24. Degenerative Desserts

Cranberry-Apple-PieI got up at seven o’clock the next morning, made coffee and listened to the radio. There was a cute piece on NPR about The Science Behind Santa’s Christmas Eve Journey. It was about how Rudolph’s red nose was ideal to guide Santa’s sleigh through the night sky because it radiates light, rather than reflecting it. This was all courtesy of Neil de Grasse Tyson, Burton’s favorite astrophysicist.

Cranberry-Apple-PieI had a terrible habit of picking scabs to prolong any chance of healing. I couldn’t resist. I sent him the story.

“Take a listen,” I wrote. “It’s cute. I promise you’ll love it.”

“It’s like you’ve always known my love for Tyson,” he responded.

“I thought you’d like it,” I said. “I hope you’re having a happy holiday and that your rash has cleared up.”

“It’s much better. Thank you for checking up,” he wrote. “What are you up to today?”

“Reading. Writing. Baking a pie. Then I’m going to Lena’s for a bit,” I said.

“What are you writing?” he asked.

Cranberry-Apple-Pie“Well, I’m reading a Nora Ephron book and it inspired me to write a personal essay. It’s actually about you,” I said.

I had a mild obsession with Nora Ephron. Most notably, she wrote When Harry Met Sally, but  she was also an accomplished journalist and food lover. She published a number of books of personal essays that were very clever and entertaining — many of which were about food.  Most every time I read something from her I felt inspired to write a personal essay as an exercise.

“Oh?” he asked.

“Yes. Really, it’s just a sappy summary of our relationship,” I said.

Cranberry-Apple-Pie“Well, one thing I know for sure, with your resistance to sharing your food and your writing, is that I will never get to read it,” he challenged.

And with that, I sent it. I didn’t care anymore about what he thought and I got to work on my cranberry-apple pie while he read.

“I did it. I met someone. After 25 years of dating, I found a man who can make me swoon.

But there’s always a catch.

The meeting was something that only happens in the movies:

IMG_7664It was at an engagement party for a friend of mine. In the days leading up to the party, I wasn’t looking forward to it, but for some reason when I left my house that night I was feeling very lucky.

The party was fine. I saw people I hadn’t talked to in a while. We caught up over cocktails and had an entertaining evening. After a drink or two, I stole a moment to go outside to have a cigarette by myself. As I stood there contemplating something totally forgettable, a cab rolled up. A tall, handsome, scruffy man stepped out. Our eyes locked on each other before he even shut the door. His name was Burton. He was lovely and our timing was magical.

I acted as the host when we entered the party together. I showed him to the whiskey and offered him some finger food. We went our separate ways but our paths kept deliberately crossing. During our next trip outside, he asked me to get a bloody mary with him the next day. Swept away by his boldness, I accepted. And then I accepted his invitation to make out in the elevator on the way back into the party. I was feeling whimsical and lucky.

Cranberry-Apple-PieWhat followed was a bittersweet experience. We dated and had fun. We got along swimmingly. He was loving and affectionate. He encouraged me to be more open emotionally and supported my creative endeavors. He also showed me the best sex I’ve ever had. Perfect, mind-blowing sex.

I was in love and so was he… with someone else.

His previous relationship didn’t work out the way he wanted it to. I don’t know the details, only that her head had been badly messed about by a man and ruined her for every man that followed. Burton tried his damnedest to work it out but it all came to a head… the day I met him.

I wasn’t aware of exactly what kind of damage I was facing, but from what he’s revealed to me, he’s totalled. He was honest about how he hasn’t had time to get over the relationship and that it’s something he needs.

Cranberry-Apple-PieI’m still trying to figure out how to handle this mini-heartbreak. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at it. I keep dragging him down this rabbit hole when I know the best thing is set him free to sort his head. And in turn, I am entertaining suitors as I nurse an aching heart and will no doubt continue the cycle of bad timing for would-be lovers.”

I used “love” for dramatic effect. I wasn’t actually in love with him, but “like” just didn’t work as well; I didn’t tell him that.

“Aww,” he wrote. “That was really sweet. I smiled throughout. Thank you for sharing this with me.”

“You’re welcome,” I responded.

Cranberry-Apple-Pie“With that in mind,” he said. “I was impressed by your restraint in not detailing our sex. Maybe I’ll write a brief essay on that sort of thing.”

“Did you forget my mini-skirt analogy on essays?” I asked. “It has to be long enough to cover the most important parts but short enough to keep them interested. And it had to be PG. I share these things with my friends and I’m sure they don’t want to read about my sex life. But that would be a good writing exercise.”

“An interesting exercise, to be sure,” he wrote. “Let’s do this. No edits, 12pm deadline. Go.”

Cranberry-Apple-Pie“Ok. Shit,” I said. “40 minutes. That’s not much time.”

“For either of us. Go.”

I was starving, I had to pee, a pie was in the oven, and I had already used all of my creative energy on the one essay that I wrote; I wasn’t prepared to write another one. But I did. And it was terrible. Particularly compared to the one he wrote. It was absurdly detailed. It was twice as long as what I had written.

That, of course, set in motion all kinds of texts for the rest of Christmas Day.


Cranberry-Apple-PieLena got back from Ohio at five o’clock. I was at her house by five-thirty. When I arrived, Lena, Bryan and Ford were going through all the loud toys that Ford got for Christmas. Dizzied by the afternoon’s events, I was mopey and not very good company, but I presented my pie with as much enthusiasm I could gather.

One of the less noisy gifts they’d received was a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated. I’d never looked at an issue — there are so many cooking magazines — but I was really impressed. All the recipes were well-thought-out and I zeroed in on a recipe for wild rice and mushroom soup. I obsessed about it while Ford made his dragon roar and eat people.

Lena’s neighbors stopped by for snacks and wine; I had whiskey and didn’t touch the food. The texts from Burton curbed my appetite. They continued until I got home at eight o’clock and until he left the suburbs at ten.

Cranberry-Apple-PieHe suggested we meet up. I told him that I would meet him at a bar for a drink but that sex would be a bad idea. It was a bad idea. I knew this, but I also knew we were going to end up in bed no matter how much I pretended to protest. I was giving myself and all women who have ever experienced heartbreak a bad reputation.

He agreed to meet me at the only bar near us that I knew was open: Rainbo.

We met at eleven o’clock. I was expecting him to wait for me outside, but he was inside when I got there. It was packed, but he was he was hard to miss.

I walked up to him and he greeted me with an unexpected kiss. “Hello, beautiful woman,” he said.

Cranberry-Apple-PieI was a little stiff considering the breakup, but the subsequent dirty communication should have made me a little looser. He didn’t seem to notice and ordered me a whiskey soda and a shot. I don’t know what he was drinking aside from the shot, but the shot was the only thing we finished.

He was a little too cheerful, but restless and said, “I have booze at my house, let’s get out of here.”

He ordered a cab without any input from me and I followed like a simp. We got in the cab and he asked if I had booze at my house. I affirmed that there was so he had the cab drop us off three blocks from where we started.

When we got into my apartment, we had a drink and he asked if I had melatonin or anything to help him sleep.

Cranberry-Apple-Pie“Melatonin? That doesn’t work,” I scoffed.

“I need something,” he said. “I’ll go back to my house and get something and come back.”

“You don’t need melatonin,” I said.

“I have something else,” he said. “Do you want some? It’ll help us sleep.”

“Uhh. Yeeeah,” I said. I was incapable of turning down any mood-altering substances and, apparently, Burton.

Noah left in a cab and returned within ten minutes.

We retired to my bedroom where we played out every detail of his essay.



Cranberry-Apple Pie


  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 TB sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 TB buttermilk


  • 4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries
  • 4 TB granulated sugar
  • 2 TSP lemon juice
  • 2 tsp cornstarch

Crumble topping:

  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 TB cold butter, cubed
  • ½ cup oats
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

For the crust, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add cubed butter. Squeeze the flour mixture and the butter together until the mixture looks like cornmeal with chunks of butter the size of peas. Make a well in the mixture. Pour the buttermilk into the well.

Gently work the flour in using a fork until everything is moist. DO NOT OVER MIX. Form a loose ball, cover with plastic and press down to form a disc. Refrigerate for one hour.

For the filling, toss together the apples and cranberries with the lemon juice. Whisk together the sugar and cornstarch. Sprinkle the cornstarch mixture on the fruit and toss so the apples and cranberries are coated nicely.

For the crumble topping, combine all the ingredients and squeeze the mixture together until it’s combined and crumbly.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Roll out the dough until it’s about ⅛” thick. Press into pie plate, crimp edges, and pierce the sides and bottoms.

Spoon the filling and crumble in layers into the prepared crust.

Bake for about 45 minutes or the filling starts to bubble. Cool for at least two hours before serving.



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