in september

 

DSC_0329 (3)As surely as April brings thoughts of throwing open the windows to the warmer, fresh air, September starts me layering, feathering, and gathering. Yes, I’m sad to see summer go … but I’m determined to welcome fall and find a bit of time for some fun before the snow flies!

Although it’s not formally fall, it feels like it, and it’s starting to look like it too. Yellow and orange mums sit on the stoop where it seems only days ago were daisies. We kick acorns down the road when we go for a walk and hickory nuts too. We’re gathering the last of our luscious tomatoes and saying so long to our flowers.  I’m thinking less about burgers on the grill and more about soups in the crockpot. Suddenly, I’ve a hankering to bake bread!

Just now, apples simmer on the stove on their way to becoming apple sauce. It’s the season of cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. We’ve been to the orchard once already and will probably return today. Later, and by request, I’ll make the first pumpkin recipe of the season: pumpkin whoopie pies.  We’ve got neighbors to thank … and those pies are a whole heaping handful of fall gratitude.

Just as we did this summer, we’ll be living out a (fun-seeking) fall alphabet:

A- apple and peach picking (of course!) — B- bonfire in the fire pit out back — C- cider and crisps and cornstalks on the porch — D-  E- F- festivals and fairs and foliage — G- H- I- J- K- L- M- mums from the garden center N- O- P- pumpkins on the steps and in the oven! — Q- R- S- T- U- V- W- X- Y- Z-

We fill it in as we go along and somehow, the alphabet inspires us to keep looking for all the fun we know is out there … but we’re sometimes too busy or tired or overwhelmed to think about. It’s a fun kind of fill-in-the-blank we look forward to.

I can’t wait to leaf kick (L) and discover what face emerges on our Jack o’ Lantern (J). It’s time to pack up the beach towels, layer on the sweaters and boots, and feather the bed with our winter quilt (Q).

I’m hoping for a few more walks on the beach and a couple more tosses of the tennis ball, but mostly, I’m headed toward autumn – full steam ahead!

For those of you local … We’re planning for this Equinox Festival and hopefully headed to this fair for the first time.  This slow-cooker soup is on the menu this week.

And if you’re looking for an easy fall side or transitional topping for the last of summer’s ice cream, you’ll find my go-to applesauce recipe below:

APPLESAUCE

from my mother-in-law’s Betty Crocker cookbook
  • 4 medium cooking apples, each cut into fourths
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Heat apples and water to boiling over medium heat; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally* to break up apples, until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Heat to boiling; boil and sitr 1 minute. Makes about 4 cups.

*I used a potato masher!

 

 

 

zucchini bread

DSC_0337 (4)Good news!

It’s harvest time in New England!

We’re just past picking green beans and starting to celebrate luscious tomatoes around here. We watch our pumpkins grow by the day, and I love to watch their shape emerge: tall and sophisticated … squat and rotund… and this year, a white pumpkin! Surprise!

Probably the most prolific vegetable in the New England garden is the zucchini – folks around here harvest so much of the stuff, they literally give it away. It’s not uncommon to see a pig-pile of zucchini for the taking on the staff room table at work or roadside with a hand-lettered invitation: FREE.

Zucchini is one of the most flexible, hardworking veggies around, and this time of year, it makes an appearance in so many of our meals. In our house, it’s a salad and stir-fry staple. It shows up on many a vegetable platter because it’s so chop-able, slice-able, and dip-able. Zuchinni roasts up nicely in a grilled veggie pouch or sautees well with it’s pal, summer squash, served with a dusting of freshly shredded parm.

And now – I’m baking with it too! Zucchini, you’re pretty much an all-around, all-star!

This recipe, from my newest and most favorite cookbook, the Vermont Farm Table Cookbook, makes two loaves of moist zuchinni bread – one to enjoy and another to share. We’ve enjoyed our bread for breakfast with coffee and for an afternoon snack with milk. The recipe calls for a cool serving – but we loved it warm, right from the oven.

Zucchini Bread 

from Two Black Sheep Farm in Hero, Vermont

  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups pureed unpeeled zucchini
  • 1 cup raisins, chopped walnuts, or chocolate chips (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 9×5-inch loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray and lightly dust with flour. Set aside.
  2. Whisk together the eggs, oils, and vanilla.
  3. Sift together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, sea salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the we ingredients and stir until smooth. Stir in the zucchini and raisins, nuts, or chocolate chips, if using. Pour into the prepared loaf pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean, about 1 hour.
  4. Let the bread cool in the pans for about 15 minutes, then turn the loaves out onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely before serving.

 

feelin’ the blues

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It’s nigh on blueberry season.

Smile.

There’s bushels of nutrition benefits in this bluesy fruit,  and these summer superstars are so versatile in all sorts of recipes from summer salads to muffins, crisps, pies and buckles. They’re a colorful staple in fruit salads and smoothies, and just plain pop in your mouth good – right after a good rinse.

I’m the first to admit, I find the work of picking a tad tedious, and you’re more likely to find me wandering among the bushes with my camera than my bucket. Still, I love these friendly, little berries and try to make the most of their time in season.

Since one of my summer goals is to eat more fruits and veggies, I’m thinking more about eating this year’s blueberries raw,  tart, and fresh and less about just-baked and juicy.

So what about these salad combinations?

Use blueberries and either baby spinach or spring mix as your base and mix in:

  • mandarin oranges, feta cheese, and slivered almonds
  • raw chunks of summer squash and zuchinni, red onion, turkey, and cheddar cubes
  • shelled peas, cherry tomato halves, carrot sticks, and freshly-shredded parmesan cheese
  • pick just about any other fruit to sidekick with your blues in a salad: strawberries, honeydew melon balls, watermelon, grapes, pineapple, or dried cranberries
  • other healthy toppings: walnuts, pine nuts, flax seed, sunflower seeds or a sprinkle or two of shaved coconut

This blueberry vinaigrette recipie looks luscious

You can also visit the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council for creative recipes as well as freezing, jamming, and canning tips.

Really. They’re a rough and tumble bunch of berries and ready for just about anything.

Go blue!

 

 

hospitality

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Our family houseguests arrived late yesterday afternoon.

Before their arrival, there were the usual preparations: the tidying, of course, and the laundering of linens.

I also spent a lot of time thinking about how to make our guests most comfortable, and that trail of thought led me to Vermont and the inns we’ve been fortunate enough to guest in.  Hospitality experts, all … and great role models for helping people feel at home away from home.

How do they do it?

I think it’s all about the breakfast.

Every single innkeeper welcomes you to their breakfast table with pretty table linens, fresh flowers – probably plucked from the gardens on the grounds – and hefty mugs of coffee.

Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but at home – it’s the meal we make the least amount of time for.  I don’t know about you, but for us, breakfast feels catch as catch can … a little random, almost always hurried, and grab and go – if eaten at all.  We never eat at a table, on plates, with conversation, and a tall glass of orange juice.

So here’s a sampler of where we’ve stayed and our breakfast inns-piration:

The Inn at Manchester 

A regular point of conversation between my husband and I – weeks now after our last visit: What do you think Frank is making for breakfast today? It’s fun to speculate on the innkeeper’s specialties. Cottage cakes? Scrambled eggs with Vermont cheddar? Waffles?

Hill Farm Inn

We visited Hill Farm Inn years ago, but I still remember the basket of mini muffins we’d wake to every morning.

Crisanver House 

We were first-time visitors to this Yankee Magazine recognized inn last month. Every morning’s breakfast began with colorful, fresh fruit piled high and luscious.

So our guests will wake this morning to these peanut butter, banana, and chocolate chip mini-muffins. This amazing granola. Some yogurt. And piles of fresh strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries we picked ourselves. There’s coneflowers on the table and the prettiest summer tablecloth.

What’s on tomorrow’s menu?

Frank’s cottage cakes – of course

Hot Cross Buns

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Good morning from the other side of winter storm Stella!

With upwards of a foot of snow predicted, school was cancelled before the storm even started. Snow day! A snow day sometimes feels like a gift, an unexpected (and much-needed) opportunity to slow down a bit and rest.

So I did plenty of that.

But I also puttered around the kitchen. As you’ve read before, nothing centers me quite like baking, and I’ve been looking forward to experimenting with hot cross buns for Lent. I honestly don’t much care for currents or other dried fruit typically found in these breakfast buns, so I tossed some cranberries in the dough to see how they’d turn out.

It was an adventure.

First, I almost broke our hand-held mixer. I really, truly thought I could get the dough to a semi-mixed consistency and hand mix the rest,  but it got too thick , too quickly. It was almost a disaster for that ancient mixer of ours.

Next, I think I added too many cranberries. By following the recipe, I added as many cups of dried cranberries as the recipe called for raisins and other dried fruit. Personally, I think it was a bit too much. Maybe cut the amount by a fourth.

After that, it was all Stella who stole the show because her drama-filled high winds knocked our power out just as I set the buns for their final rise.

Power resumed about two hours later, and by that time, I was ready for bed.

I did what I could to save the dough by refrigerating over night and baked this morning.

Stella’s gone now … and I think these buns are soon to follow suit.

Here’s the link to King Arthur Flour’s recipe for Easy Hot Cross Buns. Follow as is, or try the cranberries for something a little different. Enjoy for Lent … or any random Tuesday morning.

Snowstorm optional.

A Breakfast, A Dinner … and Dessert

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We’ve been enjoying more family dinners lately.

Getting three guys over the age of 21 in one place – much less around one table – is nothing short of ah – ma – zing!

And I’m not sure if it’s because we’ve been stranded at home with so many snowy days, or if it’s because I’ve been more creatively cooking, but either way, it’s pretty special to spend so much time with our children.

I wrote here about my Rally Cry for the New Year. 

And so far, I’ve tried nine new recipes in 2017!

Last night’s was this Garlic Rosemary Monkey Bread from Real Simple Magazine. Partnered with lasagna and Caesar salad, this bread earned an “OMG” and an “unreal” from the over 21 crowd.

Also?

These Five Ingredient Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars from Cup of Jo literally rocked our world. I mean … their world – I’m on a diet, so I’d eat the tiniest little corner and sigh happily.

One more recipe for the early morning breakfast crew:  

(Which would NOT include the over 21 crowd.)

Follow this Best Granola EVER recipe for a toasty, tasty topping for your fruit and yogurt. A granola that lives up to its hype, for sure.

Yummers. 

Blue Plate Special

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A few weeks ago, one of our neighbors knocked on the front door. He carried a whole plate of delicious in one hand and a dog leash in the other. It was hard for him to juggle both, I think, but he outstretched his hand with that blue plated cake, offering our family a sweet dessert.

And a little love.

We’d had a rough stretch over here on this side of the street.  Awkward stuff to talk about, really, and we stood there he and I, neither sure what to say. So we chatted a bit instead about his dog and probably the weather, but care and kindness were there – passed from his hand to mine, neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend, family to family.

The blue plate traveled back across the street today warmed by  a 3 x 3 array of cinnamon sugar pumpkin muffins, just out of the oven.

Once upon a time ago, I learned or read or heard never to return a dish empty. For a long time, I supposed such a custom to be about good manners.

I know now it’s about gratitude.

Each tiny muffin a warm thank you from our home to theirs.

Reaching out from one side of the street to the other.

And heart to heart.

P.S.  If you’d like to bake these oh-so-moist and autumn-inspired muffins, I used a recipe from Inspired by Charm. Mine came out more muffin-like than donut-like. They sure looked cute nested in their crisp, white muffin liners!