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.

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.

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Tiramisu Cream Puffs (& support)

“If you don’t mind – I’d really like you to be in the picture with us.”

We were sitting around the table, finishing up the catered breakfast. We’d been up since 4am to make it to breakfast at 7:30. Farmers and their early mornings. All around us other farmers were eating and drinking, discussing crop yields and “this weather we’re having.” We swam in a sea of plaid shirts and dirty baseball caps, a chorus of “You betcha!” and “Where ya from?” rang out.

Seth and his father were being honored for their farmhouse in Shawano – it had been in the family for over 100 years, a true milestone. Even I, a non-farmer raised on a non-farm, knew that. Seth had asked me to be there, at the State Fair, when his family was awarded. To share in the moment, hear when his name was called.

I cheered and whooped when the announcer said his county, his last name. Correctly, I might add, which wasn’t the case with all the other farmers. (I don’t know if you know this, but Wisconsin is home to some doozy counties and even doozier family names.)

More names were called, more weathered hands were raised – acknowledging the achievement and then quickly returning to seats. Most of these folks weren’t used to being in the spotlight, they were just doing what they’d always done, what their parents (and their parents’ parents) had always done. The tent was filled with a quiet and certain pride, the recognition may not have been desired, but it was well deserved. The list was longer than I expected, the calling and clapping continued through two cups of coffee – hot, strong, fuel to get through a morning at the Fair and a day in the fields.

Then came the photos with the plaque, the flowers, the smiling shoulder to shoulder. I was honored to be involved. Honored Seth had wanted me there by his side, with his family. The photo would be framed and hung at the farm. Maybe for the next hundred years.

Seth thanked me for being there – as if I would want to be anywhere else. In reality, I should have been thanking him. And I try to every day. Because, he doesn’t wait for an awards ceremony to support me, to celebrate me. He’s here, every day, reading my words, listening to my worries, and eating my wares. Constant and consistent care for my dreams, ideas, hopes, and feelings.

He believes in me.

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Angel Food Cake (& the elderly)

I’ve always considered angel food cake to be kind of an “elderly” dessert. Something grandparents crave or that is served at the VFW Bingo Night. Never something I wanted or even considered as a legitimate dessert option. They were always lauded for their airy-ness, low-sugar content, and lack of fat. (Especially the ones at the grocery store in those clear plastic containers.) Umm…hello? This is dessert. I want rich. I want sugary. I want fatty. Thankyouverymuch.

My lack of desire for what I deemed to be a senior sweet is surprising considering my taste in every other area of my life. My house looks like that of anyone’s great aunt (I do love me a good floral pattern and light pink color scheme), I prefer vintage items to new, and I drive a Buick the size of a small yacht. I love old people tropes, relish in them.

It wasn’t until I dusted off my own two-piece tube pan (given to me by my grandmother years and years ago, getting carried from house to house on the off chance I’d suddenly be struck with the urge to make a dessert I had no interest in), that I realized what I’d been missing out on for nearly two decades of my life. Yes, it was light. Yes, it was delicately sweet. Yes, it was delicious! Especially when paired with fresh whipped cream and macerated berries (or even some jam!)

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