|photo by Yunhee Kim|
There are a lot of things I’m not good at. I recently forgot (yes, forgot) to vote, I never have the right boots for fall, I’m not blessed with the kind of easy humor that diffuses awkward meetings, and when it comes to pop culture, well, all my material is significantly dated. And that’s just the beginning. But there are a few things I do pretty well—keeping cool under the pressure of a crying toddler—especially on that’s not my own, is one of them. In fact, if you see me on an airplane and your wailing child has everyone turning, squinty eyed your way (as if, folks, that actually helps anything), you might as well pass her down the aisle to me. I likely have something—a song, a goofy face, squeaky toy or other surprise in my bag that might help.
Just last week on a plane to Birmingham, a mother sat down in my row with three kids under age four. She passed them each some some buttery crackers to keep busy, but just as we were wheels up, the littlest one burst into sobs. The mother cooed and bounced her babe on her knee, but the wailing only got worse. I could almost feel her sweating two seats away. Eager to help, I fished in my purse and produced a handful of Hello Kitty stickers. I passed them her way—instant awe and silence from the toddler (stickers are magic). The mother leaned over and mouthed a grateful “thank you.”
Of course, that’s not a talent, really. And just as often, other parents have entertained my child on an airplane or restaurant or other places we find ourselves without all the gear needed to keep things on the up and up. It took me nearly a year to learn we had to bring wipes, snacks and sunscreen everywhere we go (thanks, every mom I met in zoos, beaches and parks, who shared theirs until I got the hang of it), and there’s still lots I have to learn.
Where am I going with this? Ah yes, baked apples.
As women, we grow up believing that we should have a fulfilling career, a satisfying marriage, beautifully coiffed children who never cry on airplanes and all the answers for when they do. We expect ourselves to get our holiday cards out on time and make homemade Christmas gifts and bake, at least once a season, a perfect pie. But the truth is, we can’t be or do all things, no matter how hard we try. We can’t be poised, cultured career women and patient, prepared mothers and have nails that don’t chip or boots that are perfectly up-to-date. And we can’t all bake rustic, divine-looking pies, even if technically we could, given the time and energy, someone to entertain the children while we bake and clean up after us.
But we all deserve to have an easy, everyday dessert for pie season that’s just as good and infinitely easier. That’s baked apples: impossibly simple and nearly guaranteed to make you feel that, despite your shortcomings, or mine, we’re still darn good mothers, wives, and women. This is a dessert that promises that we can, sometimes, invite our friends (or our kid’s friends) over on a Sunday for sweets by the fire, and still have the energy left to iron our slacks, and pack lunches and ballet tights and mittens for the next day so that we can try in earnest to be, not perfect, but our own special breed of our very best. Here’s to agreeing that’s good enough.
BAKED APPLES | SERVES 6
BAKED APPLES | SERVES 6
A dessert this simple is hard to resist. It relies on the exceptional taste of the apple itself, freshly picked and still dense with tart, sweet juice that concentrates to baste itself (with a little help from cinnamon sugar) in the oven. I bake mine in a very hot oven because it’s the crispy, almost–crème brûlée crackle on the top of the apple that makes this easy dessert one of my absolute favorites.
3 tbsp unsalted butter, plus room-temperature butter for the pan
6 crisp, sweet-tart apples such as Jonagold, unpeeled and cored
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 to 4 tbsp sugar, depending on the sweetness of the apples
Vanilla ice cream (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/gas 6. Lightly brush a medium baking dish with room-temperature butter and place the apples, touching if necessary, in the dish, stem-side up. Stir together the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl. Put a pat of butter inside each apple and sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar.
Bake until the apples are sitting in their own juices and starting to sink just a touch and the tops are crispy and caramelizing, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool just slightly on the countertop, about 5 minutes. Spoon the apples onto small plates or shallow bowls and spoon the juices over the top. Serve warm.
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite