Thursday, October 16, 2014

Apple Tarte Tatin

You might note a minor lapse between this post and the last. To see what I've been up to in the intervening year, check out my Chicago blog, Alive in the Second City.

About a month and a half ago, I flew home to Minnesota for Labor Day weekend. I’d been living in Chicago for just short of a year at that point, and I had the economy protocol of Spirit Airlines down pat: Check in for your flight online or at an airport kiosk so as not to incur a $10 fee for bothering the ticket agent; resign yourself to a random seat assignment, because choosing that magical spot in which, should the plane go down, you’ll have the best chance at survival is a special treat that comes at a price; and most importantly, pack only as much as will fit in a backpack. That backpack is called a personal item, and on Spirit Airlines, that’s very different from a carry-on item. A hundred dollars different, to be exact.

This is okay. I can live out of a backpack for a weekend. If allowed a carry-on-size bag, I’d fill it with clothes that I ultimately don’t need. The one free personal item stricture keeps me from indulging my inner George Costanza and packing enough to dress based on mood. I don’t mind the limitation. In fact, I’m all about paring down. And on this particular Labor Day trip, I got so caught up in minimizing that I refrained from packing a book.

“No book?!” my mom would later exclaim, as though everything she thought she knew about me had fallen into question.

But I didn’t think much of it at the time. I figured I’d read something off my iPhone while I waited at the gate, and then just sleep during the flight. Only I didn’t account for two things: 1) Spirit flights are reliably delayed, and 2) reading off a screen for extended periods kind of bums me out.

Right now I bet you’re thinking, So where does this alleged tarte tatin come in?

To that I say, Oh god, that’s right! Sorry.

So anyway, I survive the inbound flight, random seat assignment an’ all, and now I’m at my sister’s house in Minneapolis, bookless. It occurs to me that I also like to read outside the context of air travel, which makes my deliberate neglect to pack a book all the more baffling.

I look toward the wall of bookshelves beside the staircase, and I find my answer. Looking back on it, the whole thing seems almost serendipitous.
On Rue Tatin has been left lying atop a row of vertical spines, a stand-out among the sardine-packed paperbacks. I pick it up. The cover has all the trappings of a memoir about an American expat living the good life in France, a niche theme that I once favored but have forgone in the last year while I focused on comedy writing.

It’s hard to know the extent to which that book influenced my decision to move back to Minnesota. All I know is when I got back to Chicago it became an escape, and when I wasn’t reading it, I was looking forward to reentering and vicariously living the life that the author had made for herself in a small French town, filling the days with family, writing, bucolic countryside, and plenty of good food. Suddenly Chicago seemed a little too big, a little too noisy, a little too far from all those things that made this author’s life seem so appealing.

I may decide to live outside Minnesota again someday. But right now I’m happy around family and lakes and so many birch trees. So I cook apples in caramel and drape them with pastry in honor of fall, friends, and the book that helped remind me where the good life’s at.

100% unedited MN sunset

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