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Fall Baked Apples

As we close the chapter on another Jewish New Year and bear down on the Day of Repentance, I'm particularly reflective of the last couple of months, which were marked by four refugees, a wedding and a funeral.

The refugees were my Miami girlfriends and their 16-year-old daughters who came here to escape the looming threat of a hurricane, which ultimately diverted its fury to the west coast of the state and away from my hometown of Miami. Taking them in was no question. As a Jew, we open our doors to those in need; we feed the hungry. In fact, as the storm was gaining speed in the Caribbean I was about to text them to come to Atlanta, but they had already texted me that they were on their way. Now I would be lying if I said it wasn't fun. Or that they weren't the most upbeat, energetic and funny guests. Although we lost power for 22 hours, we played games, cooked great meals and explored the city like tourists. Should we have to go through it again, they even left us with the best departing gift: a powerless food processor, coffee grinder and frother. Lest they come back and we lose power again, we'll for sure be able to make coffee and chop to our hearts' content.

The wedding was my sister's. She married a great guy, who we love, under a canopy of avocado trees in my Mom's backyard amid friends and family. After the ceremony and brunch we all ended up in the pool in various states of dress. Up until recently, Jen had never been an observant Jew. Scott was the one who took an interest, converting to Judaism and taking Jen to Temple and Torah study with him. Now we don't just have two more great chefs in the family - Scott's a restaurateur and Jen's a former bread baker turned miller - we have a couple of serious Jews as well. We've always celebrated our Jewish holidays with food - sharing great recipes, gifting cookbooks and trying to one-up each other (Scott - your brisket looked amazing, but that’s one of my specialties - it may be time for the great brisket cook-off!). And now we can pray together and explore the meaning in the great storybook that is the Torah together.

And then there was the funeral. Two beautiful parents taken from their five young children under the age of twelve. A catastrophic engine failure, shortly after takeoff, of the small plane carrying them from Savannah to Atlanta. I've been haunted by imagining their final moments, knowing the plane was going down. Praying that they could make it back to the airport. Hoping the pilot could land in a field. Frantically texting the nanny and then scrambling to text her mom, but not getting the chance to hit send. Is there mercy in the fact that they were together - these two incredible people who loved each other so much? Is there a message that I'm missing in this? I find myself calling friends just to tell them I love them because when you lose someone so suddenly you regret that you didn't tell them enough that you loved them.

So as we bear down on the Day of Repentance I'm celebrating the highs and sinking very deeply into the lows of these last couple of months. It is these "sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground" that make it hard to focus, have faith and believe. I find myself questioning - why them? Why the good ones? Of course there are simply things in life for which there are no answers. The ones that make you want to hug the ones you love a bit longer. Say I love you more than necessary. Slow down, stay in instead of going out. And cook something sweet for the one you love.

As the peach season fades like the trailing colors of a breathtaking Martha's Vineyard sunset, I welcome fall's bounty of apples with the hope that time will heal these wounds. That with each passing day, week, month, the pain will subside and I'll remember their beautiful smiles without crying. That we'll remember to say "I love you" outside of the intensity of weddings and funerals. That there will be more weddings and less funerals. Still - I hope that in time the memories of the departed will seem sweet.

So to mark the Jewish New Year, I've been playing around with this baked apple recipe. It's been humbling to get it right. You really have to cook them for at least an hour. It's a very sweet dish so the ginger and lemon zest play a nice part in balancing the flavor.

Baked Apples

4 firm, sweet, locally-sourced apples (I used Mercer for this batch)

8 T butter

1/4 C minced ginger

2 t cinnamon

2 T honey

Zest and juice of one lemon

1 C pecans

1 bottle Ginger Beer

Preheat oven to 375

Cut apples in half lengthwise and core them. Squeeze lemon juice over them so they don't turn brown. Place them in a cast iron skillet. Combine butter, ginger, cinnamon, honey and lemon zest. Divide this mixture between the apples scooping a generous heap into each core. Pour the ginger beer into the bottom of the skillet and sprinkle the pecans on top of each apple. Bake for one hour. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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