A couple of weeks ago an old friend sent me an e-mail to say she was coming to Boston with her family. We had lost touch. Her letters, sent to me at an old address, never came back to her, so she had to dig a little to find me. She had faithfully sent Christmas cards with pictures of her growing family year after year. I wish I had seen them.
There was a point a few years back when I came to grips with the hopelessness of my ever completing the Christmas card routine. After I reconciled myself to not writing a newsy letter—they either seem too braggy or too depressing or too boring—I decided I would just send one of those drugstore photo cards. What could be complicated about that? Well, taking the picture, for one. And for two, addressing the envelopes. And three, getting them to the post office before the end of December. So my friends fell by the wayside, and I don’t blame them. I am sorry, dear ones. I love you still. I hope you will e-mail me, because I can do that.
Liz persisted. Bless her. They were cramming a lot into their trip to Boston, so I invited them over for breakfast, to fortify them for a day of visiting and sightseeing. Their eldest, a boy of about the same age as my College Boy, was away at school. Seeing the other two beautiful and, don’t read this kids, enchanting children gave me a giant lump in my throat. How precious these moments are, every little one of them. And from moment to moment to moment they just keep on coming until we wake up and realize we are here. Already. With children. Who have grown or will soon be grown. Out. Of. The. House.
On this bright Saturday we laughed about our nosey landlady in Washington, D.C. back when we lived upstairs, before children, before our lives really got off the ground, before so many things.
We feasted on warm baked apples and granola and scrambled eggs and scones and jam and laughed about Loretta in her furs, the snoopy landlady who had criticized Liz’s housekeeping after sneaking into her apartment and then left a note commanding us to stop leaving boots outside in the hallway. The other moments, making gorditas with Noe’s mom, there on an extended visit from Mexico, or hanging out the laundry in the back yard, a particular pleasure for me even though it meant schlepping tubs of heavy, wet clothes, all came rushing back.
The children were not quite as mesmerized by our trip down memory lane, so they went for a walk and returned with handfuls of beautiful gingko leaves. I remembered how the sidewalks in Glover Park in D.C. were paved with the gold of gingko leaves in the fall. And now, fast forward, these two beauties shined in the door with handfuls of the little fans I had so admired on my walks home.
We had come full circle, only to begin again.
Apples baked in cider somehow taste more of themselves. It goes without saying that this is comfort food, easy to put together and pop in the oven just as soon as dinner is underway. If possible, use cider from a farm stand or farmer’s market—it has a deeper, more concentrated flavor than the grocery store brands, which wash out in comparison. The comfort extends to those times when you are not eating dessert for self-improvement purposes, but want something just a little sweet. These won’t do much damage. You can even omit the sugar if you want to feel pure.
Apples Baked in Cider (Makes 4 servings)
2 cups apple cider
4 firm cooking apples such as Empire or Cortland
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1. Heat the oven to 375°F.
2. Pour the cider into a small skillet and bring it to a boil. Continue to boil over medium heat until the liquid reduces by slightly less than half. It should be vaguely syrupy, but it will not be too thick. It will take less time in a skillet than in a saucepan because there is more surface evaporation. Either way, don’t just walk off to another room and leave it—you might set off your smoke alarm if you forget it. I speak from experience.
3. While the cider is reducing, peel the skin from the top third of each apple. Use a melon baller to dig out the apple core, leaving about 1/3-inch of the apple intact at the bottom. Place the apples in a pie pan or baking dish.
4. Stir the cinnamon, butter and brown sugar into the cider syrup. Pour it into the apple cavities, allowing it to overflow into the baking dish. Bake the apples for 40 to 50 minutes, until they are pleasantly soft but not collapsing. Baste the apples occasionally in the cider syrup if you happen to think of it, and add more cider if the liquid starts to dry out completely. The exact cooking time depends on the variety and size of the apples—some take longer than others.
5. Serve the apples warm in dessert bowls with the extra syrup spooned over them. If you want to dress them up, drizzle them with some heavy cream, or add a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Custard sauce would be even better if you’re feeling ambitious. If any apples are leftover, warm them up for breakfast and eat with yogurt.