Blackberry Goat Cheese Tart

I was on a flight from Minneapolis back to my hometown after a week long escape to the ocean. I've flown dozens of times over the last few years, heading from here to there over land and sea for various reasons. I love the ease of freedom of flight—the rush of the take-off and the release of landing. This particular flight, however, was different.

It started off conventionally; I boarded the small plane and, after we took flight, ordered an orange juice and settled into a good book. The sun had already set and the interior of the plane glowed softly from the irregular pattern of lights blushing overhead. Midway through the short flight, the captain quietly mentioned we may be running into a bit of turbulence, but not to worry as we would still be arriving on time.

The seatbelt sign lit up above me. The stewardess hurried up and down the aisle gathering the last of the empty cups and napkins before the commotion began, assuring everyone that everything was all right, but could we please raise our trays and place our seats upright just in case. I set my book aside and looked out the window, spotting a small light here or there on the prairie below.

The plane shook softly. After a short pause, it shook once more. The turbulence had begun. I had flown in light turbulence before and it was nothing to fear. However, unbeknownst to the passengers, we were flying headlong into a vicious lightning storm.

Staring out the small window, I noticed the lights on the plane's wings were being echoed sharply by the sky. It took a few moments to realize the lights were not reflections from the constant blink of the wing's lights, but were the result of lightning streaking across the sky. The plane's soft, infrequent agitations quickly took a turn for the worse. The plane suddenly shook violently. I was lifted into the air from the force and my seatbelt dug into lap.

The plane jarred sharply to the left and to the right. The lightning created strobe lights in the interior of the plane, alternatively bathing everyone in bright light and darkness. I braced myself against the seat in front of me, sparing a glance out to the other passengers. As the plane plummeted another few feet, the same thought appeared to collectively cross our faces.

Am I going to die?

The plane grew quiet, as if we had all held in our breaths and had nothing left to spare. A few rows in front of me, a mother was the only one to break the silence as she tried to comfort her young son (Do you remember that time when...). I listened to her weave a story, straining to hear her over the unsettling noise of the luggage moving around overhead. I noticed the older couple across from me also listening to her speak; I doubt she realized she was reassuring more than just her son with her words.

The plane became a wooden roller coaster, jerking the passengers back and forth and up and down. Though many chose to shut the screens to their windows to block out the lighting, I left mine open along with a few others for the same reason—to make sure the ground stayed where it should. Minutes stretched to hours and I grew nauseous, as my stomach flip flopped from the motion of the plane and the dark thoughts running through my head. The older woman across from me began to pray, folding her hands over the handle on the seat in front of her as she bowed her head.

Was I ready to die?

The ground swelled up quickly to the meet the plane and it took me a moment to realize we were landing instead of crashing. As we hit the runway at a frightening speed, my head flew forward, smashing into the seat in front of me. It was clear we were going too fast. The captain slammed on the brakes, but we skidded along the wet pavement like a car who had lost control on a sheet of ice. After a few long and terrifying moments, the plane jerked to a full stop.

We were safe.

Only after the seatbelt light flickered off, did the passengers let out the collective breath we had been holding. The woman beside me shakily told her husband she would be dead before she set foot on another plane again. My legs shook violently beneath me as I dared to stand. I met my mother in baggage and hugged her tightly, unable to express exactly what I had been through and neither wanting to. To this day, I have never been happier to set foot on solid ground.

The flight often crosses my mind. I later learned I had spent an hour and fifteen minutes being jostled back and forth, both from the plane and from my thoughts. It was the first time I had truly feared for my life—the first time I had anticipated the possibility of my death. While I am not afraid to fly the skies again, the unexpected flight will certainly stay with me, if only to remind me of the rush of gratitude and relief that comes with knowing I am safe.

This Blackberry Goat Cheese Tart borders the line between savory and sweet. The goat cheese and sour cream filling, sweetened with honey, bakes up and settles like a cheesecake in the basil infused tart crust. Once cooled, the tart is topped with fresh, ripe blackberries and drizzled with warm honey. Perhaps unexpected, the complex flavors of blackberry and basil contrast elegantly against the strong flavor of the goat cheese. This tart has served me both as a dessert and weeknight dinner. This tart is certainly one to impress.

One Year Ago: Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

Blackberry Goat Cheese Tart
Inspired by Always With Butter

Yields 1 9-inch tart (or 8 tartlets)

Basil Infused Tart Crust
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 sprig (5-6 large leaves) fresh basil, shredded
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour

In a food processor, blend the butter until smooth and creamy. Add the powdered sugar and process until well mixed. Add in the salt, vanilla extract, and egg and process again. Throw in the basil leaves. Scrape around the bowl if necessary. Add the flours and pulse just until the dough forms a ball. The dough will be the consistency of very soft and sticky cookie dough.

Remove the dough from the bowl, shape into a disk, and wrap in plastic. Chill in refrigerator for 3-4 hours or overnight to firm up the dough.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

When chilled until firm, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is 1/8-inch thick (you may have to wait a few minutes for the dough to soften). Cut out rounds of dough to fit the tartlet pans (alternatively, if you are making a large, single tart, roll out the dough and cut a large circle to fit the tart pan). Press the dough carefully into the pans and mend any breaks or tears with excess dough. Stab the bottom several times with a fork so the dough will not rise in the oven.

Bake the tart shells for 15-18 minutes, or until they are lightly colored and the shell feels dry to the touch.

Goat Cheese Filling
5 ounces goat cheese, softened
1/3 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1/4 cup honey

In a small bowl, stir together the goat cheese, sour cream, egg, and honey until absolutely smooth. Pour mixture into large tart shell or divide evenly between individual tart shells. Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, or until filling is puffed and golden. Allow tarts to cool completely.

12 ounces fresh blackberries
2-3 tablespoons honey, warmed
Fresh basil leaves, shredded

Once tarts are cooled, top with blackberries and drizzle with warm honey. Garnish with shredded basil leaves, if desired. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

To store, chill tarts in the refrigerator in an airtight container.