A few days ago, while sitting around the table at my favorite Parisian restaurant with a group of talented creative types from around the globe, I was overcome with the urge to reach under the table and pinch myself. Nothing dramatic. Just a small gesture to ensure I wasn’t at home in my bed dreaming this whole scenario into reality.
Lately, I find it hard to believe that my life is my life. I’m not saying I don’t have days where I gnash my teeth in frustration with the world. Or feel completely uninspired. Or disappointed with myself. Or angry at the flabbiness of my upper arms. (On my worst days, I feel all of these things simultaneously!)
But on this particular day, in this particular restaurant, in front of the most ethereal lemon tart I’ve ever tasted, I felt a rush of pleasure and satisfaction wash over me. Followed by a wave of incredulity that my life includes things like trips to Paris and creative collaborations with people whose work I admire and light-as-air lemon tarts.
Three years ago, when I decided to leave a business venture I’d poured myself into, I cried every day for a month. My business partner and I, to put it mildly, did not see eye to eye. After months of stress and conflict and feeling like I couldn’t be myself at work, it was time to bow out.
When I wasn’t crying, I was filled with anger and resentment. And fear. How would I earn a living? What would I do next? Would I be able to re-invent myself or would I end up a crazy cat lady living with my mom until I was old and grey? To open that business had been my dream for years and it had utterly imploded. These were some dark days.
But somewhere in the middle of the anger and hurt and sadness and fear, a tiny seed took root. A vision for the future and what sort of work I could find fulfilling began to take shape. I started teaching cooking classes again to regain a sense of connection with my community. I bought a camera and learned to use it. I started this blog. Finally, I worked up the courage to pursue another dream of mine--leading culinary tours abroad to share my favorite cities with others. Along the way, I’ve gotten married, bought a house in a vibrant neighborhood I love and forged new friendships.
Sitting at that table in Paris, I couldn’t help thinking this was the sort of lemons-into-lemonade moment that makes life a wonderment. I wouldn’t have found myself at that table without the soul-bruising experience of leaving my last business. I’d likely still be working long days and trying to be someone I’m not, instead of traveling and discovering my love of photography and meeting inspiring humans all over the world. (I certainly wouldn’t be drinking nearly as much amazing French wine!)
In the spirit of turning lemons into lemonade, I give you this roasted rhubarb parfait. After a cake recipe I was working on turned out to be a total failure, I took the leftover roasted rhubarb and swirled it into some yogurt, then scattered cocoa nibs over the top for crunch. It was infinitely better than that cake.
This version has coconut, vanilla and honey for depth of flavor. For those of you facing uncertainty, self-doubt or fear of what the future holds, I hope it serves as a little reminder that we never really know what lies ahead. And that often the lemons (or crappy cakes or career setbacks) life sends our way lead to something far more rewarding than we ever could have imagined.
Roasted Rhubarb Parfaits with Coconut Yogurt and Cacoa Nibs
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1 lb rhubarb (about 6 medium stalks), trimmed, halved lengthwise if thick, and sliced about ⅓-inch thick
- 8 oz (1 pint) strawberries, tops removed and diced about ⅓-inch thick
- 6 tablespoons honey, plus an additional to taste
- Pinch salt
- 2 cups plain greek yogurt (I used Ellenos yogurt)
- ½ cup coconut cream (I used one 5.4 fluid oz/160 mL can from Native Forest)
- 1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
- 6 tablespoons cacao nibs (I like Theo cacao nibs best)
*Notes: For a vegan version, use plain greek style coconut yogurt. If using coconut yogurt, you can omit or cut back on the coconut cream.
- If you can’t find coconut cream, buy a can of coconut milk and place it in your fridge until cold. Open it, pour off the liquid (reserve for another use) and use the thick coconut cream that remains.
- These parfaits can be made in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge for a couple days. When I did this, mine set up and had an almost cheesecake-like consistency, which was delicious! If you go this route, I recommend adding the top layer of coconut and cacao nibs just before serving to add a little extra crunch.
Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a paring knife. Place the seeds in a medium bowl along with the rhubarb, strawberries, 6 tablespoons of honey and a pinch of salt. Stir gently to combine and set aside for 20 minutes. While the fruit is macerating, preheat the oven to 400 F.
Spread the rhubarb and strawberries out on a parchment-lined sheet pan along with their juices. Roast until some of the rhubarb is falling apart and the juices have thickened to a syrup-like consistency, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.
Place the yogurt in a medium bowl and add the coconut cream. Whisk to combine well. Whisk in honey to taste. (The amount will vary depending on how tangy your yogurt is--I used 2 tablespoons.) Place a couple tablespoons of the coconut yogurt in the bottom of 6 small (4- to 6-oz.) glasses. Spoon a tablespoon or so of the roasted rhubarb over the yogurt and top with some of the flaked coconut and cacao nibs. Repeat the layering process one more time, then serve.
Makes 6 servings.