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October 16, 2004
I could hardly believe my ears: Rosie requested that we bake a pie on Friday afternoon. Always say yes when your teenager wants to do something with you -- anything this side of the law legality. It could be years before it happens again.

But very quickly it became four teenagers and four pies -- two apple and two pecan. I laid out four aprons, immediately rejected for reasons of fashion. But the choice of music was a pleasant surprise -- they wanted Frank Sinatra. He's the best, Tom said. I didn't know they knew that.

Bowls, pie plates, pastry cutters, spoons, knives, peelers: apples were peeled, cored and halved, butter and flour whirled in the Cuisinart, eggs were beaten with sugar and corn syrup dribbled in. Two balls of American pie crust were soon chilling in the refrigerator. Four people work fast, and Ellen and Tom seemed experienced at peeling apples, something that slows a lot of people way down. We can put the pate brisee in the freezer and maybe shorten the chill time a little, I said, and Madeline patted it into two disks and wrapped them in waxed paper. The kids were puzzled that we were cooking the apples in two large skillets, and that there was only one crust -- These are tartes tatins, I told them. French. Ugh, don't say that again, Madeline said. You sound like my French teacher. It's the weekend. Well, you're going to like them, I told her. You turn them upside down after you bake them. They're awesome. Wait and see.

Are you ready to rock and roll, Rose? I asked. Expertly, she floured the countertop and her rolling pin and rolled the pastry out thin and flat, then rolled it back up carefully with a knife blade for transfer to the pie plate, an operation words cannot describe very well: you have to be shown. I'm willing to bet that she's the only person in her high school who knows how to do this. Lots of adults don't know how any more.

Should we arrange the pecans on top or just stir them in, I asked, provoking a firestorm of competing views: Stir! No, arrange! No way! Stir! The stir faction won out: the kids were getting tired of cookery, and all the nuts float to the top as the pie bakes anyway.

The kitchen emptied as suddenly as it had filled when the pies went into the oven: out to the compost pile with the apple peels, out to the front porch to look at the rain falling just inches away from their faces, safe and dry under the porch roof.

Silence in the kitchen, rain against the windows, the pies in the oven filling the air with their wonderful smell. Then an announcement: We're just going to chill on Main Street for a while, Mamo. And they were gone.

Chill. Okay. Just like the pie dough. Maybe we all have to chill for a while, on our way to becoming what we will become. Rest and wait. And think about what's ahead.

Tarte Tatin

Blend 1 1/4 cup flour and 7 tbsp butter, in one inch pieces -- ten pulses in Cuisinart, or with two knives, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 3 tbsp ice water and pulse again, until mixture hangs together. Don't let it form a ball. If it won't hang together, add another tbsp of ice water. Pat into a disk on waxed paper and wrap; chill in refrigerator for at least a hour, or in freezer for a shorter time if you need to cheat.

Core, peel and quarter six large Granny Smith or other cooking apples. Melt 6 tbsp butter in large skillet; add apples and 1/c sugar, and cook over medium heat for fifteen minutes, Then turn heat to high and continue to cook until apples are a lovely brown -- don't be afraid of how brown they get. Go to Paris and look in the patisserie windows: all the apple tarts are dark brown.

Dump all the apples into a buttered 9" cake pan. Wash the skillet in hot soapy water right away, if you want to save yourself some work; that stuff is murder once it hardens.

Get out the pastry and roll it between two sheets of wax paper until it's just slightly larger than the cake pan, and carefully peel off the paper. Place dough on top of the apples and tuck it in all around them, so that no apples show. Bake at 425 Farenheit for 35 minutes or so: golden crust with brown edges.

Take from oven and put a plate on top of the pan. Invert it immediately -- two hands, a potholder in each -- and tap the cake pan sharply a few time to loosen the apples before removing it carefully. If any apples remain on the bottom of the cake pan, carefully lift them with a knife and replace them on the tart -- you'll see right where they should go, as if they were puzzle pieces. Wash the cake pan right away, too, or you'll regret it sincerely.

Et voila! Tarte Tatin.
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