I was a bride of one night when Tim and I packed up our bags, bought a sourdough sandwich at O'Hare Airport and boarded an American Airlines jet for our eight-hour nonstop flight to Honolulu. The day before had been…
Good morning, guys! Well, I say good morning, but, technically, it’s about 11 AM over here at my parents’ place on the day after Christmas. While I am freshly showered, I am also typing these words from bed, so morning seems appropos. This is a lazy morning, the kind with little on the day’s docket, the kind that define the term “holiday” to me. I love mornings like these—slow breakfasts, unhurried schedules, time to sit and think. And I figure as long as I’m sitting here thinking about mornings from here in my old room, now might be a good time to talk about Megan Gordon’s new breakfast book, Whole-Grain Mornings, and about the first recipe Tim and I made from it: buckwheat crepes.
Is it too slight a thing
To have lived long in September,
To have caught the golden light,
To later have these days, “Remember?”;
(Could we hold so much in
Our grasp, yet reckon things askew,
Because the things we hold are
Moving, moving, like things do?)
I bake a pie on Friday,
I bake a pie today.
Is it too slight a thing to get to
(That’s our way).
At night, I miss the golden hour,
In life, I’ll miss these days—
When we were happy, simple, full,
Working from bed,
Baking our pies,
Laughing at night—
I say this now to know,
The first time I met Tim, he said something in passing about how he’d much prefer a night in, at home, to endless social activity, one party and get-together after another, and I couldn’t believe how much he sounded like me. They say it’s the opposites who are the ones to attract, but, almost one year into marriage, all I have to say is that it sure is nice to share life with someone who also finds pleasure in picking a new Netflix movie or testing orangettes or reading side by side, before falling asleep at night.
If it weren’t for the great enjoyment we both also find in hosting big dinner parties and attending outdoor gatherings and making meaningful connections with other human beings, and mostly the growing desire we both have to stretch outside our comfort zones and love, I wonder just how easy it would be for us to settle in at home, something brewing on the stove and, stay there, content.
It’s something we’ve thought so deliberately about recently that, in an effort to find ways to love other people besides each other, we’ve been filling our social calendar fuller than it’s ever been in our married life. We’ve been hosting and attending and gathering and joining, and it’s been good, all of it, delighting in conversations with friends new and old, hearing how people are doing, laughing and crying and learning, seeing how much there is yet to know.
But still, in the midst of it, I have to say there remains something equally special about those quiet, cozy days (or even hours) at home, the kind where there’s nothing much on the agenda besides laundry and reading and making dinner—and the more rare these chunks of time become, the more precious they feel.
Fall is good at reminding us of this. As the days darken and chill and we turn on our heaters for the first time in months, there’s an unspoken push towards blankets and cocoa and the comfort of a warm kitchen.
October beckons us to roast and to caramelize, to slow-cook and to stew. There’s nothing quite like coming in from the cold to the smell of something brewing, and that’s never more true than with today’s easy apples and onions dish.
By the time the onions are soft and translucent, your home will smell as good as Thanksgiving dinner; and, standing above the stove, your hair pulled back and your house slippers on, the house quiet and still, save for sizzling, that right there will be so good, so rich, all you can do is give thanks for such a moment and, enjoy.
It’s Saturday. I’m awake too early, still in bed but eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling, too excited to go back to sleep. Today we’re going apple-picking, which, for the joy it gives me, may as well be cookie-eating or treasure-finding, and right now, the sound of Tim’s breathing next to me, all I can think about are the bright blue skies, warm golden sunshine and endless apples that await us when we do.
What can I say about apple-picking that hasn’t already been said? That there’s something wonderful about standing amongst rows of trees, many of them heavy with fruit, the yeasty smell of fallen, fermenting apples in the air? That trekking out with your friends or family to an orchard, a basket slung over your arm, feels like a celebration, just like carving a turkey or chopping down a Christmas tree? Or maybe that picking apples, to me, is one of those activities that’s so quintessentially autumn, so like pumpkin carving or sipping cider, that when you go out and do it, with your roommate or your husband or your friend and her kids, you can count on finding yourself, surrounded by harvest and clutching your cardigan, thinking, this, this!, is why there’s just no time like fall.
It’s easy to sleep in on winter weekends, but on a late-September Saturday with apple-picking ahead, it only makes sense to get up early, pack a few snacks, log a few hours of work nearby and then call a few orchards so you can be on the road. That’s why, a little past noon had us eastbound on the interstate, me in my new Goodwill cardigan, Tim in his thick rugby shirt, and within 30 minutes we were at Breeden’s, 631 Beckwith, Mount Juliet, a modest orchard outside Nashville, past sloping hills and winding roads and thick clusters of trees.
Yellow apples were the only ones available for picking, and there weren’t a ton left, but at $1/pound, the whole situation was still pretty hard to beat. We strolled up sun-kissed aisles and filled our basket, taking seven or so pounds back home with us, along with fruit-sweetened blueberry jam purchased in the adjacent country store.
Back in our kitchen, we washed the apples a little more aggressively than normal, in a vinegar solution, since they were grown conventionally, and went ahead and peeled them, too. The first several became the topping for a dozen rustic apple tartlets, inspired by a photo I saw on Pinterest a while ago.
The dough we made with einkorn flour, a new pantry staple we’ve introduced into our regular routine recently, and which I’ve been looking forward to sharing with you here. Einkorn is, essentially, one of the most ancient forms of wheat. (One of the biggest issues with today’s traditional wheat flours is that they’ve been so highly hybridized and hence hard on your body, but einkorn takes us back to the original form. It is considered easier to digest even than spelt, and for that reason, it may soon become the flour we use most often in our kitchen. For more information, see these posts from Nourished Kitchen and Healthy Home Economist)
So far what I’ve seen from einkorn—baking cookies, making pizza dough and turning it into the bottom of tartlets—is that it behaves similarly to spelt except that it absorbs a little more liquid, meaning recipe adjustments might require adjusting proportions slightly.
Anyway, whether you use einkorn or not, the idea for these tartlets isn’t hard to mimic: make a pastry dough and roll it out nice and thin; use a biscuit cutter to slice out 12 rounds, then top them with sliced apples in a pinwheel pattern, drizzling honey and fresh thyme and cinnamon atop that. Bake. Drizzle with honey as a sort of glaze and sprinkle toasted hazelnuts.
By Saturday evening, before sharing dinner with friends, Tim and I were popping these pretty tartlets, heating up leftovers, looking at all the apples in our fridge and feeling pretty thankful for this glorious season that is fall. Oh, apple-picking, you know how to do.
We all have different ideas of what is comforting: familiar movies, certain songs, a big bed piled high with blankets. When I’m lonely, comfort might come through a friend dropping by. When I’m tired, an afternoon nap. But when it’s early October and I’m feeling overwhelmed or discouraged or just like I miss someone very much, point me to the kitchen.
Cooking is such a gift, you know? You can walk into the kitchen with a million things on your mind—the client you lost at work, the list of things you have to finish by Monday, the way that long phone call just ended—and grab something off the counter, say, five green apples, crisp and tart and beautifully tangible, able to be held in your hand in the way ideas and anxieties and conversations can’t. You can peel them, one long and curly strip after another, watching their bright skins fall into the trash even as your shoulders relax, focusing on your knife slicing the exposed flesh rather than focusing on whatever was on your mind a few minutes ago.
And you’ll find repetition can be wonderfully soothing: pour the ingredients, stir the apples with spices, take a minute or so to blend everything into a sauce. While you do these things, you can think, of course, or you can be quiet. You can sing, or pray, or pray out loud. I do those things when I drive or when I clean; I do those things when I cook. I feel the apples softening as I stir, and I tell God I love having afternoons like this one, good gifts from Him. I add extra cinnamon, and my mind shifts from conflict to the things that make peace.
Applesauce, in particular, is a kind of kitchen comfort: not only is it simple to make, with few steps and easy-to-find ingredients, but it’s delicious, like the inside of an apple pie or a more mashed version of Passover’s charoset. Warm and fragrant, this version shows something very important, that sometimes an hour in the kitchen is the very definition of comfort, especially when it ends with something good to eat, and you can follow its steps almost mindlessly—freeing you up to, you know, think, pray, sing or, do nothing else at all, while your hands lead your mind in the very important task of mixing together something sweet, spiced and, most importantly, able to be eaten with a big spoon.
After three attempts, two days and one satisfying result, I can honestly say I know something today I didn’t know a week ago—well, make that, I know a lot of somethings, and they all have to do with one thing, the kind of thing that’s no small feat, especially when you’re a slow learner (hand raised!) and prone to catastrophe (why yes, that was me that put wax paper in the oven on attempt #1)—I now know how to make the perfect apple strudel. There are bigger accomplishments to be made in life than this, I know, but there are few I’d be more happy about and few I’d be more excited to share with you.
So here is the story.
You could say things began last Saturday, at an evening wedding on the lake, where all the tables in a big white tent in Michigan were topped by gorgeous, green apples and a certain beautiful bride insisted we take a whole basket home with us, because have you read her blog? she’s always generous like that and, our arms full while we walked to the car, we brainstormed what to do with them.
But in another way, you could say the story starts even earlier than that—decades earlier—in a small Maywood kitchen where my grandma liked to bake and in the house I grew up in, where my mom liked to make her recipes. I found the original version of this strudel, one in Grandma’s writing, one in Mom’s, tucked into an overflowing cookbook, the kind you have to hold carefully or papers start falling out, and although there were many [crucial! important! why-don’t-you-guys-write-this-stuff-down?] instructions missing, my third attempt at following it was a charm, particularly when I enlisted my mom’s trained eye for help.
Secret #1: With apple strudel, it’s all about technique. There are many things you can fudge on: slice the apples, dice the apples; add nuts and raisins to the filling or leave them out; make one strudel or make them two at a time (the way the women in my family liked to). But one thing you can’t alter is the way you roll out the dough and spread the filling in a compact, uniform mountain right in the center. It should be high and even and just in the center of the dough. This is key.
Secret #2: You don’t have to chill the dough. This is mind-blowing. I mean, the original instructions insist you refrigerate the dough, in wax paper, for eight hours or overnight, but: Mom has never done this, and now I’m just guessing Grandma didn’t either. I could launch into a long aside here about how home cooks really should write their recipes down accurately! for posterity! for struggling granddaughters! But I already whined about this to my mom, so I’ll just assume you all know this and we’ll move on.
Secret #3: You control the dough. I could have called this one, Use lots of flour or This is why you don’t have to chill it, but I like mentioning control because it emphasizes how the power is in your hands, literally. The dough will seem very sticky and elastic when you first work with it, but you are free (as free as can be!) to add flour to get stuck pieces off the parchment paper, to make the dough move around better, to just get it feeling the way you want. You’ll know when it’s the right amount because the dough will roll out easily and yet not stick uncontrollably. It’s magical.
Secret #4: It’s OK if it leaks in the oven. Listen, the pastry dough is thin (that’s what makes it all flaky and buttery and mmmm), and the filling is wet, so you may have some leakage. That’s totally fine. Use a rimmed baking sheet, and make a little parchment paper wall around the strudel if you want, rolling up the edges. It will still taste good.
All these secrets would mean nothing if it weren’t for the results: a long, golden strudel with flaky crust surrounding hot, apple-pie-like insides with nuts and raisins and gooey sweetness. Have it with hot coffee! Top it with vanilla ice cream! Eat it on its own! This is an apple strudel to be excited about. And I am.