Falling in Love with Fall

pumpkins

I have long said, “If it could be 80 degrees and sunny year round, I would be a happy camper.”  Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved the summer months and detested the cold, bitter winter.  However, now that I’m older, I’m finally starting to appreciate Fall.  I used to sulk for the first day in September or October where I’d have to grab a jacket before heading outside.  But when the temperature dropped a few weeks ago, quite a bit earlier than it has the past couple years in Atlanta, I was ready.  There are far too many great things that come with the changing of the season…

Leaves changing colors.  Pumpkin everything.  The red cups at Starbucks are back!  Warm cardigans and cable-knit sweaters.  Halloween.  Apple cider.  Thanksgiving.  Deep fried turkey.  The sound leaves make crunching under my shoes during my early morning runs.  Hot chocolate with mini marshmallows.  Carving pumpkins.  Early Christmas shopping.  Holiday office parties.  Fall baking.  Holiday displays in all the stores.  Decorating our home for Fall.  Fuzzy slippers.  Curling up by the fireplace with a good book.  The list goes on.

fallrunning

Fall is my favorite season for running. All the changing leaves are so beautiful!

This past week was Halloween, and I was so excited to finally be able to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters.  It was just something we just didn’t get to do living in an apartment complex.  Also, you know you’re becoming a real adult when you balk at the price of candy.  I literally stood in the aisle at Kroger for a good ten minutes, wondering how in the world I was spending over $20 on two bags of candy that little fairies, ghosts and goblins would gobble up in seconds.  Thankfully we didn’t run out, and I would stand to argue that I actually had more fun than the trick-or-treaters, “oohing” and “aahing” at all the cute costumes and waving at all the families from our front porch rocking chairs.  It’s definitely a tradition I’m excited to continue for years to come.

pumpkin cookies

Iced pumpkin sugar cookies, just one of our many traditions this time of year.

Not a surprise that another one of my favorite things about Fall is baking.  There’s just something incredibly comforting about the flavors of Fall–pumpkin, cranberry, and spices like nutmeg and ginger.  I also have a lot of childhood memories of days spent in the kitchen with my Mom and grandmothers, wearing aprons too big for me and getting more flour in my hair and clothes than in the mixing bowl.  Today, whenever I make something that reminds me of a family recipe, I’ll take a picture and text it to my Mom and it feels like we’re back in the same kitchen, baking and laughing together.

My Mom’s harvest pumpkin loaf is one of my favorite things she bakes.  I always look forward to it this time of year.  Since I won’t be able to have any until we visit over Thanksgiving, I decided to try making my own version.  It’s a bit different than hers–I added cranberries and left out the nuts and glaze topping–but it smells and looks just as good!

bread

Pumpkin Cranberry Chocolate Chip Quick Bread
Makes one 9×5 loaf

Ingredients:
3/4 cup white flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp each cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, ground gloves
1 container vanilla or pumpkin-flavored yogurt
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup honey
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9×5 baking pan.  In a large bowl, beat together pumpkin, yogurt, honey, egg and vanilla extract.  Slowly beat in flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices.  Once even combined, stir in cranberries then chocolate chips.  Spoon batter into pan and bake for 45-55 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

A Last Hurrah of Summer

So this is a much delayed post…but as you’ll soon learn, it’s been a busy past few weeks for us!  Now how’s that for a cliffhanger?  Unless you’re know us well, then you obviously know what I’m hinting at 🙂

boat2

A few weekends ago we spent an afternoon boating on Lake Lanier.  One of our friends found an awesome deal on Groupon for a large group to spend several hours on the water, wake-boarding and just soaking up the last few precious rays of the summer sun.  I do no such thing as wake-board, but I definitely enjoyed the latter.   The weather was perfect with barely a cloud in the sky.  Even though it’ll stay relatively warm in Atlanta for another few weeks, it really was one of our final “hurrah’s” of the summer season.

boat1

The following afternoon we spent strolling the streets–literally–around Midtown.  Last May, the city put on an event called Atlanta Streets Alive, closing down Peachtree Street to traffic and letting people walk freely while checking out storefronts and pop-up events.  Drew and I had so much fun last time (climbing a rock wall was involved) that we were excited to find out they were bringing it back again so soon.  The weather was perfect and we spent over 2 hours walking several miles, exploring stores, running into friends and soaking up the sun.  We never doubted how wonderful it is to live in Midtown, right in the heart of everything, but it’s events like this that make me love Atlanta even more.

midtownlove

After spending several hours outside, where the temperature neared 90, we were quite grateful to be back in the AC.  The temperature has been slowly dropping since, and I can’t help but be lulled into the Fall season when my Pinterest feed is being overrun by Halloween decor and the return of Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte.  So, true to form, I made a breakfast cake that has Fall written all over it.  I want to eat this while sitting on the back of a hay ride, snuggled in a sweater and watching the leaves change colors.  Also, the accompanying frosting is not optional. 

applecake

Apple Spice Breakfast Cake with Caramel Frosting
Makes 1 bundt cake or 2 medium-size loaves

Ingredients
For the cake:
1 container vanilla or plain yogurt
3/4 cup apple butter or applesauce
1 large egg
1 Tbs vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 large overripe banana, smashed
1 3/4 cup apples, chopped
1 tsp each of the following spices: cinnamon, allspice, ground ginger, cloves, nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda

For the frosting:
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease bundt or loaf pans. In a large bowl, stir together yogurt, apple butter or applesauce, egg, vanilla and sugars until combined. Add in banana, apples and spices. Slowly mix in flours and baking soda and stir until just combined, but be careful not to overmix. Pour into pan(s) and bake 40 min. or until inserted knife comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Allow to boil for one minute, add in brown sugar, and allow to boil for another 2 minutes while stirring continuously. Remove from heat, stir in milk and vanilla. Sift in powdered sugar, whisking until frosting becomes thick. Allow to thicken about 5-10 minutes before pouring over cooled cake.

Crafting (or just an excuse to go to World Market)

Drew and I spent last Saturday running several errands in the Buckhead area (after our usual breakfast stint at the Piedmont Farmer’s Market, of course).  Driving to Buckhead isn’t something I like to do regularly-even though it’s only 5 miles from our apartment, it can take up to 45 minutes.  I know, I know, can someone queue up the tiny violin?  Obviously I had to be bribed with candy a good reason to make the trip.  A.K.A., a $10 gift certificate to World Market, which can arguably be deemed the second Happiest Place on Earth.

I wouldn’t consider myself a jewelry fanatic, but I do have several pieces that I wear almost all the time.  I can’t remember the last time I walked out our front door without my pearl earrings (morning runs don’t count).  I also have several necklaces that I love, but constantly find them getting tangled in my jewelry box.  What’s the point of having a jewelry box if all the chains are still going to get knotted?  It couldn’t may possibly have something to do with my less-than-diligent storage….

Enter awesome DIY idea.  I’d seen several necklace holders on Pinterest that looked easy enough to create.  All I would need is a piece of wood or plaque, some decorative knobs, and PRESTO! A fabulous necklace holder.  Exactly how the idea would be executed, I wasn’t exactly sure, but I had a feeling it would take a little more skill and expertise than slapping on some Elmer’s glue and hoping for the best.  And that’s another reason why my husband is fantastic.  After picking out a slab of wood from Michael’s and the knobs from World Market, we headed home to put it together.  Actually, I worked on something else while Drew broke out the power drill.  Honestly, I don’t think it was too much of an annoyance to break out his tool box and play handyman for an afternoon.

photo 1

So while I may not be the craft extraordinaire, there is one thing that I can do well: bake.  Wanting to put a dent in the large container of blueberries still taking up residence in our freezer, I whipped up a batch of lemon ginger scones, throwing frozen blueberries into the batter last minute for an added sweetness.  I’d never added ginger to a scone recipe, but it sounded like a good idea at the time.  And thankfully, it was.

photo 3


Lemon Ginger Blueberry Scones

Makes 12 scones

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup chopped crystalized ginger
6 Tbs butter, cold and cut into pieces
1 Tbs lemon zest
juice from one lemon
1 egg
1 cup milk or half-and-half
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or fork. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Stir in the diced crystallized ginger, sugar and lemon zest. In a small bowl, mix the egg, lemon juice and milk or half-and-half. Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture and stir just until the dough comes together. Do not over mix the dough. Pour in the blueberries.

Drop the scones onto a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until scones are lightly browned on top. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack or parchment paper to finish cooling completely.

Recipe: Blueberry Bread Pudding

blue donkey iced coffee

Apparently it wasn’t in the cards for me to sleep in this morning.  Not that I really mind, as I’ve had plenty of quality time with the couch this week trying to get over being sick.  Still, it would have been nice to sleep in past 7:30, but the garbage trucks outside and a whiny Theo at the foot of the bed were not having it.  Feeling more energized than I had all week, I headed over to Piedmont Park for my regular stroll through the farmers’ market.  The last time I went was with Drew when we celebrated our awesome 5K times with coffees and breakfast paninis, but I just couldn’t bring myself to have one without him.  The panini, that is.  Of course I got my iced almond coffee.

With my iced coffee fix satisfied, I headed back home to start tapping into the huge supply of blueberries that’s now taking up almost a third half of our freezer.  Since picking them with Mom last week, I’ve been trying to figure out the perfect ways to use them.  So far I’ve just eaten them overtop yogurt or cereal, but this morning I finally decided to bake with them.  The results?  A baked blueberry bread pudding, from scratch.  That’s right, no recipe was followed.  I have no problem doing this when I cook, but baking can be an entirely different animal if you don’t use the right ingredient amounts, follow the directions in the correct order, etc.  I’m proud to say it was a delicious success.

While talking to Mom on the phone this afternoon, I told her about it and was able to repeat the recipe quite easily.  I also wanted to post it here to share it with her again and for anyone else who has a gazillion blueberries on their hands that they don’t now what to do with.  The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled to feed a group as part of an awesome brunch!

blueberry bread pudding

Blueberry Bread Pudding, Serves 1
Ingredients:
2 slices of French bread
1 egg
1/2 cup milk or heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp each cinnamon, ground cloves, nutmeg
handful of blueberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat oven to 350F. In a small bowl, whisk together egg and milk or heavy cream.  Add vanilla extract and spices.  Chop bread into cubed pieces and layer into the bottom of a small baking dish.  Sprinkle blueberries on top and pour egg mixture over everything until the bread is evenly saturated.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until blueberries and bubbling and bread is slightly browned.

Farmer’s Market Saturdays

For the past few weekends, Drew and I have spent our Saturday mornings exploring the farmers’ market at Piedmont Park.  It’s about a mile walk from our apartment, and the weather has been perfect for picking up breakfast, strolling along all the vendor booths and people-watching.  I’ve discovered I have an iced almond coffee obsession and we found a new-to-us food truck that makes a killer breakfast panini.  The last time we went together, we bought a bag of Georgia peaches.  Fresh peaches always remind me of my mom making homemade jam or throwing together a peach and blueberry cobbler.

peaches

Since I already had all the ingredients on hand, I decided to make a peach crisp rather than a cobbler.  It’s the perfect no-fuss dessert for the hot summer months, especially when paired with vanilla ice cream.  In addition to the crisp, I also made a cheese and spinach quiche for a dinner several nights ago.  Not able to forget the amazing quiche we had at the bed & breakfast we stayed at during our recent trip to Savannah, I decided to make my own.  I also whipped up a zucchini banana bread for our breakfasts during the work week.  Baking with fresh fruits and vegetables has got to be one of my favorite things about this time of year.

cobbler2

Peach Crisp, makes 6 servings
Ingredients:
6 peaches, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 stick butter, cut into small pieces.

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9×9 baking dish.  Layer peaches into bottom of dish.  In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients, cutting in the butter with a fork. Sprinkle topping over peaches until evenly covered.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until topping is golden brown and bubbling.

quiche

Cheese & Spinach Quiche, makes 6-8 servings
Ingredients:
1 prepared pie crust
1 Tbs olive oil or butter
3 cups fresh baby spinach (or you could use frozen spinach)
1 cup cottage cheese
1-1/2 cups cheddar cheese
4 eggs,  beaten
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp nutmeg (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. In a skillet, heat oil or butter over medium heat and saute fresh spinach (if using) until tender. Remove from skillet and let cool. Line 9-inch pie plate with crust and prick bottom with a fork. Sprinkle half the cheddar cheese onto crust, then layer in the spinach.  In a bowl stir together the cottage cheese, eggs, pepper and nutmeg.  Pour over the spinach layer, then add the remaining cheddar cheese on top.  Bake for 45-55 minutes or until quiche has set.

photo-1

Zucchini Banana Bread, makes 4 mini loaves or 2 larger loaves
Ingredients:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbs cinnamon
2 eggs
1 container banana flavored Greek yogurt (I used Chobani)
2-3 large over-ripe bananas
1 large zucchini, finely shredded
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F and grease the loaf pans. In a medium bowl, mix together flours, sugars, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, yogurt, bananas and vanilla. In small batches, mix in the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. Fold in the zucchini and chocolate chips if using. Bake for 30-35 minutes for small loaves, 45-50 minutes for larger loaves, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

We have several weekends of travel coming up–including a wedding and a much needed trip to the beach–but I’m sure whenever we are in town on a Saturday, we will be heading to the farmers’ market.  Hopefully we’ll slowly be able to ween Theo off the jumping-on-people stage that he is currently in and we’ll be able to bring him along.  And the iced coffee.  Must always get the iced coffee.

theo

Happy Mother’s Day!

dancing

To my mother:

Thank you for the unyielding, unwavering love you’ve shown me, every day since the day you and Dad brought me home from the hospital.  I feel so honored, grateful and blessed to call you my Mom.  I look up to you so much, even more now that I’m older and truly realize all that you’ve done for me, the sacrifices you made and the understanding you bestowed.  Thank you for making me feel beautiful, and telling me so when there were days I felt anything but.  Thank you for holding me up when I fell down, and for dancing next to me when I stood tall.  Thank you for literally helping me learn to walk again, and for holding my hand when I wanted so badly to quit.  There are so many memories that I cherish, and so many more that I know we’ll have.  I love you. 

Even though I wasn’t able to spend the day with my Mom today, we were able to have a nice long chat on the phone and catch up with each other.  I look forward to Sunday afternoons for that very reason; my Mom and I can talk on the phone and an hour will pass before we even know it.  Every time we talk I’m instantly transported back to the couch in my parents’ living room, where we used to curl up with blankets and talk for hours.  Whenever I’m there for a visit, we’re always sure to spend time on that same couch, reminiscing about the past and talking excitedly about the future.

apron

I figured that if I couldn’t physically celebrate Mother’s Day with my Mom today, I could do the next best thing to pay homage to her: bake.  I learned how to bake from my Mom, who no doubt learned from her Mom, and so on.  I have vivid memories of being a young girl with an apron tied around my waist, pouring through the endless kitchen cabinets.  What became known as “glass bowl” involved Mom giving me a dozen different ingredients to measure, mix and make my own creation.  We’d never actually cook or eat whatever concoction I created, but I know that’s where my love for baking first blossomed.  To this day she is the best cook I know.

This afternoon I made banana chocolate chip muffins, with a cream cheese filling.  Some of my favorite things to make with Mom were sweet treats: decorated sugar cookies, cranberry orange scones, and the infamous chocolate ganache praline cake that is somewhat of a legend in our family.

muffins

Banana Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese-Filled Muffins
Makes 15 muffins

    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 3/4 cup brown sugar
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 egg
    • 2 overripe bananas
    • 1/2 cup milk
    • 1/3 cup butter, softened but not melted
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
    • Spreadable cream cheese, softened

Preheat oven to 350.  Arrange 15 liners in muffins tins.  In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In another bowl, beat together egg, bananas, milk, butter and vanilla extract on a low setting until smooth.  Pour wet mixture into flour mixture and stir until combined.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop a spoonful of the muffin batter into each liner.  Using a teaspoon, drop cream cheese into each of the liners.  Top each with remaining batter.  Bake for 18 minutes.

A {Surprise!} Baby Shower

group

Last Thursday night,  instead of our usual weekly couples’ get-together, we threw Anna and Jami, our resident mommies-to-be, a surprise baby shower.  This little plan had been in the works for a good two months, and I have to give our group of girls a ton of credit for keeping it a secret for that long-I know it was hard for me!  The looks on their faces when they walked into the room and we all shouted “Surprise!” were priceless.

waffle bar

The food spread and decorations were incredible.  When you have two interior designers among your group, you know the party is going to be stunning.  After dinner–which consisted of a waffle bar, fruit platter with dip, breakfast quiche, cake and the world’s best baklava–we decorated onesies and wrote inspirational messages on two canvases that Elle had painted for the girls’ nurseries.  Toward the end of the night, the husbands swooped in (after holing up in a bar for most of the night, far away from the “ooh’s!” and “ahh’s!” that accompany a baby shower) and demolished the leftover waffles and cake.  I think that was the extent of any male participation in the shower.

babyshoes

paintings

The night was absolutely one to remember.  I am beyond grateful that I made friends with such an amazing group of women relatively quickly after moving to Atlanta.  Drew and I talk all the time about how blessed and lucky we are to have been led into fellowship with such an amazing group of couples.  And there goes any resolve I’d had about not writing an overly-mushy, baby-crazed blog post.

My contribution to the breakfast-themed potluck were cinnamon roll cupcakes.  I’d never made such a thing before but used the logic that cinnamon rolls are delicious, and cupcakes are delicious, so together they would be a double dose of deliciousness.  The batter smelled vaguely familiar to my Mom’s homemade cinnamon rolls, and I could have eaten a bowl of the brown sugar cinnamon streusel with a spoon.  Except that I didn’t, because I’ve heard of the cinnamon challenge and it scares me.

cupcakes

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Cinnamon Rolls Cupcakes, adapted from this recipe
Makes 1 dozen

1/3 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup plus brown sugar, packed
1 Tbs cinnamon
3/4 cup plus white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz Cream Cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line 12 muffins tins with paper liners.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.  In another bowl, combine brown sugar and cinnamon.

In a large bowl, beat butter at medium speed until fluffy.  Add white sugar and beat until combined.  Add egg and vanilla.  Alternate adding the flour mixture and milk into the bowl, continuing to beat at medium speed until everything is incorporated.

Drop a spoonful amount of batter into each muffin tin.  Sprinkle brown sugar cinnamon mixture.  Add another spoonful of batter into each tin and sprinkle the tops with remaining cinnamon mixture.  I took a knife and swirled everything together to make sure the brown sugar cinnamon mixture was evenly dispersed throughout.

Bake cupcakes for 20-22 minutes (I took mine out right at 20).  Allow to cool to room temperature before frosting.  To make the frosting, beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla until fluffy.  Turn mixer down to low and add powdered sugar, a small amount at a time, until frosting is fluffy and spreadable.  I used the open star decorating tip from Wilton to frost the cupcakes.

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