Wouldn’t you like to go to bed so that Mama can eat out of the pan?

Plated-Only-for-Show Apple Crisp

Day three of Mr. P’s absence finds a bleak Peña household, indeed. I hide in the office for a few stolen puffs off my unnecessarily long cigarette, and count eighty minutes until the first round of bedding, and one hundred forty until the last. Someone wearing sneakers and underpants is stomping on something metallic, and someone else is whimpering, but not out of pain. I don’t wonder why. Because in one hundred forty minutes, I will covertly prepare my second apple crisp of the season, and then I will eat the entire thing. Last week I found the best apple crisp recipe ever — I’d stake my life on it — and my glee is only barely dampened by the awareness that a third of my existence has passed without its weekly consumption. The “crisp” is like the perfect oatmeal cookie: virtually no chew, caramel undertones, and just enough salt if made with salted butter. I used Cortlands for my first pass, but opted this time for Grannies, as the Cortlands shrunk so much I wound up with more crisp than apple. I expect, however, the good green lady will stand up loudly and proudly.

One of the hardest things to do when my charming husband is away is grocery shopping. Since Mr. P usually gets home from work around 7, I make two dinners on the nights I can face it. The first happens at 5:00 and has several minimally-seasoned components, never touching each other, and no more than one is cooked. The second dinner is the kind of food real people eat, and if the brood is still awake they sit with us and look suspiciously at their auxiliary meal. But after meeting the needs of three all day long, I’m happy to opt out of real-person classification if it means I can call it a night. So today, instead of getting food from which I could make myself a real-person dinner, in my solitude I bought a bag of Granny Smiths, a brick of Muenster, and a shrimp cocktail ring. The second and third items will be my appetizers while I wait out the half hour of baking time for my dinner of delicious shame.

Since I’m admitting to my gluttony, I’ll take a moment to justify it with a list of things that have triggered tantrums or breakdowns over the last thirteen hours. Getting dressed X3. Putting on shoes X6. Not being “the picker” during TV time X∞. Not being allowed to wear Halloween costume to bed X3. Being out of cinnamon bread and having to make due with strawberry waffles X2. Having Band-Aid party discovered and ended X3. Crayon issues X4. One-offs include having to get out of the bath, denial of shirt removal in public, denial of pants removal in public, and the cat not being in the mood for pets. I’ve only raised my voice twice so far, which is twice more than I’d like, but I’m going to take a B+ for the day. Academically, that grade would drive a dagger into my heart. But in the world of best-intentions parenting, I can sleep at night with anything above a C.

Product Review! Dole Apple Cinnamon Fruit Crisp: it’s what’s for meal.

I try to play my part in the hilarious global production of Let’s Pretend There’s Time to Fix It, and generally abstain from prepackaged fruit cups for the little ones, instead buying my mandarin oranges and pears by the large tin, then transferring them to plastic containers once opened. Our membership to BJ’s, however, thwarts my efforts on a monthly basis.

If you belong to a warehouse club, you’re aware of the fruit and vegetable aisle (not to be confused with produce), where subtle halos beam from behind hundreds of neatly stacked boxes of every kind of fruit cocktail imaginable. I’ve steeled myself against the snack-pack aisle, but every now and then the left side of that fruit aisle (I ignore the vegetables on the right) calls to me as I try to pass it, like a siren, with whispers of “hey, your kid will absolutely eat this!”

Sometime within the last six months, I fell for the pleasantly packaged, health-ish Dole Fruit Crisp Apple Cinnamon cups, and it turns out that, no, they absolutely will not eat this. Their refusal is for the best, as these little sugar bombs have virtually no nutritional value, aside from the circumstantial fiber present in the “all natural fruit.” You can imagine my growing resentment of eleven oddly shaped containers taking up real estate in my pantry, and several days ago I could no longer stand it. I can’t throw away unspoiled food, and the easiest way to get rid of them would be to just eat them myself. The thirty seconds I spent waiting for my first “apples” to warm were not hopeful ones, and I assumed I’d toss the remaining ten cups into the food drive bin after one bite.

I’m currently down to two cups, with an emergency trip to BJ’s slated for tomorrow afternoon to pick up some more. While the apple adhesive is similar to that in the filling of a Table Talk pie, the apple chunks maintain an admirable level of bite-resistance. The “crispy, crumbly topping” pairs well with the sugary syrup by distracting from its own sweetness with a hefty smack of salt.

The product’s biggest selling point, at least to caretakers of small children, is how impressively quickly you can consume it. Twenty-eight seconds in my microwave yields the perfect temperature, just shy of scalding, and the cup is small enough to hold behind my back as I side-step one or more suspicious toddlers, dart into my office, throw a chair under the doorknob, and pretend to be shuffling through papers out of sight while scarfing down 160 calories of “lunch” in about ninety seconds. I don’t encourage such dietary habits in general, but until my wards stop literally stealing my breakfast, I have to eat on the sly or wait for reinforcements to arrive for dinner.

All in all, a positive rating from the moms-who-should-eat-better-but-don’t demographic. This product should be kept away from children after 4PM to avoid a Gremlins-eating-after-midnight effect, and anyone who takes pride in a healthy lifestyle should probably steer clear as well. That wouldn’t be me, what with my trinity of addictions (nicotine, caffeine, and aspartame). Although I give my gym’s treadmills a good what-for several days a week, it’s really more for bottled-rage management than fitness, as well as the free childcare (thank you, once again, Mr. and Mrs. S!).

You may as well take it all.

Make-it-this-way Apple Pie

I’ve noticed a growing cooking trend among my fellow liberals of generally barring salt from dishes, often justified with the argument that it overshadows the important undertones of, say, organic brown rice. While you’re at it, why don’t you withhold your children’s vaccinations and boycott smiling. The absence of NaCl in meats and starches is unflattering to the cook, but easily correctable with a sprinkling of table salt. Omission in baked goods and desserts, on the other hand, borders on a criminal waste of food. If I find that you’ve made a low-sodium version of the following apple pie and no one in your home suffers from heart disease, high blood pressure or kidney disease, I will add your name and/or IP address to my blacklist, a vortex of despair far worse than the sting of deletion from my cookie list.

2 pie crusts (double the recipe used here, do not pre-bake crusts)
1 bag (about half a peck) Cortland apples
1 Gala or Braeburn apple
1 C sugar
1/3 C flour
2 tbsp salted butter
1 tbsp  cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cloves
1 egg

Set your oven to 450. Roll out the dough for the pie crusts before preparing the apples to prevent browning; fit one 1/8″-thick sheet of dough into a glass pie plate, and trim the excess, leaving 1″ of extra dough past the rim. Leave the second sheet rolled out on the board until you’re ready to assemble the pie.

Put the dry ingredients in a small mixing bowl and combine until the spices are evenly distributed. Peel and core the apples. I can’t convey how much better my life has become since purchasing the Williams-Sonoma apple peeler/corer/slicer a few years ago. Everyone I know will eventually get one as a gift, and subsequently have a lot more pie around the house, all the time. If you’re going old school, slice the cored apples into 1/4″-thick rings, then chop the rings in half. Put the apples into a large mixing bowl as you work, and sprinkle in some of the dry mixture after each one. Once you’ve finished the apples, pour in the remainder of the dry mixture and fold until combined.

Pour the apples into the bottom crust, and try to flatten the top layer to prevent tearing your top crust. Scrape out any sugar mixture stuck to the bowl and slap it on top of the apples. Carefully transfer the top layer onto the pie, gently draping it to accommodate the rough terrain. Use your thumbs, forefingers and middle fingers to pinch around the circumference of the crust, sealing the two layers together. Repeat to make sure it’s sealed up tight, then trim off the excess.

Get creative with air vents on the top crust. I like to cut out leaf shapes and overlap them with their corresponding holes, but you can cut 1″ slits in a symmetric pattern if you’d prefer. Cut up the butter and stick a glob in each air vent. Use a whisk to beat the eggwhite, and brush it all over the top and around the ridge. Cut a long strip of aluminum foil and cover up the rim, then bake the pie at 450 for 45 minutes, removing the foil 15 minutes before it’s done. You’ll want to stick a cookie sheet on the bottom rack to catch any syrup bubble-over. Let the pie cool uncovered until it reaches room temperature, then keep it sealed but don’t refrigerate it, otherwise something horrible happens to the flour mixed in with the apples. Now that you know all my secrets, I’m going to need some collateral.

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