It happened in the parking lot of Nob Hill Foods.
I was about to back out when I saw her.
A fashionable lady, very chic, very California, was walking to her car, her blond bob bobbing the way blond bobs bob. She wore white capris (before Memorial Day, it's true) and a cute leather purse slung over her arm. Suddenly, she reached into the small box she was carrying, plucked out a fried chicken leg, and started gnawing on it as she walked to her car.
This lady's my hero.
I sat there and laughed, louder than I meant to, cheering her on as she devoured her poultry right there in the lot. With no one to impress, she indulged her gluttony, totally succumbing, paying no mind to social convention or the mores of polite society despite an appearance that otherwise suggested attention to fashion, to trends, to the clichéd totems of suburban style.
She made me hungry, too, and as I pulled out of the lot and headed home, I thought up ways I could create a large amount of food in a small span of time.
I ransacked the fridge and saw them first, and immediately: the apples I'd overbought for charoset. When I'd approached the vendor days earlier I'd seen two buckets: one marked 2 dollars a pound (their normal price), the other 75 cents a pound (a steal). The cheaper ones, of course, were blemished and pocked, small imperfections that for charoset -- a traditional Passover dish of spiced mushed apples and nuts -- make not a whit of difference. Charoset is supposed to be ugly; in fact, I think it's more holy, more ideal, if it looks as much like mortar as possible. For ugly charoset, the cheap, botched apples were a godsend.
I'd loaded up, ridiculously so, stuffing two bags, maybe three, with pounds and pounds of homely apples. When I went to pay, the vendor gave me a big smile. "You're smart," she said. "You just bought 8 pounds of apples for $6 instead of $16." I stood tall. "I know!" I replied, so proud.
Of course, I only used half of them for charoset, not even. I had many, many apples left over.
So on this day, I pulled them out, left on their peels, and chopped them up around their cores.
I unearthed a fat rhubarb stalk next, sliced it nice and thin, tossed it in, and assumed it would turn the applesauce a shade of dusty rose. (It did, sort of, but I credit the apple peels more.) I spooned in brown sugar and flung in a cinnamon stick -- first one, then a second. Pinched in some salt, glugged in some juice, covered the pot, and set it to simmer.
Forty-five minutes later I had a tart, glossy, lusty, completely indulgent pot of warm rhubarb applesauce.
I let it cool, but just barely.
Then I stood there, right in my kitchen, and shoveled it directly from the pot to my mouth, toasting the lady in the parking lot, thanking her for her gluttony, and for her service to humanity.
Recipe for Rhubarb Applesauce with muscovado sugar
Depending on the variety of apple you choose, your applesauce may be golden or blush. I never bother peeling apples for sauce. The skins become tender and don't bug me in the least. Eat this warm, straight from the pot, or cold, topped with yogurt or a generous drizzle of cream. It's also outstanding over pancakes, waffles, and French toast.
Makes 5-1/2 cups
3 to 3-1/2 pounds (8 to 10) firm apples, such as Pink Lady, cored and chopped
1 large stalk rhubarb, thinly sliced
1/3 cup (packed) muscovado sugar (or dark brown sugar)
2/3 cup apple juice
2 cinnamon sticks
Combine all the ingredients in a Dutch oven or large pot. Set over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for the first 5 minutes to dissolve the sugar. Cover and cook at a gentle simmer, stirring every now and again, until the apples are very tender and yielding but still have a vague shape. Remove from the heat and stir briskly to break the apples down further, if desired. Enjoy warm, or cool to room temperature and cover, refrigerate, and serve cold with yogurt or cream.