Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Falltime=Apples

Cooking is one of my favorite pastimes. I am not entirely sure from where that interest stems, but I would like to think my Granny had something to do with it. I remember marveling at the outcome of requests for snacks such as pickles or french fries. I would expect, of course, for her to pull out a jar filled with limp, artificially colored pickles, the likes of which I see in the grocery store. But that was never the case. She gathered cucumbers from her garden, made her own brine with what she had, and they were always the most delicious pickles I had ever had. Usually a bit different each time. A lot of times I would simply request cucumbers sliced into spears with a sprinkling of salt on top. I think that was just about my favorite snack. And the fries never came from an Oreida bag. She would take a potato from the potato bin sitting below the window in the kitchen overlooking the back porch. She would then cut and fry the starch in a cast iron pan. I am not sure if I appreciated her hard work at the time as much as I do now, but I am sure I never loved or appreciated anything she made more than the apples.

Granny's apple tree
Every fall, Granny would gather apples that fell from her apple tree, which is still growing between the old cellar house and my dad's very first shop. She would then peel them. Have you ever seen someone who really knows what they are doing peel an apple? I have forever been amazed at this practice, and a few days ago while I was hacking the peel from some apples I was using to my one of my favorite fall brunch items (apple upside down biscuit cake), my thoughts returned to her and how she could peel an apple so perfectly without ever breaking the peel. Her small silver paring knife would glint in the light as she slowly and expertly peeled the apple, starting from the stem, and trimmed the peel in a beautiful spiral until it fell to the table in a single piece. Thinking back on it now, I can so clearly see her wrinkled hands, the back of the knife pressed hard into her thumb as she guided it slowly around the apple. The way she did that reminds me so much of how my dad carves on a mahogany guitar neck. I wonder if she enjoyed doing that as much as I know my dad enjoys whittling.



After she peeled the apples, she would slice them and spread them over a rack above the stove to dry. I remember looking at that rack, wires woven together to make quarter inch squares, and imagining it was something magical. It would always excite me when I walked into her house and saw the rack, sometimes filled with apples already, sometimes not. Either way, I knew something great was in the works. I tend to remember that production each year fall rolls around. My dad just said Granny would growl at him any time he would sneak a slice from the rack before they had dried. I always remember her looking the other way when I did it...


Apples still grow on the apple tree at my Granny's house.


Because I love fall food and apples are a huge part of that, here is my recipe for apple upside down biscuit cake:

Apple topping:
3 tbs unsalted butter
1/2 C brown sugar
2 or 3 peeled granny smith apples (But really, any apples you have will do. I have made this with the red and yellow colored apples from the tree that grows outside my dad's house, and it was delicious.)
A pinch or two of fresh grated nutmeg

Biscuit cake:
1 C flour
1/4 C granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
5 tbs unsalted butter
1/2 C buttermilk

Fist, see if you can peel an apple without breaking the peel. Apparently it is good luck if you can do it. My Granny was pretty lucky :-)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

In a cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and add brown sugar and a few grates of nutmeg. Stir to mix until sugar is incorporated, then remove from the heat. Add apples. If you'd like, you can simply arrange the apples in an aesthetically pleasing manner and leave it at that. I prefer to mix the apples in with the brown sugar mixture, then just make sure the bottom of the pan is covered with apples. I have tried this both ways, it is good no matter what. Set the pan aside.

In a medium bowl whist together all dry ingredients, then add butter and using your hands work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles course meal. Add the buttermilk and mix just until incorporated. Pour the biscuit dough over the apples. It is not necessary to completely cover the apples, but try to spread the mixture evenly over the apples, spreading the dough out to about one inch from the sides of the pan.

Bake the cake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to the touch. Let the cake cool a bit before inverting it onto a plate or cookie sheet. Replace any apples that stick to the skillet.

I hope you enjoy this lovely fall treat! It is great for dessert or breakfast/brunch. If you try it, let me know how it turns out! (And if you were able to peel an apple in one piece.)



Monday, September 9, 2013

(I'm Still) Buzzing Just Like Neon

Harper and I were walking down our little road earlier this morning and among the light morning haze I felt a breeze. It was the breeze of impending fall. You know, when everything still looks like summer, save for a few overachieving trees dropping their leaves when everything else around them is still green, but there is that undercurrent of moving air that carries with it the slightest tinge of chill. I know it's coming, and while I do enjoy fall, I also know it is just a precursor to the most dreaded (by me) of all seasons.

I used to enjoy winter very much, but then my body started to dislike it, contracting a syndrome called Raynaud's, which basically just means that when there is a possibility of it being a bit chilly outside (or inside or anywhere) my body thinks that I have wandered deep into the backcountry on top of some extremely high altitude mountain that would require the aid of sherpas and therefore solely focuses on keeping only my vital organs warm, lots of times leaving my fingers, feet, and toes to fend for themselves without any blood at all. So, if you notice that I wear a lot of down vests and UGG boots in weather that seems not to require such drastic puffy clothing, the reason is that my body can't tell the difference between what the temperature actually is and what it would if I were hanging out on the top Everest. So...my point is that while I enjoy fall, and all of the festivities that fall within those colorful months, I am not too keen on the impending wintertime. Let's focus on fall then.

Even though I am not in school anymore, I still get that feeling that fall is the time to start new projects with enthusiasm and join a lot of groups and fill up my calendar with social obligations and sign up for trail races so I can relive all of the autumns that I ran cross country. I didn't particularly enjoy the cross country season since I was far more successful at track an field, but still for nostalgia's sake, I go on longer runs and falltime is the very best running weather, most often with a soundtrack packed full of songs written and performed by John Mayer.

I like to feel nostalgic about music. Does that ever happen to you? When a CD by an artist that you just love comes out and you listen to it repeatedly until you get kind of tired of it, and then when you listen to songs from that album months from then, you remember how it felt to listen to them when you first purchased the album? No? Maybe that is just me...Well, to me, fall sounds like John Mayer. I have preferred to listen to his music above most anyone else's for about twelve years now. And it seems like many of his records have come out in the fall. So, now when I listen to 'Something's Missing', or 'Back to You', or 'Neon', I think of the year that I most often listened to those tracks, with my earbuds stuffed in my ears, providing for me a soundtrack on my way to sociology class. This fall, Paradise Valley is providing such a great musical background to my life. My dad, who has quietly and patiently listened to just about every John Mayer album on repeat in the shop even says this new album is good. (That's really saying something since when I have asked for a visit/personal concert with John Mayer for Christmas just about every year for the past 10 years always says, "That's just about the closest thing to nothing you can get!")

I have always imagined what I would say to John Mayer, were I ever to meet him, but I never thought I would actually get to say those things. And, I mean, if we are being honest, I still haven't said those things to him even though I had the chance last Wednesday evening at approximately 7:47pm. It is times like these that I am so thankful that my dad is as successful in the guitar business as he is. I don't always love it since it requires me to constantly share his attention with the world, but just right now, that is ok. Otherwise I would not have met Christie Carter, one of the owners of Carter Vintage Instruments, who is kind of amazing if you don't know, and so is her shop filled with great old Martins and Gibsons, and the occasional Henderson guitar. I feel a kindred type relationship with her because there aren't many ladies in the guitar business, so it is a breath of fresh air to get to chat with her instead of the typical shop full of middle aged retired men. I mean, no offense to those guys, but a lot of times it is painfully obvious that I have nothing in common with them except that they really like guitars and I make them. Anyway, Christie managed to get me a few backstage passes to John Mayer's concert in Charlotte, and I just about couldn't handle the excitement as the day slowly approached.

I had a feeling the conversation I would have with John would go similarly to a disastrous one I had with a professor as NC State once. He was one of my very favorite professors, and I enjoyed his classes very much. I always like to set myself apart from the mass of students taking the same class as me, so I would occasionally visit during office hours and say hello before or after class. Well, on a very chilly (for Raleigh) late fall morning I headed to campus, and on my way I grabbed my bottle of Pellegrino out of my car because I love Pellegrino almost as much as I love John Mayer's music and was hoping to drink it on the walk to school. On the way, I noticed that, after being in my car all night, my bottle was frozen. Boo. After class, I noticed that my professor also had a little bottle of Pellegrino as he stood outside of our classroom. "Hi Dr. Kallat! I love Pellegrino. Mine's frozen." I proclaimed with no offer of the backstory that statement required.  Suffice it to say, an awkward silence ensued as my embarrassed friend dragged me from the scene.

This is what I feared would happen when I spoke to John Mayer because, while I don't typically get very star struck when meeting very talented musicians, I did after all ask for a visit with him for Christmas and I had imagined all sorts of things to say to him in the decade that I have enjoyed his music more than anyone else's music. I just hoped to get out that I liked his guitars and that I made them and that he was awesome. It was not as disastrous as my Pellegrino mishap, but I wish we had had more time to chat about guitars since that might be something that would set me a little bit apart from the image of the deranged fan that I actually am. I forgot to tell him how much I love his little Martin 0 45 that he has been playing a lot lately. He said he had heard of my dad's guitars, and I did remember to tell him that I also made guitars and that I preferred to use sustainable wood. To that, he replied that he thought that all guitar wood is sustainable because the wood is preserved forever into an instrument. I started to respond but he stopped me and said, "Just agree with me." And I said, "Ok. Since you are John Mayer I will agree with you." Then we snapped a picture commemorating that moment and I now have another great memory to add to my John Mayer soundtrack of fall.

I can't even help being that excited. Natalie did a better job of not looking insane...Oh well.