Creating and planning meals in my kitchen is a spa-like experience. Last year, my husband modernized the tiny kitchen in our 1940s bungalow. He and his brothers stained every piece of wood, pushed the dolly with the new fridge into place and installed the gigantic stainless steel farm sink I insisted upon (because it’s big enough to give the dog a bath.) There is so much of my husband’s labor in the kitchen that I feel like I’m working within the space of a giant hug.
The kitchen walls are painted a quiet yellow cream. Tortoise brown tiles with shades of grey, hints of silver and rare bursts of blue shield the walls from spaghetti sauce and flying cake batter. I have great lighting (my brother-in-law says, “enough to conduct alien autopsies”) and a view of the squirrels who scavenge in the front yard and make strange click-cluck sounds I recently took the time to notice. A satellite radio is perched next to my gas range and always set for the 1940s channel. The quiet upbeat croon of Sinatra or the Ink Spots matches the kitchen-spa mood and I love the WWII news updates rebroadcast in-between songs. This is when I let the day go and focus only on creating food that will be a joy to share with my small family consisting of husband, bachelor brother-in-law, dog and often my sister’s family of four. I just relax and unload my shopping bags or raid the cupboards for what is on hand.
This week in the kitchen spa I rediscovered the Brown Betty when I made a last minute dessert to follow the shrimp, asparagus and lemon risotto meal I prepared. Can you really make risotto without coffee and dessert to follow? It’s like trying to listen to an orchestra without the string section–too vulgar to consider.
I had little available for a dessert in the cupboard. However, I did have 4 pink lady apples sitting in my fruit bowl (intended for oatmeal addiction) and a new box of graham crackers (for making smores with the nephews.) Without enough time to make a pie crust or enough apples for a crisp, there was one beautiful answer: Apple Brown Betty.
The Brown Betty is technically a baked pudding dessert made with spiced fruit and buttered crumbs. Personally, I think the apple recipes are more like pies without crusts. This dessert was first created by American Colonists who lacked the sophisticated cooking utensils to make the English pudding recipes they craved and missed. Adapt, overcome, create and enjoy–now the Betty is truly a product of America. And the great thing about the Brown Betty is that it can be made with apples, bananas or other commonly available fruits. In fact, if the colonists can make the Brown Betty without electricity or running water, it’s a sure bet that you can whip up a fantastic unplanned dessert in no time (Apple Brown Betty Recipe found at bottom of text.)
Good cooks will tell you that the best recipes often begin with limited ingredients. Happy cooks might also explain how the kitchen is not just a landscape of labor, but an environment ripe for creativity and fun. After all, isn’t anything worthwhile work? I urge you to make your kitchen a spa experience by kicking everyone out, creating an atmosphere that is designed to accomodate you and focusing on both your literal and metaphorical tastes. Paint the walls, play music, buy a new rug or add a soft chair for staring out the window and incorporate a little more of yourself into a room where you spend too much time to feel unsatisfied.
Apple Brown Betty:
4 pink lady apples (or other tart variety)
1 1/2 packages of graham crackers crushed into crumbs, approximately 2 cups, (or 2 cups unseasoned bread crumbs)
1 1/2 sticks of butter
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves to taste; dash of salt
3 tablespoons of lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350 F. Whisk sugar and spices together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix graham crackers with melted butter. Use a third of the cracker/butter mixture to spread on the bottom of a unbuttered 9-inch pie pan. Arrange half of the sliced apples around the pan and sprinkle with half of the sugar/spice mixture. Then distribute half of the lemon juice over the sugar. This is the first layer. The second layer is a repeat of the first–spread 1/3 cracker/butter mixture, layer apples, sprinkle sugar/spice and distribute lemon over sugar. Finally, sprinkle the last third of the cracker/butter mixture over the top and cover with foil. Take foil off after 35 min and turn oven up to 400 F to brown for last 10 or 15 minutes. Serve with vanilla yogurt or ice cream.