If you are ever going to have a moment to think without someone bursting your thought bubble, probably to ask you a question or to make a noise you may not be able to stand for one more second, you are going to have to get outside. The easiest way to get outside is to put on your invisibility cloak and go for a walk.
My invisibility cloak allows me to move unnoticed in plain sight; a grey Costco sweatsuit with pants that might have been sewn backwards, baggy in the front and snug in the back but with deep pockets that will hold a phone, a debit card (and ID in case I get murdered), a cloth mask, a plastic bag, and a handful of Hi-Chews; a pair of runners that are navy, neon orange and lavender, a palette destined for the clearance rack I found them on; a trucker hat that came free with a case of beer ten years ago. It is important to be invisible, because this is no time to be seen, to be addressed. When I wear this outfit, men bump into me because they do not see me. I am a fast-moving blob with no discernible physical features. No one has ever interrupted me to ask a question when I am wearing my invisibility cloak.
And so I have traveled the city on foot, two hours at a time, almost every day since mid-March. Sometimes I listen to music, because it is the only time no one rolls their eyes or complains about my playlist of disappointed women from the 1990s. But most of the time, I plod along in delicious silence.
The thing about walking is that it does count as exercise and so you often arrive home hungry, especially if you flounced out in a huff before dinner was even finished for reasons that were based on facts and not emotions. This is where the plastic bag comes in handy; sometimes you will discover chips you haven’t tried before in a convenience store window, or a brewery that has adapted to the pandemic by selling cans of beer from a table on the sidewalk, or sometimes there will be ripe fruit on a bush that doesn’t belong to anybody. A cloth bag is bulky; a plastic bag is easily wadded up and shoved into the pocket of your invisibility cloak.
Sometimes you will find blackberries, and sometimes they will be sweet enough to eat along the way, but sometimes they will be too tart to enjoy and so you will have to bring them home.
Four or five cups of blackberries will fill a nine-inch cast iron pan. If you don’t have four or five cups of blackberries, make up the difference with fridge or freezer fruit; cherries and mangoes are nice, and blueberries work perfectly well. Peaches are wonderful but I rarely have any extra because peaches are best eaten immediately, before they’ve ever been allowed to get cold.
Heat your oven to 375°F.
Put your fruit into a big bowl, and toss with a tablespoon of cornstarch or flour, a pinch of salt, and two tablespoons of brown sugar. Sometimes I add a bit of vanilla, or a squish of lemon, but not always. Pour the contents of the bowl into your cast iron pan.
In the same bowl, mix a cup of flour, a cup of brown sugar, a little nutmeg, a little salt, and half a cup of butter, ideally at room temperature. I like to use whole wheat flour because it feels like the responsible choice; I do not like to use oats, because that is going too far. Oats are what you put into muffins to make them not cake; oats have no place in dessert.
Work the butter into the flour and the sugar with your fingers until it is sandy with pebbly bits; it should be evenly distributed, so that you have no layers of unfatted flour.
Pour the mixture over top of the fruit, smoothing it with your hands so that it falls into the cracks and crevices and sits evenly over the whole thing.
Bake for 45 minutes.
Notice how un-silent it is. How your child yells fake swear words like “mothertrucker” into a headset to his cousin as they play Fortnite in two different cities. How your partner sucks his teeth now, constantly, and did he do that before? You don’t think so. Notice how loud the dishwasher is, how the yahoos across the street shout their nonsense to no one, how the cyclists have stereos now that broadcast more Sublime than you would expect in 2020, how the sirens start and stop as the traffic lights turn red, how long the cat spends scratching in the litter box, how the bathroom fan seems to always be on. When the stove buzzer goes it will almost be too much.
This is not a fancy thing, and I am not trying to convince you that it is novel. More than anything, this is a reminder about a sweet, warm comfort food made of stuff you probably already have, that only takes about four minutes of active prep time and that is most enjoyable when eaten alone, with a scoop of ice cream if you have it, ideally on your bed with the door closed and everyone’s Instagram stories glowing up at you from your phone, which is on silent.
A cast iron pan of fruit crisp is easily returned to the oven in the morning for reheating; just 10 minutes at 375°F and it will be warm and fresh again, for breakfast and after another walk, and then for breakfast again. Our public health officials are saying it could be a year or more before this is over, and you may find yourself wearing out your walking shoes in the meantime. A new season of shoes – maybe teal and brown; maybe pink and harvest gold – will clear out before too long. Soon it will be plum and then apple season.
We will get through if we have something to look forward to. If that thing is two quiet hours and then some warm, jammy fruit topped with sugary crumbs, all the better.