Deliciousness: Apple Blackberry Crumble

It’s Friday evening and whew, what a week it’s been. Feeling a bit stretched thin and fraying, and it’s chilly outside. I don’t want to look at any more words or images or think…I just want to feel and smell and live in my senses a little bit. It’s kind of a perfect night to bake, no? I’m not a natural baker, but I play one in my dreams, and I’ve been experimenting with different recipes. There’s just something really nice about a warm oven at night, all the smells of apples, brown sugar, maple, melting butter and other delicious things filling up the room.

One thing I’ve been trying out lately are crumbles. I started reading about them a few weeks ago, when I looked something up about Michaelmas. I was going through this phase of reading about random British holidays and festivals and came across this bit about Sept. 29, when they celebrate the archangel Michael. In terms of paganish things, it occurs around the autumn equinox, and generally denotes the end of harvest and the beginning of fall proper. I’m not Christian or ever will be, but I have always found the whole seraphim and cherubim thing really fascinating — one of those weird rabbit holes of theology to wander around in on a rainy evening at home with some tea and an iPad. I mean, you know, all I had as a kid was the Buddha, and he seemed really intense and remote, a bit like the monks at the temple my parents took me to as a kid. Now angels, though…angels were understandable. They were on Christmas cards! They had iconography! Then as a teen I got the Smiths, so I was all British! British! British! Somehow it all comes together…in an apple-blackberry crumble.

(Funny aside: one of my friends as a wee kid told me once that she imagined Michael as this strong strapping dude with flowing hair, and I kind of pictured Lorenzo Lamas from “Falcon Crest.” Which is of course hilarious to me now.)

Anyway, if you read about Michaelmas and archangels, there’s a bit about Michael wrestling the devil and the devil landing in a bramble of blackberry bushes, and so one of the big Michaelmas traditions is to eat blackberries. Of course, you can eat blackberries on their own, but it is infinitely way more fun to eat them as dessert. (If I could make everything into a dessert or an omelette, I’d be so ace.)

And so I stumbled upon a bunch of delicious-sounding (and looking) blackberry dessert recipes in various cookbooks devoted to traditional British desserts, and decided to try one out. I mean, maybe it’s my weird way of being fascinated by angels and blackberries and deepening my resolve to broaden my culinary repertoire. Or just an excuse to try out a dessert! Anyway, here’s to wrestling devils and throwing them WWF-style into a bramble of blackberries! Enjoy!


Craft Beers, Sunshine & The Last Gasp of Summer

This past weekend I went to a local craft beer festival. It was, true to form, full of fancy-ass beers, sunshine, crazy-happy crowds — lots of beer will do that to you — and general good times. What’s more fun than wandering around downtown on a lovely summer afternoon in a sundress, sampling tons of beer by companies and breweries genuinely passionate about what they’re doing and more than happy to share?

I really look forward to this event every year since it started: maybe it’s the “craft” aspect of the alcohol, but the meathead/frat guy contingent is pretty nil, the crowd is always good-natured and considerate, and while I’ve never considered myself a beer person, it is fun to sample all kinds of new drinks and find something new. (Last year I fell in love with ciders, lambics and porters; this year I found a few stouts and IPAs I really dug: Stone’s Levitation Ale was a favorite, Kasteel Rouge lambics, and a bunch of beers from a Chicago-area brewery, Finch’s, whose Secret Stache Stout is the closest a beer has ever tasted to a milkshake, to my taste buds at least!)

But what I like most about this craft beer festival is that it’s a perfect way to end the summer, kind of like my weird version of a pagan festival to augur in the harvest season. This summer has been weird and hard and strange, but this weekend I felt like I squeezed in a last ideal bit of it. It had that golden, carefree feeling summer is supposed to have, that sense of honeyed pleasure and abandon — how time stretches before you, waiting to be filled with something easy-going and good. As I ambled about on the sidewalk, my cute little tasting glass in hand, I thought about how life gives you little grace notes to mark the endings, beginnings and transitions of things. I thought about the rituals you make for yourself, about how bittersweet yet pleasurable it is to mark the passages of time — how it makes the past robust and full, the present more rich and beautiful and the future something to treasure. And then I stepped off the curb towards another tent, where I drank a bit of apple-ginger cider and ran off into the golden sunlight. Lightness of spirit had never felt so hard-won.

Weekend Discoveries: Fancy Beer! The Kind That Taste Like Blackberries and Chocolate!

This past weekend I went to a fancypants beer festival. I was slightly apprehensive, because my palette for beer isn’t sophisticated by any means: I am one of those people who generally sticks with Corona and lime, mostly because I like the lime. (Actually, I almost always prefer a cocktail or champagne to the near-exclusion of everything else, but let’s pretend that sometimes I choose to drink of my own free will — and not extenuating circumstance.) Maybe it is because I live in a smaller town now and there is less action happening, but I find myself doing things that go beyond my personal comfort/taste zone — and generally, I am almost always pleasantly surprised! Such is the case with the fancypants beer festival, where I expanded my admittedly narrow mindset when it comes to the humble brew.

I say “fancypants,” because the festival featured a lot of smaller and independent breweries, who do lots of wonderfully complex, often delicious things with beer. You paid for a ticket, got a tasting cup and a bunch of drink tickets, and then ran around tasting different beers during the course of what turned out to be a stunningly beautiful fall-like afternoon. I meant to take lots of picture for this blog entry, but honestly, the capacity crowds didn’t make for easy picture-taking, and as you can imagine, the later the event goes, the more tipsy you get — and suddenly it becomes much more imperative to eat some (incredibly good) wood-fired fresh veggie pizza than remember to snap a photo or two. Veggie pizza > taking pictures, nearly every time!

But I did remember to try lots of different beers! I discovered beer can be a beautiful, complex, intricate world, and I found LOTS of delicious options that I will make a point to seek out when I can. I’ve always been fond of lambics, but this weekend I delved in a whole universe of ciders. I spent multiple drink tickets at Crispin’s booth, where I discovered their line of delicious, refreshing cider beers, as well as some phenomenally yummy Fox Barrel ones. Fox Barrel made a wonderful blackberry pear-infused cider that I shamefully got seconds and thirds of, and I loved their apricot pear one and the pacific pear one, too. (Did I mention I spent multiple drink tickets at their booth? I think the lovely, friendly lady at the booth thought I was stalking her.) The blackberry was my favorite: it was very crisp but fruity, but not sickly sweet (at least for me.) It would be absolutely wonderful for summer; in fact, it made me regret not discovering it earlier in the season! Anyway: Crispin and Fox Barrel — check them out! SO FREAKING GOOD.

I know, a lot of people will be like, “Ciders! So wussy! So girlie! Beer as a fruity dessert isn’t really beer!” But I don’t care; I know my limitations! Being a beer wuss, following my sweet tooth will never leave me astray, so when it came time to branch out to more traditional beer, I made a beeline for stuff like Southern Tier’s Imperial Choklat Stout and the Imperial Creme Brulee Stout. These are both “sweet-toothy” beers as well, but totally on the other end of the spectrum: they’re dark, rich, decadent and much “beerier” than ciders, obviously. They both start with a rich hoppiness, but finish off with notes of chocolate, caramel and other dessertlike deliciousness. Both made my eyes widen — the sweet notes at the end are very much a delicious surprise. I have to say that the chocolate stout was my favorite, although the creme brulee one was by far the best-smelling beer I have ever encountered. I have traumatic memories in college of making my way through the quad on a Sunday morning as it reeked of the weekend’s cheap Schlitz and Heineken — but the Southern Tier creme brulee beer smells so freaking good, I wish they’d bottle it as a perfume or something.

I tried a lot more stuff, including more traditional IPAs, stouts, porters and the like, and did discover a “beer-beer” that suits me wonderfully: Stone’s Smoked Porter. I never thought I’d be into a dark beer, but this one was just s-u-p-e-r-b. It’s very robust, with a lovely dark, rich velvety chocolate undertone that pulled me in via the sweet-tooth factor, of course. But it wasn’t sweet in any way: it was a dead-proper dark beer! But absolutely delicious. It would be a great fall and winter beer, really hearty and woodsy, and I look forward to seeking it out again.

Anyway, it was a real pleasure to spend a beautiful proto-early fall afternoon getting tipsy on lots of beer and “expanding my palette.” A wonderful way to kick off the autumn season, I must say! I don’t ever think that I will ever be a “real beer” connoisseur, but it’s nice to know I’ve found a little niche within the wide, wonderful world of it all that makes me happy.