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Sunday
Aug312014

(Re)Framing (Im)Perfection

I visit a lot of food blogs that have beautiful food photography. Blogs that would have you believe every morsel they make is perfectly moist and flavorful and then expertly poised on the tips of antiqued forks.

My morsels usually fall off said fork. And what ensues is a not-so-eloquent stream of longshoreman-like language that usually has even the food blushing (or wilting), the tripod falling over and the reflectors ricocheting away from their supports directly on top of said misbehaving morsels.

Sigh. Let's try this again. And so I do. And what results is sometimes a halfway decent representation of a mostly edible subject. But it's not perfect. And it's not meant to be.

This blog is a reflection of my life. And—NEWS FLASH—my life is not perfect. My life isn't styled like those food photos. Trust me, it could use it. I occasionally look around, shout, "STYLIST!" as if someone will come running from the anon toward the offending life region with a dustbuster and a polisher. And maybe some concealer. 

Concealer. Interesting concept. What am I trying to hide? Who cares if my life isn't perfect all the time? And for that matter, who cares if the food I make (and present to you on this blog) isn't either?

Imperfect food...sometimes you just have to eat it anyway. And even if it looks terrible, it often tastes really good. It's more disappointing when something looks fantastic and tastes like wood. I'd rather be pleasantly surprised.

The star photograph at the top of this post is an example of imperfection. I tried to make a cashew-based tart crust. I blended what I thought was an appropriate amount of nuts, flour, eggs and olive oil. I even pre-baked it. Then I loaded it up with tiny heirloom tomatoes, roasted butternut squash, parsley pesto and gorgonzola cheese. The first knife slice dissolved the crust into a heap of un-stick-togetherable nutty debris. 

It was delicious though.

Perfection, in life, and in food is unattainable. Is this another news flash for you? Sometimes it is for me, I'll be honest. I can often make myself crazy trying to get it just right, or do just the right thing all the time. There's really no where to go from there but down...it's much better if you can ride the ups and downs like gentle rolling waves.

I'm not here to give you life advice. Or am I? If you wanted perfect food (or a perfect life) there are a number of other blogs that would serve this purpose. But perhaps you come here for something different...the bike crashes? Those ARE entertaining.

But in terms of FOOD (this is, after all, a food blog), I want to give you something attainable. And relatable. I don't want to make food that you couldn't yourself, nor do I want to convince you that I am somehow super powered in that I can overcome the natural limitations of human nature and reach perfection....if only in cooking.

That just seems, well...tasteless.

Ahem.

I'd rather talk about how it doesn't always work out according to plan. About how my crusts don't always stick together, about how I sometimes over (or under) salt food, and how I occasionally drop (oh yes, DROP) the main entree on the floor. Or, conversely, how I can create the most inventive and fabulous meal...for only myself to witness and eat. Or even how even though I can make a dish 3249723094 different times, it will turn out differently that many times (for better or worse - usually worse if you have guests).

What's to be done? I would say nothing, but that doesn't quite cover it. What's to be done, is to grab a fork and dive right in. Literally and figuratively. 

I do, however, have ONE fool-proof dish. Something that doesn't need to stick together. In fact, it's better falling apart. This is something that can't go wrong. Really. I've tried (unintentionally, of course). And it's seasonal for fall too! What is this magical dish? Apple Crisp!

Now you could troll the internet and find a bajillion different Apple Crisp recipes (accompanied by as many fabulous photos), but I'm going to give you my UNrecipe.

Yes, an UNrecipe. An unrecipe is a recipe that's not. Because it doesn't need to be. What doesn't it need to be? Anything other than it is, of course (which way to the Queen,Catepillar?).

What it can be is unlimited, and so this unrecipe that includes any number of substitutions, rough measurement estimates and un-exact baking times.

I am sure of one thing: follow this recipe loosely and you will have a masterpiece of imperfection. And that's what we're after, right?

Ingredients:

4 medium apples 
Substitutions: use berries (any combo), stone fruit (nectarines and peaches) or even whipped sweet potatoes.

1 cup golden raisins
Substitutions: regular raisins, cranberries, chopped dates or figs, NOTHING at all!

Butter, at room temperature. Let's just say to reserve 1 stick for this purpose. I'll let you know how much(ish) as we go along.

Light Brown Sugar: about a cup
Substitutions: regular sugar works too. Coconut sugar is lovely.

1 cup rolled oats

1 1/2 cups Flour
I use a mix of flours. Here, I used 1/2 cup Almond Flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour. White flour will work, as will rice flour, or any mix of gluten free flours, should you feel so inclined (or dietetically limited).

Chopped Candied Pecans: About a cup, maybe a little more.
You can use this recipe or buy pre-made versions.
Substitutions: Walnuts work nicely as well.

Ground cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom
(I love cardamom, so if you have it, use it. If not, go buy some. Buy it later, it's not really necessary for this recipe, but it's just so good): any amount. I usually like to use about 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg and 1 tsp ground cardamom. You can go heavy on either the cinnamon or the cardamom, though.

Pinch of salt

Process:

Chop the apples into small cubes. How small? Go for 1/4" inch, but really do whatever you like. No need to peel off the skins, unless you like that. If you do, knock yourself out. I'm too lazy. I want crisp, people, not peeling!

Grease a 10" round baking dish with a little butter. Don't have round? How about square, rectangle or hexagonal? Place the chopped apples into said greased dish of undetermined shape. Now place in the raisins (or acceptable substitute and 1/4 cup of the chopped candied pecans.

Mix everything around in this baking dish so it's not just sitting piled on top of each other.

Now create some butter dots. I love butter dots! Take about a half stick of butter and cube it with a knife into tiny blobs—like dots! Place these dots amongst the apple, raisin and pecan mixture, spacing them evenly. You may not need to use the entire 1/2 stick. Now sprinkle the top with about 2 tablespoons of sugar, and smattering of ground cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom (if you have it).

Set this aside and create the topping.

In a small bowl, mix the flours and oats. Add in the rest of the chopped nuts, 3 more tablespoons of sugar, more cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom and the pinch of salt. Mix this all together.

Now cube 1/4 stick of butter and place the butter cubes into the bowl with the topping mixture. Get your hands in there and mix it until it starts to group together in little blobs. This is good! Mix, mix, mix until some of it is holding together, and some of it seems to be doing it's own thing. All of this is ok.

Pour it on top of the apples in a nice, even layer, like a blanket.

Bake it in the oven at 350°F for about 25 minutes, until golden brown. This is a rough estimate. Sometimes I leave it in there for longer. If the top starts to get too brown, you can place a sheet of aluminum foil over the top.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Or don't. Got that fork handy? How about some ice cream? The remnants (if there are any) can be stored in the fridge and re-heated for up to a week. Sometimes I eat mine cold, right out of the dish. With a spoon. For breakfast.

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