Category Archives: One I Love

Day 24: Giving in

We were late buying our Christmas tree this year. Since we usually leave town a few days before Christmas, we tend to set up our tree early in December, so that we have a couple of weeks to enjoy it. This year, there was no such time pressure, as we’d be here through the holidays. So we took our time. Other holiday plans, and the first snow of the season, got in the way of us finding our Christmas tree.

When we arrived at our neighborhood tree lot on Saturday, the pickings were slim. Only 25 to 30 trees remained on the lot, and many of those were taller than we wanted. As we reviewed our few options, I noticed a young couple looking at a smallish tree. About 5 feet tall, and just as wide across at the bottom, the tree was an equilateral triangle. Not the classic Christmas tree shape, but charming. When they opted to buy a different tree, the little tree was ours. The tree lot guys trimmed the bottom of the trunk and hefted the tree into the Saab’s trunk; we brought the tree home and set it in a bucket of water on our front porch for the night.

Sunday afternoon, Paul carried the tree into the house. Its branches radiated cold. We oriented the tree with the nicest side facing into the room, and Paul set its trunk into our cast iron tree stand. I held the tree straight while Paul tightened the bolts into the trunk of the tree. When I let go, the tree tilted. It didn’t fall over, but stopped at about 30 degrees from upright. Clearly, the bolts weren’t tight enough. I held the tree upright again, and Paul tightened the bolts a little more. I loosened my grip on the tree; it leaned again.

That’s when Paul noticed that a couple of the lowest branches were keeping the trunk from resting on the bottom of the stand’s water well. First we tried shimming up the trunk with scrap wood; that didn’t work at all. I lopped off the bottom two branches; the trunk was now all the way into the stand, but still leaning. Perhaps the trunk was cut at an angle? Why yes, it was! Paul took the tree back out to the porch to retrim the trunk. While cutting a narrow wedge off the bottom of the trunk, he saw that the main trunk of the tree was not straight, but bowed to one side. The weight of the trunk curving to the side made that side heavier; that’s why the tree was leaning. We’d had enough for one day; Paul put the tree back in its bucket of water for the night.

The next day, we tried again to get the tree to stand straight. Driving the tree stand’s bolts more deeply into the tree trunk didn’t work. (Actually, it seemed to work for a few thrilling minutes. Then the tree tilted sharply again.) Using wires to guy the tree to the stand didn’t work. We were both getting frustrated. Putting up a Christmas tree is supposed to be fun. Paul took the tree back out onto the porch. When it tipped out of its water bucket, he kicked its trunk, then leaned it back up against the wall.

When Paul started talking about wiring the tree to the windowsills, I knew it was time to give in. The tree wanted to lean; why not let it? We’ve always set up our Christmas tree in our living room’s corner bay. We could set the tree stand farther into the bay, and turn the tree so that it leaned not into the room, but into the corner. When I suggested this to Paul, he hugged me, clearly relieved.

This afternoon, Paul brought our tree back into the house. He set the trunk into the stand, then let the tree lean as it pleased. We turned the heavier side toward the corner, tightened the bolts in the stand, and pushed the stand as close to the corner as it would go. And the crooked little tree stayed exactly where we put it.

Paul lit a fire in the fireplace, and put on some Christmas music. I laced white lights and red wooden beads through the limbs of the tree, then carefully hung our ornaments (fragile near the top, cat-proof at the bottom). When I was finished, the tree was still crooked, still leaning, but wrapped up in the warm sparkle and glow of Christmas, it’s a beautiful tree.

To open the Advent calendar window for Day 24, click here: Continue reading Day 24: Giving in

Day 9: The miracle of the apples

The year that I moved to California to live with Paul, we hosted Thanksgiving dinner for the first time as a couple. As we planned the dinner, working to blend together our family traditions, Paul requested that he be in charge of two things: the turkey, and the apple pie. I’d never roasted a turkey nor baked an apple pie, so I was happy for him to take on those tasks.

Paul made the apple pie on Thanksgiving Eve. His go-to recipe for apple pie is the Silver Palate New Basics Cookbook‘s Apple of Her Eye pie. The recipe that calls for eight apples in the filling. Paul washed, peeled and sliced those apples, and tossed them in a large bowl with butter, sugar, cinnamon, lemon zest and vanilla. He took one of the frozen pie crusts from the package, and began carefully arranging the slices in the crust. I could see that there was going to be a problem. When Paul had filled the pie shell, and mounded some slices on top, there were still apple slices in the bowl. Almost half the apple slices. Paul was puzzled; he’d made the pie before without this happening; perhaps the apples were larger than those he’d used previously? Whatever the reason, we had extra filling. Fortunately, we had an extra package of pie crusts. That Thanksgiving, we had two apple pies.

The next year, Paul again baked our Thanksgiving apple pie. Again, eight apples, and too much filling for one crust, and two apple pies. Not that anyone was complaining; the pies were delicious. The third year, looking at a half full bowl of extra apples, I declared it to be a miracle, akin to that of the loaves and fishes. This was the miracle of the apples.

A couple of years later, when we’d experienced the miracle of the apples yet again, I wrote a note in the margin of the cookbook: Remember that this amount of filling makes two frozen crust pies. And for the next couple of years, Paul used five apples to make a single pie. Still, we joked about the miracle of the apples.

Last Thanksgiving, I asked Paul if I could make the apple pie. I hadn’t baked a pie in years, and as far as I could recall, I had never managed to make a properly flaky, tender pie crust. I wasn’t sure I could make good pie crust, but I had a plan! A recently published pie crust recipe used vodka as part of the liquid in the crust, and promised tender flakiness. Surprisingly, Paul willingly gave up his pie-making duties.

On Thanksgiving morning, I mixed up the pie crust in our food processor, and tucked the discs of dough into the refrigerator. When the dough had chilled for a couple of hours, I pulled down the cookbook to look at the filling recipe. I smiled when I saw the warning note in the margin of the page, and then read the entire recipe for the first time. I got to the instructions for rolling out the dough for the lower crust, and read: Transfer [crust] to a 10 inch pie plate.

Ten inch pie plate? We’d been using 9″ crusts for this pie each year. I did the math: a 9″ plate has an area of 63.5 square inches, a 10″ plate 78.5 square inches. That’s a 20% difference in area! And the small frozen crust pie tins were only an inch high, while our 10″ glass pie plate was 1 1/2″ tall (yes, I measured); that made for a difference of 63.5 cubic inches versus 117.75 cubic inches. The 9″ pie tin could hold only half the apples that a 10″ pie plate could!

There was no miracle of the apples! There was only the disparity between the sizes of the pie plate for which the recipe was written, and the pie crusts Paul had used all the years we’d been together. I felt a little sad.

After rolling out the pie crust, I peeled and sliced eight apples, and tossed them with the butter, sugar and spices. I turned the apples into the pie plate, arranging the first few layers, then pouring the rest into the plate, mounding them up in the middle. Every slice of those eight apples fit into the pie plate. We laughed about that, as we licked the sweet spiced butter off my fingers. I covered the heap of apples with the top crust, and baked that pie. It was a big pie… and it was good.

This year, I again made the pie for our Thanksgiving. I used a different crust recipe, one made with both butter and the lard that I’d rendered a couple of weeks before. This crust was much better than last year’s vodka-laced pastry; both flakier and more tender, with a savory (though not meaty) flavor. Once again, the full recipe of apple filling fit into the pie plate.

But here’s the thing I’ve realized: Paul and I still have the miracle of the apples. Each time one of us bakes an apple pie, we’ll look at the recipe, and my handwritten note in the margin. One of us will mention the miracle of the apples, and we’ll laugh together. And those small jokes, that you share with someone you love over the years, that make you both smile when one of you mentions a word or phrase; those are little miracles in themselves.

To open the Advent calendar window for Day 9, click here: Continue reading Day 9: The miracle of the apples