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almond crumb cobbler with nectarines and plums

The first time I walked into the kitchen in our apprentices’ cottage, I was more than a little apprehensive. With my cast iron skillet under one arm and a bag of groceries under the other, I surveyed my new home: the condiments and margarita mix piled on a ledge overhanging the oven, the leaning tower of drying rack, the linoleum muddied from countless dirty tennis shoes. There was even a piece of shriveled cactus suspended between two curtain-less curtain rods. I took the seat offered by Lisette and the beer offered by Phillip, then I looked around the room one more time and decided I liked it.

To be sure, the odds were stacked in our little kitchen’s favor. In every place I’ve lived the kitchen has felt most like home, and I take up residence there before I unpack my clothes or make up my bed. The size or lighting of a bedroom doesn’t mean all that much when you’re sleeping, but the kitchen is where you live—cooking, eating, sitting at the table on a Saturday morning with David Sedaris and a lukewarm cup of tea. It may be a bit cramped (when we’re all seated for dinner you can barely open the oven), but our kitchen never fails to charm me with its tile-topped table and pair of large windows with a view of the wild turkeys roosting in the adjacent grove of redwoods.

When I’m alone in the kitchen I’ll sit in the same spot for hours, but once other people start cooking it’s like a sneeze—I have to do it as well. If Ross or Phillip has already started dinner my backup plan is dessert, which means that though I’m really more of a cook my baking skills have taken a marked turn for the better here. The size of our kitchen does make it difficult—I found myself making bread pudding on the dryer one night—but it gives me the satisfaction of something to do with myself and the Costco-sized bags of flour and sugar in our pantry.

This was the backstory of the crumble I was making the other night, and while Phillip fried tempura-battered pieces of green tomato and broccoli I sliced away at nectarines and plums and cut my finger (again) on the blade of our food-processor grinding butter, oats, and almonds. I slid the pie dish into the oven as we started in on our fried chicken, but when dessert time rolled around the top still didn’t have that golden crispness every crumble needs. Ross suggested putting it under the broiler for a minute or two, and with the oven door closed we all went back to laughing like fourth graders at a particularly unfortunately shaped tomato.

Ten minutes later, the smoke began. Pouring from under the stovetop it gushed out as I flung open the oven door to see a crumble lost beneath a foot of flames. In a moment everyone was in emergency mode: Christine and Adam pulled back the chairs, Phillip commandeered the dish-washing hose at the sink, Ross grabbed hand towels to smother the flames. Me? I don’t remember much, but apparently I stood in the middle of it all lamely flapping an oven-mitt and crying out “Oh no! Oh no!” at regular intervals. And as we sat on the stoop minutes later replacing the blackened oat topping with giant spoonfuls of ice cream, I said a little prayer of thanks that I have friends whose cool heads meant our kitchen would live to see another day.

Almond Crumb Cobbler with Nectarines and Plums

3 ripe white nectarines

2 ripe plums

6 Tbsp butter

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup oats

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup almonds plus a few more for sprinkling on top

cinnamon

nutmeg

vanilla extract

salt

Slice the nectarines and plums and arrange on the bottom of a 9″ glass pie dish. In a food processor mix butter, flour, oats, sugar, almonds and spices, grinding until the mixture becomes a moist crumb. Sprinkle crumble on top of fruit and give the dish a shake, then sprinkle with a few almonds and a pinch or two of salt before baking in a 350 degree oven until the top is a perfect golden brown. (Resist the urge to use the broiler. Trust me.)

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