Pear and Blue Cheese Tart

I had a meeting with my supervisor on Monday. It is a strange thing, the supervisor-supervisee relationship. I have not written about it much here but I thought, now that I am nearly at the end (the beginning of the end as it were), I would start to do so. Monday’s meeting got me thinking about the PhD-supervisor relationship and how it changes over the course of a PhD. I am not the person I was three and a bit years ago when this journey began. I have done the research. Read the literature. And now I am busy putting my thoughts (and to a certain extent myself) on display for critique for the first time. I am learning to defend my work. And I am learning to absorb criticism. Monday’s meeting was the first face-to-face discussion following my supervisor’s comments on my draft…

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To a certain extent, every meeting feels like a performance. I embody my PhD-self, competent and informed, ready to answer questions, discuss issues and ultimately defend my work. I regard the relationship as a fairly formal one, as a student seeking advice from a more knowledgeable sage. But our relationship is also fairly informal – after we have discussed my work and progress, we often talk about current affairs in the world of food, education, obesity and health studies. My supervisor often sends me emails with links to articles, posters, tea towels – some are related directly to my work and others are merely for interest. I appreciate the ones for interest as much as the ones for work. We get on quite well, I think, but this meeting was our first one after she had read my thesis, provided very specific feedback (read: tore my thesis apart, chapter by chapter) and I was nervous. What if she had decided I was (what all PhD’s ultimately fear) completely inadequate and not actually suited for academic life? (After I first read through the comments, I had a proper crisis of self that questioned this very thing. Fortunately I then got over that and resigned myself to the long slog towards the finish line. And to be fair, she had warned me not to ‘throw myself over a bridge’ after reading.) But, as she explained, being a ‘mean’ supervisor, and tearing my draft apart is part of the process of a) writing a thesis and b) ultimately becoming an academic. You have to get used to (and build yourself up against) critiques from all sides. And, as we discussed, it is much much much worse if such a thing happens in the viva. So, at some point in our relationship, she had to embody the ‘mean’ supervisor.

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By many accounts, I am lucky. My supervisor has been supportive, championing my data, providing guidance and where necessary, criticism. This is not the case for all PhDs – as has been written about here – and I know of several other PhDs who are regularly reduced to tears by their supervisors. I’m not sure how you cope with the stress of a PhD if you don’t have good supervisory support. It is a strange relationship, but a hugely important one. I’m fairly sure there is a course you can take called ‘Managing Your Supervisor’ – I have not yet had to resort to such help but I think sometimes supervisors do need managing – when you have to remind them that it is your research and that you are the expert. This is not an easy thing to do when they are experts in their own fields (probably a larger part of your own). On Monday, we discussed (and have now agreed via email) a timetable to the completion of all these corrections (three months!) and the overarching arguments and flow of my thesis. Most importantly, I left the supervision feeling re-energised about finishing. I am no longer petrified about the quality of my work. Yes, it needs to be improved, but it seems more like an achievable goal than an insurmountable task, following the meeting.

So I came home and got organised. I wrote out the projected timetable and started to do some reading. I am returning first to Foucault, to fix the chapter that frames the thesis, and then to the policy chapter. So, you will forgive me if I start to talk about healthy subjects, nutrition discourses and how we come to know what is good to eat over the next few weeks. Foucault and I are spending some more time together right away.

And so, to compensate for this return to some thinking work, and because my New Years resolution was to blog every Wednesday, I made this tart! I have labelled it a tart because the filling is partly on top of the egg-custard and partly encased by it so I’m not really sure it is a quiche; to be fair, I’m not really sure I understand the difference between quiches and tarts. Can tarts only be sweet? Quiches savoury? Tart sounds so much more daring than quiche. This tart is daring. It is bold. Creamy. Rich. The harsh blue cheese notes are rounded out by the sweetness of the pears. I made it over Christmas and have not stopped thinking about it since so I thought I would share it with you here. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Foucault is waiting.

Pear and Blue Cheese Tart.

For the pastry (makes enough for two tart cases):

250g plain flour

125g unsalted butter, cold, diced

approximately 100ml cold water

pinch of salt

For the filling:

1/3 cup double cream

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs

2 small rocha pears, finely sliced

150g blue cheese (I used a combination of Stilton and Bleu D’Auvergne)

In a large bowl, place the flour, salt and the diced butter. Rub this together with your fingers until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

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Add in the cold water, a little at a time, until you can combine all the flour to form a sticky dough.

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Knead this on a lightly floured work surface until the dough is as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

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Divide the dough in half, shape these into two balls, flatten them, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least an hour. You will only need one ball, so you can freeze the other for later use. While you are waiting, whisk together the double cream, milk and eggs until smooth. Set aside.

Remove the dough from the fridge and lightly flour a work surface. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/2cm thick.

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Line a pie dish, leaving some of the dough to overhang the sides. (Trim excessive overhang like that pictured below.)

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Refrigerate again for an hour. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line the pastry case with some baking paper and baking beans or rice. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the rice/beans and paper and return to the oven for 5 minutes, until the pastry is dry.

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Crumble the blue cheese onto the pastry case. Then fill the case with the custard mixture. It’ll fill about 3/4 of the way. Arrange the sliced pears atop the filling.

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Bake for approximately 25 minutes. You want the egg custard puffed around the edges of the tart and the middle only just set. It can wobble but should not be liquid. Remove from the oven. Trim the excess pastry overhanging the edge with a sharp knife and allow to cool before slicing and serving with a side salad. (This tart works fantastically well cold too. For a savoury breakfast.)

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