“All of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers, all of us. All the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way home.” Robin Williams
The Welsh have a word, hiraeth, that has no direct English translation, but can be loosely defined as homesickness for a home you can’t return to, a home which may be never was. I imagine it as a longing for the place you can go exactly as you are without needing any protection around your heart.
It’s a place I find glimpses of; safety in moments of time, people who seem to calm the yearning in me, pieces of music that lead towards the soft glow from my home’s windows, meditations that sink so deep I can nearly step over the threshold. I’ve wondered at times if the culmination of existence is to find our way home.
I’ve recently begun picturing mine during meditations. A light-filled cottage with wild flowers and herbs leading up to the front door, surrounded by a garden big enough to grow a myriad of edibles. It’s perched at the base of a hill, overlooking the sea where you can swim all day and catch fish for dinner. I cook the day’s catch over the garden’s fire pit in summer and in the cook’s kitchen in winter, and serve it with homegrown salads to the few I can be comfortably around without switching into the extrovert mode I use to hide from the rest of the world. We’ll laugh and play music and my son’ll fall asleep under the stars long before the apple pie’s out of the oven. Later, I’ll carry him to his bed before heading to the kitchen to knead some dough for morning’s bread, afterwards curling on an armchair in blessed silence to read The Windup Girl for the first time ever, again.
Two things hold us from home. The first is the path to get there is windingly long and often feels like being lost; sometimes the road dips so low we lose sight of home and wonder if we’ll ever find it again. I think many people stop at a waypoint along their path and think, “this is good enough.” and for many of those it seems it is. The second obstacle is the path itself; strewn with false routes, dead ends and seemingly bottomless precipices, it can sometimes appear a pointless task, especially since the promise of home is just a rumour, easily ridiculed and discarded.
But I have a mind and heart that offer me no choice but to keep searching. For long stretches in time it feels as if I’m blindly stumbling from one confused moment to the next, trusting that the precipices I come across are actually invisible bridges of light, that if I can find the courage to step off, they’ll lead me to the next challenge and so, incrementally, to home’s freedom.
Very recently, it’s been made clear to me that the precipice I’ve been walking towards for the past two years has been one of living authentically. That I’m not the woman I thought I was, and I never was. That even some basic beliefs about myself are painfully misguided, brought on by years of a noisy and busy life, where I never gave myself the time to ask if I was really on the right path to my home.
And so, I’ve been gradually letting go of the good girl who toes the party line and looking for what’s real. I’ve been letting myself be imperfect, first to myself and then to others. I’ve a long way to go. Some days it feels like this’ll be my eternal struggle; authenticity requires courage I’m still not sure I have the fortitude to wear. But the promise of home whispers through threads of constant hope, the dream that it could one day be a reality in every moment.
Until then, I’ve started to recognise people who seem to be walking this path with me. There aren’t many, surprisingly few in fact, but I feel their longing as a mirror of my own and they calm the yearning, some knowingly and others who have no idea that just the sight of them or the smallest touch is enough to still the ache for a moment or more.
I have a child who reminds me all the time to be present; to make up a song together, or chase each other around the house breathless with laughter, to keep my temper when he’s not keeping his, to hold him close as he weeps and to gently guide him to be who he needs to be.
I have these words, baking and photography which never fail to challenge me to be utterly authentic and to keep moving forwards.
I have music and books that inspire me and fill me up every day. And then there’s this guy
And I have whole days in silence, where I can allow my rapidly expanding introvert to breathe, and the highly-honed performance skills of my extrovert can drop into increasingly adored quiet.
And this week I have this tarte tartin. I’ve taken the sweet and sharp flavours of caramelised pear and lemon before dampening them down with the earthy flavour from juniper berries. Shortcrust pastry (puff pastry always becomes a little soggy the next day, so I’d avoid using it unless you intend to finish this immediately) is tucked, like a loving blanket, around the pears. No matter where you are, the smell of this baking will bring a sense of home.
- 4-6 ripe pears
- 200g golden (raw) caster sugar
- 20ml water
- 30ml lemon juice
- 50g butter
- 12 dried juniper berries
- 1 tsp of lemon zest
- 175g shortcrust pastry (either buy or make your own — the recipe I use is below)
Peel the pears, then put in the fridge, uncovered, for 24 hours. This helps them dry out, so they won’t release too much juice and dilute the caramel when you cook them — don’t worry about them going brown as this actually adds to the finished dish
Put the sugar into a 20cm tarte tartin dish (I use an ovenproof frying pan, as it seems a little too far fetched to buy a pan just for tarte tartin) along with the water and lemon juice and leave to soak for a couple of minutes
Cook over a medium heat until golden and fudgy. Take off the heat and stir in the butter, juniper berries and lemon zest, until well combined
Half and core the pears before tightly packing them in a circle in the pan, ensuring that their more attractive rounded sides are pressed lightly into the caramelised sugar and place on a medium-high heat. The pears will shrink slightly as they cook, so don’t be afraid to add another pear half or two
Keep cooking for 15 to 20 minutes until they are a nice dark caramel colour and feel bouncy when pressed with a spoon
Take off the heat and allow to cool
Pre-heat the oven to 200˚C / 390˚F. Roll out the pastry to 5mm thick, and cut out a circle slightly larger than your pan before placing back into the fridge to rest
Put the pastry on top of the pan before tucking it down the sides, using a spoon or knife to lift the pears and tuck the pastry under. This will ensure the pastry ‘hugs’ the fruit as it cooks, keeping the tart nice and compact. Pierce the top several times with a fork
Bake for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden, then remove from the oven. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then place a plate, slightly larger than the pan, on top and then carefully invert the tart on to the plate. Best served warm, with crème fraîche
- 225g plain flour
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 120g cold butter
- 1 medium egg, beaten
- 2 tsp cold water + extra if needed
Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar and a pinch of salt. Grate in the butter, then rub together until it is coarse crumbs.
Mix the egg with the water and sprinkle over the mixture. Mix together into a soft but not sticky dough, adding more water (if required) very gradually. Shape into a ball, and then cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before rolling out