Even the bitterest fruit can revive sweet memories

By Wendy Carson

The term “comfort food” exists for a reason. Some of our happiest and most vivid memories consist of the scent and taste of a dish that exudes love and safety. Therefore, even though the apples are not as sweet and fresh in the dead of winter, a home-baked pie can still transform a dank prison cell into the warm, inviting kitchen of one’s childhood.

This is the crux of Jennifer Fawcett’s new play, “Apples in Winter,” at the Phoenix Theatre.

Miriam arrives in a prison kitchen to bake the apple pie that is her condemned son’s last request, under the watchful eye of the guards. The audience bears witness to her efforts and the story of how she came to be in this situation.

Her story is all too common: A loving mother does the best she can to raise her child well. However, due to forces beyond her control (or were they?), he turns down a darker path. Was she too naïve to realize what was happening or to prevent his escalation? That you can decide on your own, you are merely here to listen to her tale. Judgement has already been made and is what has brought us all to this place and time.

Jan Lucas gives a poignantly heart-wrenching performance as Miriam. She deftly brings forth the loving memories of her radiant child but never pulls the punches on the troubled soul he evolved into. She perfectly turns the wretched situation into a confession of love, guilt, and sorrow, without overwhelming the audience with bitterness.

Now, a few words about that pie. During this show, Lucas actually prepares and bakes an apple pie, from scratch, in front of the audience. At the end, a lucky audience member wins it in a charity raffle to bring it home for their own consumption. Tickets are sold before the performance, which has no intermission.

John and I happened to win the pie on the night we attended (winter weather limited the audience, helping our odds, and it was truly a random drawing – yes, John paid for his ticket). So, to share our bounty, I feel that a short review of the pie is appropriate: First, it is beautifully made with a lattice-style top. The crust was lighter and crisper than I’ve had before (more like a cookie), and my favorite part. Though the apples used were not the best quality (as per the script, and it being January), they were perfectly spiced and brought forth a nice flavor. I suggest serving it with a scoop of a quality vanilla ice cream to fully enjoy the experience.

All in all, this show is a moving tribute to a mother’s love and determination to persevere throughout whatever challenges she must face. Performances continue through Jan. 27 at the Phoenix, 705 N. Illinois St.; call 317-635-7529 or visit phoenixtheatre.org.

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Sharing a sweet treat with family

NOTE: Usually we do reviews of plays we’ve seen and games we’ve played, but everyone’s gotta eat — and when an award-winning Indiana confectioner appealed to our sweet tooth, we had to bite. Enjoy:

By Wendy Carson

Last month, 240 Sweet of Columbus, Ind., sent me a special treat box of marshmallows & hot chocolate to try out and review. I took it along with me down to our Thanksgiving visit to the family so that they could help us try it out and here is the result:

First of all, the hot chocolate mix is aptly named “Decadent Drinking Chocolate” and we all agreed that this was undoubtedly the most delicious hot chocolate any of us had ever tasted. It was rich and had a perfect balance of flavors which made it an excellent conductor for the marshmallows. Since the mix is blended with real milk and heated on the stovetop, that is likely part of the reason it is so delicious.

Now, on to the marshmallows. We were given two different flavors to try: Sugar Cookie and Bourbon Brown Sugar. Each flavor was tasted on its own and in the hot chocolate.

The Bourbon Brown Sugar was yummy but had a distinctive bourbon flavor, so it was only enjoyed by the adults in the group. Those that were non-drinkers of alcoholic beverages were not keen on them due to the bourbon flavor. However, the rest of us thought they were delicious. They blended with the cocoa very well and were amazing when lightly toasted to bring out the full caramelized flavor of the sugar & alcohol. The verdict: A must for anyone who is known to imbibe, but a definite pass for those who abstain.

The Sugar Cookie flavor was tried by everyone and almost unanimously enjoyed. The children loved the taste and were pleasantly surprised yet delighted by the crunch of the cookie bits in each one. One adult, however, felt the crunchy bits gave the marshmallow a gritty texture. These marshmallows were a perfect addition to the hot chocolate. The flavors blended together to enrich each other without either overpowering. Since everyone tried these, we weren’t able to save any back for toasting – but I have sampled one before so I do know it has a very good taste, and again, the cookie bits are an unexpected delight.

We also need to note that one of our tasters doesn’t like marshmallows or sugar cookies and his opinion was that they were “very interesting.” He was surprised that he actually liked them and felt he would be open to having them again.

Our one complaint was that the marshmallow bags were not reseal-able. Since it is unlikely that all of the marshmallows will be consumed in one sitting, some sort of closure to ensure freshness would be recommended.

Overall, we were greatly delighted by the treat box and feel that it would be a worthy splurge (it lists for $35) for the holiday season.  You can purchase this item (or one like it) from their website www.240sweet.com; or at one of the many handicraft and arts fairs around the Indy area, like Yelp’s Totally Bazaar (6:30 p.m. this Thursday at the Indianapolis Central Library, see here for details).