My memory is better than most. I have regulars’ orders remembered from four years ago. The amount of brain space used to store old cheerleading routines is astonishing (and a complete waste of real estate considering my lack of rhythm). My childhood phone number, which has been disconnected for the better part of a decade, is still one of the first my thumbs dial of their own accord when I hold a phone.
So, it was nothing short of a miracle when I bought tickets to see Jason Isbell in Chicago last month and the date didn’t register. At least, not right away. There were no bells, no whistles, nothing to indicate what the day was…what the day had been.
It was my ex’s birthday. For the last two years that day had been reserved for celebrating him - exclusively. Emphatically. One way I did that was baking an apple pie – his favorite – with the numbers of his age emblazoned on the top.
This year, that wouldn’t be happening. Obviously.
This year, instead, I would be reclaiming one of my favorite singers in one of my favorite cities. It was actually kind of perfect, really. For so long Isbell’s songs were tied to someone else, a different time, a different place. Blaring “Codeine” throughout the house while cleaning on a rare day off together. Learning the words to “Alabama Pines” as we wound along mountain roads coming back from a day in Asheville. Swaying to the rhythm of “Cover Me Up” at a sold out show the same day I closed on my house.
Those memories are all that filled my mind whenever I heard his slow, southern lilt flow through my speakers. Painful, unavoidable.
But not anymore.
Now, instead, I have new memories for those songs I love so.
I’ll think of walking in the rain on my way to the show, remembering the streets of Chicago by heart, feeling at home and at peace. Smiling brighter than I thought I could.
I’ll remember the entire crowd cheering, myself included, when he sang the line, “I sobered up, I swore off that stuff, forever this time.” Everyone reveling in his sobriety.
I’ll remember how he and his wife looked at each other during “If We Were Vampires.” The feelings between them palpable, filling up the concert hall – the painted angels on the ceiling being held aloft by their love.
Eventually, I won’t measure time in how long we’ve been apart, how long I’ve been gone, how it would’ve been X,Y, or Z for us. Instead I’ll think of that show, that night. Apple pie won’t be his dessert anymore, a treat reserved for his birthday – it’ll be the product of extra apples leftover from my visit to the orchard, a taste of this season. My favorite season of the year, a new season of my life.
ClassicApple Pie (makes 1 9-inch pie)
2 batches of my perfect pie crust
10 large apples, peeled, cored, chopped and sprinkled with lemon juice to keep from browning
3 TBSP cornstarch
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 egg + 1 TBSP water, whisked
granulated sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the pie crusts as thin as you can, about 1/8 of an inch is what I like. Transfer to a glass pie plate and trim the edges to ½ an inch around the plate. Prick with a fork and transfer to freezer to wait.
In a large bowl combine the apples, cornstarch, sugar, extract, salt, and spices. Spread into prepared pie crust – arranging the apple slices in even layers to prevent air pockets from forming.
Roll out the second crust to 1/8 inch thickness and drape over the pie plate. Trim the edges and roll over the bottom crust before crimping. Create air vents in pie, either with a pairing knife or a small cookie cutter.
Brush with eggwash and sprinkle with granulated sugar. If desired, cut shapes out of scrap dough and place on top, brushing with eggwash and sprinkling with more sugar.
Bake in preheated oven for 75 – 90 minutes, until pie is golden browned and apples are cooked through.
Remove from oven and allow to cool on rack for at least one hour to let juices redistribute. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream if desired. (Personally, I prefer a room temperature apple pie, but whatever floats your boat.)