Lisa Brown and more than a week of apple-prompted memories

Nola Studiola: What fruit and what vegetable each deserve a week-long celebration? Please explain.

Apples. I am a New England girl at heart even though I mostly live in San Francisco, and New England to me has always meant autumn. And autumn means falling leaves and cold apples and sweaters. I guess apples could use more than a week, come to think of it.

Brussels Sprouts. I adore them. The most delicious ones I ever ate were growing in a friend’s garden mere hours before we ate them, blanched and then roasted in olive oil. And then there’s this exquisite recipe.

AB: I too love brussels sprouts. I have to admit that one too many run-ins with over-waxed mealy Red Delicious put me off apples for a while. I find apple juice to be a sad juice, though. Sad in a sadness-of-a-child sort of way, and so I avoid apple juice.

I used to LOVE Granny Smith apples. A story that my close friends know all too well by heart is the story of my father’s Fat Free Diet Era in the early 1990’s, when, after my mother and father started swapping traditional gender duties of cooking (ie, Dad taught himself to cook and we ate the trail and errors for a long time) he researched fat gram contents of foods, collated much of it into a green three-ring binder, and fed us foods that were shockingly low in fat. (Cucumber and mustard sandwiches, hold the bread.) We ate prunes (that wasn’t new–I come from a family with a deep and abiding belief in the restorative and preventative power of prunes.) and heavy hot grain cereals for breakfast. I was hostage. Mom got to use the “oops! I’m late for work; guess I’ll grab breakfast at McDonald’s! Love you guys—-gotta run!”

I was so deprived of taste and fatty substance that when I took a plain whole wheat bagel and a Granny Smith apple to eat for lunch, my taste buds thought I had died and gone to Bacchus’ great court of excess. Now, the mere idea of a Granny Smith sets my gestating cavities off.

My serious splurge, though, was a bean burrito and a Mountain Dew from Taco Bell—whenever I could borrow my friend Min Soo’s car and get off the high school campus. I think my mom’s splurge was sundaes at McDonald’s, judging by the empty containers I spotted in her car….but I can’t be too sure.

I once worked as a part-time SAT prep instructor for Princeton Review while I went back to school for my teaching certification in Social Studies. My favorite part of that job was the mobility. I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I taught small classes and one-on-one test prep sessions, so my assignments took me to idyllic places like Beverly, Marblehead, Athol, Groton. I taught in the fall and winter and the drives from Cambridge were an hour or a bit more. My favorites were a neck and neck tie between the two regions: the north coast commutes to Marblehead and Beverly, winding, outcroppings of little coastal towns with weatherbeaten store fronts and aging, resilient mansions, and the western commutes to Athol and Groton, where hills were dense, and vegetation was thick and easy to take for granted.

In Groton, there is a coffeeshop that has stuck in my mind for the past ten years. The Main Street Cafe, (which appears to be under new management but the interior looks the same in photos posted online). I used to go there around 9:30 after my class was done. (Yes, I drove over an hour from Cambridge every Saturday morning to start a class at 8:30 AM at Groton School.) The feeling that I still had the whole day, that the anxiety-ridden chore of standing up in front of teenagers was done for the day and I had once again survived, and the smell of the autumn air in that New England world of impending winter that Lisa Brown talks about—so happy. The cafe, at least ten years ago, had hard wood floors that groaned and creaked under your weight, and a row of various autumnal flavored coffees standing at a attention for self-serve. The air outside smelled like burnt leaves and heavy wool, and the air inside smelled of hot, fresh pumpkin spice coffee. Usually I try not to go all Martha Stewart about that kind of wholesome evocation but it is really hard not to remember that moment in my life with anything but nostalgia. Just the moment after I finished teaching, mind you. 🙂 I love teaching, but I think my desire to have my own family and save some of my energy for that combined with my need to use more energy for my writing has made the anxiety of it a depleting, not regenerative enterprise.

And, I had a favorite orange wool sweater that got really stretched out.

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