If fall is a reminder of gradual change, these doughnuts are a reminder of comforting tradition, of the way clouds and sun streaked across the horizon above the pumpkin patch in the late afternoon last fall, of rows of cornfields and bins of fresh-picked apples, of taking a hayride with friends.
We’re going back to Kuiper’s again this year, probably later than is best again, so the apples may already be in bins and we may need extra layers of clothing when we walk through the orchard, but I am going with a friend, and, I’m finding, those things I do with a friend are the best things I do, you know what I mean?
Like last weekend, which was a people-filled one, from Friday night bakery and Greek food with my brother, to Saturday in the country with a group of food-loving strangers and Alicia and then cake at my friend Michele’s, to a Sunday morning listening to Truth and singing with an auditorium filled with people, to lunch in the home of friends, where their two-year-old grabbed my finger and pulled me towards her toy bin to “play babies.”
All of this followed a pretty solitary week, when, as you know, this happened — and while I know I haven’t explained formally, most of you already know from Flickr or Twitter or the comment I left here, so I’ll just briefly say last Wednesday night wasn’t hard because I didn’t get my birth certificate; it was hard because I felt helpless and reminded that I am alone, but looking back I am so glad I felt that way, and that I told you about it, because it made my joy so much fuller when the next day, I found my new passport in the mail.
I get to thinking sometimes that I’m alone in situations because I’m single, but I know everyone has days or weeks or dark nights that are similar. Life is a constant contrast of isolation and community, loneliness and fellowship — at least it seems to me. But maybe, like with my passport, it is through the loneliness that fellowship becomes so sweet, through the solitary nights that Friday dinners become so much richer, through a Wednesday night in tears that I’m given another evidence of love from The One Who Made Me.
Like these doughnuts. In anticipation of the community of hanging out at an orchard with a friend and eating these that I love so much, I made my own version last Tuesday night, alone in the kitchen, while a sad movie with Richard Gere and Winona Ryder played in the background, because, when you are alone, the kitchen is as good a place as any to spend your time.
Besides one Becky brought me back from southern Illinois a few weeks ago, I hadn’t had one since last October, when we’d eaten them in the Kuiper’s gift shop, our faces flushed from the cold while we sipped cups of hot cider. Tuesday night, I bit into the first doughnut, its golden exterior giving way to soft, sweet insides and cinnamon and sugar coating my fingers, and it was the same magic, but different, that I remembered from that cold Sunday afternoon last year.
These doughnuts are fall, pure fall, right down to the warm and sweet scent they send through your kitchen. In a way, it was good to eat them alone on Tuesday, like it is good to bake alone or drive alone or shop alone, but it was much better to bring them to work the next morning, to eat them at our desks and see the whole container almost empty by the end of the day, to save a few for my brother who’d be coming to visit Friday night, to share them — the way it is better to share life, to belong to a community.
You know, in high school, I had to read Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Maybe you did, too? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I hated the book, thought it boring.
Unlike on the modern-day LOST, where an entire plane of people are abandoned together, there were no personal relationships to follow, no drama of changing opinions and interactions with another, because the main character had been shipwrecked on a deserted island, completely by himself, alone.
More and more, I am seeing life is to be lived in community. We are naturally selfish creatures, but there are other moments — better ones — when someone opens the door for another or picks up a check at the restaurant or makes a meal and invites you to share it, and I think it is in these moments we get glimpses of for what we were made.
When we experience love, from the constant chesed of God to the imperfect human kindness of a small gesture, we are most alive.
Apple Cider Doughnuts
Adapted from A Bowl of Mush
1 cup apple cider
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter (softened)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 1/2 to 4* cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Vegetable oil for frying (You’ll need a lot!)
1 cup cinnamon and sugar, mixed
The directions start off with boiling the apple cider until it reduces to about a quarter cup in size. I eyeballed it, so it was probably closer to half a cup, and things worked out OK.
Allow this to cool completely. In a large bowl, beat the sugar with the butter until smooth.
Beat in the eggs. Add the buttermilk and reduced apple cider.
In another bowl, mix together the remaining dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg.
Add the flour mixture slowly to the liquid mixture, and mix enough to combine. You want the dough to not be sticky any more.
You’ll be spreading it out like bread or cookie dough on the counter, so add flour as needed to make it the right consistency. Transfer the dough to a floured board and knead slightly to combine well without over working the dough.
Roll or pat the dough to a 1/2 inch thickness. At this point, you could use two circular cookie cutters (one larger than the other) to create doughnut circles.
I just made little doughnut holes instead: use your hands to create small balls of dough (think the size of those Munchkins at Dunkin’ Donuts).
Place these doughnuts, a few at a time, into a deep pan (I used my Le Creuset, of course!) that’s been filled and heated with enough oil to fill it approximately three inches deep.
Fry a few doughnuts at a time, turning once or twice until they are browned and fully cooked through. Allow the hot doughnuts to drain on some paper towel.
While the doughnuts are still warm, coat them in the cinnamon-sugar mixture.
*The original recipe calls for 3.5 cups of flour, but my dough was way too sticky with that amount, so I kept adding a little here and there until it was more pliable and able to be spread on the counter.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her mantra? Restoring order and celebrating beauty through creative content, photography, and food. Shanna's work has been featured in Bon Appetit, The Kitchn, MSN.com, Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Houzz.com, Food News Journal, Food52, Zeit Magazine, Chew the World, Mom.me, Babble, Delish.com, Parade, Foodista, Entrepreneur and Ragan PR.