the light falls on the parquet differently than it did in the old place and it's so quiet that you can hear people on the street seven floors below as they walk their dog and suddenly you're wracked with sobs because that place that you just left, that place that was mouse-ridden and dark and leaky and loud (so, so loud)? That place was home. And this place most definitely isn't.

Hoo hoo hee hee. Just typing all that made me a little dizzy.

So, as I was saying, I try to manage things, prepare myself, feel as much the captain of my own ship as is humanly possible and that includes an attempt to use up all the things in my kitchen cupboards. Because is there anything more annoying than being confronted with a half-bag of all-purpose flour when you're packing up and there are boxes filled with pots and dishes and forks, and then one box half-filled with a jar of honey, some cans of tuna and that packet of Italian cake leavening that you can't seem to throw away and that has now lived in exactly four different apartments in this city? Your frugality keeps you from throwing the flour out, but the practical you refuses to pay people to schlep half-empty bags of baking goods to an outer borough. No sir.

You therefore spend the weeks before you move strategizing on how to use up all the pantry goods before that fateful date. That this might add to your hysteria seems an afterthought. After all, you are being efficient and clever. And those are the hallmarks of a successful mover, are they not?

Last night, I used up my all-purpose flour, the remaining half-jar of homemade ginger-orange marmalade given to me as a gift, and the rest of my homemade butter to make crostata, using Maggie Barrett's recipe printed in The New York Times last fall. (The marmalade only covered a quarter of the tart, so I used some cherry jam for the rest.) Maggie learned her crostata in Tuscany, while I've been making a different, Marchigianian version since the beginning of time, taught to me at age six or seven by Carla, the daughter of a neighbor in my grandfather's village and the resident crostata expert, and recreated approximately 900 times since then.

Maggie's version is too salty and a little too refined for my tastes. Crostata is, after all, the humblest and most rustic of desserts. Simply a soft dough covered in homemade jam and a lattice top (or, in this case, an approximation of streusel, since the dough was too soft to roll out last night) and baked until golden and fragrant, it should be light enough to be eaten for breakfast and humble enough to nibble with a cup of tea in the afternoon.

This version was a little too heavy for my taste, but I'll be totally honest now: that doesn't matter a whit. Not today. Not when I'm feeling triumphant about my ever-emptying pantry and Ben has crostata to keep him quiet when I come home with yet another thing we absolutely have to do Before We Move. Which reminds me, does anyone have a recipe that will use up half a bag of flax seeds, some rye flour, five tablespoons of cornmeal and a half a bottle of cane syrup?

Serves 8

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough
1 teaspoon salt (this is too much, I'd use half a teaspoon at most)
2 teaspoons baking powder
14 ounces apricot, raspberry or other jam

1. Beat together butter and sugar until well-combined. Mix in the egg, egg yolk, vanilla and lemon zest, then add the flour, salt and the baking powder. Mix at medium speed just until the mixture begins to clump. Press the dough into a ball by hand, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

2. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow to warm slightly. Press teh dough into the botto and sides of a removable bottom tart pan, patting it until smooth and firm. Fill the crust with jam, spreading it evenly.

3. On a lightly floured surface, roll or pat out the remaining dough. Cut the dough into narrow strips and place them in a lattice pattern on the crostata, or break off pieces of the flattened dough to scatter haphazardly on the crostata.

4. Bake until the pastry is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes before serving. Serve at room temperature.