Friday, 27 October 2017

Baked Apples to Honour the Dead

The period between late October and early November has been noted as a liminal space for millennia. Hallowe'en, Samhain, Nos Calan Gaeaf, Allhallowtide, and El Dia de los Muertos all fall within the same smattering of days, and all acknowledge and celebrate the transition between life and death. 

It's a time when, it's said, the veils between worlds fall, and spirits can shift between planes to visit loved ones. I've been fortunate enough to feel solid connections with some of my ancestors, and although it's certainly fun to dress up in costume and consume far too much sugar, I find that I prefer to mark this time of year by honouring the Dead, instead.

Since I'm mostly of European descent, the foods that I prepare to honour and share with my ancestors tend to be those that they likely would have enjoyed while they were alive. 

Oat cakes sweetened with honey for my ancestor Knut. Colcannon for my nan Helen. I mix it up from year to year to honour different facets of my ancestry, but the one recipe I always, always prepare, is baked apples.

Apples are the fruit of the Otherworld, ever associated with Avalon (the Isle of Apples), and in-between places. They're associated with fertility and eternal youth (such as the apples grown and guarded by the Norse goddess IĆ°unn), and in Cornwall, Kalan Gwav, (the first day of winter, also known as Allantide) is celebrated the eve of October 31st and most of November 1st. 

For this festival, people give each other large, red "Allan" apples to their loved ones as tokens of good luck and joy for the coming year. This is echoed in the Jewish tradition of eating apples—especially those dipped in honey—at Rosh Hashanah, symbolising the hope for a sweet and happy new year.

In the Northern hemisphere, apples come to their full ripeness in autumn, so they're abundant and glorious by the time All Hallow's rolls around. 

These baked beauties can be made with whichever apples you have available locally, and sometimes it's fun to make them with a variety of different ones so you can determine which flavours and textures you like best. Although I love to eat MacIntosh apples raw because they're so crunchy and tart, I generally use Cortland or Honeycrisp for baking.

Baked Apples


6-8 apples, cored (6 if larger, 8 if on the smaller side). Use local apples if possible.
1 cup chopped nuts (I like a mixture of walnuts and pecans)
1 cup flour (gluten-free if needed)
1 cup quick-cook oats
1 cup unsalted butter or Earth Balance
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup granulated maple sugar
Ground cinnamon
Sea salt


Preheat your oven to 350F, with your rack in the middle position. 

Slice the bottoms of each cored apple very slightly so they can sit upright properly, and place them in a baking pan. Pour the maple syrup into the pan, over and around the apples. When the oven is warmed, bake them upright for 15-20 minutes, depending on size, then flip them upside-down and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

While those are in the oven, combine all of the dry ingredients with the butter until it makes a crumbly mixture. Add as much or as little cinnamon as you like, and a pinch of salt, and mix thoroughly.

Remove the apples from the oven, cram them full of the crumbly, nutty stuff, spoon some of the syrupy mixture over them to dampen the crumb, and then pop them back into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. 

Serve with a generous dollop of vanilla ice cream (dairy or vegan), or clotted cream, or custard, or just enjoy exactly as they are. If you're so inclined, set an extra apple on an empty plate to symbolise sharing it with your ancestors, beloved Dead, and/or friendly spirits who may stop by.

Blessings to you.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Simple Pleasures: Olives, Bread, Oil, and Vinegar

It's been a while since I updated, and I apologise for that. As most of us have realised by now, life has its ups and downs, and sometimes just staying afloat takes almost all of our effort. A new year has rolled over, I've just turned 40, and recent events have left me reeling from a veritable emotional maelstrom. 

One of my oldest friends recently died after a long battle with cancer, and as I work my way through the grieving process after losing her, I find many aspects of my life have been put into perspective. Funny how tumultuous life events will do that, neh? 

In any case, I feel as though I am slowly emerging from a midwinter cocoon into a rather new form of existence, though it's a slow process and has quite a way yet to go.
A very slow process indeed.

No metamorphosis comes without growing pains (often quite painful ones), and my own recent shift has required a startling amount of introspection and honesty about old wounds. Some of that culminated in some serious soul searching in a hotel room about a thousand miles from where I am now. The rest has unfolded here in my cabin in the woods, where the snow now reaches my chest if I dare to venture out into the cold.

Needless to say, all of this growth has been assisted by some of my favourite comfort foods.
Sure, my old standbys (potato salad and soup) played a role in this time of change and growth, but I also turned to the simple foods that have soothed my soul on countless occasions over the past few decades: good bread, cheese, olives, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. 

It really is the type of basic peasant fare that people have been enjoying for a few thousand years now, but there's a reason this food is turned to time and time again: it's not just because it's fairly inexpensive and easily accessible, but because it is gorgeously indulgent and comforting. 

Bread satiates hunger when it actually arises, and just happens to soak up good oil and vinegar rather beautifully. Olives are perfect, fleshy, salty little bites of wonder, and there's wondrous variety to be enjoyed: meaty Spanish black olives, briny kalamatas, green olives stuffed with garlic or pimento... so many to choose from, and delight in.

As an added bonus, as far as comfort foods go, this is a pretty healthy spread. 

I've tasted foods from around the world, but if I had to choose a last meal for myself, I'm quite certain that it would consist of olives, cheese, bread, and balsamic. Probably an excellent wine as well. For those of you who may be inclined to indulge that last bit, I like Pinot Noir, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio best.

And so, a toast: to friendship, to self-care, and to appreciating all that we have... even the tiniest joys, such as these.