Saturday, 15 September 2012
I left a detail out of my last post: the moment I made my decision.
I was sitting in bed, late at night, exhausted but sleepless. I had been turning the question over in my mind for days, again and again, the choices tumbling about on an uncontrollable spin cycle. In the midst of it all, I was feeling guilty about how little I was achieving and how many things were lingering on my to-do list.
To try and calm my mind so I could sleep, I picked up a book that I'd bought on impulse after reading a quote on a post. Apparently it's famous in the US but I hadn't heard of it before. The book was Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from German.
"Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody. There is only one way. Go into yourself. Examine the reason that bids you to write; check whether it reaches its roots into the deepest region of your heart, admit to yourself whether you should die if it should be denied to you to write. This above all: ask yourself in your night's quietest hour: must I write?"
As I read that first letter, I realised two things. First, I must write. Academic essays, this blog, whatever comes to mind - but I could never truly let it go. I don't think I'd realised that before. Silly as it may sound, I hadn't noticed that writing was important to me (though, to be fair, I don't know that I'd go as far as dying).
I also knew that the desire for the book didn't run deep enough. I could imagine giving it up. I was actually excited about the alternative. And so that was the moment that I realised I couldn't take it on and knew, from my "innermost instinct", which path I would pick. I find it funny - and so typical of the winding ways of life - that this experience would reveal through not writing that I want to write - in some form. It's not about being published or having others read it or being good or bad. It's just about putting words on a page.
In my tiny garden in Oxford, there is an apple tree. I noticed it when I first looked round. It was spring and the tree was full of blossom. I grew up around orchards and it made the house feel like home. In the months since, I've watched the flowers turn to tiny apples, then grow and grow. In the past few days they've started blushing. Every morning I wake up to a little more colour glowing through the window as I make my first cup of tea.
On Thursday, I posted a photo of some of my apples on facebook and twitter, asking what everyone thought I was making and what they would make. Nobody guessed this recipe, but there were so many tempting suggestions: apple pies, crumbles, fritters, tarts, baked apples, strudel, cake, cider and several mentions of tarte tatin. I've touched on a few before - among other things, apple & quince pie, spiced apple cake, my childhood favourite tarte aux pommes, ginger and apple jam, crumbled apples, brown sugar & pecan baked apples and toffee apples. I'm sure this harvest will inspire more apple-based posts.
The answer nobody guessed was sautéed apples. I think sautéed is the right term, though maybe the heat isn't high enough. The slices of apple are fried in a small amount of butter until tender and starting to caramelise. Fried sounded odd in the title and I couldn't think of a better word, so sautéed won.
The cider caramel was inspired by Hannah of Honey & Jam - she made a cider caramel with brown sugar for an apple pie. I thought I'd use my favourite dry caramel method to make a simple sauce with some reduced cider. It's hard to describe the flavour. It's sort of tangy, slightly sharp and yet sweet and smoky.
I've been resisting posting this cinnamon ice cream recipe for ages - I've made it lots of times but I feel that I've adapted enough of David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop recipes now. So, as I did for the Crêpes Suzette post, I'm going to suggest that you buy the book - even just for this recipe. If I could only keep three cookery books, it would be one. The ice cream is made with lots of whole cinnamon sticks that are crushed and infused into the dairy - the flavour is quite different from ground cinnamon and really lovely.
If you don't fancy making the ice cream, you could add a little cinnamon to the apples as they cook and serve them with the caramel over some good vanilla ice cream.
Put together, the bowl is very rich but deeply gorgeous. Another time I think I'll do one scoop of ice cream per person. There's a pleasing temperature contrast between the hot apples, warm caramel and ice cream. It's comforting but a little bit different.
Finally, I'm excited about blogging again. I hope that the tone will lighten now that things are a little less complicated - I know I can get a bit too earnest and serious at times.
150ml cider - I used a 4.5% medium dry from Devon
100g white caster or granulated sugar
25g unsalted butter, cubed
pinch of fine sea salt
Pour the cider into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Keep going until the cider has reduced by half to 75ml - I kept the measuring jug nearby and poured it in and out occasionally to check the volume.
Tip the sugar into a heavy bottomed pan and shake it into an even layer. Place over a medium heat. The sugar will take a few minutes to start melting, but don't go far. Don't stir the sugar - you can move/flick the unmelted sugar with a spatula into the patches that have melted. Get a whisk ready and have the butter and cider nearby. Once it has all fully melted, keep heating until it reaches a copper colour - it often gets quite a bit of colour while it melts, so it shouldn't take long. The moment you're happy with the colour, turn the heat off and whisk in the cider, then add the butter. Keep going until all the lumps have disappeared and the butter has melted. Whisk in the salt.
Transfer to a bowl to cool a little. It will thicken as it cools - heat back up by warming the bowl in some hot water. Keeps in the fridge for a few days.
(Makes quite a bit - probably enough to serve 8-10)
1 small apple per person - use an eating apple so it doesn't disintegrate
5-10g butter per person
1/2 tsp brown sugar per person
Peel and core the apples then slice them into thin slices. Place them in a saucepan or frying pan so that they can lie in one layer (or nearly do so). Add the butter and sugar and stir together as the butter melts. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pieces yield softly to a knife. They might start caramelising a little, especially around the edges - this is a lovely bonus, so don't worry.
(Serves as many as you like)