Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Baked Apples

Flexibility is related to creativity. Some of the greatest discoveries were made when certain unexpected conditions required someone to change course mid-stream. Our first reaction when faced with this seeming bit of adversity is to scream, stamp our feet, and try to breathe deeply.

It’s like finding that all you have is lemons when you were about to make cranberry punch. The creative individual is never daunted. He or she takes the lemons, squeezes them, adds a bit of sugar, and makes lemonade.

There’s a wonderful phrase in the Jewish tradition, and it often comes in handy. It goes: “Also this is for the good.” It Hebrew it’s “Gam zu le tova.” There actually lived a wise man whose name was Nachum Ish Gam Zu who, as tradition goes, originated this phrase since he was always seeing the good in everything that happened to him.

One of the qualities of a creative cook is making the best of what’s at hand. In fact, it can be a creative challenge that you choose to embark on. Instead of jumping in the car and running over to the supermarket to get what’s missing, you make alterations either on your menu or the specific dish you’re making. When your brain starts cooking and you leave yourself open to inspiration, you can stumble on some of the best discoveries of your cooking career.

When you are moving in the direction of simplicity rather than diversification and complexity, there’s a certain beauty that might have been once lost and now reappears. Since we easily get accustomed to thinking in complexities after a certain age, usually around the age of seven, we can’t always return to simplicity on our own.

By that time, we have certain need systems in place, and most of this comes from the society that socializes us into believing, for instance, that something has to be very sweet, include chocolate, and need an electric whipping machine to be worthy of the name “dessert.”

One day, you may discover that you’re about to prepare a dessert, and the only ingredient you’ve got is apples. Or maybe, you have a severe time limitation before those guests will be tumbling through the door. Or maybe the supermarket is closed on Tuesday afternoons from two to four when everyone is taking a siesta, as they do in Israel. And all you have is apples.

It’s the moment of reckoning when simplicity rears its glorious head and you discover that apples, alone, can be dessert. They can be cored, filled with some brown sugar or honey, maybe dates or raisins, maybe walnuts, or whatever you have on hand. Or they can be made simply by washing them, placing them on a baking tray, and sticking them in the oven for an hour.

A baked apple connoisseur will experiment to find which apples taste tart, which are sweet, which are smooth, and which are crunchy even when baked. Since each apple variety has its distinctive flavor and crispness, you can try making several diffent kinds of apples on one baking tray.

A delicious baked apple for dessert is a great reminder that the easiest, the simplest, the cheapest, and the most natural can sometimes be the best.

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