I lost a dear friend this week. She was born Darlene, and was lovingly dubbed Jarlene a few years after I met her. (You see, her license plate was JAR-2081.) She was my 1997 Toyota Camry. I bought Jarlene in 2002, and we spent 8 years together (her "Glory Years," she always said). I can still remember the day I met her- a late summer afternoon, in the dealer's lot.
My father and I had set out to buy a new car for me. The salesman wanted more than I had to spend, but we talked him down. And while my dad and I made it very clear what our price limit was, the salesman tried to tack on a few hundred at the end. My dad said, "Sorry, but that's not what we agreed on." My "no muscle" was still pretty weak back in those days, and I was dying for a car. I'd been looking for months, and here she was, glistening in the sunlight, so what was a couple hundred bucks?!?! As we walked out, I knew we'd done the right thing, but still felt let down that I wasn't leaving with a new car. And then, as we buckled up for the ride home, we glanced in the rearview mirror to see the salesman come trotting out towards us. The car could be mine, for exactly the amount I wanted to pay. I would soon come to realize that she would have been worth the extra money.
Jarlene and I drove off the lot that day and became instant besties. She just got me. And I got her. She didn't care that I forgot to change her oil, and always waited until the last minute to take in her in for repairs. I didn't care that her behind was so big she was always backing into concrete pylons and sideswiping picket fences. She wore the scars proudly; she was a proud and sassy sedan. She was the kind of girl who would correct you if you called her exterior color "gold." ("No, no, honey. It's 'champagne,' like from France.")
We went everywhere together. Jarlene and I braved the rugged mountain roads of West Virginia, the sunkissed highways of the Carolinas, and the treacherous side streets of New York City. She saw me at my best and my worst: road-raging at idiots during my 1.5 hour commute as an undergraduate; elated coming home from a date with the man I knew I'd marry; scared and unsure as I drove to North Carolina to begin a new future; beaming proud as I headed off to my first day at a "real" job.
As time passed, and we both got older, we adjusted to the squeal in her steering wheel, the crack in her windshield, and the loss of her interior light. We ignored the signs of aging: her insistence that the parking brake was on and a door was open despite clear evidence to the contrary, and the embarrassing incontinence in her oil system that left a stain wherever she parked. I had known her time was coming, but thought I had a second chance in the spring of 2010. After a particularly frightening 3 hour drive, she went in to the mechanic. He diagnosed her with a particularly nasty case of "Being a Deathtrap." While there was a fix, it would be only temporary.
I know she would have kept on, if I had pushed her. But she deserved better than to live her last few months in and out of the shop, with strangers poking and prodding her, recommending radical replacement therapy that would empty my wallet and leave her still struggling to hold on. And so, on January 25, 2011, I let Jarlene go. While she never got to see the inside of a kitchen, I know that these fritters are exactly the kind of thing she would have made. Classic and comforting, a little sweet and a little tart. And if you're looking for the perfect thing to wash them down with, pour yourself a nice cold glass of champagne. You know, like from France.
adapted from Thomas Keller
2-3 Granny Smith apples (2 if large, 3 if small)
1 lemon half
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup + 1 tbsp milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
oil (vegetable or peanut), enough to get about 1.5 inches deep in the pot you want to use (I recommend a Dutch oven)
Peel the apples and slice off the flesh around the core. For one of the apples, cut into bite-sized cubes. For the other one, dice into cubes slightly smaller than the first. Put the apple pieces into a bowl, toss with the juice of the lemon half and the cinnamon. In another bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the milk and egg. Add the apples to the batter. If not using immediately, you can refrigerate for an hour or two.
Heat the oil to 350F. (If you don't have a thermometer, you can test the temperature by dropping a bit of batter in to see if it cooks- if it does, then you're ready.) Using a fork or spoon, scoop up a small amount of the apple pieces and drop into the oil. Depending on the size of your pot, you can fit maybe 4-5 fritters. Cook them for about 3 minutes on each side, or until browned.
When finished cooking, remove and drain on paper towels, then place on cooling rack (so they don't sit in their oil and get soggy). You can then sprinkle them with powdered sugar, or toss in a bowl with a sugar glaze (about 1 tbsp milk and 1/8-1/4 cup powdered sugar mixed together).