Encounters with applesauce

As a child, one of my favorite things was the sticky, late summer days when my aunt and my mother would join forces for a day in the kitchen making pickles and applesauce. The kitchen would fill with steam from big pots on the stove and the smell of spices hung in the air. Brining, chopping, stirring, concocting–each step was more like play than work (at least for an eight-year-old). The screen door was covered with wasps drunkenly seeking entrance to the sweet cinnamon-spiced apple-y steam within. By day’s end, a shiny row of mason jars lined the shelf along the basementstairs, the crisp green spears within slumbering their way to vinegary bliss; and for dinner, we would feast on warm applesauce: tangy, sweet, and spicy with cinnamon.

        

But most of the year, we ate store-bought applesauce most of the year, usually as a side dish for french toast or pancakes at dinner–occasionally sprinkled with cinnamon and warmed, but most often straight from the fridge, icy cold. I liked this applesauce too, which seemed almost a different food entirely (pale yellow, and much more watery) in comparison to the thick, reddish-brown version we made.

In college, the same pale yellow watery applesauce again made an appearance–this time, most often sprinkled liberally with cinnamon sugar and eaten alongside toast and salad when nothing else in the line looked appealing. The bowl into which I scooped (slopped?) the sauce was Fiestaware, and stood in mixed stacks of three colors–dull orange, dustymauve, and mint green. The sauce was likely the same brand we purchased when I was a child, but something about vast quantities and tepid temperatures seemed to reincarnate it into something different. Edible, but not particularly tasty. Most often, a lesser of evils.

I avoided applesauce for several years post-graduation. Eventually, however, likely prompted by a trip to the apple orchard, it re-entered my life. Here was a return to the sticky, tangy, spicy taste of those summer afternoons. This time, the sugar was lessened and pinches of cayenne and ginger added to better suit my grown-up palate. And I fell in love all over again.

I don’t make it often, but on fall days aftertrips to the orchard, or winter days, happening upon suddenly over-ripening specimens in the fruit drawer, I peel, chop, and fill a shiny pot, and once again my kitchen fills with the winey scent of apples and spice. A lazy hour; I taste and I add–a spoonful of sugar, a dash more ginger–then let it simmer, slowly burbling its way to sweet and spicy warm perfection.

To new beginnings

Our 2012 began in South Dakota. One slush storm, one trip to Hyvee, one car repair (not ours), a handful of friends, a bulldog, some guacamole, lots of bubbly drinks, a mostly-empty bar, midnight kiss with my favorite, and falling asleep on a red velvet couch. I would propose that waking to a sunrise on the open prairie is just about the best way possible to start the first day of the new year (and that I hope is symbolic).

Returning home, we were met by three inches of frozen slush-snow and 40-mph winds that made my arms tired from trying to keep the car on the road. Minnesnowta, I love you, but you sure do know how to make living elsewhere look good some days. Also: said winds are currently rattling the windows of our house, which, oddly enough, is making me nostalgic for playing pioneers with my sisters in our childhood bedroom during the winter. Random much?

All this to say that, as horribly cliche as it may be to use the New Year as an excuse to start (or more accurately, re-start?) something…so be it. Life has been getting away from me as of late. Changes at work, travel for work, the rush of the holidays, travel for the holidays, and suddenly I don’t really know where the last three months went. In theory, things will slow down this month; then again, I’m booked for travel later this week and the end of the month, I start training a new hire in two days, and before I know it, another three months will have rushed by. But busy is boring. There are so many wonderful details and nutty, beautiful (awkward/funny/creepy/couldn’t-make-this-up-if-I-tried) people and moments that I want to remember. So no promises or resolutions, just reminders to myself to find the time, make the space, be in the moment enough to stop and look around while its happening. And also, to keep my fingers crossed for a year full of South Dakota sunrises.

A year ago.

A year ago, I woke up to one of those early-morning phone calls that you know is going to bring bad news. It was a friend calling to let me know that the father of some mutual friends of ours had passed away.

It wasn’t a surprise. He had been admitted to the hospital a day or two earlier after collapsing, and from the moment I heard that news, I knew in my heart that he wasn’t going to make it, although I didn’t tell anyone, and sincerely wished I might be wrong. He was fairly young, and left behind two daughters and three sons, as well as two grandchildren.

Several hours later, I was sitting at the Minneapolis airport, on my way to Richmond for sales training for my new position at work. It was, oddly enough, my first time flying alone (although I had traveled numerous times before with siblings, friend, and coworkers). A lot was up in the air. A lot felt unknown and uncertain.

A year later, I’m preparing for another trip, this time headed west instead of east, still for work, and still uncertain about what lies ahead. I’ve never done the assessments that I am going to be doing. I’ve never worked with the group of people that will be participating. It doesn’t fit my job description at all. These aren’t necessarily bad things–but they are the unknown.

In many ways, my life looks much the same as a year ago–same house, same boyfriend, same job. Some things have become a little more concrete. I’ve gained experience. I’ve done a few things I wouldn’t have expected. I’ve made a few new friends. On the flip side, I haven’t talked to the friend who woke me up with that phone call at all in the past year. This used to pain me; I’ve now reached the point of neutrality. Learning to grow up and let people out of your life as effortlessly as they entered.

It’s reassuring to look back in some ways. To see that even the “bad” changes haven’t been that bad. To feel reassured about all the ways in which life does go on, and all of the beautiful and good things that occur every day. One step at a time, into the unknown. Letting life unfold.

 

Feels like finding me

September this year feels more like November. Or so I say until November comes around with highs in the 40s to remind me what November is really like. But nonetheless, we’ve seen our share of chilly grey days that are an all-too-abrupt shift from the 80-degree highs we experienced two weeks ago.

There are numerous upsides: I love running outdoors in this weather, I love baking in this weather, I love the cuddle-up-with-a-blanket-and-a-mug-of-tea feeling that it creates…and yet I’m saying, not yet, not yet. Perhaps it’s because even September feels like it’s flying by too quickly. Several weekends out of town, and suddenly we’re halfway through. Next weekend is full of family activities, followed by a week-long business trip, and there we are, October already. And breathe. How do things get so busy? So hectic?

So once again, I find myself in the place where all seems well: the kitchen. Simmering fruit and sugar to make jam. Baking bagels and gingerbread. Crafting soups and stews that bubble away the afternoon. Time slows, measured out in sips and spoonfuls, a dash of this and a pinch of that. And at the end, there is something to show for it–whether something consumed in a meal or over the next several months. Not just the end product, but the process itself is nourishing. It’s peaceful, warm, soothing. A touch of the familiar–replicating the potato soup I learned from watching my mother as a little girl–as well as the new: creating plum ginger jam from scratch.

It’s a place to make my mark, tailor things to the way I want them to be. A place to practice, re-learn, experience. It’s all-immersing. It feeds my soul as well as my body. The flavors, the textures, the sensory experience of enjoying each bite, each nuanced taste. It feels like home, it feels like me. A place to find myself, over and over again.

The strangest moment

I’m approaching a crossroads. I’m not certain in what sense yet, but things in my life are converging. I feel like something in me is being awakened–or maybe re-awakened. Something is coming nearer, and I feel as though it will affect the rest of my life. I don’t know yet whether this will be on a personal level or a “life path” level, but there is a deep stirring in my heart. I’m trying to be brave enough to listen to what it is; to be strong enough to follow that lead.

I sound cryptic and I don’t mean to be. Basically, I’m starting to ask “what if” about a couple of things in my life. To see what the possibilities are. Then tonight, I had one of those times where it felt like, yes, this is where you are supposed to be. An affirmation of sorts. I’m trying to figure out what this means, how it applies to my life and my decisions for my future. It’s difficult for me to put it into words because I can’t quite explain it yet. But I’m trying, and I think some things might be falling into place.

So….I made bagels

I love to bake. It’s complex enough to keep my interest, it absorbs my mind when I need to just zone out for awhile, and then I get to eat what I’ve made. Win-win-win. With the heat this summer, I’ve mostly made cookies for ice cream sandwiches, a couple different fruit galettes, and the occasional pizza. But now that the weather is finally cooling down, I’ve been able to start doing more complicated projects. Last week, I made this wheat bread from Smitten Kitchen. I’ve made bread multiple times before but I was looking for something more suited to everyday sandwiches and toast. It turned out really good, and I probably will make it whenever I can from now on–we don’t tend to go through bread terribly fast, so I probably would only need to bake it once or twice a month. Totally do-able.

But now I was looking for something I haven’t done before. Bagels are something I’ve wanted to make for awhile, but every recipe I’ve encountered before seemed extremely involved or required at least a few special ingredients. So I put them in the back of my mind as a “someday” project.

Then, this weekend I came across this recipe on Poires au Chocolat, which was adapted from this post on 17 and Baking. It looked crazy easy and required only a few ingredients that I always have on hand. So I decided to give it a chance and WOW. I’m so proud of myself. They’re just like “real” bagels! Which is such a dumb statement but it’s true. Chewy and flavorful but soft in the middle…so, so good.They really were pretty easy to put together; the dough is stiffer than bread dough (aka…kneading=workout) and it takes a couple of tries to get the hang of shaping, but once you have one or two done it all makes sense. And the ugly ones still taste delicious!

I really didn’t change the recipe at all from the 17 and Baking post, so check out the recipe there if you’re interested. Make them. Because seriously…it’s BAGELS!

The inevitable question

Today, I had coffee with a dear friend who I see far too rarely. Distance and busy-ness combine to prevent us from seeing each other more than once or twice a year, and even our phone calls are far less frequent than ideal. However, she is also a friend with whom time never makes a difference. On some level, we just “get” each other, which makes it easy to pick up as though no time at all has passed.

Today was no different. I think it’s been two months since we last talked, and I think over a year since we’ve last seen each other, and yet it’s easy to feel she still “gets” me. And yet…she too asked the inevitable question. Namely, “When are you going to get married?”

It’s not unexpected; my boyfriend and I have been together for nearly four years, and have lived together for two and a half years. We’re both employed, we own a house, and we are more stable in most ways than many others of our age. We have a great relationship. He is my best friend and I truly enjoy spending time with him more than anyone else. He’s also the love of my life. I still get butterflies when I see him after one of us has been gone for a weekend. I look forward to seeing him at the end of the day. We’re truly blessed to have what we have.

So the marriage question is understandable; it’s also frustrating. I always feel I have to defend us–to prove that we really are happy and healthy and in love. I know better; I know that the “standard” timetable doesn’t necessarily have to be our timetable. We’ve talked about marriage and it is in our future, but I don’t know the exact timing. Sometimes that’s frustrating to me; sometimes it doesn’t really seem to matter all that much, especially when I look at our married friends who seem to be much less happy than we are. I don’t attribute that unhappiness to marriage; it just makes me value what we have, and I don’t want to take that for granted.

I haven’t yet figured out the perfect answer to the question; I don’t want to become defensive or rude. Part of me wants to say, why does it matter? but I know that generally people are asking because they want to know when they can celebrate with us; they are more often than not recognizing that we are happy, and curious as to when we’re going to “cement” that happiness. So I do my best to be gracious; to not take it in a spirit of fear or doubt. To not be afraid to say “I don’t know”; to let them see that we are who and what we are, and that it is enough for now. To be grateful to friends who are not afraid to ask to be sure that I am happy with where I am, who are willing to push me to seek happiness if I do not currently have it.

It’s an inevitable question; from my friends, my family, my coworkers, and sometimes from myself. It’s one I’m learning to be ok with–one I have to be ok with, because it doesn’t define me or my relationship, it’s just a side effect. It’s about learning to be ok with uncertainty. We often seem to want definitive answers to everything; to want guarantees or predictions as to what will happen. But that’s not life. Life is inherently unpredictable, and all we can do is learn to live with grace in the moment. To embrace the inevitable, to not fear the unknown.