June has mastered a new word, and that word is eat. It’s one of many things I like about her.
Because Brandon works most nights, I get up with June most mornings. I have developed a condition that my friend Andrea calls Bionic Mom Hearing, so I sleep with earplugs and a pillow over my head. It’s a sight I think you would enjoy. But she manages to wake me up anyway (MAAA! MAAA!), so I get a bottle of milk from the fridge (prepared the night before, a small gift to my future self), retrieve her from her crib (“UP! UP!”), carry her across the hall to our bed, lie down and listen to her little mouth working at the bottle and feel sentimental for 2.5 minutes before she starts yelling for me to unzip her sleep sack (“OFF! OFF!”), help her climb down from the bed (“DIT DOW!”), and follow her down the hall in search of a book (“BUH! BUHHHH!”). She is a blur of hair.
I struggle to figure out how much to write about her here, or how to write about this weird new parenting gig. For the first 32 years of my life, I didn’t think I wanted a child; I wasn’t even remotely interested until, very suddenly, I was. And now here I am, in the thick of it, seeing my everyday – and my cooking, because it’s the anchor of my days – through the lens of this very different life. So I’m feeling it out, I guess: how to write now, how to write in a way that Old Me wouldn’t be totally bored and annoyed with, while acknowledging that New Me is… a new me. I like the new me better than the old one, in ways that I never expected: I had no idea I could be so patient! Able to read the same book fifteen times without screaming! Willing to walk around with chewed-up graham cracker smeared on my coat! I also never expected to spend so much time thinking about applesauce, and more to the point, Judy Rodgers’s roasted applesauce.
I’ve written about Zuni Café at least a half-dozen times on this site, which strikes me as a lot for someone who grew up in Oklahoma and lives in Seattle. But because my mother’s twin sister Tina lived near San Francisco, where Zuni is, and because I spent a lot of time at Tina’s house as a kid, a teenager, and in college, I got to eat at Zuni Café a few times in my formative years, and I do think it formed, and informed me. Judy Rodgers’s cooking was simple, seasonal, understated, and somehow also bold, the flavors so spot-on, so confident, that they made a deep impression. In a lot of ways, The Zuni Café Cookbook taught me how to cook. You can imagine then, how thoroughly I had my mind blown out of my head when, four years ago, after I wrote about her polenta, Rodgers (Judy? Can I call her Judy?) sent me an e-mail. (!!!!) She passed away last December, but it makes me happy to know that June will eat in her restaurant someday, and that she’s growing up eating Rodgers’s excellent applesauce.
It’s basically impossible to make anything elaborate for breakfast when June is around. And that’s fine, really, because I was a cold-cereal person long before she showed up. So cold cereal it often is! Or, if I was a superhero the night before and made a batch of oatmeal, we’ll have oatmeal. Or, if I was a superhero a few nights before and made oatmeal, so that I could later be a superhero and make leftover oatmeal muffins, we’ll have leftover oatmeal muffins. And if not, I try to at least make sure there’s applesauce and plain yogurt.
I live in a state of many apples, so, I don’t know, I got into the habit of making applesauce. It feels wrong to buy it at the store when I can get good fruit at the market on Sunday and turn it into applesauce in barely half an hour. For a long time, I used a stovetop method (much like the one in this ancient post), and sometimes I added half a vanilla bean, which I like a lot. But then Kristen Miglore, the genius behind Food52’s Genius Recipes column, wrote about Judy Rodgers’s roasted applesauce. Like most of Rodgers’s recipes, this one is dead-simple, but all about the details. It’s just apples, sugar, salt, and butter (and maybe apple cider vinegar, though I haven’t needed it yet), and the sugar amount is much lower than other recipes I’ve used, because oven-roasting helps to concentrate the apples’ sweetness. You peel and quarter them, toss them with a tiny bit of sugar and a tinier bit of salt, dot them with butter, and you’re mostly done. (The only tricky part, if you can call it that, is seasoning the apples, because you’ll do it to taste: you might use one teaspoon, or you might use two. As tricky parts go, it’s not tricky.) In the oven, the apples soften and caramelize at their tips, and they also dry out slightly, which I like, because it makes for a pleasingly chunky sauce, one that June can eat with her hands, if that’s how the morning is going.
In any case, making applesauce is one of those brainless tasks that I can do once a week, while having a glass of something after June is in bed and before we are in bed, and the next morning, when I hear her through the earplugs and the pillow and the sleep, I feel good for having done it.
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Put them in a (ungreased) baking dish just large enough to hold them in a crowded single layer. (I find that a 9×13 dish is perfect.) Toss with a little salt and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. (Unless they are very sweet, in which case you might not need any sugar at all.) If they are tart enough to make you squint, use 2 teaspoons of sugar. Dot the apples with butter, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and bake until the apples start to soften, about 15 to 30 minutes. Remove the foil, raise the heat to 500 F, and return the pan to the oven. Leave the apples to dry out and color slightly, about 10 minutes more. When the tips of the apples are golden and the fruit is tender, remove the pan from the oven, and coarsely mash the apples. (You could use a potato masher, but I just use the back of a wooden spoon, and I leave mine very chunky.) If you like, season the applesauce further with salt and sugar to taste, and then consider a splash of apple cider vinegar to brighten the flavor. (You can try a drop on a spoonful to see if you like it; I haven’t found that my applesauce needs it.)
Yield: about 3 cups