Some people find solace in eating, but I find it in the act of baking. Something about the precision that's required soothes me. I like reading a recipe printed on stained paper, tracing the ingredients with my finger while I scan the cabinet for various sugars and flours. The constant measuring makes for a quiet kitchen that's only interrupted by the occasional thunk of a lid coming off the sugar canister or the tinny whine of fork whipping eggs into a froth. I love the clean way the knife slides across a heaping cup of flour, knocking half of it onto the countertop and leaving a neat, level measure behind, or the way the sugar pours hard and fast. When I cook, I clean as I go, transporting measuring spoons to the sink or wiping the counter down after each step. When I bake, though, I leave a huge mess behind, spilling enough flour on the counter to make snow angels from, slinging slick butter wrappers, cracked eggshells and bald lemon rinds into a soggy pile. I walk around with chocolate smudges on my forearms and drying batter on my jeans. All my energy is trained on the preparation. It's not until I pop my creation into the oven that I turn a critical eye to the havoc I have wreaked. Still, a quick swipe with a wet cloth and a few strokes of the broom and all is right again. At least in the kitchen.
This weekend I was forever on the verge of shouting or crying. I won't pretend that watching over someone who is unwell is harder than being the one who's suffering, but it is its own kind of madness. If I couldn't escape the four walls of our apartment for long, I could at least tuck and run into the kitchen for an hour of calm labor. I didn't want something that required too much thought to make; my mind needed to wander. I craved something that was simple and good, not a masterpiece that would bring me no comfort to eat. So I called my friend L. and asked for her crumble. It seemed the perfect thing to make when life was doing just that around me.
Apple and Pear Crumble
In the world of crumbles, there are two kinds of people: those who like fruit with a bit of topping, and those who like topping with a bit of fruit. I fall into the latter category, and so this recipe makes for a lot of crumble topping. If you want to adjust for less, cut it about in half, or chop up another apple and another pear and upgrade to a larger casserole dish. Either way, if you don't serve it with ice cream you are a heretic; I will pray for your soul.
5 TBSP butter
1 TBSP sugar
3 medium apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 medium pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 TBSP cinnamon
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt 1 TBSP butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the tablespoon of white sugar and apples; stir and cover. Let cook five minutes, stirring once or twice. Dump into a pie plate and add the pears. In a bowl, mix the oats and flour. Work in the remaining 4 TBSP of butter in small pieces with your fingers until the mix resembles a coarse, nubby meal. Add the brown sugar, almonds, cinnamon and salt and toss. Pour over fruit and bake for 30-35 minutes.