Posts Tagged ‘tree’


Sour cream coffee cake that looks like pie because I cut back the sugar by half. I’ve since gotten smart: kept the sugar halved, but doubled the overall recipe to give it the height I remember. I can MacGyver quite a bit when it comes to food. Cinnamony and tender. Christmas 2011.

The holiday season is winding down—just three more days until Twelfth Night. This time of year is famously nostalgic for the sights and sounds, but especially smells and tastes, of times gone by.

All of the photos here evoke a place that feels peaceful, safe, and magical—however briefly. Think about it: we willingly do this to ourselves every year, and it’s not always fun getting to the finish line. Shopping, wrapping, gift hiding, card writing, cooking, cleaning, decorating, tree hunting, driving, spending, fretting, sweating. There’s something we’re getting out of it, or we’d never bother. And I don’t think we do it just for the kids’ sake, or just for religion’s sake. This agnostic doesn’t have kids, but she bakes and decorates every year. I have a friend, also child-free, who’s atheist, and currently has a live 10-foot tree in his foyer.

I believe we do it for the feeling, for that fleeting sense of calm and magic we remember. We grab it every year with both hands, despite the hassle, despite the cost, because it feeds something inside us that’s hungry. The smells of pine and cinnamon and peppermint make everything okay again. The magic soothes us like a hot chocolate bath.

Christmastime has the unique ability to take us back to a place we need to go…and nourish us when we get there.


My first-ever candy snowmen, sitting on a sugared landscape. Whenever I make them now I remember seeing one of the kids at this party smooshing a snowman with his fist. I wasn’t mad; I thought it was hilarious. Almonds all the way. Something like Christmas 2006.


Shepherd’s pie, made with lamb, naturally. I made this just after New Year’s Day, 2013. Nothing comes close to the real thing. Rich, nutmeggy, and creamy.


Half-eaten traditional English Christmas cake, made from a recipe gifted to me by my elderly English neighbor. I had so much fun making this and enjoying it in ‘fingers,’ little slivers, as they do across the pond. Intensely flavored with cloves, cinnamon, and lots of dried fruit. Christmas 2013.


Another first-ever: stollen. I shot this right out of the oven, just before I pulled its fluffy insides apart with my fingers. Full of fragrant, juicy dried fruit and orange peel. Christmas 2010.


My room, with guest appearances by Douglas fir, white pine, juniper, and weeping willow. It smells woodsy and wintergreeny. The shot might be a current one, but the smells remind me of Christmases past.


My Raggedy Ann, about 40 years old, in her worn calico dress. She sits under my tree every year.




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I spent this week outsmarting insects called no-see-ums, dismantling and cleaning my apartment, and restoring it after a fumigation, just as everyone enjoys doing a week before Christmas. Me in black leggings tucked into new and surprisingly tight black* Hanes socks, with a long-sleeved shirt tucked into my waistband, to deter the biters. Dressed like this while dragging out paper snowflakes, ceramic light-up houses, and a suped-up tree stand. I looked like a Goth elf. But I beat the invisible little suckers.**

This is good news. And because I’m tenacious and in decent shape, the house is clean, aired, and bug-less. But I’m not ashamed to say this ordeal wore me out. Extra treats have been essential to get me from point A to point B, and I have been enjoying them without the faintest trace of guilt. Christmastime offers up some awesome once-a-year treats. Maybe you could use a couple yourself. Here we go.

Things that Cheer Me Right Back Up

-Driving past the house nearby that has a porch decorated with lit trees and a life-sized Santa.

-Making gingerbread men (to be continued; the dough’s in the fridge to firm up). Finding a cookie cutter for them has proved preposterously futile, so I’m cutting them out freehand. Edibility is the only requisite here, which is good.

-Dim sum and crepes, plus homemade stuff: mozzarella in carrozza, burgers made in the manner of English spiced beef, proper stuffing (which I sadly missed at Thanksgiving), and sour cream coffee cake. The recipe is here.


The Cake. It won a ribbon at the county fair and is a Christmas morning tradition. One year I even put it under the tree as a present to me. Maybe I’ll do it again.

-Following the local volunteer fire truck as the guys dress up and deliver early gifts to our kids. The kids jump up and down in picture windows and I can see them mouthing SANTA!

-Decorating my tree, which I keep in my room, and which was cut down by a gold miner (truth). Yukon Cornelius made a rare appearance in Colts Neck, NJ. He looked great for his age.

-Filling the bedroom with white pine to keep the tree company.

-Visiting the antiques store to see bits and pieces of Christmases past.

-Buying myself a rhinestone necklace and wearing it home from the mall, even though I had on work boots. Logic, schmogic.

-Observing the sky at dusk on New Year’s Day to predict what kind of a year 2016 will be. It’s an old custom. You want to look for a cloud shaped, however vaguely, like a bull. Totally not kidding! Look it up.

-Reading my old book of Christmas ghost stories, which are less scary than they are quaint.

-Sending Christmas cards. I might be one of the only people who likes this activity. That and eating fruitcake (caveat: homemade).

-Opening my vintage Advent calendars, which are German, at least 50 years old, and were owned by my neighbors growing up.



Girl after my own heart.

*I wear black clothes a lot. It matches everything, plus it’s all that’s allowed backstage.

**These guys can get in through window screens. Explains why I never saw them.

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When I tell people I pick quinces locally, they ask where. I smirk enigmatically and say, ‘I know a tree.’ Then I change the subject. For you, I’ll say a little more.

The tree in question surprised me last fall when I was driving down a busy highway. I spotted it near the entrance to an abandoned restaurant. And my heart started racing the way it does for some women when they see charcoal grey Manolo Blahniks at 1/3 off retail. Golden green fruit was hanging from the tree, so I figured it was either Golden Delicious apples or quinces.

I went back not long after with my stepladder. Even while I was picking them I still wasn’t sure what they were. But once I had them in the car I knew. Quinces have the loveliest fragrance—like their cousin the apple, but sexier. There was no longer any doubt what I’d found.


This year I brought a bigger stepladder. It was my birthday. I had my long hair down, which I don’t recommend, because when you climb up into the branches your hair will get caught in eleventy-hundred directions, and you’ll have to pry it loose, and afterward go to Trader Joe’s looking like Annie Oakley after the second week of deer camp, not that I’d know anything about that. I picked maybe six pounds of fruit and took these shots in the early evening light.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous walking toward the tree with my stepladder, thinking—despite the fact that it was on an abandoned property—that the people wandering around the car wash next door would hassle me. Then I remembered this:

After people ask me where I find what I find, they often follow up with, ‘I drive down that road all the time and have never seen it. How did you?’ I’m not brighter or more skilled at finding wild edibles than anyone else. The shortest answer is that I’m looking. Consciously or unconsciously, you have to be looking. It has matter to you.

And it’s the same case with the people at the car wash. They didn’t see me because they weren’t looking.

I picked in peace…just the way I like. Happy golden green birthday to me.




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Homemade turkey Sloppy Joe on cheddar-scallion biscuit. I need my strength to sweep the snow off my car.

I don’t get people who hate winter. We’re talking about a three-month, no-apology excuse to burrow under your faux fur throw from Target, fall asleep, then wake up and make luscious food.


Crab apple liqueur (sugar, apples, and vodka). I need my strength to…uh…pull off my snow boots.


Steeped, ready, gazing out over the wilds of suburban New Jersey, and plotting its first offensive.


A pound cake I made the other night. While it was still hot from the oven I docked the top and poured lots of the extra honeysuckle syrup I made last June over it. Sumptuous.

When you want to work up extra stamina for lazing around and feeding, I recommend exploring a landscape. It will be different—more stark, more bare-bones—than at any other time of year.


Huber Woods, Navesink, NJ. Sycamore and shadows, east pasture.


Trees and fence, Navesink.


West pasture, Navesink.


Ancient felled sycamore and sky, Navesink.


I came across several old, tiny wooden buildings in the woods. They were labeled 1930, 1931, etc. I wondered if old years are left in the woods of Navesink, to enter just by opening their doors, like the wardrobe into Narnia. What if they are?


1931, with reflections of the trees and sky—and ripped curtains.


Our lake finally froze over. Hockey blades, waiting for their owners to come off the ice. Grownup owners, no less. I love this town.



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I picked quinces from a lone tree on Route 35 yesterday, because this is what crazy people do in their downtime, and I have the oven heating up right now so I can bake my little tart crusts for them.

Let’s back up.

Last year around this time I took a jughandle* and ended up heading east on this same stretch of highway. Between two parking lots, one belonging to a repair shop and one belonging to a defunct Asian restaurant, I spied with my little eye a very weathered fruit-bearing tree. This is something that makes my heart race, and I have given up trying to figure out why. I didn’t know what the fruit was—it had a yellowish-green cast, so it was either pears, Golden Delicious apples, or quinces (all botanical cousins)—but by the time I had the opportunity to get back out there again, they’d all dropped and were gone.

Yesterday I went back, and they were so gnarled that even after I pulled them down I still wasn’t completely sure what they were. Either pears or quinces. Here’s 5-foot-3 me, jumping to grab equally gnarled branches to get a hold of the fruit as cars tear past me, their owners likely wondering what I’m smoking. I got six of them.

It wasn’t until they were in the warm car for a while that they gave me their name: quinces. (There they are above.) Swanky women in days past used to put quinces inside their dresser drawers; it was their version of potpourri. The quince and its cousins the apple and pear are in the Rose family. But unlike their cousins, the quince cannot be eaten raw.** You cook it in a sugar syrup with cinnamon, or in red wine. The flavor and aroma are exquisite, like an apple or pear that’s just returned from holiday on the Italian Riviera and is full of delicious secrets that it finally pens in its later years, then pokes into the fire. This is a fruit that most people haven’t heard of or seen, and it tends to be expensive. Oh, but not this time.


Just ate one. Good stuff. I forgot to prick the dough (as you can see) before I blind baked them, so they came out more like flaky cookies than tart shells, but I can handle a flaky cookie.


Next we have the fruits, literal and figurative, of a walk I took to the beach a couple of days ago. I have a modest apartment in the kind of town that manicures everything, even the lion statues that stand post at their driveways.*** Enormous 100-year-old seaside Colonials maintained within an inch of their lives. It’s nice, but I’m more comfortable with the rustic and unprettified. I found it without even looking, between two properties owned by summer visitors, just steps to the street. And that translates to The Apples Are Mine.**** They, along with the quinces above, are examples of unsprayed, unwaxed fruit—something else the average person doesn’t usually see. This is how fruit looked to our great-grandmothers.

And I was startled to find a bonus: a crabapple tree that had been grafted to this old apple tree.

Haven’t decided what to make with them yet, but they’re so fresh that I can take my time deciding.


So there you have it: a blithe admission that I am not above foraging from abandoned or forgotten trees. Why should I be?

‘Wait, Maris—that’s it?’ says the observant reader. ‘You said three trees, and we know you’re crap at math, but…’

I didn’t forget. There’s one more: a persimmon tree, the only one I know of in my area. Today I went by to check its progress. Coming along nicely, don’t you think? 😉


*It’s a way to turn around on NJ highways. Along with pork roll, makes out-of-staters scratch their heads at us.

**Maybe not ‘cannot,’ but if you did, you’d be sorry. It’s tough and astringent. Let’s say ‘you’re better off not.’ There.

***Maybe hyperbole, maybe not.

****And the deer’s. I was surprised to find scat under the tree, just a 1/2 block to the ocean. Amazing. Until about 3 years ago, I’d never ever seen a deer in my area, and certainly not so close to the beach. Times be changin’.

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I believe in truth in materials—I’ve argued for it over and over again here on eve’s apple and in my work collecting props in the theatre industry. Truth yes, authenticity yes, perfection no. Very, very no. My theatre friends often accuse me—with affection—of being hyper-detailed, but that’s not the same thing as perfection. I’ll argue against perfection until my voice, or fingers in this case, give out. Then I’ll Throat-Coat my vocal chords and Ben-Gay my hands until I can argue against it again. Stay tuned.

The reason is this: It’s impossible to hit perfection. Also this: perfection is bloody boring. It doesn’t taste like anything.

For years I’ve noticed that the orchard fruit I pick tastes the sweetest if it’s scarred. That sounds like a cliche, except it’s true. A peach or apple that’s been poked by its branches, pressed up against its brothers so tightly that it’s lopsided, partially striped by its own leaves, hanging from a cracked and windfallen tree—these are your best choices, I’m telling you. No way would an average retailer try to sell them to the average American consumer, because they’re not perfect, and the average American consumer demands perfect. But now you have it on my good word what and where real is: at local farms, farmers markets, orchards, abandoned fields.

And you know where Little Miss English Major is going with this, and we’re already waist-deep in a metaphor. So let’s dunk.

My own scars are what make me—well, let’s call it unique.* For sure there are some I would mail back to the universe third-class if I could, and settle for being somewhat less unique. I could live with that. But other scars are cool by me. For everyone who has been scarred—and by that I mean everyone—we’ve earned flavor.



Here then, the formula for peaches, apples, and humans to live a scarred and flavorful life:

1) Take a living creature.

2) Expose it to sun, gentle breezes, and blue skies.

3) Expose it to sleet, snow, hail, lightning, and damaging winds.

4) Let other creatures gnaw on it, with teeth or with harsh words.

5) Deprive it, from time to time, of rain, so it has to send roots more deeply into the earth to find water.

6) Deprive it, from time to time, of sun, so it has to make the most of the nourishment it has stored.

7) On sunny days, let it soak it in with especial gratitude.

8) On rainy days, let every drop feel like a baptism.

9) On days in which other creatures nestle in it or beneath it, let it be charmed.

10) When it’s finally ripe, let it look around at—or look inside at—its scars, and know it tastes good.


*Today I went to see the Lego movie with a friend just because I wanted to see it. Then I went to a party store to see if they had ‘screaming balloons’, because I need to find a fart noise for the Moliere farce I am working on. The afternoon was spent sewing burlap into bags that will hold costumes. My lunch was a half a raspberry Chocolove candy bar, and my dinner was a salad full of tofu, and I loved both. And this was an average day. You can’t buy this kind of uniqueness.

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I know, I get it—technically the holiday season ends tomorrow, if you’re going by the Twelve Days of Christmas schedule. That’s January 6, which some call the Epiphany, which my mom calls ‘Little Christmas’, and which is purported to be the day the Wise Men finally pulled in and dropped off their symbolic goodies*. Do just one tidbit this year, or save these up for next year. Or maybe you’ve done all of these already. Rock on. You win Christmas.

1) Attend a small-town tree-lighting. Big fun. Applaud when the big guy in red arrives, and again when he throws the switch and the town glows.

2) Open the doors on an Advent calendar. The kind that gives you a chocolate every day is okay, but I like the picture kind the best. The photos here are from one of the three 1960s calendars I own and adore.

3) Watch the old Christmas specials. The classics aren’t just nostalgia trips; many are also beautiful examples of stop-motion animation (anything Rankin & Bass) and hand-rendered animation (A Charlie Brown Christmas, with its luscious watercolor skies, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas! with its sly, Bugs-Bunny-esque Chuck Jones direction).

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a shift from mindless holiday cheeriness, and I’ve always found its wistful yearning to be sort of appealing. It was first aired in 1963, when the civil rights movement was just starting to heat up, and this might explain how emphatically the theme of conformity vs. non-conformity is pushed. It also aired a month after JFK’s assassination, and I’d be surprised if this didn’t have had a hand in its sense of melancholy.

Oh, it’s fun you want? Then watch The Year Without a Santa Claus to see Heat Miser throw awesome red-faced hissy fits, and Snow Miser (voiced by comedian Dick Shawn, who played LSD in The Producers a couple of years earlier) blithely instigating every one of said hissy fits.

4) Blow off one thing on your list. I have always made my own Christmas cards and loved sending them. This year, for some inexplicable reason that will probably come to me a decade from now at 3:15am, I just wasn’t feeling it. So I didn’t. Unless it’s a non-negotiable (like maybe the tree), opt out of doing something. The world will continue to spin on its axis, and you get to relax that much more.

5) Eat something real. A piece of real fruitcake, a cookie with real butter in it, real salt-cured country ham. I don’t need to elaborate on this point, right? I do that all year.

6) Same deal for a mug of hot chocolate that wasn’t shaken from a blue packet.

7) Walk through your neighborhood at night and see the assorted twinkliness. +1 if you find a window display of vintage moving figures holding candles or song books. Those are really cool.

8) Collect one can, or more, of vegetables every week you go to the supermarket during December. On 12/23, drop it all off at your local food bank. Include a plate of cookies just for the workers.

9) Read, or reread, A Christmas Carol. Unabridged. Do it to feel the lovely sense of connection with every other human on the planet washing over you, do it for Dickens’s delicious playfulness when it comes to words, do it to find new meaning every year. But do it.

10) Turn on the lights on the tree, turn off all of the other lights, turn on some Christmas music very quietly, and just rest.


Open 🙂

*Gold, because according to Scripture the newborn was a king; frankincense, because he was a god; and myrrh, because he was destined to die (myrrh was an embalming fluid). Do I win the new Toyota Corolla?

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