the first apple of the season


first apple, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Today is the last day of August. Sigh.

I know that here in the US, most people mark the end of summer by Labor Day weekend, which starts on Friday. And somewhere in September, there will be the ephemeral flare of brilliant warmth and clear light of Indian summer, and everyone will pretend it’s still summertime. But for me, the last day of August really marks the end of summer.

Tomorrow, I have my first meeting for school. Granted, it will be on the piazza in Daniel’s garden, with three other team members, all of whom I love. We’ll eat rice crackers and tapenade, fresh pesto on brown rice pasta, and beautiful fruit salad. (Daniel has been a vegan for 28 years, and of course, I can’t eat gluten, so cooking for the two of us together makes everything interesting.) I’ll make some of my kalamata-olive hummus, which Daniel loves so much that I promised him, for his birthday present, to make him a batch every week. And there will be great wine, because Daniel insists on the best. We’ll laugh. But still, we’ll be working out the plan for 11th-grade Humanities for the year. And school will soon begin.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a high school Humanities teacher, as well as being a writer and lover of food. Humanities means that I teach 20th-century American history and literature, creative writing, and journalism. I adore teaching—I bring to it the same passion and sense of exploration that I bring to this website’s endeavours—but it certainly is a different life than the one I live during the summer. In the summer, I sleep in late, spend hours writing to my heart’s delight, and sail through the days in the sunlight. And this summer, in particular, has been brilliant. Finally healthy, after years of mystery exhaustion and illnesses, I have been kayaking, biking, hiking, swimming, and smiling through it.

And best of all, my favorite new love—this blog. I’ve been keeping it for everyone who cannot eat gluten, because there’s no reason to despair, and I want to show people what a joy this can be. And for everyone who loves food, and the deeply creative process of making it every day. I realized this morning that I have written a post every day in August, each about 1000 words, some more. This means that I have written over 30,000 words in one month. And I’ve never been happier.

So of course, when I woke up this morning and realized it is the last day of August, I felt a little sigh of melancholy. It’s nearly over. All these days of freedom.

roast chicken with figs

But then I opened up the box of organic foods I found on my doorstep yesterday evening, after a glorious long hike in the mountains. Last night, two friends came over, and we made roast chicken with figs, spontaneously, concocting a recipe with the fruit and vegetables we found on the top layer of the box. But this morning, I started exploring more. And I found this apple.

This is a Sansa apple, from the Columbia Gorge, the first apple crop of the season. Delicate and pink, it is wonderfully crisp, with a gentle apple taste. The color struck me so fully that I stopped to take a photograph before I took my first bite. And then something else struck me: the tastes of fall.

And suddenly I imagined the air growing cooler, and the heat of the oven no longer seeming like an intrusion. My mouth imagined the taste of butternut squash soup with ginger and toasted almonds. Roast pork with apples and sauerkraut. Roasted garlic, potatoes, and fennel. Pumpkin bread (gluten-free, of course). And the joy of shopping for the vegetables in season at the Market, sniffing and testing. Coming home from a day of work, feeling good about teaching teenagers just a little bit more about how to write well, then chopping and singing in the kitchen, a new soup bubbling away on the stove, and the smell of something unexpected wafting from the oven.

And I was fine. Happiness, for me, comes from opening my arms and welcoming the world, all of it, as it arrives. Summer may be slipping away, but I’m ready to greet the fall.

All from the taste of an apple.

Afterwards, I opened up my email, to find dozens of new messages. And a quick check of perhaps my favorite blogger in the world, Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini. Imagine my surprise to find my own website listed on hers! Today is Blog Day—around the world, we’re all recommending five blogs we have been reading lately. Clotilde recommended mine. To be honest (at the risk of sounding silly), I bounced up and down on the exercise ball I use as my office chair. I felt like a teenybopper, excited by a letter from her favorite rock star. (For those of you in the US, of a certain age, imagine Marcia Brady, thrilled to find that the lead singer from the Monkees was going to play at her prom!) I cannot express how grateful I am to be listed on her blog. And for the hundreds of new people who have been stopping by because of her recommendation, welcome. I hope you come by again.

So, I don’t know if my recommendations will mean as much to anyone else, but here are five of the food blogs I’ve been reading lately. (These on top of the ones I recommended on Friday.) I’m sure they’re not new, as I’m pretty new to this. Maybe you’ve all seen them before. Still, I’ve been enjoying them for their photographs, writing, recipes, and clear personalities:

Chubby Hubby: This sumptuous blog is written by a Singapore foodie with exquisite taste. Based on the luscious photographs, the endless array of impeccable dishes, and the baking training in Vienna, life in that house in Singapore is pretty great.

Cook Sister!: It’s not just that she lives in London (where I lived twice), and loves her native South Africa (where I’ve always wanted to visit) that draws me to this wonderful woman. I also love the way she saluted the world’s oldest food blogger lately. And like me, she seems to participate in every food blog competition there is! But mostly, I love the way she connects me to Africa through her blog. AND, she hosts EoMEoTE (End of Month Eggs on Toast Event) every month. How can you not love this woman?

Delicious Days: Nicky and Oliver in Munich seem to take the same pure delight in perusing food that I do. The photographs are stunning. The close-up shot of a stack of pancakes dripping with pure maple syrup made my mouth water more than any other food shot I’ve seen online. Oh my. And they made homemade apple crullers for the frying competition!

I’m Mad and I Eat: First of all, how can you not love the title of this blog? Cookiecrumb, who lives outside of San Francisco, considers herself a happy, tomato-ranchin’ bum, and I don’t see why not. Beautiful photographs and a clean design make this site easy on the eyes. And I love how she understands that how we eat is actually a political act.

Prepare to Meet Your Bakerina: I know, I must be a glutton for punishment, perusing a site that regularly extols the virtues of baked goods, with photographs illustrating exactly what I can’t have. But I’ll learn how to adapt all this wonderful woman’s recipes. I love her plucky spirit and the wonderful, open grin on her profile photo. With her trips to the farmers’ markets and dedication to making pies, she reminds me a little of myself. Aren’t we always drawn to that?

With all this fabulous reading on my computer screen, and new apples to eat (and make into apple paste–see below), how could I be melancholy about the end of summer?

APPLE PASTE, from Chez Panisse Fruit, p. 13

3 pounds of apples (about 8 medium)
1 1/2 cups of sugar, plus more for tossing
juice of one lemon

Wash the apples, quarter them, and cut them into one-inch chunks; they don’t need to be peeled or cored. Put the apples in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pot and add water to a depth of about 1/4 inch. Cover and cook the apples over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is soft and starting to break down, about 15 minutes. Pass the mixture through a food mill or sieve.

Return the puree to the pot and add the sugar. Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, for about 1 hour, cooking the mixture into a paste. the mixture should be thick and hold a mounding shape; large bubbles should appear. If the mixture starts to stick to the pan before the texture is right, turn off the heat and let it rest for a few minutes before stirring again; when you do, the part sticking to the bottom will release. When the misture is cooked to the right consistency, stir in the lemon juice and remove from the heat.

Line a shallow pan measureing at least 8 by 10 inches with parchment paper. Lightly oil the paper with light vegetable or almond oil. Pour the past onto the paper-lined pan, spreading it into an 8-by-10 inch rectangle, about 1/4-inch thick. When it has cooled completely, invert the sheet of paste onto another piece of parchment paper. Carefully peel off the upper, oiled parchment paper. Let the paste dry uncovered overnight. (It if it not firm enough to cut at this point, try drying it out in the oven for an hour at 150°, or the lowest setting.) Once the paste is firm and cool, cut it into 1-inch-square pieces. Store uncovered in a dry place. Just before serving, toss the pieces to coat them with sugar. Keeps for one week.


9 comments on “the first apple of the season

  1. Freckle Face Girl

    I love apples… you made me hungry. Something that is easy to do at this time of day. :)

  2. Jeanne

    Hi Shauna

    Thanks so much for your lovely compliments! I’ll have to stop by more often and check out your recipes. Thanks so much for thinking about me :-)

  3. caterina

    Hi! I just discovered your blog today through chocolate and zucchini. A month ago, I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I really miss cooking certain foods, and I especially miss baking. Because your food philosophy is similar to mine– organic foods, very little processed crap…- I was wondering if you or your other readers could recommend some cookbooks that don’t sacrifice flavor. It’s always fun to learn about different types of food!

  4. Shauna

    Steph–

    Oh yes, I love making people hungry with my words. But I also make myself hungry when I write!

    Jeanne–

    Thanks for coming by. Come back any time. I love your site, and I’ll be sending you pictures of eggs soon!

    Caterina–

    Congratulations on your diagnosis. At first, it really feels overwhelming, and you’ll focus on the foods you miss. BUt as you start feeling better, and you have more energy to cook and experiment, you’ll probably find, as I have, that food tastes better. I’ve become a far better cook because of this. And I love food more than ever.

    Cookbooks? Go to great ones and look for the recipes that are naturally gluten-free. Chez Panisse, Zuni Cafe, Joy of Cooking, etc. Use all your favorites. Check out twenty from the library and spend the afternoon reading. Steep yourself in food and see what you’d really like to eat.

    Karen Robertson’s Cooking Gluten-free is really good, for replacement recipes. I cook out of it (and list it here) all the time.

    Please feel free to email me if you have any more questions. (My email address is up in my profile.) And thanks for stopping by!

  5. Bakerina

    Oh, Shauna!

    Many thanks for your link, for your very kind words here and your other very kind words on PTMYB! I am flattered beyond words that you still find things you like on my little page even though I am still enmired in gluten. (Actually, have you ever tried the gluten-free mixes that King Arthur Flour makes? I’ve been curious about them.)

    I love your page. I think you have that whole creation of appetite via words thing down pat. :) Your palate is really good and your photography is so good I can feel myself wanting to pick up that grilled cheese & amaranth leaf thingy and not look up until I’m done eating it. And that first apple is a gorgeous thing.

    Consider yourself blogrolled — at least consider yourself blogrolled this weekend, when I update my rolls. :) And thanks again!

  6. Ruth

    As usual, your way with words really makes the taste of a first apple shine.

    Selfishly, I hope your going back to school wont interfere with your blogging. I’d miss my daily fix.

  7. Shauna

    Bakerina–

    Thanks so much! I’d be honored to be on your blogroll. (Isn’t this a funny new language the internet has created?) Thanks for what you said about my photos and writing. That’s what I’m trying to do–make people hungry. You do that to me all the time.

    Ruth–

    Nothing will stop me posting here. I love this too much to let school interfere! And especially if I know you’re going to be reading every day.

  8. Shauna

    Guile–

    Yes. I agree. It’s growing cold and rainy here. I looked at pictures from July a few moments ago, and they didn’t seem real anymore.