I learned a lot this week from an apple streudel.
Two weeks ago, I braved terrific traffic in the tiny towns of North Georgia just to go buy a few bags of crisp apples. Winesap, Rome Beauties, Jonagolds, Granny Smiths – the choices were marvelous, but in the end, I settled on my two favorites: Mutsu and Arkansas Black.
Last week, the ladies on my tennis team in Florida were wondering aloud how the fall leaf changes were progressing up north, and I said, “I was in North Georgia 10 days ago to buy apples, and there was no color yet.”
They nodded in acknowledgement, then someone said, “What have you made with your apples?”
It stung. I’d made nothing with my apples. I’d just been eating one or two a day, and even that hadn’t kept the doctor away; I was on an antibiotic for a hideous sinus infection. It was shameful, really, to have all those wonderful apples and not make something delicious with them. I decided that day to use my apples for a higher purpose.
Given that I have a tiny bit of German heritage (my paternal grandfather’s family came from Southern Germany, which leaves me to believe I’m sort of redneck German) and that it is October, a time of great celebration in Germany, and that I spent ten years sporadically attending cooking school taught by an elderly German woman named Ursula, I decided I would make an apple streudel.
Sunday morning, I opened the package of phyllo dough the recipe called for and tried to remove the first sheet from the package. The idea was to butter twelve separate layers of phyllo dough, sprinkling a bit of sugar on every other layer; fill with a mixture of apples, chopped dried apricots, and cinnamon sugar; neatly roll the strudel into an approximately 12-inch by 4-inch by 2-inch tall rectangle; and then bake it. But that first sheet of phyllo tore like a wet piece of toilet paper. So did the second. And the third.
I started to lose my cool. I picked up the fourth sheet, and though it tore a little, I managed to piece it back together and butter it. The next one was a little easier, but it tore in a different spot. I reasoned that by the time I got twelve torn sheets layered, the holes would be in different places and no one would ever know the difference.
“You’re a lazy, lousy cook.” One of Ursula’s favorite expressions marched relentlessly through my head.
“It’ll still taste good,” I countered with my own positive self talk.
I finished the phyllo layering, then filled the streudel and rolled it up. And rather than looking like the slightly rounded, beautiful streudels I’ve had the privilege of consuming, it looked like a decapitated armadillo.
I’ve spent the past few years getting to know myself, learning to shed the image, and becoming really happy with who I am. And one thing I know for certain is that, even if I spent the next decade at Cordon Bleu, I would never emerge as much more than a lazy, lousy cook. That’s just not who I am. It took an apple streudel for me to realize that some things are pretty darn good just the way they are; they don’t need to be improved upon, and in some cases, trying to improve upon something that God perfected is, well, kind of stupid.
In other words, I’m better off enjoying my apples just the way they are and not always trying to turn them into something better. They look better naked.
The streudel did taste kind of good, though.