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.

Classic Wedge Salad (& keepsakes)

I have a few treasured items that have been passed down to me from family members.

An old wooden box from my grandmother’s childhood, used to store trinkets and treasures.

My mom’s mom’s cookbooks with hand-written notes in the margins and a full set of formal table linens.

The plastic container my dad stored iceberg lettuce in the entire time my sister and I were growing up.

This final item may be the most precious. This Tupperware was around long before I was and, most likely, will be around long after me, as is the nature of those lovely containers made decades and decades ago.

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Kris’s Cornbread (& grandmas)

She stared at my forearm. Icy blue eyes narrowing behind her round bifocals. Pupils as black as the ink on my skin.

“Is it permanent.” Not a question, really. A statement. Pushed through her pursed lips, words hotter than the bright kitchen lights burning above us.

Yes. It was. That’s the thing about tattoos – they tend to stay put.

And my grandma had never been a fan of tattoos – it was a well-known fact. To be honest, I hadn’t been a big fan of them either for a very long time. I’d seen far too many bad tattoos from seedy small town tattoo shops – scarred, blurry, uneven.

But this one wasn’t. It was small, straight, even. The steadiest hand had drawn it, applied it. Permanently. It was my first. It was sweet. Literally. I had gotten a small sugar molecule tattooed onto my inner right arm. And I loved it. And I’ve loved every one since. Falling deeper, my affection growing with each addition to my collection.

My latest one is my most beloved. It’s a recipe. Written in my grandma’s handwriting. Of a cake she used to make me every year on my birthday. She hasn’t made it for me in years, and every attempt I’ve made has fallen flat. But this tattoo, this tattoo was a success.

Because this tattoo my grandma doesn’t hate.

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O’Henry Bars (& asking)

When did you realize your parents were humans?

For me, it was Christmas two years ago.

We had just finished eating dinner and my mom walked toward the kitchen making a comment about how “it’d be nice to have a little help cleaning up” as she wandered away, continuing to mutter.

“Mom,” I called. “If you want me to clean up, just ask! I can’t give you what you want if you don’t tell me what it is. Being passive aggressive isn’t going to help anything!” (Home for the holidays, amirite?)

She huffed. “Fine. Will you please do the dishes? I’m tired from cooking.”

Yes, I could do the dishes. Yes, I would do the dishes. And while doing them I thought about how I had found myself in my mom’s position a multitude of times. Wanting help, guidance, acknowledgement, but being unable or unwilling to ask for it.

So that’s where I had gotten it. From my mom. In addition to a multitude of positives – my sweet tooth, my determination, my penchant for sweatpants – I had gotten my tendency toward passive aggression from my mother.

Because she’s only human. As am I.

So, for the last two years I’ve made a conscious effort to be more straightforward, more upfront, ask for what I want. And so has my mom. No more muttering about dishes, no more wishing for people to read minds. It’s made a marked difference to both of us, I believe.

When it’s important, it’s easier to ask for things. Like my mom did years ago when she asked for the recipe to these O’Henry bars from the women in her hospital’s cafeteria. And like she did weeks ago when she made it very clear what she wanted for Mother’s Day. A shovel. Yes, I could get her one. Yes, I would get her one. Yes, I did get her one. All she had to do was ask.

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Marion’s Mayo Cake (& reasoning)

My little sister’s alarm went off. Again. She didn’t stir. Again. I crawled in beside her, jostling her awake.

“I don’t wanna get up,” she mumbled, rolling over.

“None of us want to be awake, do we?” my mom said, coming into the room. She stood at the foot of the bed, looking down at us. Decision flashed across her face. She smiled. “Make room for Mom!” She crawled in between us, making a sandwich. Daughter, mother, daughter. Not to be left out, Edgar jumped up onto the foot of the bed. He quickly fell back asleep, despite the tossing and turning of three other bodies. My mom faced my sister and I began to scratch her back, an absentminded move I’d picked up from her – years of her tucking us in at night or snuggling on the couch.

I see that moment in my mind’s eye so clearly. Viewing it from the ceiling, watching the scene play out below. My mom turning the other direction, facing me, smiling. My little sister now scratching her back. We laid there for awhile, my foot dangled off the edge of the bed. No one rushed to get up, to start the day. Instead, we laid in silence for a while – our breathing beginning to match Edgar’s steady inhale and exhale.

When people ask me how being home is – I wish I could show them this moment, have them feel what I felt. Because this is how being home is. It’s the opportunity to crawl into my little sister’s bed and joke around with her, the ability to make my mom laugh when I eventually try to dismount from the mattress and land less-than-gracefully on my backside.

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Lemon-Lime Bars (& understanding)

I’ve often been told I’m a very understanding person. While I can’t say that is true of every person or every situation, I certainly try to be. I try to see both sides, all angles, give the benefit of the doubt (sometimes to my own detriment).

Lemon Lime Bars

I think this can be (at least partly) attributed to my being the middle child. I have quite literally been stuck in the middle for majority of my life. It’s hard not to see both sides when you’re in between them.

But I wasn’t always the middle child. Oh no, for the first 5 years, 8 months, and 29 days of my life I was the baby.

Lemon Lime Bars

And then one cold December day in 1997 that all changed. My baby sister arrived. A belated Christmas gift, an early celebration of the New Year.

Lemon Lime Bars

And I. Was. Pissed.

Seriously. There are photos to prove it. Ones lovingly taken by my mom and stepdad, wishing to capture the moment our family grew, full of more people, more love. And I was having none of it. Nose red from crying, eyes still watery, I’m pouting beside the bassinet in nearly every picture. I sat there, stone faced, refusing to smile at this little bundle of joy that was clearly just around to usurp my title as the baby of the family, and with it all the benefits that being the baby offered.

Lemon Lime Bars

And boy did she benefit. In truth, we all did. Once my irritation waned and I accepted my new position as the middle child, it was noticeable that all of our lives had greatly improved. Because of her. I’m grateful for her arrival, her presence, for making me who I am, for who she is.

Lemon Lime Bars

My younger sister is intelligent, effervescent, and as strong-willed as they come. She has a loving and generous heart, capable of caring for anyone who crosses her path. Her work ethic is a rare find in most employed adults, and practically non-existent in kids her own age. She is funny, adventurous, and thoughtful. She’s the baby.

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