My only confidence in complex food preparation lies with the artichoke. That’s right, the artichoke. Never had an artichoke? I’m not surprised. Up here in the frozen tundra they are in short supply. In California’s central valley, they are as common as the dandelions that are sure to overpower our new lawn come June.

As a college senior I worked for the University’s Alumni Association. Each spring they hosted Party in the Park, an annual wine tasting fundraiser. As a centerpiece we used a terracotta flower pot with a hollowed out artichoke anchored in sand with a candle stuck in the middle. If you’ve had any experience with any University fundraiser, you know that if artichokes were $1.78 per pound, they would certainly not be wasted in a clay flower pot and lit on fire. Well, at least not on purpose.

Whenever I find halfway decent artichokes at the grocery store I snap them up, often garnering a quizzical look from the teenage cashier at the checkout that goes something like this:
<insert quizzical, apologetic look.> “Um, what are these, again? Brussel sprouts?
No, they are artichokes.
<quizzical look turns to quiet doubt, then your disgust.> “Oh.”
I’ve learned there’s no explaining them, so I just pay and move on. 
My Grandma, who lived with us, always made artichokes. I have no idea why. It was quite a process involving trimming with both a knife AND scissors, washing, boiling, poking, usually more boiling then draining. Serving involved the use of no less than a plate, bowl, knife, fork, spoon and butter dipping bowl. After the beautifully soft butter-like mash was scraped with our teeth from the petals, Grandma ceremoniously removed the inner leaves, gently pulled the To delicate “poisonous” hairy centers from the heart, cut the last of the stem off the bottom and plopped the delectable heart into the remaining butter in the dipping bowl. 
As I’ve stated before, I’m a terrible cook. But, I can make one heck of an artichoke from start to finish. When my friend Kam mentioned she had NEVER had an artichoke, I was floored. Miss I-make-all-my-food-from-scratch-with-a-dollop-of-love was an artichoke virgin. (Don’t get me wrong. I love my Kamma-lamma-ding-dong. She is my cooking mentor and the sweetest person I’ve ever met. Ever. I don’t know why she puts up with me.) I could teach her about artichokes! She could teach me about dough! (Me: What’s a pie dough blender? What do you mean cut in the butter? What’s a pie bird? Etc.) It was a date. Now for the artichokes. 
Note to gentle reader: It’s December/January in Minnesota. The high yesterday was -6. The Walmart produce department looks like Armageddon is coming at any minute and people have cleared the shelves in preparation. Half the shelves are empty. No chokes to be found. Not even a choke at the real grocery store across town where the fancy cheese lives. 
Right before the New Year’s Rach’n Eve dinner, I found the chokes. Big, beautiful artichokes! TEN ARTICHOKES! I called Kam from the produce aisle clutching a choke in one hand, cradling the phone between my ear and shoulder and Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking-book in the other. I was doing gleeful little quick jumps in the produce aisle. I am sure Mrs. Child was rolling over in her grave seeing me shop for ingredients at the completely non-French, uncool Wally World. But hey, we’re in a relatively small town (30,000 population) in the Midwest. This is where you go, right?
Today, we had our Arti-Tart Training Session in which I made Julia’s Apple Tart and Kam and daughters Becca and Kirsten learned about artichokes. 
Son #2 is a master photo bomber
The Apple Tart called for 4 lbs of apples. I used the produce scale for the first time and kept looking at my husband. It went something like this:
Plop apple #1 into scale bowl. 
repeat with apple #2.
[Look at husband. He’s on his phone surfing Facebook, bored.]
repeat with apple #3.
[Look at husband. Still on phone.]
repeat with apple #4. Less than 2 pounds. 
[realization: this is going to take a butt-load of apples]
repeat with apples 5 & 6. 
[Oh My Gawd. Is he seeing this? Nope.]
repeat with apples 7, 8, 9, 10. 
Me: Hon! 4 pounds of apples equals 10 apples!
Him: Um, ok. 
Note: This is the real grocery store 
across town where the fancy cheese lives.  
The recipe called for Apricot Preserves. Not jam. Not jelly. Preserves. Evidently there’s a big ‘ol difference between the three. Notice I chose the preserves that were Made in France and the exact apples (Golden Delicious) called for by Mrs. Child and associates.
Kam and company arrived at 1:00 pm and left at 5:00 pm. Arti-Tart Training Session completed. 

Behold the Apple Tart. “You mean French Apple Tart”, says Becca.