Easy Apple Slices (& dancing)

Around this time, many moons ago, it was family weekend at Northwestern. Somehow, by divine intervention and miraculous scheduling – my entire family came. Mom, Dad, sisters, and grandma.

Easy Apple SlicesThis was a big deal for a few reasons: 1) my parents had been divorced for the better part of two decades at this point and 2) they all rode down in the same vehicle.

So, including me, that’s six members of a very blended and extended family packed into my grandmother’s Chevy Envoy careening down neighborhood streets of Chicago.

Fresh Picked Apples

My entire life had been a carefully choreographed dance between parents and spouses and step-siblings and half-relatives. We knew the steps well, could glide smoothly across the floor. Most of the time. But sometimes, missteps were made, there was uncertainty about who was leading and who was following, the rhythm would get lost.

If and when this happened – there was always a failsafe way to get back in step. Food.

We spent the better part of that weekend dancing from one meal to another. One, two, three…one, two, three…one, two, three. Breakfast, lunch, dinner…breakfast, lunch, dinner…breakfast, lunch, dinner.  

We ate really good bbq, less good dining hall food, and everything in between.

 Easy Apples Slices

The most vivid memory I have from that weekend is going out for custard. I really, really wanted my family to meet my friend, Sam. He was the first person I’d grown close to at school and what’s better than diffusing a would-be awkward familial situation than by throwing one more person into the mix?!

We picked him up behind one of the journalism buildings. He jumped into the back of the overcrowded car, lowered the hatch as he clambered up into the trunk. We drove the few blocks to Andy’s; my family peppering Sam with questions while he jostled about in the back. Out of the trunk, into the line.

Finally – a place certain to make my entire family happy. My mom and grandma were pleased by the site of fresh custard churning out of the machines. My older sister and dad were game for anything that had the words “apple pie” in the title. Sam and I were satisfied by simply being off of campus. And my little sister wasn’t old enough to drive, so she had no choice but to be ok with where she was.

Easy Apple Slices

We stood and waited and ordered and ate. The quietest and most contented we’d been all weekend. I don’t remember what we talked about or who sat where, I just remember full mouths and full bellies.

My older sister was working her way through a large concrete filled with an entire slice of apple pie. When she’d ordered it, the man had gone to a large shelf containing rows of entire pies and cut a big piece before throwing it into the mixer with vanilla custard.

“Amanda, you can have this piece,” she said, and held out the Holy Grail of slices. It was the corner, where the two crusts meet and the thinnest amount filling gently coats the inside. I’d make fruit pies just to eat this section – digging out the fruit filling and pawning it off on someone else. Usually my sister. I liked what I liked, she liked what she liked. 

That night we shared, we compromised, we ate. We always would.

Easy Apple Slices

Apple Slices

For the crusts:

4 cups flour

2 TBSP sugar

2 tsp. Kosher salt

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes

1/2 cup ice water, in large glass measuring cup

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Using a pastry cutter, or fork, blend the butter into the dry mixture. There should be pieces of butter no larger than a pea in size.
  2. Working slowly, add the ice water to the dry mixture, one tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition. Dough should just barely stick together when pressed firmly with hands.
  3. Divide dough in half and wrap in plastic. Chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes, if not longer, preferably overnight.
  4. When ready to roll out, lightly dust work surface and rolling pin with flour. Roll one batch of dough into a rectangle that is 1 inch larger on all sides than your pan (I like to use a brownie pan that is 10×5). Place the first batch of rolled dough in the pan and prick with a fork.
    Roll out the second crust to another rectangle of the same size and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Place both in fridge to stay cool while you prepare the filling.
  5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees while you prepare the filling.

For the filling:

6 – 8 small apples (or 4 medium), mixed variety, peeled and sliced thin

1 TBSP lemon juice

3 TBSP corn starch

1 cup brown sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Pinch of allspice

Pinch of cloves

Pinch of salt

1 tsp. Vanilla extract

1 egg yolk whisked with 1 TBSP water

Granulated sugar, for sprinkling

  1. In a large bowl pour the lemon juice over the sliced apples and toss to coat. Do the same with the corn starch.
  2. Add the brown sugar, spices, salt, and vanilla extract to the bowl. Tossing to coat.
  3. Pour the filling into the prepared pan and top with the other crust. Fold top crust over the bottom and pinch to seal, crimping with fingertips. Slice slits in center and corner to release steam.
  4. Brush crust with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Place in preheated oven and bake for 35 – 45 minutes, until crust is golden brown and apples are tender.
  5. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack for at least one hour. Serve warm, if desired. Or cover with aluminum foil and serve at room temperature the following day. Slices are best eaten within two days as the crust will begin to turn soggy.

Mushroom Risotto (& tools)

I have a pink tool bag.

It’s filled with pink screwdrivers, a pink level, a pink tape measure. It used to have a pink hammer too, but I accidentally busted it in half last year.

This little tool bag has served me well over the last eight years. My mom gave it to me my freshman year of college – stating that I shouldn’t be away from home without a way to fix things. She got it in pink because she loves me and I love pink.

I have carried this bag with me ever since. Through every move – across state lines and back again. I had it with me in South Carolina, it lives in my coat closet now. It stayed on a top shelf in my apartment junior and senior year of college.

It was there, and it was then, that it was frequently borrowed by my neighbors. I was the only girl on my floor – the three other apartments being occupied by males and their male roommates.

At first, they mocked the pink tools – their petite size and their “feminine” hue. Then, little by little, the knocks on my door increased.

“Can I borrow your hammer?”

“Hey, do you have a screwdriver?”

“Wait…are you baking?”

That last one was unrelated to tools and home improvement, but it happened nonetheless. Inevitably, the scent of whatever I was making would waft across the hall and into the other apartments. They’d come over for a few brownies or a slice of cake or warm cookies.

Read More »

Thursday Things

SONY DSC

  1. Amanda Shires was marvelous – in case you were wondering! Really and truly one of the better shows I’ve been to. It was a small and intimate space and both Seth and I felt as if we were hanging out with friends instead of at a concert.
  2. Before the show, we enjoyed an equally marvelous dinner at The Diplomat on Brady Street. The menu was very reminiscent of my time at GB&D and any meal experience at Hot Chocolate (as is the style, I suppose). They make a mean cocktail and the service was superb too!
  3. Because I am a control enthusiast (a title bestowed upon me by a coworker), I like getting to concerts early to scope out a spot and get situated, get a drink, and get ready to boogie. I also love listening to the opener! It’s how I hear such amazing artists as Leah Blevins! She stole the show with her glorious voice and heartfelt lyrics. I’ve been listening to her songs all week! She was in the crowd during Amanda’s performance and Seth and I said hi, praised her skills. She was kind and genuine and wished us well on our marriage. It was one of the most uplifting interactions I’ve ever had with a musician. And we kinda want to invite her to our wedding.
  4. Remember my friend, Nick? This weekend he told me he’s going full time with his woodworking business! I’m SO PROUD of him!
  5. This is coming on the heels of another friend, Kim, pursuing her passion for writing full time and Mandy deciding to begin a tattooing apprenticeship. There’s something in the water and I’m very excited about it!
  6. The mosquitos are absolutely ridiculous right now! Like, nuclear level. The last few days at the dog park have been unbearable without bug spray. The bites are so bad they hurt. And the welts I’m left with are golfball sized! I’m half concerned they’ll carry Edgar away when I’m not looking.
  7. It’s apple season! And pear! And grape! We’re heading up to the farmhouse at the beginning of next week to spend a few days enjoying the last bits of summer and the beginning of fall. I can’t wait to pick the aforementioned fruits and harvest what’s left in the garden. There’s also a small grove of olive trees I need to figure out what to do with.
  8. This time of year reminds me of “You’ve Got Mail” where she talks about a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils and I’m gonna have to go watch that movie now kthxbai.

Chocolate Cake for One (Or Two) (& tastes)

There was a period of time in college where I wanted nothing to do with chocolate.

Didn’t care for it. Not the sight of it, the smell of it, and especially not the taste of it.

This continued for about a year. Not wanting anything chocolate flavored or related or even tangentially connected to it. And this was way back when I worked at a candy magazine and was constantly surround by chocolates of all varieties. It was a dark time.

Thank god that’s over.

The distaste was merely a blip, a nonevent in my tastebuds’ lives. Now, blessedly, I love chocolate once more. Can’t get enough of it, actually.

My favorite way to eat it? In cake.

Read More »

Thursday Things

  1. I did yoga yesterday for the first time in ages. Like, months? I used to be pretty regular in my practice – stretching and straining a couple times a week. A few months ago, that hour of devoted time was given to Edgar to go to the dog park. Frankly, I’m not brave enough to lie down and roll around in the grass there.
  2. Since I spend most mornings walking through a grassy field with Edgar and since most mornings that field is soaked and squishy, I bought some rain boots after ruining more than one pair of shoes. They’re camouflage. I bought them at Cabela’s. I truly am I Wisconsinite.
  3. Now I’m on the hunt for winter boots. These cuties are tempting me.
  4. I’ve also been searching for the perfect purse for what feels like forever. I’ve been using the same one for over two years and it’s awfully tired/nearly broken. I’ve attempted to buy and use others – but they’re just never quite right. There are not enough pockets or it doesn’t fit my wallet (which I’m also in love with) or the strap doesn’t sit right. HALP ME.
  5. It took all of two days to blow through “Unqualified” and now I’m listening to “You Are a Bad Ass” in the hopes of finding my true calling and unleashing my inner bad assery.
  6. I’m toying around with apple cookies – maybe with oats? But am worrying about sogginess being an issue? Or them coming out too cakey? These are the questions that plague me daily!
  7. Seth and I are going to see Amanda Shires tomorrow night and I cannot wait! It’s going to be a great show, I just know it! Plus, there’s lots of good food to be had in Milwaukee.

Carrot Cake Loaf (& sweets)

‘Bout time I earn my keep around here.

I’m embarrassed at how long it’s been since I’ve posted a baked good of some kind.

Lately, I’ve been more into main courses and side dishes than anything. A gal can’t live on cake alone, after all.

Lord knows there’s been no shortage of sweets in my life, though. I eat dessert/something sweet nearly every day. Lately though, it’s been ice cream topped with cinnamon toast crunch (trust me on this) or those mini chewy M&M cookies from the grocery store.

On occasion, it’s also been a piece of carrot cake from work.

There’s a lovely woman at work that does all of the baking. It is not me. I was hired to bartend, not to bake. I tell customers that on a weekly, if not daily, basis (inevitably after they see my tattoos and then glance at the pastry case). I have no desire to usurp her territory and I’m enjoying a break from professional baking. That, and she makes a damn fine carrot cake, arguably better than mine.

Until now.

Read More »