From A Southern Table: On Temporary Tattoos

- by

I didn’t intend to have all of these tattoos. When people ask me what I’ll do when I grow old and my skin starts to sag, I smile and say, “I suppose I’ll be a woman grown old with saggy tattoos.” The way I see it, it’s all just temporary. Tattoos are, of course, permanent but the body is not. Everyone documents their lives and loves in their own ways. Some choose scrapbooks and oral histories. I choose tattoos, and their stories are rooted in food.

I have an orange for my mother because I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t hoarding one or two in her purse or office drawer. I must have inherited the gene, as now I’m the one peeling oranges in public, always offering them to anyone who might appear hungry.

Then there’s the cupcake on my right shoulder because, well, I just really love cake. When strangers ask about its origin, they often seem disappointed in my story’s simplicity. So one time I lied: “Cupcake was my nickname when I was in prison.” But, honestly, the greatest days of my life—and even those that aren’t so great— are often marked with cake. I only get this one life to eat it, so I’ll eat it often and without a reason or occasion.

Just a few months ago, I added an apple to my arm. It’s a lesson to me on the importance of frugality.

Just a few months ago, I added an apple to my arm. It’s a lesson to me on the importance of frugality. Those who know me best have heard this story: One time my mother found an apple in the trash with just one bite out of it. Thinking about that now as an adult, I imagine she wanted to cry (but didn’t) because the wasted fruit was a reminder of the little money she had back then. I find it a bit kismet that two abundantly fruiting apple trees are planted in the yard of my new house, the first house I get to claim ownership of. One is a Yellow June and bears a yellow, tart, excellent cooking apple. The other is a Gala tree, with big and wide climbing branches that shade the soil where our chickens dig for worms.

Every fruit and vegetable that I plant and pick reminds me where I came from. They also help me think about where I am in the moment and maybe even where I’m headed. Growing my own food is part of growing my whole self. It’s a collaborative process, and there’s always something to do or to learn. I think my food tattoos are a symbol of this. Life is a wide-open space ready to be filled with adventures, with lessons and, of course, with good things to eat.

This recipe is a go-to for me because, one, I insist on daily dessert, and, two, I’m always looking for ways to use all of our hens’ eggs. Clafoutis is a classically French dessert. It’s technically simple and unassumingly elegant, and can be made year-round with whatever fruit is in season. For a delightful breakfast the next morning, serve the leftovers with yogurt.


6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus extra for buttering dish
2 generous cups fresh fruit (berries, pitted cherries, apples, peaches and plums are my favorites)*
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 heavy cream or creme fraiche
1/2 cup brown sugar (granulated sugar is fine, but I prefer brown sugar’s rich flavor)
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract (choose almond if you use cherries; you won’t be sorry)
pinch or two of freshly grated nutmeg
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
Powdered sugar and freshly whipped and sweetened cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Beat the sugar and eggs together with a whisk until they are pale yellow in color. Gradually add butter, beating to incorporate. Add the flour, salt and nutmeg all at once and whisk until the batter is a homogeneous mixture. Next, slowly pour in the milk and cream or creme fraiche a little at a time. Add the extract and just mix in. The batter should be very smooth and shiny. Place the fruit in a buttered glass baking dish, 8-inch cake pan or cast iron skillet that can go in the oven. Pour the batter over the fruit. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until slightly browned, puffed and almost completely set in the middle (a slight jiggle, if you will). Let sit at least 15 minutes before serving in wedges or scoops. I like mine dusted with powdered sugar and served with a healthy dollop of honey-sweetened whipped cream.

* No matter what I’m baking, I always soak my fruit in booze first. It just makes everything a little bit better. Armagnac, Calvados and Amaretto are good for this recipe. Soak the fruit for 15 minutes, then lightly strain it and proceed with the recipe.