One that’s easy and filling and warm and comforting.
Also, one that’s full of veggies. Because I haven’t been drinking my green drink as much lately now that it’s cold. Which is weird considering I have had it nearly every day for the last two years. But now? I don’t want it.
But I do want this meal! I’ve actually made it four times in the last two weeks. It’s that good. I like it that much. And it reheats so wonderfully that I can make it at the beginning of the workweek and take leftovers all week to make my coworkers jealous.
I feel like it’s finally fall! For reals. Because it’s cool and it’s cloudy.
Unfortunately, it was also very wet and rainy, so Seth and I weren’t able to go to a local apple orchard like we’d planned. I was so looking forward to walking Edgar through the pumpkin patch and splitting an apple cider doughnut with Seth (plus, all the Instagram photos ops? Hello! Live for them!).
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.
This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Divide dough in half and wrap in plastic. Chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes, if not longer, preferably overnight.
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.
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
In a large bowl pour the lemon juice over the sliced apples and toss to coat. Do the same with the corn starch.
Add the brown sugar, spices, salt, and vanilla extract to the bowl. Tossing to coat.
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.
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.
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.
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.