Sometimes the best thing about food is its familiarity. It’s like a security blanket that we’ve known since our childhood years. To objectively judge home-cooking is difficult. In my perception, the things I think taste amazing may only be mediocre to a foreign tongue. It’s why I don’t really like to judge food. It’s very personal and I don’t think I am qualified to say whether or not I think this plate tastes better than that.
It’s like cheese.
I don’t really like cheese. Well, cheese by itself. Mozarella with tomato? Delicious. Grilled cheese triangles of goodness? Drool. But crumbly feta or goat cheese? Yech. Cream cheese I can do or mascarpone (in tiramisu). My roommate taught me to love pepper jack cheese, my NYC dorm taught me to love provolone and Paris taught me to love Camembert (minus the smell).
The point is, is that taste is home-grown as it is cultural. I can’t find a better illustration than in one of my favourite films (for obvious reasons): Ratatouille. The ‘little chef’ chooses to make a simple vegetable dish for his picky critic whom instantly is transported back to his childhood days when his mother used to cook for him. Perhaps to this Chinese girl, cooked vegetables may seem short of amazing but for Anton Ego, the memories added value to the dish.
The point of this elaborate introduction, is that all I wanted to do was to bake something that reminded me of home. To me, home is a simple concept which rests in a place that I am absent from. What’s in season in dear NYC?
The smell of warm President’s Choice apple pie being reheated in the oven. The good ol’ days of going apple picking at the farmer’s orchards in Canada. Spicy cinammon and sour apple. Gooey filling with a buttery crust. Melt in your mouth decadence.
This recipe reminds me of the second degree burn I got when I was reheating this and the apricot slid onto my hand. Apples remind me of a quiet luxury- it reminds me of the time I visited my Waterloo friends and we made a realy bizarre apple pie which I dubbed ‘the negative space apple pie’ or as the engineers call it ‘Pie^-1)(instead of the cross hatching which we didn’t have enough dough for, we ended up doing squares). I remember two of my hosts sitting face to face with backs bent, hovering over a trash can between them and competing against each other to see who could peel an apple with a singular slice. We were in the middle of nowhere, it was cold, it snowed and it was quiet. But it was so peaceful. That’s the kind of peace I wanted to get back from baking. I’m stressed and tired, I want that calm back. Apples are warm. Apples are welcoming. But most of all, apples are familiar. Culinary adventures to imaginary South America may be fun for a while or a business trip to Korea (seriously reminded me of Canada and made me miss the weather there, but in the end, there is no place like home.
I found this recipe on epicurious.com last year: Apple Galette. What I love love love about this recipe is its simplicity in not only the steps but the number of ingredients and the fact that is does look quite pretty with a spiral fan of apple slices. Milk, apples, butter, flour, apricot jam (I guess I will now include ‘marmalade’ for those British readers here in HK :P) and sugar. For the avid baker, these ingredients are within arm’s reach. I made this many times last Christmas. It’s nothing fancy but it works well in its simplicity. It’s an easy answer to a potluck dinner or entertaining friends: it’s less complex than its pie counterpart but still a crowd pleaser because it still delivers that same apple-y taste (I dust it with cinnamon for a Christmas feel). For this time, I decided to split the recipe into two tartlets rather than one big sized tart so I could give them away to different people. Definitely go for the one size, it makes a prettier circle at the top.
Tip: If you slice the apples and they start to turn brown, squeeze a little lemon juice on top and toss. In the end, they’ll brown in the oven so whether or not they’re still snow white or darkening is of little value.
Tip 2: Don’t follow the oven times in the recipe. Mine always bakes a lot faster (actually my initial time was a lot slower to the point that I just increased the temperature and just watched it. Just go by the colors. A pie will tell you when it is ready judging by the color of its crust). I bake mine for about half an hour. Small tarts bake faster, big ones take longer.
So here’s to home and everything I miss that I had a year ago. Autumn leaves. Brisk air. Wool peacoats (apparently the Brits spell it ‘pea coats’). Max Brenners. Howl’s Moving Castle.