Brandy-soaked baked apples with cranberry compote


For quite a few years holiday seasons felt a little forced. I hid curmudgeonly sighs as I rolled Mexican wedding cookies in powdered sugar. The lights, the tree, the commercial nature of it all felt exhausting.

Christmas is only a few days away and I’m not done with my shopping. I haven’t done a lick of baking. My gifts were priority shipped yesterday. But it doesn’t feel like it matters because we’ve listened to something like twenty-six versions of Winter Wonderland this week and almost every time both kids join in, my son bobbing his head in time. And a couple of days ago they tore around in the early morning snow. Domestically, the season feels lighter. I may not be organized, but I’m cheerful.


But there’s a dichotomy inside me, one that is, I’m certain, a reality for many this week. How, the one side of me asks the other, can you rush along in a typical holiday routine, scrambling to meet deadlines, thrilling over an app that helps organize and track your budget for gifts?

Because the one side is shattered, of course, watching like the bystander I am as a whole community struggles to come to terms with the horror of the past week.

Before the Newtown massacre, I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that, had I been a few years older, I would have gone to high school with Clackamas Town Center shooting victim Steve Forsyth. As it is, we likely had many of the same teachers, walked the same halls in the school’s original building in the 1980’s. We knew at least one person in common, enough that his name appeared on one of my social media feeds.

I’ve written about gun violence before. I’ve said these things. So many people have. What else can be said? There are no more words, unless they’re words of comfort to the victims and words of insistence to our elected officials.

This kind of mayhem doesn’t happen in free societies. It’s an arms race, as a friend of mine astutely labeled it: the compulsion to own a gun because other, worse people own guns. This is a sign that we are at war. And warring nations are not, cannot be, free.

I’m grieved that in the aftermath of such a tragedy, so many believe that it is still, somehow, their right to own an assault weapon. Rights should be curtailed by public safety. That’s why we have a justice system. There are some things, no matter how much a person wants them, no matter how well he says he’s going to take care of them, that don’t belong in the public sphere. A private citizen doesn’t have the right to own some of the smallpox virus because she likes microbiology.

The issue is so big and so maddening that I can become immobile. But that’s not the answer at all.

There is a twofold summons. Carry on and cry out. Make baked apples and call for a ban on assault weapons. Celebrate and question and rage and ring the bell until someone turns around to pay attention. Move on as a more informed, more sensitive citizen. Pull out the Lady apples that are so small they don’t even cover the palm of your hand. Core them and soak them in brandy. Sign another petition even though half a dozen with about the same language already bear your name. Do it all because lots of people who could have been your neighbors are gone because of complacency, lobbying, greed, violent definitions of manhood and a basic failure to attend to the common good.

Let ordinary activities – baking apples, delivering pies – be a consolation, proof that you’re showing up with insistence, care, civility and a willingness to hope.


Brandy-Soaked Baked Apples with Cranberry Compote

10 Lady apples or 5-6 small apples
3-4 cups brandy
2 cups fresh cranberries
¼ cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon orange zest
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
a sprinkling of salt
cream whipped with sugar and orange zest
or vanilla ice cream (optional)


Core the apples using an apple corer or by carefully cutting out the core with a  paring knife.

Place cored apples into a large, tall jar (to limit the amount of brandy needed to soak them).

Pour brandy over the top until all the apples are covered. Place a lid on the jar and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°.

Place soaked apples on a paper towel-lined plate to drain for a moment. Line a baking sheet with parchment and place apples on top.

Bake until apples are soft but not collapsing, about 25-30 minutes (larger apples will take longer).

While the apples bake, rinse cranberries and combine with maple syrup, orange zest and vanilla. Cook, stirring frequently, until most of the berries have burst their skins.

Turn off the heat and add an afterthought of salt, just the barest sprinkling.

*Optional: Add 1-2 teaspoons of the soaking brandy along with the first four ingredients.


When apples are done, place one on each plate and fill the cavity of each with the compote, using a small spoon. Serve with extra compote and whipping cream.


10 thoughts on “Brandy-soaked baked apples with cranberry compote

  1. Beautifully written. Playing in the snow with my kids and watching them get so excited for Christmas, I am constantly pulled back to those other sweet children. I have not been this sad since September 11, and I feel a bit ashamed that it has taken this tragedy to make me want to finally try and do something. But I guess it is not until you can actually see yourself in the shoes of another, that you realize certain truths. I think about the few days before this happened, as the BEFORE. Anyway, a blogger has thought up a brilliant way for us to write to our elected representatives; she is sending them her leftover Christmas cards (you know the ones that are plastered all over with loving pictures of our kids!) and asking them to protect her family by enacting stricter gun laws. I am going to do this!

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the matter!

    • That is a brilliant idea! I’m joining you. Though, as I noted, I’m not so organized. I ordered my New Year’s cards this week but I’ll set some aside to send to my senators and representatives. I feel the same way, Brittney. Here I wrote about wanting to do more after the Aurora shooting and then I slipped back into a complacent spot. I wonder partly if it’s because the issue is so big, so impossible. Anyway, I’m glad the anger is reaching a fever pitch and that some steps seem to be on the horizon. I’m so grateful that you wrote and that we can, at the very least, make the AFTER a better place. I hope so – so much.

  2. Pitch perfect post. “There are no more words, unless they’re words of comfort to the victims and words of insistence to our elected officials.” The latter is probably a waste of time here in the giant sea of Red in which we find ourselves. Messrs. McConnell and Paul (ouch!!) are not listening. But we’ll continue to try, if for no other reason than to annoy their staff.

  3. I hadn’t thought about it in comparison to owning some smallpox virus before. I already came to your post with the same feelings as you, but that really just sealed the deal. Very thoughtful and passionate words!

    • Thank you for reading, Kelli. I’m feeling passionate about this. I followed the example of the blogger Brittany linked above and sent off some New Year’s cards to my legislators. The more we speak up, the more good it will do. I’m hopeful, at least, that the public still seems to be riled up about this. I appreciate the encouragement and solidarity. Keep up the good fight!

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