an apple crisp and lemonade celebration

giant apple crisp

There were so many reasons to celebrate, yesterday.

On August 26th of last year, I was offered the book deal. I can’t believe, now, that I wrote an entire book in four months. And that I edited it down, rapid-fire, on sheer gumption and force of faith, in two weeks. Or that in about a month, I will hold the first hardcover copies of the book in my hands. (I anticipate weeping.) This has all happened so fast, this whirligig rush of learning how to proofread and test recipes and select photographs. I exude gratitude.

Most of the time, our lives glide from one day to the next, a continuous stream of images and sensations, easing into another age without fully realizing how much we have changed. But in this past year, everything shifted, into sharper focus, into a new way of being. That date is the pivot point for everything that happened after.

I like celebrating this life.

Yesterday was also our 16-month anniversary. Talk about a pivot point. Yes, as one of our friends teased us yesterday, we still mark the months as one does with a newborn. We’re toddling along together, no longer as new as babies just beginning to open their eyes. But we can’t help it. Every 26th, we turn to each other and say, “Happy Anniversary, sweetie.” (We still celebrate every Wednesday. Just after midnight, we both race to be the first to say to the other, “Happy Wednesday.” That’s the day of the week we met, you see. And yes, we are saps. Proud of it.) Some people like to claim we will change, grow jaded. We’re going to work against it, by celebrating.

You never know when it all might end.

And it has been six weeks since our wedding. Since we hadn’t seen most of our friends since that glorious, hilarious day — and both the Chef and I had celebrated birthdays in between then and now — we decided to throw another party, smaller this time. We invited folks over for apple crisp and lemonade.

We had one other reason to celebrate. This week is the one-year anniversary of the Chef quitting smoking.

I haven’t talked about this here before. It was his private struggle, at first. When I first met the Chef, I didn’t know he smoked. He waited to smoke until after our dates, ducking around a corner after kissing me at the bus stop, and lighting up a cigarette as soon as he could.

He started smoking when he was 20, and in culinary school. He smoked a pack and a half a day until just after he met me. Almost everyone in restaurants smokes. For him, it seemed the only way to step outside and take a break. As my friend Becky said, it is — perversely — the only way that chefs find a way to take a breath. Of course, he wanted to quit, a hundred dozen times. But it never lasted.

Not until I came along.

On the first night we spent together, I lay with my head on his chest, sighing with pleasure. And then I heard a little wheeze in his lungs. Immediately — as a girl who grew up in smog and suffered with pneumonia six times before she turned 20 — I lifted my head and said, “Are you okay?” He nodded. I lay back down, and then bolted up. “Wait a second, you don’t smoke, do you?”

Embarrassed, he admitted that he did.

I never in my life imagined that I’d fall in love with a smoker. I swore I would never even date one. The acrid smell of stale smoke makes me a little nauseous. I cough when I pass cars with hands held outside the window, a trail of smoke blowing toward me. That habit never made sense to me.

But rules are meant to be broken. He was not merely a smoker. He was already my love.

What could I do but offer my support? And encourage him to quit.

He did, fairly quickly. I never nagged him. I knew I didn’t have the right. I just told him, repeatedly, “I want to grow old with you. I want you to be alive as long as you can. And I want you to quit.

He did quit, for a month. It was a struggle, and he wore the patch. But he was valiant, and sweated through it, and worked hard to please me. And then I went away to Alaska for two weeks, without him. There went the patch. Out came the cigarettes. He says he missed me too much, only six weeks after we met and already knowing we would be married. It was all too much.

When I came home, and we proposed to each other, he vowed to try again. It took him several false starts and stops. I sighed each time I saw him leave the house in the morning to round the corner and light up a cigarette. It made me a little sick to my stomach. But I knew he had to do it in his own time. He had to do it for himself.

A year ago this week, we went to the ocean for a weekend. He had only been four times in his life. Something about the expanse and the roar of the waves, and my hand in his, changed his mind. He threw away the last pack, and he bought the patch.

He hasn’t smoked a cigarette since.

I’m so proud of him.

Of course, as he likes to say, he’s not a non-smoker. He’s just on hold until he turns 90. I’ve promised to buy him a carton myself, on his 90th birthday. But until then, he has quit. Luckily, it seems to grow easier every day.

And my goodness, his taste and smell have deepened and grown richer without the cigarettes. I do believe he’s a much better chef now. He grows keener every day.

Now those are some darned fine reasons to celebrate. A book deal, an anniversary, two birthdays, and a year without smoking.

You bet.

So yesterday, in the middle of the afternoon, we had a darned fine group of friends in the backyard. Among them, four professional food writers, three professional chefs, a school librarian, a website designer, a sommelier-in-training, mothers, software designer, and a PhD candidate in music composition. Mostly, though, the stars of the show were the little ones, rambunctious, smart-as-whips, hilarious little ones. We all adored them.

The Chef seems to have an invisible magnetic strip within him, one that all children under ten sense instantly. Always, within five minutes, he has little kids at his side, clamoring for piggy-back rides and crossed-eyes faces. Yesterday, he gathered them around him and helped them pick apples from our tree, told them stories, and lay on the ground and allowed himself to be their amusement park ride. They giggled and jostled, enjoying the moment so much that every adult in the yard turned toward them and joined in the laughter.

Every time I see him like this, I grow a little weak in the knees.

Of course, every celebration needs food. I cannot imagine a marking of the moment without a morsel of something memorable. We made apple crisp, with apples that had fallen from our trees. With that many guests, we would have needed four pans, at least. Chef to the rescue again. “Let’s use this one,” he said as he came up from the basement, clutching the enormous baking pan that had held our wedding cake. Why not?

One of my favorite moments of the afternoon: sitting at the picnic table, dispensing gluten-free apple crisp to everyone gathered. The little ones were seated, eating with plastic forks. Everyone else gathered around us, eating in the sudden quiet. I love that quiet, the one that happens because people are enjoying their food so much that no words are spoken.

That’s my kind of celebration.

As the Chef and I drove away from our home in the evening toward a performance of the musical version of Young Frankenstein (oh god, I laughed so hard I have been hoarse all day), he said it best. “I love our friends. That was my kind of party.”

Life changes so quickly. We might never again see days as full and offering such goodness as these, like the apple trees in our backyard that drop tartly sweet red apples onto the green grass below them.

We believe in celebrating.

crushed lemon verbena

Lemon Verbena Lemonade with Agave

This celebratory lemonade was inspired by a stroll through the farmers’ market with Tea. After a long talk over paper plates piled high with groundnut stew and braised collard greens, we sauntered through the stalls, admiring the produce. She said, “Where is everyone getting the lemonade?” We saw little glass bottles with milky yellow liquid in every kid’s hands. The stand for Woodring Farms had a blue cooler filled with ice and little bottles. We had to buy one.

I’ve just started experimenting with agave nectar. It’s mild and syrupy, mellower than sugar, and with more layers. In this lemonade, it creates a marvelous taste. Sometimes, lemonade feels a little grating on my tongue, the tartness of the lemons clashing with the cloying grains of bleached white sugar. Agave seems to blend more smoothly, something frothy and unexpected.

A small warning: this recipe makes tart lemonade. We like it that way. The little ones politely demurred after one sip, however. You might want to experiment with more agave, if tart lemonade sounds a little glaring to you.

Celebrations deserves something unexpected, like this lemonade.

¼ agave nectar syrup
1 cup water
10 leaves lemon verbena, slightly crushed in a mortar and pestle
8 large lemons
enough water to make this taste like lemonade for you

Creating the simple syrup. Combine the agave and water to boil in a small saucepan. When the mixture has come to a boil, add the lemon verbena leaves. Turn off the heat and let the syrup sit on the stovetop for half an hour. Refrigerate until cool.

Making the lemonade. Juice the lemons as thoroughly as you can. Add the lemon verbena syrup to the lemon juice. Add water, in small batches, until the lemonade tastes the way you like to drink it.

Serve over ice and garnish with a leaf of lemon verbena.

Feeds four people. (You’re going to want to make multiple batches of this.)

29 comments on “an apple crisp and lemonade celebration

  1. Pille

    You certainly do have many reasons to celebrate, Shauna! Enjoy!!
    And I love how you ‘discovered’ lemon verbena lemonade. The same thing happened to me with meadowsweet cordial — we saw it at the market, tasted and loved it, and immediately picked enough meadowsweet blossoms on the fields and made our own (and blogged about it:) That’s the best kind of foodblogging, isn’t it:)

  2. Liz

    Wow, you do indeed have quite alot to celebrate. Good for Chef to quit smoking. I’ve never been tempted by that particular vice, but I’ve watched my friends struggle and I know it’s terribly hard.

    We’re doing a bit of celebration ourselves around here — Bean went off to kindergarten yesterday. It’s very quiet but she louds it up very quickly when she gets home. I think I’m having Bean withdrawals, but they don’t make a patch for that.

  3. Krys72599

    “And yes, we are saps. Proud of it.) Some people like to claim we will change, grow jaded. We’re going to work against it, by celebrating.”

    NOT saps! In love. It’s that simple.
    You can keep that wonder and that celebration of your love in your life, in just the way you mentioned. Little things like “Happy Wednesday” or “Yes.“
    My husband and I are together 17 years this year, married for only 8 of them. “I love you” is the last thing we each hear at night (as well as at numerous times during the day — I never get tired of hearing it!). “I love you” is the first thing we hear in the morning, before even “Good morning.“
    Keep celebrating the two of you and you’ll be newlyweds forever!

  4. Rebecca

    My Darling,

    Are we, perhaps, sisters? You sound like me, only better. I’m a freelance proofreader for Wiley, writing a memoir (that may turn novel) based on my life and my great-grandmother’s life. It’s about a love story. Yoga, cooking, gluten free, head-over-heals, savoring food and him; everyday is blissful. This is me, and it seems, you too. Bless your adorable heart for your writing. You are a fountain of inspiration, and I wish you love and luck with your book.

    Enjoy Italy; our favorite city is sweet Verona, the intimate heaven that inspired the famous play.

    You are a blessing, and I strive to be the same.

  5. Anonymous

    I’m a firm believer that you can’t get someone to change their ways by pushing and prodding them. They may give up their bad habit for a while, but will inevitably return to it if they gave it up for someone else or on someone else’s timeframe.

    Still, it can be frustrating when they don’t seem to be making any progress. I’ve been with my girlfriend 18 months (no talk of marriage yet– it seems like couples take things a lot slower on the East Coast), and she has been talking about dropping several destructive habits the entire time, but she hasn’t made any headway yet. Sometimes I think she isn’t even trying. What can I do besides provide gentle motivation?

  6. VeggieGirl

    congratulations on the multiple events in your life, that certainly do deserve a celebration!!

    thank you so much for the lemonade recipe, with the use of agave nectar — as a vegan, I do not consume honey, and find that agave nectar is a great, sweet substitute for it.

    here’s to more and more reasons to celebrate life!!

  7. sweetpea

    Hip Hip hooray for a year without smoke! I know all too well how hard that vice is to give up, something I did about 30 years ago. I still have an occasional yearning for a puff. I prefer my lemonaide unadulterated and usually squeeze a dozen or so lemons a week during the summer. Your verbena version sounds tempting. The best part of my day is hearing my partner’s voice just before I drift off to sleep, “I love you pea” and again first thing in the morning!

  8. jenmoocat

    My two year anniversary of quitting is upcoming: September 1st. I didn’t use the patch, however. I used the website: http://www.quitnet.com (not associated with any tobacco company)

    Shauna –
    You are a wonderful writer.
    I just discovered your blog via tastespotting.com and I love it — although I am a bit jealous of your wonderful life and your wonderful man.…..

    I sometimes wonder if I had waaaay too much of a good thing in a previous life.… Only that could explain the ack of love and great friendships in this one.….

    Bleh.

    Oh well.….

    I’m gonna just go a bust out that squeeze bottle of organic agave nectar I recently purchased, and make me some lemonade!!!!

  9. Katherine Gray

    Congratulations! I love a crisp, too. So easy, and GF. Love the lemonade, too! I’ve got lemonbalm on my deck and I’ve been muddling it with Cosmopolitans for a little summer kick.

  10. jill elise

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while, and almost every post (except the ones about actually getting married, I’m not quite there yet) are so similar to my life. Every post I relate to. In this post, my Chef quit smoking as soon as he met me. We love the 11th of each month. Thank you for your blog, it’s one of my favorites.

  11. Kristin

    Shauna ! Every time you post a recipe I want to rush home and make it. This one sounds fantastic … I love lemonade.

    And many many congratulations to the Chef for taking a 50 year break from smoking !!

  12. Melissa

    Congratulations to your Chef for quiting and to you for being his reason. Yes, a true love story with a happy and healthy ending. A good year for you indeed! As for your book, I preordered one for me and a few for friends. :-)

    Missed you at the GF Culinary Summit in Colorado. Maybe next year!

    In good health!
    Melissa

  13. Shauna

    pille,

    Oh, I have never seen meadowsweet. Nor do I even know what it is! But I love your curiosity and initiative. Yes, I think that is the best kind of foodblogging.

    Liz,

    Oh, my goodness, that sounds traumatic. To have Bean gone sounds far worse than missing cigarettes.

    krys,

    We are the same way. There has not been a day when we do not awaken to I love you. It’s vital. And yes. If other people call us saps, let them! We just feel loved and at home.

    Rebecca,

    Thank you, my sister from afar! I would so love to meet you, after this dear comment. Will you be in NY for the book tour? please come up to me so we can talk in person.

    Anonymous,

    oh my. I wish that I could help. I’m certainly not an expert in this. But I would say this, only of my own experience: I knew that the Chef was the one, immediately. That deep, sure love was what guided us both through it. We want to have children. If he is not smoking, we have a better chance. That was a stronger motivation than me saying please.

    Have a long talk with her. Ask her what she wants. Say what you want. See how they line up. be honest and move forward into what feels good.

    Veggiegirl,

    I’m really excited to explore more about agave nectar. It’s delightful, really. So glad there are options for all of us.

    Oh Sweetpea,

    That comment has been with me all day. It sounds so much like my love and I. We are both so grateful for your gentle presence in our lives.

    Jemoocat,

    Thank you. But since you are a new reader, you may not know what I have written before: this joy has been hard won. oh, how I suffered for years, not only with sickness from the celiac, but also from loneliness. Keep opening. It will come.

    Katherine Gray,

    Can I come over for one of those Cosmos?

    Jill,

    That’s amazing. You’re like my doppelganger! I’ll think of you on the next 11th (we’ll be in Italy) and raise a glass in your honor!

    Kristin,

    perfect! That’s what I’m going to call it from now on: his 50-year-break from smoking!

    Melissa,

    We so wanted to be at the Summit this year, but it seems this summer has been a little over full! But next year, for sure! I can’t wait, and the CHef would love to meet you.

  14. Pille

    Shauna — meadowsweet has a lovely Latin name — Filipendula ulmaria — and you can see a picture (as well as read the recipe for the cordial) here.

  15. Mike Eberhart

    Congrats to you two on the 16 months, and even moreso, tell the Chef how awesome I think it is that he quit smoking! I’ve never smoked, but I’ve known plenty that have who have tried to quit and seen how difficult it has been for them. So, good for Chef!

    Shauna, if you email me your address (mikeeberhart AT gmail DOTCOM), I’ve got a belated wedding-gift for you two also. I meant to send it earlier, but I couldn’t find your address. So, please, let me know where to send it. Thanks.

  16. nicole

    Congrats to the chef on his one-year anniversary (I know how hard quitting smoking can be!) and your lemonade/apple crisp party sounds so lovely, and full of summer. Yum!

  17. Naomi

    Shauna,

    I found you when I was looking for gluten free recipes for my son, and found agave nectar when I was looking for diabetes-friendly recipes for him as well. I think both you and the agave nectar are quite wonderful!

    I don’t know where to find lemon verbena leaves, can you give me a clue? The lemonade sounds yummy. And the apples are appearing at my local farm now, so I’ll make the apple crisp verrrrryy soon!

    So glad the ocean breezes scoured the smoke out of Chef’s lungs. A touch of salt can work wonders.

  18. Lydia

    Every day should be a celebration. Good for you and The Chef for making celebration an important part of your life together. (and hooray for quitting smoking — I smoked for years and know how hard it was to quit)

  19. Anonymous

    Shauna, Thanks for such a poignant post. I’ve just come home from the funeral of the husband of a dear friend. Mike was only 45 years old, taken from us too soon. There are two comments from your post that I wrote down and put up on my refrigerator.
    “You never know when it all might end”, and “Life changes so quickly. We might never again see days as full and offering such goodness as these…“
    Live in the moment fully, and love each other desperately. I’ll never accuse you of being a sap!
    Thank you for another beautiful post.

  20. Becca

    Hi Shauna sister,
    You just got even sweeter! Words can’t say how much I’d love to meet you during your book tour in NY. Nor can they say how jolly I became just reading your invitation. We’ll see if I can finagle the plane ticket as money is quite tight at the moment. It’s interesting, though, because I need to go to LI anyway to do some pertinent research for my book. One of my sources, dear Great Aunt Helen, lives in my subject’s old house!

    Exactly when will you be in the area? P.S., Can’t wait to try the lemonade. Not only does it look divine, but my partner is diabetic and I’m trying to ease him off Splenda. Oy. Thanks again for all of your wisdom.

  21. chris

    Off topic, but I wanted to let you know that I was standing in line getting a sandwich the other day (I don’t have celiac) when the man behind me ordered a salad and noted that he was allergic to wheat. Well, I couldn’t let that pass without passing on your web address, which he wrote down in his blackberry. Turns out his sons also have celiac and he’s looking always looking for new recipes to cook for them. Thanks for educating me. I wish I’d known about this when my mother’s oldest and dearest friend, who had celiac disease, was alive; she desparately missed being able to bake.

    The lemonade sounds lovely, by the way.

  22. spacecraft

    My mother and step-father still recognize their anniversary on the 1st of every month … after 22 years together. Enjoy every minute of it. Congratulations!!

  23. Laurel

    Hi, Shauna!
    Happy Late (or really early!) Anniversary to you both! We just celebrated our 18-month anniversary and will be married in December. I love checking in on your blog and hearing about all the great things that have happened for you. Take care.

  24. kimberly

    A belated happy birthday to both of you! And congratulations to the Chef for kicking the habit… at least for the next 50 years!

  25. Jordan

    You have a great blog. My sister was diagnosed with Celiac just over three months ago.

    I read your blog often…and throughly enjoy it.

    I’m not one to usually comment, but I saw that you said you had puenoma six times before you turned 20. You NEED to be tested for immune deficiencies. It’s a quick and easy blood test, but it has often been called the most under-diagnosed class of illnesses in America.

    If you want, you can check out http://www.primaryimmune.org , or ask your MD about it. But I really think you should check it out.

    My sister who has Celiac has an immune disorder (called CVID), and I also have CVID, along with another auto-immune disorder (T1 diabetes).

    Anyways, keep up the blogging!

  26. Anonymous

    I so enjoy your “voice” and am looking forward to reading your book! Thank you for maintaining your blog with such a steady stream of love and insight. I am new to the sweetener in the lemonade– agave– how much do you suggest I start with? The recipe says 1/4 agave– 1/4 cup? Thank you!

  27. Anonymous

    Hi! I have been diagnosed for two years. It is very hard even though I do know how to cook. I can’t find the time to bake or cook things I have a craving for since I work a full time job. There are a few things that I have had a hard time giving up or gave up: for instance cracker(soda), cereal, bread to name a few. So I was wondering if you could tell me where to buy or if you had a recipe for soda crackers. I have been craving them for two years. I can’t seem to find anything close to the texture or flavor. Could you please help me.
    By the way I love your web page and all of your stories. I am going to try to cook something every saturday morning this winter. I am getting tired of the same things all the time. Thank you. Kathi

  28. Anonymous

    Well, I’m way behind on noticing this post, how did I miss it? My August was busy I suppose. I just wanted to say congrats on the quitting smoking…I want to say it to Chef, but also to you. I have the same reaction you do to second-hand smoke. I went through a very drawn out process of my love quitting (after I SWORE never to date a smoker, sigh) and remember all too crystal clearly the stomach pangs and ice in my veins every time I heard “I need a cigarette”. I thought the stress from that “need” would be the end of us. Thank goodness that’s over. We have much to celebrate.
    –nydia

  29. sandy winz

    Hi! I have orderd from this often and am very pleased to share. They have great kosher organic and natural food products including agave syrup.
    Here is a link http://www.wholeandnatural.com
    Enjoy!!!
    p.s. I used a code try if it works for you bldc08