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.

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.

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.